In Fine Fiddle

Abandoning band tours and some renown, Bromberg now owns a violin store in Wilmington, Del., and jams with local musicians.
Abandoning band tours and some renown, Bromberg now owns a violin store in Wilmington, Del., and jams with local musicians. "It has given me back my chops," he says. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006


Past the discount drugstore, the wig shop and the fried chicken joint, the scene inside the hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse appears like a mirage. Step into the back room, beyond the crabby cook flipping burgers, and the place is packed with guitarists, fiddlers, stand-up bassists, mandolin and banjo players.

On a Tuesday night, they're what passes for life on this dead stretch of downtown.

A bald biologist and his mop-topped teenager are jamming, along with a gray-haired man in a leather cowboy hat and a woman with glasses perched on her nose. An unshaven social worker launches his best eyes-shut approximation of Willie Nelson.

"Well it's a good thing that I'm not a star , you don't know how lucky you are. "

He finishes and collects an approving nod from the bear of a white-whiskered man who is responsible for this ungainly weekly ritual, the one who has lived a life the rest can only imagine.

"You're on this record, I believe," the social worker says.

"That's right," David Bromberg answers softly, smiling, guitar on his knee.

He doesn't say much more, and he doesn't need to. Everyone in the joint knows he played with Bob Dylan and Chubby Checker and Ringo Starr and the Grateful Dead and countless others. And they know he led his own big band on a never-ending tour of colleges in the 1970s, whipping up a blistering mix of blues and bluegrass and everything in between.

Bromberg was never stretch-limousine famous. But among musicians and a devout following, he was a guitar god. Now he's something of an attraction-in-residence in this city many know only as a passing blur from the highway.

He didn't come here to perform. He largely retreated from that career years ago to pursue another obsession -- buying and selling violins.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. He fell into a world of small-town, no-name musicians, like the assistant principal who makes his harmonica sound like a howling freight train, and the stonemason whose piercing riffs on electric guitar make him shout "Yeah, George!"

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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