Rob Vye & Ilya Portnov

Live from the Sonoma Tavern Stage (indoors)

Rob Vye & Ilya Portnov

Friday, April 28, 2017

8:00 pm

HopMonk Tavern - Sonoma

Sonoma, CA


Rob Vye & Ilya Portnov
Rob Vye & Ilya Portnov
As an acoustic guitar and harmonica duo playing country blues and ragtime, Rob Vye and Ilya Portnov are simultaneously throwbacks to a bygone era, and forward-thinking traditionalists who by their very existence stand as proof that this music is alive and well. If the Reverend Gary Davis had found a harmonica-playing partner the way Sleepy John Estes did with Hammie Nixon, or if Mississippi John Hurt had formed a duo that mirrored Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry’s partnership, you might be able to make a direct comparison to the sound Vye and Portnov put out. But truth be told, as “traditional” as their vibe may seem to be, there is no direct precedent for their music. Their connection is as unique as it is unlikely.

Weaker backs might likely have broken under the weight of what Rob Vye has been through in his life, and it’s no cliché to say that Vye’s career was literally forged in the fires of tragedy. Thankfully, his salvation was and continues to be his music, and anyone who’s seen Vye lay into an old spiritual or tear up a delta blues stomper knows the man is in it for keeps. Matching formidable chops to an unshakeable passion, Rob Vye has earned the admiration of next gen blues stars like Aki Kumar and Big Jon Atkinson, and anticipation is building exponentially as he nears completion of his debut album. Rob Vye is a masterful fingerstyle guitarist able to deliver sophisticated ragtime blues at the level of masters like Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Blake, and his 12-string work in particular represents a stunning evocation of Blind Willie McTell’s singular sound. Atop all this fevered musicality, Vye’s voice floats like a summer breeze; mellow, warm, and a perfect counterweight to the bouncing freneticism of his guitar work.

Ilya Portnov first encountered Rob Vye at a Northern California blues jam, first as a spectator, then—much to his surprise!—as a stage-mate. It was Aki Kumar who threw them together, and
Kumar’s instinct to do so has proven prescient; this was a match. But, it didn’t come easy. While Portnov is a technician of staggering abilities, Vye’s thing was new to him. Ilya Portnov is in fact among the most innovative and technically advanced harmonica players in the world, and is equally comfortable swinging a Brazilian choro as he is navigating a sinewy Balkan dance. In 2014, he completed a Masters at the prestigious New England Conservatory, and is the only
person playing diatonic harmonica to have done so. But, the country blues defy technique, and Portnov recognized this right away. He virtually demanded that Vye show him his songs, and Vye was only too happy to do so. It wasn’t long before they realized they were sitting on top of something very, very special.

Separately, Rob Vye and Ilya Portnov represent distinctly different reconciliations of tradition and technique, but together, they become that rarefied thing all partnerships pursue—a whole
greater than the sum of its parts.
Venue Information:
HopMonk Tavern - Sonoma
691 Broadway
Sonoma, CA, 95476