By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Northborough/Shrewsbury – Although Northborough native and former Shrewsbury resident John Tibert recently moved to Worcester, he still spends plenty of time and energy in his hometown. He works in Northborough at Gray’s Carpet Center, a family business founded by his grandfather in 1943. Additionally, he finds time to sing and play mandolin with two bluegrass bands: Local Freight and Southern Rail.
Tibert developed an interest in acoustic music as a preteen when he got his first album recorded by Jim Croce. At age 14, he taught himself how to play his brother’s guitar. His first performance in front of an audience was at an open mic in the early 1990s at the famed Old Vienna Kaffeehaus in Westborough.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” he said of his debut. “I had never performed anywhere before. I got up onstage as a solo act with a guitar and sang songs that I liked, thinking the audience would like them, too. It was trial by fire.”
Around that time, Tibert and a friend would practice guitar together. His friend owned a mandolin, but had little experience playing it. For Tibert, that encounter led to an appreciation of the mandolin and Bill Monroe, commonly referred to as the “Father of Bluegrass.”
“I told my friend that I’ll borrow his mandolin, learn a few tunes and then teach them to him,” Tibert relayed. “It turned out that I really liked the mandolin and was surprised how easily I learned how to play it. For me, it’s easier to learn melodies on the mandolin than the guitar. I started listening to different bluegrass and mandolin music. I like that cool sound that Bill Monroe had – a biting, gritty sound that I became very enamored with.”
When Tibert frequented the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus he became a fan of musicians who regularly performed there including the bluegrass band Southern Rail. The band’s songs were on the Top 30 Singles Chart of Bluegrass Unlimited for a combined total of 32 months. Six years ago, Tibert auditioned to sing and play mandolin with Southern Rail. He was accepted into the band.
“I had seen these musicians at the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus and admired them,” he said. “As I got better performing, I ended up playing with a lot of those people I used to go see.”
While still playing with Southern Rail, Tibert gathered a group of musician friends four years ago and formed the bluegrass band Local Freight. Both bands perform year-round with an increase of gigs during the summer at outdoor concerts and festivals throughout New England. Locally, Southern Rail appeared at the Fourth of July Picnic in the Park in Concord. Also, Local Freight entertained July 26 at Wood Park in Hudson.
Local Freight is currently working on a self-titled CD of original music scheduled to be released this fall. The CD will feature mostly songs composed by Tibert, as well as some tunes written by bandmate Rich Piccarreto, guitarist and vocalist. Forming the Local Freight band has been an opportunity for Tibert to further explore songwriting.
“As long as I’ve played guitar I’ve been writing my own music – that’s over 30 years,” he noted. “This band is an outlet for me to play around with my own original music. The songwriting came from events that were taking place in my life – heartbreak and divorce. It’s cathartic for me. Everyone in Local Freight has been very receptive to my material and encouraging. I’m very proud of the musicians I get to play with in that band.”