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By: Tim Newby
Somewhere out there is an old cassette tape, and scribbled across the label is the simple title "Fire & Ice." It was recorded on an old boom box, the kind where you have to push play and record at the same time. On that tape are the seeds of what would eventually become The Bridge. If Del McCoury went psychedelic and then hitched a ride with Stevie Ray Vaughn to New Orleans, the music they'd write together would be something like the sound of The Bridge. But first, there was an old cassette tape recorded on a cold, snowy afternoon in a small town just outside of Baltimore by two young musicians, Cris Jacobs (guitar) and Kenny Liner (mandolin/beatbox), who had recently begun playing together though they'd been friends for much longer.
| The Bridge|
The first time Jacobs remembers seeing Liner was during a basketball game when he was eleven or twelve, "I remember some kid flipping out doing headstands on the sideline running around like a monkey." The kid turned out to be a teammate's younger brother. The two became friends later that summer at camp, and soon found their friendship cemented over a shared love of music like the Grateful Dead. While in high school, Jacobs formed a band with some friends and they would occasionally let Liner, with his big, bushy afro and his bongos hanging around his neck, sit-in for a couple of songs. When asked by Liner if they let him sit-in because they liked what he played or because they wanted to make him happy, Jacobs pauses for a second before confessing, "It was probably only because we liked you."
After high school they drifted apart for a few years as Liner escaped to Hawaii and Jacobs attended the University of Massachusetts. It was during this time that Jacobs began to, "dig deeply into music; practicing and learning and getting involved with all kinds of different styles and groups." The two eventually reunited in the summer of 2001, after both had moved back to the Baltimore area and Jacobs happened to stop by the supermarket where Liner was working. After briefly catching up, they realized that they were both headed to the same show that night, a house party where bluegrass guitarist David Grier was playing. Grier was one of Jacobs' favorite guitarists at the time and Liner had just recently discovered him as he'd just begun to play the mandolin. The two fledgling musicians, sparked by the show went back to Liner's house afterwards and "picked some tunes." They can't quite remember the first song they ever played together that night but it was either "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which Liner says they used to play all the time, or some other easy bluegrass song they both knew. After this first late night session the two began to play together on a regular basis, mostly instigated by Liner calling Jacobs asking him, "You want to pick?" The duo eventually began to develop a repertoire of songs (Bob Marley's "Small Axe," bluegrass standards, and a few Jacobs originals) that they could play, usually at open-mic nights or at parties for friends.
Despite the small amount of success and notoriety they began to gain around Baltimore, Jacobs was still unsure about his musical future. "After graduation I moved back to Baltimore and I wasn't sure if I was going to settle down here or not. I knew I was going to do something with music, but I wasn't sure if it was going to be in Baltimore," says Jacobs. Around the same time, the bassist from Jacobs' high school band came home from college and was looking to start a band. Jacobs was hesitant to commit, explaining, "To be honest, it just wasn't exactly what I had in mind. It was never not fun, it just didn't seem like what I thought my band would be." All of these contradictory feelings came together to form a perfect storm of events that culminated on a cold snowy afternoon.
| Jacobs & Liner|
Who knows why that afternoon was different than any other time the two came together to pick, perhaps it was the surroundings. "We were in this sun-room, with stone floors. We had a fire going, and there was snow everywhere outside. It was beautiful," Liner says. Perhaps it was just the right amount of herbal supplement the two musicians stoked themselves up on before they played. Perhaps it was the idea that had been floating around in Liner's head – to combine the beatbox sound he loved so much over the top of a new line he'd been working out on his mandolin. Perhaps it was the way Jacobs latched onto Liner's idea so quickly with an inspired bluegrass riff of his own. Whatever the reason, two young musicians recorded a tape on that cold afternoon that they jokingly called "Fire & Ice" which is the genesis of The Bridge. The simple idea Liner had that Jacobs latched onto grew into "Pakalolo," the first full song they ever wrote together, which is still a staple of their live sets.
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