“Butch Baldassari, who led the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble when they opened for Judy Collins at the 2001 Kent State Folk Festival, passed away Sunday morning. He had an inoperable brain tumor. Last year Nashville’s finest (Bela Fleck, Tim O’Brien, Maura O’Connell) held a benefit concert to raise funds for him. He had a wonderful spirit and absolutely loved playing at our event. When he pulled out the Allman Brother’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” arranged for 3 mandolins, mandola, octave mandolin, and violin, the crowd went nuts. We knew the end was coming, but it’s still hard. So many losses this year. Fortunately Jimmie Wilson made a marvelous recording. We will hear excerpts this weekend [on WKSU] and on Folk Alley.”
My notes. Baldassari was not just a great musician, he was also a good businessman and a music historian. I was only in my second year managing merchandise for the festival when he ran behind the table to help sell CDs after the band’s set. Rightly, I handed him a sharpie and told him to go sign. We had enough salespeople – he needed to play star right then. The Mandolin Ensemble was his idea, revisiting a time at the turn of the 20th century when string ensembles were commonplace in sitting rooms across the country.