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Tim Grimm: Bigger than the song

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If you meet Tim Grimm, you might be thrown off by his laid-back, hay farmer demeanor. He’s actually one of the busiest multimedia artists in Indiana. With music, theater and film projects always in the works from the creative headquarters of a farm he shares with his wife, Jan Lucas, and their three sons — on 80 acres west of Columbus, Ind., in Bartholomew County — you’d think he wouldn’t have time to get the hay in.

Grimm’s most recent music project is his CD Names, released last fall on Wind River Records. His most recent theatrical project is his current role as composer, musical performer and actor in Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (through March 12).

Two sides of Grimm’s muse combine at IRT on Saturday, Feb. 26 with a 5 p.m. performance of The Grapes of Wrath, followed at 8:30 by a concert of Grimm’s engaging folk/rock. Bloomington singer/songwriter (and John Prine guitarist) Jason Wilber will be among the musical guests on stage for this special show.

After graduating from high school and leaving Columbus in 1978, Grimm’s path of theatrical education led him to Earlham College and then on to Ann Arbor for grad school. He pursued acting work in New York City, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles before landing back home again nearly 20 years later. Regular projects with Phoenix Theatre and IRT keep him active in Indianapolis theater and new film projects are on the horizon. Grimm’s music, though, seems to have its own self-sufficient momentum.

Although he was drawn to music in his late teens, Grimm’s adventures in recording and performing his music began developing in 1997 after he and his family escaped from Los Angeles, where Tim and Jan had regular film and TV work. Grimm’s screen and tube credits include two seasons on NBC’s Reasonable Doubts, and a half-dozen films including Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford. After plowing some of that income into an Indiana farm, it made sense to move back to the hill country of Grimm’s youth.

Grimm has recently seen his music come to the forefront. Nationwide folk airplay and regional tours between theater gigs have put him on the folk music map. He’s also working to bring quality music to the Columbus area through his Americana Music Series. Upcoming productions include bluegrass band Special Consensus on April 30 and The Kossoy Sisters on June 11.

Grimm’s challenge now is to keep all his creative plates spinning.

Names is the current culmination of his collaboration with some of the Bloomington area’s best musicians. Grimm explained, “The players I use here, everyone lives within an hour of the studio. It struck me that this project is sort of a collective of musicians from the hill country area of south central Indiana. We’re all coming into the studio, putting our spin on this collection of tunes.”

Names was recorded in rural Monroe County at Airtime Studios and features guests from the area folk and roots scene like Jason Wilber, Grey Larsen, Dan and Beth Lodge-Rigal, Gordon Bonham, Carrie Newcomer, Patt Webb. “I love working with Dave Weber at Airtime Studio,” Grimm declared. “That’s where I’ve done almost all of my recording. It’s out in the woods and I love the recording process.

“You don’t know what the hell is going to happen, but every once in a while you get some magic.

Stitched together in sequence on a CD, these golden moments in the studio come together into a conceptual album of songs. Grimm explained, “While I was gestating a bit with other songs and material it struck me to do covers. But, in the folk tradition, going back to songs that told stories while naming one main character. I thought to examine some of these name songs and put my own spin on them.”

The album features the Tim Grimm spin on tunes like Mickey Newbury’s “San Francisco Mabel Joy,” Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd,” John Prine’s “Sam Stone” and Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s “Georgia Lee.” Asked whether he sought out songs or songwriters, Grimm replied, “A little bit of both. I thought I should have a Woody Guthrie song, a Springsteen song — some of the icons for me, although there is not a Dylan song on there. There’s a John Mellencamp song, though, one of his best I think: ‘Jackie Brown.’ It’s a song you can do almost any way. You can rock the hell out of it or you can strip it down and tell a story.”

Some of Grimm’s song choices have close ties to his Hoosier roots. “With a song like ‘Jackie Brown,’ well, I grew up in Brown County until I was 8 or 9, so all my early memories are in the hills. We lived up there with no running water at first and I remember some of those characters in Brown County. There were Jackie Browns out there.”

Grimm added, “Those memories fueled the desire to move back from L.A. with our kids. I remember shades and snippets of my brother and I running through the hills and fields, ravines with vines, creek valleys. It was a great time and place to be a kid.” For more info on Tim Grimm: www.timgrimm.com

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