Kate O’Brien leads the string section of All Things Must Pass

By Claire Levine

Kate O’Brien was in high school when she first heard George Harrison’s masterpiece, All Things Must Pass.  When she started listening to the songs in preparation for the Feb. 1 show of the same name at Revolution Hall, she realized, “These songs are in my bones,” and in the bones of most Americans of her generation.

“I was so honored when (producer) Mark Bowden invited me to pull together the string section,” Kate said. While she had always related to the music, she realized that she’s always listened as a fan, not as a violinist. So the task of learning and coordinating the string accompaniment presented both a challenge and a joyous opportunity to learn the music from an entirely different perspective.

One of the things that attracted Mark to the All Things Must Pass album was Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” The show’s poster touts that the show will be “in all its Phil Spector glory.” That means a lot of musicians (more than 30) and a whole bunch of instruments. Kate said all the musicians are spending a lot of time listening to the original recording to best recreate the full measure of the music.

“I imagine the strings and the horns as creating a layer of woodchips on the floor of a playground,” forming a flexible basis to support the lead instruments and vocals. “Every once in a while the sound of a horn or a violin will rise up,” and catch everyone’s attention, but for the most part the instruments are a beautifully integrated texture of tones, Kate said.

Kate is a classically trained violinist who established and runs the Mosaic String Academy. She has been gigging with a wide variety of bands for nearly 20 years, and recently ventured out as a singer-songwriter. She also currently plays and sings with the Gerle Haggard Band.

For several years, Kate has performed in The Next Waltz productions – the annual recreation of The Band’s last performance (proceeds of which also support the JWF Musicians’ Emergency Healthcare Fund). This production draws on an already close-knit musical community, and many performers come back year after year.

“It’s like a big musical family, with an annual reunion of people you love.” The 2019 show greatly expanded that family, with the addition of new performers, including several young women of color.  These musicians added vitality to what is already a high-energy production.

Everyone rose to the moment and “made each song their own,” in Kate’s words, while respecting the nearly iconic performances we’ve been listening to on the film and albums for more than 40 years.

All Things Must Pass also benefits from the diversity of talent available in Portland and the concert will feature many women and a diverse group of performers.  When Kate was asked to assemble a string section, she thought of four of the most talented people she knew – all of whom happened to be female.

Kate said it’s a pleasure to watch Mark pull this event together, adding vision while guiding more than 30 musicians “who really work at being musicians.” She, like Mark, is excited for what she hopes is the first of many annual tributes to George Harrison.