When you were a kid, you could probably get by with giving Mom a "pre-sampled" sampler box of chocolates for Mother's Day. But now you'll have to do better than that. And a ringside seat to hear fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor might be just the ticket.
O'Connor will be featured in a special Mother's Day concert Sunday as part of a new intimate showcase series, "Nicholby's Presents," at Nicholby's Upstairs Night Club & Pool Hall in Ventura.
Among his many accolades, O'Connor just picked up his seventh Academy of Country Music "Hat" trophy for best instrumentalist-fiddle. In 1991, 1992 and 1993, the soft-spoken master fiddler, guitarist and mandolinist was named the Country Music Assn.'s "Musician of the Year." And in 1992, he won a Grammy for the "Best Country Instrumental Performance" for his historic "New Nashville Cats" album on the Warner Bros. label.
A child prodigy, O'Connor had won every major fiddle competition in the country and had recorded four albums by the time he was in high school. After moving to Nashville in 1983, he became Music City's most awarded and most in-demand musician. In six years, he appeared on more than 450 recordings by major stars in gospel, pop and country, including James Taylor, Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, Amy Grant, Paul Simon and Leon Redbone.
But O'Connor does not limit himself to performing a country repertoire. His mastery of musical styles extends to classical, jazz and bluegrass. He appeared as soloist with the Santa Fe Symphony this season for the premiere of his Fiddle Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. And his latest Warner Bros. album, "Heroes," is a compilation of O'Connor performing with 14 of his childhood violinist-fiddler idols, including Doug Kershaw, Jean-Luc Ponty, Charlie Daniels and Pinchas Zukerman. And last year, he shared the stage at Carnegie Hall with Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman.
In an interview in Performance magazine last year, O'Connor promised more live performances.
"I go out and do an hour and a half to two hours and leave the stage totally exhausted," he said. "It's the one place I know I can give the audience my all and I know I did my job from their response. It's great."
The third annual Ventura Police Block Party will kick off at 8 a.m. Saturday with a pancake breakfast by the Ventura Kiwanis Club. And events for the whole family will continue through the day.
The country music highlights will be found on Stage I. Shiloh will perform lots of danceable traditional and new country tunes from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Then at 12:30 p.m., Chris Hillman, formerly of the legendary Byrds and Desert Rose Band, will perform an hour of acoustic music with Jim Monahan, guitarist with the Fender Benders, and Ojai singer-songwriter Alan Thornhill. And the popular regional group, Darlene O'Connell and the Dixie Flyers, will close the show from 1:45 to 4:45 p.m.
The theme of the free event centers around personal safety and crime prevention. There will be plenty of show-and-tell emergency response equipment for the kids, along with K-9 dog demonstrations, drunk-driving simulations and Police Department tours. You'll also find vendor, display, food and game booths. Ronald McDonald, Hanna-Barbera's Yogi Bear, Magic Mountain's Yosemite Sam, Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog will be there. So bring the cameras and the kids.
The block party will at the Ventura Police Department, 1425 Dowell Drive. Free parking is available at the 101 Drive-In Theatre Lot C, off Portola Road, and also in the vacant lot next to the Star-Free Press on Ralston Street.
* WHO: Fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor.
* WHERE: Nicholby's Upstairs Night Club & Pool Hall, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.
* WHEN: Sunday, doors open at 7:30 p.m., show time 8:30 p.m., general seating only.
* COST: $15.50 per person in advance, $16.50 at the door.
* TICKETS: Nicholby's box office, 653-2320; Ticketmaster locations, (213) 480-3232; Cymbaline Records in Santa Barbara or Blue Sky Music in Ojai.