July 27, 2008
On board as the bassist when the Byrds first took flight and beside
Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris Hillman is the
Forrest Gump of country rock.
He rocked beside Stephen Stills with Manassas, enjoyed a string of
country hits in the 1980s with the Desert Rose Band, and was inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later that decade with the rest
of the surviving Byrds.
He witnessed the height of the 1960s counterculture, playing the
Monterey Pop Festival with the Byrds, as well as its nadir, when the
Burrito Brothers opened for the Rolling Stones at Altamont.
Now, nearly 50 years after starting his career, Hillman is still at
it, performing at The Ark on Wednesday with his longtime musical
partner and fellow Desert Rose alum Herb Pedersen.
And, after helping to plug country music into rock 'n' roll
amplifiers, Hillman, at 64, is back to his acoustic, bluegrass roots,
which he first explored as a teenaged mandolin prodigy.
"I sort of went back to square one," he told the Commercial Appeal in
Memphis, Tenn., earlier this summer. "I find that what I'm doing now
is challenging. It's really challenging to go up in a purely acoustic
format. We don't even plug in; there are no pick-ups in our
instruments; we just go right off the microphone."
Hillman said he never takes his roles in a string of groundbreaking
bands for granted, even if he has learned to take them in stride.
Rather, he sees himself as a facilitator, who was able to bring out
the best in his often mercurial bandmates, while himself maintaining
a more moderate lifestyle that allowed him to outlast Parsons and
Byrds singer Gene Clark, both of whom succumbed to drugged-out
lifestyles well before their times.
"I don't know if God put me in that position so I could be the voice
of reason," he said. "I don't know to this day. I often wonder how I
didn't end up a statistic 30 years ago.
"But I never was really playing in as dangerous an area as my
compatriots were, as far as recreational pursuits."
Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen
Who: Folk-rock icon and longtime musical partner.
When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Where: The Ark, 316 S. Main St.
How much: $22.50, available at the Michigan Union ticket office, Herb
David Guitar Studio and Ticketmaster.
Details: 734-761-1451 or http://www.theark.org.