Banjo and fiddle duo Noam Pikelny, Stuart Duncan will rock bluegrass at the Colonial

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PITTSFIELD -- A bluegrass band is coming to The Colonial soon, but it's not the type of band you might see at Mass MoCA's Fresh Grass.

Although banjo specialist Noam Pikelny played at Fresh Grass last year, he was playing with a different group of bluegrass musicians. And there were more of them.

This time in the Berkshires, Pikelny is playing with fiddle player Stuart Duncan and ... nobody else.

No guitarists, harmonica, stand-up base or accordion players. Just the fiddle and the banjo.

Following their spring/summer tour, Pikelny and Duncan decided to hit the road again this month for a nine-city tour. The duo will perform a full set of originals and classics at The Colonial tonight.

The tough part, as many will recognize, comes from having two instruments that are typically supported by other instruments. So, these artists had to find new ways to approach their instruments with new roles and new instrumentations.

Pikelny, speaking by phone from Raleigh, N.C., just before his performance at the 25th International Bluegrass Music Awards at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, said that challenge is what makes the shows fun to play. (Later that evening, Pikelny was awarded Banjo Player of the Year and Album of the Year for "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe.")

"We take turns with the lead and instrumental," he said. "Some of the pieces we play are not typically meant for fiddle and banjo, but with no other instruments, the details of each instrument is on full display, and it's something we really enjoy."

And just having the two instruments sparks a different type of performance.

"Just having the two of us up there is conducive to musical spontaneity," Pikelny said. "In a band, you have to pick and choose who plays what. So, there is less opportunity for interpretation. In a large ensemble, you're more limited -- you can't just turn on a dime."

Not just anyone would take up such a challenge, but Pikelny and Duncan are considered to be living on the leading edge of their art.

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Duncan has thousands of recording sessions under his belt. He is a four-time Grammy Award winner, a six-time Academy of Country Music award winner for "Fiddle Player of the Year" and a winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association's "Fiddle Player of the Year" award for seven consecutive years. He has performed with Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Béla Fleck, the Jonas Brothers, Jewel and Brad Paisley.

And Pikelny is the winner of the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. He is a founding member of the Punch Brothers, a string ensemble known for their bluegrass adventurism. In 2012, his second solo release, "Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail," received a Grammy nomination for "Best Bluegrass Album." Alongside Punch Brothers, he's collaborated with Wilco, Fiona Apple, Norah Jones and Jon Brion for the soundtrack to "This is 40," a song on "The Hunger Games" soundtrack.

He also worked with Marcus Mumford for the Coen Brothers film, "Inside Llewyn Davis" andhas shared the stage with The Decemberists, Béla Fleck, Dave Douglas, Steve Martin, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and members of the Lincoln Center Chamber Orchestra.

Many pickers around the country consider him to be a hero among banjo players.

Pikelny said he enjoys the shows he plays in the Berkshires.

"I'm looking forward to being there -- it's a great part of the country to play in," he said.

If you go ...

What: Noam Pikelny and Stuart Duncan

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16

Where: Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield

Admission: $15-$35

Information: (413) 997-4444, berkshiretheatregroup.org


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