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
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
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
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.
The 1970 album All Things Must Pass is as big and all-encompassing as George Harrison’s life and spirituality: it embraces everything. Hailed as George’s liberation from the shadow of the Beatles, it is at once joyous, sad, regretful and optimistic.
Fifty years later, we still have a terrific
amount to glean from Harrison’s music. So Mark Bowden — musician, composer,
producer, promoter and lover of big sounds — is commemorating the album’s
release with a 30-plus-musician show on Feb. 1 at Revolution Hall. He is
modeling the show after Concert for George, the stunning tribute
to George’s life and music put on by Eric Clapton and friends.
A portion of the proceeds will support the
Musicians’ Emergency Health Care Fund.
“I have always loved All Things Must Pass,”
Mark said, “It has the magic of the Beatles,” that neither Lennon nor McCartney could capture after the band broke up.
Mark said, “I love that Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound.’ You can’t recreate that
with five or 10 musicians, That’s why I’m bringing all those musicians
together. I want the power of that performance to hit you hard and knock you over!”
Mark also wants this production to represent
Portland’s tremendous talent pool. That means lots more women than performed at
the Concert for George. For example, Anita Elliot will play the pedal
steel and Kate O’Brien will lead the all-female string section. Little Sue, a
recent addition to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, signed up early on.
In fact, Mark said, “Every single musician I’ve
talked to has said, ‘Are you kidding me? I absolutely want to be there.’”
“Some people go to silent retreats; some people
climb mountains. People seek out experiences to find the truth within
themselves. For me, music has always been a religious experience. The stage is
a sacred space to be taken seriously,” Mark said.
“This is my Wailing
Wall, my Vatican City, My Hindu Temple.”
For Mark, All Things Must Pass is a labor of love, not a money maker. He didn’t want something this important to stop at the walls of the concert hall. So, a portion of all ticket sales will help musicians who need financial help during a time of a medical crisis through the Musicians’ Emergency Medical Fund. To learn more about All Things Must Pass at Revolution Hall, follow Mark at https://twitter.com/SonicbutterPDX and https://www.instagram.com/mbcaster/.