Tommy and the Rozumatics infuse fresh energy and magic into bluegrass and country music from bygone eras. The group’s name is a play on The Maddox Brothers and Rose — the popular hillbilly band in the ’20s and ’30s — and is pronounced Rose-Uh-Maddox.
Mandolin player Tom Rozum is best known for touring with bluegrass fiddler Laurie Lewis and her band the Right Hands for the past three decades.
“I normally play bluegrass,” Rozum says, “but about 20 years ago, I recorded an album called ‘Jubilee’ that features music you would have heard at the Grand Ole Opry in the ’50s, only with slightly different instrumentation. The album caught the attention of a lot of people, including three teenagers who — when they grew up — became the Rozumatics.”
Rozum, along with fiddle phenom Brittany Haas, National Fiddle Champion and cellist Tristan Clarridge, and hammer-dulcimer and bass player Simon Chrisman, will perform country gems at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, in the Headwaters Room at the Geos Institute, 84 Fourth St., Ashland. Tickets are $15 to $30, $10 to $20 for teens, and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006. Kids 12 and younger get in free.
Clarridge, Haas and Chrisman are well-known in bluegrass and string-band circles for experimenting with instrumentation. Clarridge performs with his sister, fiddler Tashina Clarridge, and Chrisman as The Bee Eaters. He’s also performed with non-traditional bluegrass band Crooked Still and Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings. Fiddler Haas is a long-time member of Crooked Still, as well as a member of national radio show “Live From Here,” formerly “A Prairie Home Companion.” Chrisman also tours with bluegrass fiddler Jeremy Kittel.
“The cello and dulcimer are not traditional bluegrass instruments,” Rozum says, “but what those guys do with them is incredible, and the dynamics between Brittany’s fiddle and Tristan’s cello are amazing. Those are the elements that make our music one-of-a-kind.”
Haas and Clarridge have played music together for more than half their lives.
“We met at a fiddle camp when we were 14 years old,” Clarridge says. “We played for many years with Darol Anger, joined Crooked Still in 2008 and toured all over the world with that group.”
Clarridge says spending thousands of hours practicing and performing together over the course of two decades has formed an almost telepathic communication between them.
“We’ve gotten to know each other and know what the other person is likely to do during a performance,” he says. “We get inside what the other is doing in a way that can’t be described in words. It’s communication of a different sort. Magic happens between us when we perform together. Sometimes, we will play the same musical phrase at the same moment having never planned it.”
Clarridge adds that the blend of fiddle and cello creates many musical possibilities.
“We can stack harmonies together in lots of ways,” he says. “We play a lot of the leads between us, a lot of things in harmony, a lot of trading and improvising back and forth.”
Haas and Clarridge sing harmonies, while Rozum sings lead.
“Tom delivers the meaning of a song in a powerful yet natural, unforced way,” Clarridge says. “The music is in him, and it just flows out. He sets the tone for the rhythm with his mandolin or guitar, and the rest of us just follow by adding instrumentation around whatever he’s doing.”
Clarridge, Chrisman and Haas approached Rozum a few years ago to suggest a new collaboration. The idea took some time and work, but Rozum says he’s glad it happened.
“These three talented musicians take the music I have always loved to a whole new level,” he says. “Performing with them brings me a real sense of fulfillment, and the energy that flows back and forth between us and the audience is a wonderful thing.”