Fiddling tunes from Western North Carolina to Southborough
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Southborough – Ben Riva of Southborough is a musician who has covered a lot of ground, both in musical styles and geographical regions. He started playing the violin at age 3 when his family lived in Philadelphia. Now he’s performing fiddle and vocals with Brother’s Rye, a country and bluegrass band who play nearly weekly at venues in the greater Boston area and on Cape Cod.
“The first violin music I heard was classical, which I thought was really cool,” he said. “These days, I do a lot more fiddling.”
Riva distinctly remembers his introduction to the violin when he was only 3 years old.
“I was a pretty active child and didn’t really want to sit down for too long,” he said. “My mother took me to the library and there happened to be a violinist playing there that day. I sat down and watched the entire performance. After that, my mom signed me up for violin lessons.”
Through his childhood, Riva studied with a violinist who played with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Soon after his family moved to Amherst when he was 11, he developed an interest in blues fiddling. He began studying with a teacher in western Massachusetts whose lessons included jazz, bluegrass, and other musical styles.
Riva’s artistic interest expanded to theater at age 18. After performing with the Mount Holyoke College Summer Theatre, he decided to move to Los Angeles.
“I tried my hand at acting while doing some music,” he said. “While I was out there, I was introduced to electronic music and production by a few deejays I’d been listening to and hanging out with. After a year in Los Angeles, I figured that I really liked music a whole lot more.”
Riva returned to Massachusetts and studied music synthesis at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I had a wonderful time at Berklee,” he said. “It was great to have all sorts of musicians with a vast amount of knowledge that you can gain from being around them. The college has great teachers and cool classes to take.”
While instructing fiddle, Riva yearned to return to the musical style he learned years earlier.
“I was teaching fiddle in Boston and doing lots of stagehand work, and I started getting bitten by the bluegrass bug,” he explained. “I moved down to Asheville, N.C., in 2007.”
Soon afterward, Riva became active in the Western North Carolina music scene. He performed with a few bands, including the Trainwrecks. They were voted Best Alternative Country Band for four consecutive years in the Best of Western North Carolina Awards conducted by the Mountain Express, an independent weekly newspaper.
“Winning was a surprise to us each time,” he said with a laugh. “The Asheville, N.C., music scene and community was incredible. Big names from Nashville have moved there and it’s become quite a music hub.”
Now back in Massachusetts, Riva works as the audio-visual director at St. Mark’s School. Musically, he picked up where he left off by checking Craigslist and finding a band in search of a fiddler. He enjoys playing with Brother’s Rye, who are recording an album and performing gigs.
“We’re basically a jug band without a jug,” he said. “Sometimes we do have a jug onstage and anybody can come up and play it.”
They rehearse in a studio at the home of a band member in Woods Hole.
“It’s a long commute, but it’s worth it because it’s a really great band,” Riva said. “It’s nice to find people who you jive with musically.”
For more information about Brother’s Rye, visit: brothersrye.com.
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