Inside the Stensrud Building on a snowy night, Geoffrey Paul Taylor plays his fiddle, letting the sound of each stroke reverberate through the high-ceilinged space with startling clarity. The room's glossy wood floor and deep-orange walls evoke rustic elegance—something close to what might have been the brick structure's original interior when it was built in 1890 to house the premier drug store on Missoula's Northside. In a wool vest and feathered hat, Taylor fits right into the atmosphere. In conversation he's a quiet sort with a bashful demeanor, but when he plays his violin he's bold. He strolls around the creaky floor whipping his bow across the strings and belting out, "Off in the woods where I distill/drinks corn liquor from the fish's gill/And all day long he hunts for gold/with a malamute and a four year old."
Taylor is a fiddler-about-town who often appears at breweries or at the Missoula Winter Market, playing solo or with one of a handful of bands. Over a year ago he started a Wednesday-evening jam circle at Imagine Nation Brewery. Almost everything Taylor plays is old-time music—baroque, gypsy jazz, Appalachian folk—but there are exceptions. Last year he performed with Bare Bait Dance Company, playing a classical piece live to the soundtrack of an electro-house song he had pre-recorded, while Bare Bait's Jes Mullette danced.
"It was like having a conversation with myself and with Jes," he says.
On Thu., Dec. 8, Taylor hosts a potluck and public concert at the Stensrud, where he'll showcase three of his current projects.
"I'm trying to get the ball rolling with doing regular events here at the Stensrud," he says. Besides a solo set, the show features Huckleberry Mash, a two-piece band featuring Tanner Bray on the clawhammer banjo, and Night Blooming Jasmine, featuring John Rosett of Cash for Junkers and Jeff Turman of Caroline Keys and the LaneSplitters.
Taylor grew up in Billings and spent 10 years of his childhood in Texas, during which time he took piano and voice lessons from his mom. (Taylor met Turman in the student orchestra while attending high school in Tyler, Texas, and they both just happened to end up in Missoula years later.) He picked up the violin when he was 8 years old and eventually played with the symphonies in Billings and Helena. He also studied violin performance at the University of Northern Colorado. "After a couple of years I started playing bluegrass," he says. "But I'd always been into improvising. I've been playing with bands since I was 16."
He moved from Billings to Missoula three years ago with his bluegrass band, Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails, which frequented prominent Montana concert halls for four years before recently going on hiatus.
Taylor's bluegrass and old-time music has a ready audience in Missoula, but he's pushing stylistic boundaries with plans to host chamber music concerts, as well. He's been working on Georg Philipp Telemann's "12 Fantasias for Solo Violin," and on Jan. 19, he'll play an experimental show featuring three violins and two violas—each in a different tuning. His plan to offer more concerts at the Stensrud is a community-minded effort to gather the neighborhood and raise money for good projects. But it's also a chance for Taylor to share some of his favorite oldies and old-time style originals—in a space that makes them sound like gold.
Geoffrey Paul Taylor hosts a potluck at the Stensrud Thu., Dec. 8, from 7 to 10 PM, with art by Lindsey Tucker and music by Taylor, Huckleberry Mash and Night Blooming Jasmine.