Austin Living Magazine: Grand Ole Opportunity
Published 6:54 pm Friday, November 17, 2023
A veteran of the Grand Ole Opry, Brian Christianson returns home
There are few musical venues as historic or storied as the Grand Ole Opry, so there’s something to be said about being able to play on its stage.
The radio show, which hosts a live audience, is one of — if not — the longest running musical radio broadcast in the country and one of Austin’s own has been fortunate to have been a part of its story.
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However, after spending 23 years in Nashville, Brian Christianson and his family are back in Austin and he’s ready to continue his musical offerings.
“We moved back to Austin to be closer to family,” Christianson said from his violin repair shop located within their home. “All the family is still up here and we’ve talked about moving back to Minnesota for a number of years anyway. I think it was time.”For almost his entire life, Christianson has been involved in music, stemming from time growing up and listening to his grandpa Earl Christianson play the fiddle and his mom Cindy Christianson sing.
It was a culture of music for Christianson that led him to pick up the instrument and embark on a career of fiddle music.
“I just thought it was really cool,” he said. “I started playing after (my grandpa) passed away. He passed away when I was six and I started playing a couple years after.”
After graduating Austin High School in 1997, Christianson moved to Red Wing where he attended what is now known as Southeast Technical College and came away with an education in violin repair.
After graduating in 2000, Christianson moved down to Nashville where he started working in a violin repair shop and playing music.
Christianson said he was quickly immersed in the different styles of fiddle music, in particular, the type of music coming out of the Appalachian scene.
“I moved down there because I was interested in that sort of fiddle music,” he said.
However, anybody familiar with Nashville knows that as a hotbed of music in general, one doesn’t simply go down and start playing. Work in the violin shop came first.
He worked in the same shop for 18 to 19 years before he and his wife Nicole opened up their own repair shop, where they also hosted live music.
“Having a job, I’m sure I can get connected through music,” Christianson said. “My paycheck certainly wasn’t dependent on it.”
Christianson said he didn’t really start playing gigs until about a year or two after getting to Nashville by making use of networking opportunities.
Going to jam sessions and events like that opened up more and more doors and led to Christianson finding his way onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Through a friend, Christianson was invited to play with Mike Snider, a known musician who spent time on the popular show “Hee Haw.”
The opportunity came simply enough, but resulted in several years spent on the stage.
“They needed a fiddle player for the weekend,” Christianson said. “I went and played it and Mike said, ‘why don’t you come back tomorrow night.’ It must have been okay, because he’s like, ‘we’re playing the next weekend if you want.’”
Christianson laughed at the memory: “I never was officially hired to play in the band. He just told me to come back. I just kept showing up. We got along pretty well right off the bat.”
Christianson said that to play at such a historical venue as Ryman Auditorium, which houses the Opry, was an experience of a lifetime.
In fact, in a lot of ways it was somewhat surreal.
“To be on that stage and playing in a church, people sitting in pews, stained glass windows — and the sound is amazing,” he said. “I would still get the kind of goosebumps the first few times I played.”
By moving up to Austin, Christianson has no plans to leave his playing behind, but rather intends to continue looking for opportunities throughout the area and state to play, which would include some of those he shared stages with in Nashville and his wife.
“I hope to get to play as much as I can around here,” he said. “Not just in Austin, but the whole state. I hope to get to play more with my wife because she’s an awesome singer and we would play things down there on occasion together.”
At the same time, Christianson is looking at establishing his shop. Within the shop hang fiddles and violins that made the move up to Austin with him so he could continue work.
In the past he has repaired and maintained instruments for Charlie Daniels, Alison Kraus and Ricky Skaggs, along with session players from all over.
He said that all the years playing has helped refine his career in repairing the instruments.
“It really helps if you’re a good player because you can kind of pick up on minute things in the instrument,” he said. “(Being) pretty happy with something and hearing something is just not right on the lower strings — it really helps to know how everything works.”
As he looks to build both playing and repairing here in Austin, Christianson said that he and his family are also basking in being home again.
“It’s a really great town,” he said. “It’s changed a lot since I grew up here. The amount of diversity. There’s just a lot more things going on, a lot more music than I remember. It’s really grown a lot. We were attracted to come back to the small town things that we grew up around. It feels great to be back.”