Watroba and Jones Bring Friendship and Music to the Ten Pound Fiddle

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019, 8:43 am
Christopher A. Wardell

Which came first: the friendship or the music? Folk musician Matt Watroba can’t easily answer that question about longtime friend and musical partner the Rev. Robert Jones, but if he had to choose, he’d probably say the music.

The two have recorded “Common Chords," their first joint album, and will perform at the Ten Pound Fiddle Friday, January 25 at 7:30PM as the second part of the two-part “The American Experience” series. The first of the two concerts focused on the history of Jewish klezmer music, and Friday's concert will be “From Roots to Rap, A Musical Celebration of History and Diversity.” 

The friendship dates back to over 30 years ago when each of the men hosted their own radio shows at WDET-FM in Detroit. “The musical collaboration started almost immediately,” Watroba said. “Someone booked the two of us to play a concert at a record store in Grosse Pointe. I played folk, he played blues, but when we got together for the first time, we discovered we both loved country music. That night, a seed was planted that has grown into a 30-year exploration of the twisted roots of American music. We discovered that the branches may sound different, but at the root, the music-like the people who brought it here hundreds of years ago-are connected at the most important level. Now, we revel in exploring and presenting both the roots and the branches of this music.”

At that time in 1986, Watroba was the host of the show “Folks Like Us,” while Jones hosted his own show, “Blues from The Lowlands.” Watroba is now the host of the widely popular “Folk with Matt Watroba,” which can be heard on WKAR 90.5 Sunday nights from 6:00-8:00 pm.

Jones, a native of Detroit, has often been described as a “living encyclopedia of the blues,” and has performed everywhere from colleges and libraries to union halls and prisons. The guitarist has a number of records, both solo and with different collaborators.

Recent project “Common Chords” came out of many years performing together live, which made recording in a studio a seamless transition.

“We recorded it live in the studio without overdubs, so the listener gets the feeling they are sitting in a warm, comfortable space while two friends play the music they love,” Watroba said. “We named the record after our non-profit company, ‘Common Chords.’”

The non-profit Common Chords was created by the two as a way to connect the communities through music and the arts, and is a part of an educational program.

Covering music from the very beginning to modern day rap and hip-hop for the Ten Pound Fiddle show may seem like a daunting task, but according to Watroba, it’s a task the two are happy to take on.

“In this show we will trace the history of American music from the early slave songs and spirituals of the 19th century to modern day Hip Hop and Rap,” Watroba said. “It becomes clear that the reason American music sounds the way it does is because people of diverse cultures shared their music with each other throughout our history. We will demonstrate the roots through history, and the branches through our own compositions and examples of other contemporary writers. It's about celebration!”

Through her years of involvement with the Ten Pound Fiddle, concert booker Sally Potter has watched Watroba and Jones’ music evolve to where it is today, and she’s looking forward to the American Experience show.

“Both Matt and Robert are at the top of their game, using music to unify communities and show all of us that our common language is love,” Potter said. “These two have a purpose in everything they present, everything they share. Combined with excellent musicianship, their shows are very special.”

At the end of the night, Watroba hopes everyone feels a sense of unity.

“It all comes down to being connected,” he said. “If people leave this show with a sense that there are more similarities to celebrate than differences to fight over, we've done our job. We've discovered that American Roots Music creates a perfect window in which to view our history through the hearts and creative minds of the people who lived it. If we present it honestly, people will be moved by it.”











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