Two kings of bluegrass play the Mill


For Andy Carlson and Casey Cook, music has played an integral role in their lives for as long as either can remember. Carlson first picked up the fiddle when he was 5, thanks to his grandfather, while guitarist Cook toured the country with his family’s bluegrass band when he was 3.

The two will play the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., at 8 p.m. Saturday, where they will be joined by local bluegrass players from Big Wooden Radio and the Burlington Street Bluegrass Band. Carlson and Cook will dominate the first half of the show with music from their own works as well as some classic jazz and bluegrass pieces. The second set, with the additional instrumentalists, will be more of a “bluegrass jam session,” Carlson said.

Neither of the men had intended to center their lives on music when they first began playing.
“Music was always a part of my household growing up,” Carlson said. “I had never really thought of it as a full-time job until I got into college and I decided to be a music major.”

By the time he was 6, Cook had been inducted into the Florida Country Music Hall of Fame as a member of his family’s band, Special Cooking. In his early teens, he became determined to ensure that his future career involved playing guitar.

“Music was a huge, huge part of my upbringing,” he said. “Everyone in my family played music, and we still do.” He attributes a lot of his influence to his parents, who first got him started with guitar, as well as to brother Matt Cook, who also played in Special Cooking.

Aside from the major effect he credits his family with having, Casey Cook also acknowledges the influence that Carlson has had on his life.

“Andy has been a huge inspiration on me,” he said. “He’s such an incredible player … He’s helped me find my own voice.”

Cook and Carlson have been playing together for a number of years, and the two work together at Denison University in Ohio. They have collaborated on two releases, with a third album in production. The duo tours with the Andy Carlson Band, playing various shows throughout the country.

The performance this weekend will be Cook’s first in Iowa City; Carlson is a native Iowan. In fact, he was born in Iowa City but moved away at a young age. He received a doctorate in musical arts from the UI.

While it’s only a homecoming for one of them, they both are looking forward to playing the Mill on Saturday.

“What a pleasure it is to be able to come back to Iowa City,” Carlson said.

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