The Parent Fiddler
An ode to Pete Sutherland
In 1987 I had recently moved to Vermont and was building a life in New England. I was a blank canvas, seeking out new music and inspiration like only a twenty-something can. It was during that time when I attended a Metamora concert in Burlington and met Pete Sutherland (Metamora was Pete’s band with Grey Larsen and Malcolm Daglish from his Indiana days). I sat through the concert spellbound. Every note and nuance of the performance moved me. I could feel the trajectory of my life being nudged in real time toward something unforeseen - beautiful and rich with potential.
Pete didn’t know me at all, but during the break he approached me and said hello. All of a sudden, here was an outstanding musician whom I already revered, reaching out to make a connection. Perhaps he could tell I was really listening (musicians have a radar for that). The thing is… Pete made himself accessible. So many people will tell you the same thing about Pete - he is just like that.
When I had my bakery in Newport, from ’89 to ’94, Pete’s albums, Mountain Hornpipe, Poor Man’s Dream and Eight Miles from Town were my go-to, early morning music. I learned how to fiddle playing along with Pete while the bread was rising and the dawn was breaking before anyone else arrived at the shop.
In 1993, I called Pete to ask if he would produce my debut album. I held my breath waiting for him to say that he would. I wanted no other person to work with me on this. Every other week from that December through April, I drove my Volkswagon bus from the Northeast Kingdom down to Horrace Williams’ Little Castle Studio in Starksboro to record Elemental Lullabye. Each trip was an epic adventure - freezing cold, snow-covered roads in a van that never warmed up - to meet Pete at the bottom of Horrace’s hill and walk up the icy driveway. Later that same year, the album got me a spot to play at Carnegie Hall, and launched my career. (Thank so you very much, Pete!)
If you want to know what the music of this Central Vermont region is all about, one need look no further than Pete Sutherland. I know of no one else who has had such a profound and positive impact on the acoustic music scene in Vermont. Pete’s original songs - some wicked funny, some poignant, always ingeniously observant - are already well-worn chestnuts. And the swing of his fiddle playing - recognizable a mile away - is legend. Pete’s knowledge of tune sources is encyclopedic. When Pete sits in on a session, the level of playing always amps up a notch or two.
In Dunkeld, Scotland there is a tree known as the Parent Larch. Planted in 1738, offspring from this tree now number in the millions and populate the entire Perthshire region. We could easily refer to Pete as the Parent Fiddler. His music, producing, teaching, collage art, and twenty years of involvement with Young Tradition Vermont, has created fire in the bellies of many an aspiring fiddler.
I think these times - in the felling of a great tree - there is cause to look within. To somehow honor what’s lost with as much reflection as possible, and recount precious moments spent with that person. How they move our lives into the places we feel guided to go, yet are unsure of how to get there.
Pete imbues whomever he is playing with an enhanced ability to find their potential. In his understated way, Pete always makes you play at a higher level. He naturally assumes the most of your abilities. He does that with me, at least. I am so grateful for that.
Pete is in hospice currently in Montpelier. If you would like to send a little love to Pete Sutherland to honor his work and legacy, visit "For the Love of Pete." "For the Love of Pete" will support Young Tradition Vermont programs and activities at Vermont Folklife.
Thank you, Pete.
P.S. Pete passed away on November 30th surrounded by loving friends and family.
That was a beautiful memory,
Pete and I grew up together in Shelburne. He, his brothers, my siblings and I were one big extended family. Before folk music he had a fondness for The Doors (Pete nailed the organ part of Light My Fire) and John Lennon was his favourite Beatle. Always intending to reconnect but never quite managing to do so as I live in the UK, I’m saddened to hear he’s so unwell.