Brian Oberlin is an internationally acclaimed mandolin player and educator. During his 12-year professional career, Brian has been playing swing, bluegrass, and Italian classical as a solo mandolinist and vocalist. Along with the myriad of award-winning bands and ensembles he has collaborated with throughout the United States and Europe, Brian is also the founder and director of the River of the West Mandolin Camp and the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra. When he is not performing, Brian teaches music to children and adults at art centers, cultural events, festivals, camps, music schools and academies. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Brian now lives in Portland, Oregon.
Since 2006, Brian has been taking the stage as a solo act to satisfy his passion for the challenge that only a solo concert can offer. On stage, Brian delves into the music that has inspired him over the last 15 years of performing. While crooning an old Irvin Berlin or George Gershwin song and swinging out the melody and solos on his acoustic mandolin, he will switch gears and blast out a plethora of fast-paced lyrics to a western swing tune or play the electric (slide or 5-string) mandolin with a Stevie Wonder or Allman Brothers tune and then transition into a piano rag. Since 2011, Brian has incorporated Italian solo mandolin pieces, including virtuosic music from Calace, Marucelli, and duo style techniques, in his repertoire and has plans to record a classical solo album in 2013. To round out Brian’s new-found love of classical music, he is often a featured soloist with string orchestras and mandolin orchestras playing Baroque and Romantic era mandolin solos. Finally, Brian adds his originals that swing, stomp, waltz, and ease into his personal style. In 2011, Brian rounded out his solo career by releasing a double album: Solo Swing and Solo Swing Christmas. Both albums feature Brian singing and playing live in studio. Don Stiernberg wrote in the liner notes of the album Solo Swing..... “I was going to thank Brian for making a record that shows what can be done with just a mandolin, for being a champion of the instrument’s capabilities. I realize now that what we’re tapping our feet to here is a document of HIS capabilities. It’s a swinging good time, all done by one musician with a big sound and a great voice”.
Brian has a passion for teaching and has been sharing his knowledge with hundreds of students since the year 2000. Along with instructing students on a one-to-one basis, he has contrived dozens of unique mandolin workshops, time-tested at many national festivals and camps (Classical Mandolin Society’s Annual Convention, International Mandolin Academy in Ferrara, Italy, and the River of the West Mandolin Camp, to name a few) and designed for teaching any student, despite age or skill level, a means of navigating the mandolin. Brian brings a special and unique perspective to all of his students because he is, remarkably, a self-taught musician, spending hours playing, listening, and pouring over hundreds of books and scores of sheet music. In 2009, Brian started the River of the West Mandolin Camp which is held in the Columbia River Gorge, east of Portland, Oregon. The annual Camp, held each June and lasting four days, has hosted world renowned teachers and players such as, Don Stiernberg, Carlo Aonzo, Radim Zenkl, Rich Delgrosso, Marijke Wiesenekker, and Peter Ostroushko. In 2011, Brian released his mandolin instructional website (www.mandoberlin.com) which contains over 150 free, downloadable documents of song charts, chord progressions, techniques, and tutorials. Currently (2013), Brian is working on an instructional DVD series for folk and swing mandolin.
Growing up in Rockford, Michigan (just North of Grand Rapids), Brian Oberlin started playing music in grade school. His first instrument was the alto saxophone, which ignited his quest for more . . . drums, guitar, tenor banjo, fiddle, piano, concertina, and, of course, mandolin - his central instrument. One day, while listening to Diamond Rio, he heard an instrument that reminded him of trickling water and, upon reading the liner notes, wondered if the word “mandolin” was a misprint, having never heard of one. At the age of nineteen, he bought his first mandolin and immediately absolved himself by attending every bluegrass festival that he could and procured all the recordings and books financially available to him. Hungry to be part of a band, he started Slack String, a five-piece bluegrass band. This band later transformed into Northern Accent which would eventually travel all over the Midwest playing bluegrass festivals and exclusive concerts with the likes of Rhonda Vincent and Larry Sparks.
In 2001, Brian teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Glenn House, and they started the band, Grasshoppah, with Brian on electric mandolin, saxophone, tenor banjo, and vocals; Glenn on guitar, vocals, harmonica, kick drum, and high hat (all of which he plays simultaneously); Shane Bullis on bass and vocals; and, Dan Giacobassi on flute and tenor saxophone. Together, these musicians created a unique blend of styles of music. The band has played more than seven hundred concerts covering the United States from Alaska to Pennsylvania. Some of their accolades include 2002 Jammie Award for “Local Artist of the Year” in Grand Rapids, Michigan; several weeks in the top-ten position of listener-sponsored radio stations across the country; a band with Vassar Clements; and, two albums, one of which was award-winning. Brian was also the leading member of Portland’s bluegrass and swing trio, Ida Viper, and a member of the band, Caravan Gogh, Portland’s original mysterioso band which was featured in “Sing Out” magazine.
One of Brian’s current projects is playing with upright bassist, Josh Feinberg. The two collaborated in 2010 and decided to write music and arrange classical music for bass and mandolin. Since then, their duo, BassMandolin, has played all over the Pacific Northwest, filling small concert halls and house concerts. In 2011, they traveled to Europe to play as soloists with ONI, the Dutch mandolin orchestra, and played concerts in Germany as well. Their repertoire consists of Bach Inventions, Calace, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Miles Davis, Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, swing, and several dozen originals.
Brian is a member of the world-renowned Ger Mandolin Orchestra. Resurrected by Californian, Avner Yonai, and headed by mandolin luminary, Mike Marshall, Ger has played concerts in the United States and at the Singer Festival in Warsaw, Poland.
Brian’s other musical ventures include tours with the Michigan-based trio, The Journeymen, with Brian’s longtime friend and guitarist, Luke Gitchel, and a California-based country trio with Brian, Pat Campbell, and songwriting king, Joe New.
In January of 2010, with his wife, Elizabeth, Brian started the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra, based in Hillsboro, Oregon. Since then, the Orchestra has remained 25 members strong. The Orchestra plays eight concerts a year in the Portland area. The repertoire consists of Baroque and Romantic era music, contemporary music from classical composers and arrangers, Italian music, American folk music, and music from around the world.
Brian placed in the finals at the 2003 National Mandolin Championship in Winfield, Kansas, and, in 2009, his song, “Carbondale,” won the songwriting contest at the Festival. Brian’s songwriting has earned him an honorable mention at the Woody Guthrie Song Contest, and, in 2002, his band, Grasshoppah, won the Artist of the Year, “Jammie,” in Grand Rapids, Michigan.