Appearing on April 17 at the OB Farmers Market and May 17 at the Athenaeum, the latter a special father and son show, Oliver’s inspired playing raises the bar for other local players.
Originally from Hiawassee, a little mountain town nestled in the southern portion of the Smokey Mountains, Oliver spent time in Florida and Virginia before arriving in Ocean Beach.
His life in music can be traced back directly to his family. “I started performing in 1998 with my father,” he recalled. “He bought me my first guitar, a Martin HD-28, that I still perform with to this day. I grew up watching my father play bluegrass and entertaining local crowds in west Georgia. I eventually got the bug to play and he was happy to teach me,” Oliver said.
While he could have chosen any instrument Oliver was specifically drawn to flatpicking bluegrass guitar “because of its energy,” he said. “Growing up around it certainly played a part in it too. It embodies speed and accuracy at fast paces which makes it challenging and unique. At slower paces it becomes melodic and enchanting. Hearing the sustained tone from a purpose-built guitar really opened my eyes to a level of expression in acoustic music.”
Oliver’s first live performance was also alongside his dad. “It was when I was 20, with my father at a place called the Down Under Restaurant in Fernandina Beach, Fla., where I also worked as a cook,” Oliver said. “We played for a small group of folks gathered on the riverfront deck. The first tune we played was an old Charlie Ryan song called ‘Hot Rod Lincoln.’ I don’t know what was received better, the picking or the father-son antics. In either case we had a lot of fun with those folks and they tipped us well. After that I was hooked!”
He considers Ocean Beach to be a great spot for performers like himself. “OB’s musical landscape is quite unique,” Oliver said. “In all of its diversity, everyone is mostly supportive and accepting of one another’s contributions to the musical scene. I also think it is really unique to have national touring acts from multiple genres to call OB home. One year you may see a band at the local farmers market, and the next they could be headlining major venues across the nation.”
While Oliver does play covers in his set, “folks may not recognize them as such,” he said. “Bluegrass and folk are largely based on traditional songs that date back hundreds of years. So, in a sense they are covers, but then the arrangement becomes your way of expressing the melodies through your own unique style. Outside of the bluegrass realm you can find me playing songs from Merle Travis, Bob Dylan and The Allman Brothers to name a few.”
With more than a decade of hitting local stages behind him, Oliver is clear on his favorite thing about being a musician. “It’s when I see a crowd feeling the delivered groove,” he said. “Playing venues like farmers markets, community events, and even bars, you don’t necessarily have everyone’s engaged attention.
“But when you see people coming through your musical aura, walking down the street in the distance, or sitting silently at the bar while others chat around them bobbing their heads, tapping their feet, or doing their dance, you know you have reached them on some level and made their universe a little brighter in that moment, with the power of music,” Oliver said.
Travis Oliver: Wednesday, April 17 at Ocean Beach Farmers Market, Newport and Bacon avenues. 4 p.m. All ages. oceanbeachsandiego.com.