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Silver sounds blend old, new; Local musician strums his stuff

Musician and teacher Chris Silver stays busy. The River Falls-based musician plays gigs, teaches full time at the local high school and spends time with his wife and three children.

He's been strumming since he was nine and his musical roots go deep.

His grandfather played German folk music on a mandolin - also called fiddle, depending on who you play with - and Silver's dad played spoons and bass guitar.

"We always had music at family gatherings," said Silver "I remember hearing trumpets, mandolins, guitars and singing."

The St. Paul native and his wife Naomi moved to River Falls six years ago shortly after having their first child.

"We enjoyed the energy and diversity of 'The Cities,'" said Silver, "but we wanted to live somewhere with a little slower pace."

Silver has been quoted before about about the inspiration he's gotten from the River Falls community. He enjoys the Kinnickinnic River, watching area sunsets, trout fishing and eating at the South Fork Café on Main Street.

He has to work at finding time to sip coffee and wait on dusk, though. He's dad to seven-year-old Alma, five-year-old Ari, and 15-month-old Isaac.

He usually plays three or four music gigs in a week. He teaches a business education class full time at River Falls High School, plus leads an extra-curricular music club for young people.

And he maintains a music studio at home, the Silver Shed, where he plays and writes music.

"I have to consciously plan to make time for everything," Silver said. "Luckily I've reached a maturity with my music so I don't have to practice as much as when I was just starting out.

"It's a juggling act and challenging to balance it all, but I book heavier in the summer and my family travels with me. The kids love music, know all the words to my songs and often sing along. We all have a good time together."

Silver plays mainly acoustic (unplugged) guitar, but also varies his act with a mandolin, fiddle and three kinds of drums. He's become well known for his unique music style that blends old sounds with new. His styles include blues, jazz, bluegrass and many variations of those.

Silver plays using flat-picking and slide-guitar methods that make his music bouncy and fun. His mandolin and fiddle talents open a wider range of notes than is found in most music styles.

His ensemble, the Chris Silver Band, uses traditional music as its core but has a new sound. Silver says it's hard to describe without hearing it, but it's like Greg Allman Band music laced with African and Latin rhythms. He and the band sprinkle in some fiddle, slide guitar and percussion to spice things up.

"I grew up on bands like the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and am very excited about this new ensemble," he said. "To me it's an interesting mix of musical forces."

Locals have several chances to hear the music he's talking about right in River Falls. Lighthouse Coffee sponsors Silver for the CAB-organized River Falls Music in the Park from 7-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19.

This will take place across the footbridge from Veterans Park. He'll also be playing a River Falls wedding, but that's by invitation only.

Check out Silver at Hudson's Twisted Grille this Friday and three other dates: Sunday, Aug. 7; Thursday, Aug. 18; and Thursday, Aug. 25.

Between gigs at the Twisted Grille, which Silver says is a cool venue, he'll be playing at Fort Snelling for Friends of the Mississippi Festival on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Silver has played solo and with other bands. He was with Tangled Roots for a while and toured with the group Stoney Lonesome for several years.

"I get energized by performing," Silver said.

He's recorded about 10 CDs and is working on another. Silver's most recent solo piece is "Souls and Spirits," released in 2003.

He'll be featured in Flatpicking Guitar magazine's July/August issue.

Silver says he really enjoys teaching. He graduated from UW-Stout with a Business Administration degree but soon found that the arts suit him better than business.

He began teaching part time at a technical college in 1993 and had a lot of opportunity to be creative with it, which began his teaching career.

In his business education classes at River Falls High School, he instructs young people on Web design, computer applications and marketing. He begins a class this fall in entertainment marketing.

"I have tons of materials for that and am very excited about it," Silver said.

Students interested in traditional acoustic music can join the music club that Silver has been leading the last three years. It's not necessarily instructional - it's more like a jam session where he's there for guidance.

"Music is my passion and I've enjoyed sharing that with young people," he said.

Blue grass music dominated last year's meetings and this year turned more toward folk rock, only grungier. Silver says that trend doesn't surprise him considering the resurgence of jam bands and a focus on acoustical bands at area music festivals.

Anyone interested in hearing this local music man's sound can buy a CD, log onto and download a compressed audio file (mp3) or come to one of his upcoming gigs.