Singer-songwriter and mandolinist Forrest O’Connor is a founding member of the country folk trio Wisewater along with Kate Lee (vocals/fiddle) and Jim Shirey (guitar). In the last several months, Wisewater has toured across the country, hitting venues such as The Grand Ole Opry, The Station Inn (Nashville, TN), and Joe’s Pub (New York, NY). They’ve also shared the stage with Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier, Bill Lloyd (of Foster & Lloyd), Mark Volman (of The Turtles), and many others. The band is releasing its debut EP, The Demonstration, on November 18, 2014.
O’Connor grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. His father, Mark O'Connor, was a country session fiddler during the first few years of his life, giving the younger O'Connor firsthand exposure to many of the leading figures in the country music scene, including Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush. In 2000, he moved with his mother, Suzanne, to Missoula, Montana, where he picked up the mandolin. During high school, he wrote for his local newspaper, The Missoulian, and one of his articles placed second in The Newspaper Association of America’s national youth journalism competition in 2005. He graduated in 2006 from Hellgate High School as his class valedictorian.
That fall, O'Connor enrolled at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachussetts. As a sophomore, he co-founded a short-lived progressive bluegrass band called The Hay Brigade, which performed on Public Radio International's The World and WGBH's A Celtic Sojourn. John Lawless of Bluegrass Today praised The Hay Brigade for possessing a "stunning level of virtuosity and a fine sense of the appropriate mix of improvisation and melody when it comes to folk-derived music." As an undergraduate, O'Connor was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and awarded a Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for his senior thesis on F-5 mandolin design. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in sociomusicology.
In summer 2010, O'Connor co-founded Concert Window, Inc. with former Hay Brigade bandmate Dan Gurney. Concert Window has developed into one of the leading webcasting platforms for musicians, and it has been featured on TED as well as in The Examiner, TechCrunch, The Boston Herald, Complex, Evolver.fm, TechHive, and BostInnovation.
O'Connor began performing professionally in 2011, while still running Concert Window in Boston. He was a member of the David Gallagher Band and Mark Whitaker Band, and he appeared as a guest artist on several albums recorded in town, including Melissa Ferrick’s The Truth Is (2013) and the Hillary Reynolds Band’s The Miles Before Us (2014).
After returning to his hometown of Nashville in early 2014, O’Connor started playing mandolin regularly with Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and Val Storey at The Station Inn on Monday nights. That March, O’Connor won the Tennessee State Mandolin Championship in Clarksville, TN.
Each December, O’Connor tours across the country with his dad as part of An Appalachian Christmas. Other performers on the tour include Cia Adkisson (formerly of the band Cherryholmes), Carrie Rodriguez, and guitarist Joe Smart.
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