Fort Smith

Tim O’Brien and Jan Fabricius concert kicks off AAC Live! season in Fort Smith

Bluegrass duo open AAC Live! season

“We started a project where we would put out digital releases of single songs, called Short Order Sessions,” which the couple produced monthly with other musicians, Tim OBrien explains. During one of those sessions, he says he happened to catch wife Jan Fabricius singing on a recording, which led to more performances. (Courtesy Photo)

For Tim O'Brien, seeing Doc Watson perform on television turned him into a lifelong devotee of old-timey and bluegrass music.

"I saw that and said, 'Man, that's the center of it for me,'" O'Brien remembers. "The way he plays it and sings it is very engaging. It's beautifully played, and he was really well-ordered -- friendly, though.

"Bluegrass stuff was a little hard to sort of get inside the shell at the beginning [for me], and his music helped me find my way into that," he explains.

O'Brien teases his wife and accompanist Jan Fabricius with "ZZ Top" as she tries to think of her earliest musical influences during a podcast interview with What's Up!

She laughs him off and quickly lists Pure Prairie League, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, John Prine and Guy Clark. She was also influenced by her siblings before she met her globe-trotting husband.

"My oldest sister, she played the mandolin," Fabricius adds. "She was already in college and playing bluegrass [so], I picked up on a lot of that from my older siblings."

Like many, Fabricius sang in church and played clarinet and mandolin. Her career path led her to nursing, but she kept her musicality flowing at local jams and regional bluegrass festivals while raising her family.

Meanwhile, O'Brien was touring and making music around the world with his sister Mollie O'Brien and as co-founder of Colorado's Hot Rize. During the 1990s the multi-instrumentalist wrote songs that were recorded by the likes of Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks and The Chicks and is considered one of the architects of modern bluegrass.

He and Fabricius met in 1993 at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kan. O'Brien performed at the festival with his sister and then hit some jam sessions around the event.

"We came upon them jamming in the campgrounds with Ranch Romance," his wife remembers. "It was very enjoyable and [then] they quit, and I asked him not to put his mandolin away."

After that meeting, the friends would see each other at festivals. Fabricius eventually became "Jan-sus from Kansas." When they both found themselves divorced later on, they decided to be a couple. The music came later.

"When I moved in with Tim. I was planning to get into another nursing position," Fabricius says. "Then one thing led to another, and I started tour managing for him because his tour manager moved away."

Since she's a musician too, she naturally started to fill in as a backup singer.

"It's natural, like [when] kids grow up together and sing together -- couples can do that. I'll be learning a song or writing a song and Jan will start singing along, and so sometimes she's right there at the inception of a new song and maybe contributes."

She worked on his 2021 album, "He Walked On," and they regularly perform intimate sets of traditional songs and originals from O'Brien's considerable catalog. They perform on Sept. 16 at AACLive! in Fort Smith.

"You want to make people tap their foot, you want to make them smile and laugh, you might maybe make them cry," O'Brien says.


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Jan Fabricius & Tim O'Brien

WHAT -- This is the season opener for AAC Live!, an annual series which offers a small intimate listening room experience. Up next are Chris Smither on Oct. 12, The Iguanas on Nov. 16 and Bennett Matteo Band (BMB) on Dec. 7.

WHEN -- 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16

WHERE -- AAC Live!, 801 Media Center, 801 N. A St. in Fort Smith

COST -- Season tickets are $300