Noam Pikelny is the preeminent banjo player of his generation. He is a member of the progressive bluegrass band, The Punch Brothers, a supergroup of sorts. Each member share a common background of being young prodigies in their respective instruments, growing up in the small, insular bluegrass circuit. Together, they push the boundaries of the genre and cross over into classical, rock, jazz and anything in between. Prior to the Punch Brothers, he was a member of Leftover Salmon and played in John Cowan's band; Cowan of the New Grass Revival fame, the early progressive bluegrass band that is perhaps the progenitor of the Punch Brothers. Pikelny also has the distinction of being the first recipient of the "Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass". Yes, that Steve Martin. And no, not a joke but a pretty serious and prestigious award established by Martin to recognize extraordinary banjo players.
On March 5th. Pikelny made his debut at McCabe's Guitar Shop playing a solo performance to a sold out audience. Two days prior, his solo album "Universal Favorite" was released. UF isn't a solo album in the sense of an individual from a band recording an album apart from his band with another group of musicians. This is a SOLO album; Noam and his instrument. That's it. Anybody who plays an instrument knows that solo performances are very taxing mentally. For an hour and a half, it's just you. There's no coasting. There's no laying out while others take a solo. There's no sharing of the weight. JUST. YOU.
Pikelny did a long soundcheck that went close to the start of the show and needed to get ready. So he requested that we shoot the portrait after the show. Ideally, I like to shoot the portraits just before the performance. Waiting till after the show can be a crapshoot depending on how the show went, how many friends are at the show wanting to hang out and other factors that can easily lead the musician to say, "maybe not tonight."
He was playing his fourth show in as many days in as many cities. And with the new album out, he was doing lots of interviews in addition. He played the show (now mind you he's not strumming three chords and singing but playing some very complex stuff) and met his fans and signed albums. After talking with his last fan, he just deflated from fatigue. He was tired! He said he hadn't been that tired in a long time. He could have easily begged off from the shoot but pressed on without complaining.