Native San Diegan Alison Brown graduated from Harvard and became a successful banker. She got a call from Alison Krauss to join her band Union Station, and dropped the banker hat to pursue music. From there, she went from playing banjo outside of Shakey’s Pizza in La Mesa to being named the Banjo Player of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and starting her own label, Compass Records.
“There’s not much that was cool about the banjo in the mid-’70s. Most students at La Jolla High School were more into being surfers and surfer chicks than banjo pickers. But I was really drawn to the sound of the instrument when I first heard Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Banjo album, and when we moved from Connecticut to San Diego in 1974 I fell in with the San Diego Bluegrass Club.”
She also has fond memories of parking-lot jam sessions at the Shakey’s Pizza parlor in La Mesa. “Lots of great local bands...played sets on stage while several circles of pickers jammed outside in the dark, scattered among the parked cars. That’s really where I cut my teeth on the bluegrass repertoire.”
“And I tuned in every Sunday night to Wayne Rice’s Bluegrass Special on KSON. He’s still on the air and probably has one of the longest running bluegrass radio shows in the country. So, as it turned out, San Diego was a great place to learn to play bluegrass, even though that might sound a little counterintuitive.”
In 2009, the mother of two relocated to Nashville. In September of that year, she appeared on the cover of Dirty Linen (#143), a popular world and folk music magazine. Almost exactly one year later, she and her Alison Brown Quartet released a DVD Live at Blair. Filmed at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the DVD features Joe Craven of David Grisman Quintet fame.
Brown is also a producer, with credits such as the 2010 album Legacy by the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, as well as guesting on albums by artists like the Indigo Girls (Happy Holly Days). As of early 2011, she is working on the National Folk Festival, to be held in Nashville from 2011 through 2013.
The 2011 Alison Brown Quartet DVD Live at Blair was filmed at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, featuring Joe Craven of David Grisman Quintet fame. In 2013, the bluegrass star scored appearances on the PBS music show Bluegrass Underground and on the cover of American Profile magazine, perched with her banjo atop a boulder.