It’s been over 35 years since a new artist has emerged successfully using the fiddle as his weapon. A few have tried, but failed. Call it bad timing, lack of drive, or the lack of the “it factor”. Call it what you will. What is left is a niche, a hole that needs to be filled. Nick Hoffman is filling that niche, and hell-bent on redefining it.
Coming from Minnesota, from a family steeped in music, Nick Hoffman picked up the fiddle at the tender age of 4. Old-time fiddle tunes and standards were played in late-night jam sessions with his grandparents, and it was clear early on that when it came to the fiddle, Nick was special. “Then one day,” says Nick’s grandmother Sybil Hoffman, “he just started singing. Like a light switch had turned on.”
The novelty of the fiddle and vocals together wasn’t necessarily a new one, Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, and of course Charlie Daniels were household names, and “huge influences”, but a 6-year-old was was something different, and definitely a novelty in small-town Minnesota. “We started playing Nursing Homes, VFW’s, fiddle contests, town festivals, anywhere where people would listen,” Nick says of his earliest performances, “When I got up there, and had people watching me, it was almost addictive. I couldn’t get enough.”
By the time he was 15, Hoffman was a seasoned performer singing and playing with a bluegrass band that played around the Minneapolis area. It was playing with a full band behind him that really opened his eyes to the possibilities of the vocal/fiddle/frontman combination. “We would play for four hours, and at the end of the night, I’d play the Orange Blossom Special, and people would go nuts! The fiddle has this infectious thing about it that makes you want to get out of your seat and get rowdy.”
Nick Hoffman loved bluegrass, but when it came to singing it was Rockabilly and old Country that inspired him. “I would get in to some of the local bars around Anoka, my home town, and listen to the bands that were playing. The Buddy Holly, the Jerry Lee Lewis, the Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Faron Young, and the Charlie Daniels that they were playing, man that stuff was so cool to me. I’d go to my room and stand in front of a mirror and figure those songs out when I got back home.”
Fast-forward 13 years… Nick has channeled that energy, and become one of the most exciting fiddle players in Country music. Performing in Superstar Kenny Chesney’s band for close to 10 years, he’s been an big part of that tours stage show. His stage antics have earned him a reputation as electric performer who backs it up with some of the most edgy playing to come out of Nashville in a long-time.
“My playing has become a very ‘guitar-driven’ fiddle sound. I have always thought that to stand out you need to have your own style.” Hoffman says. That style, along with the opportunities through Kenny’s band, have afforded him the opportunity to play alongside some of music’s hottest stars, including 3 Doors Down, Trace Adkins, Poison, Kid Rock, Joe Walsh, and Gretchen Wilson, among others.
As a singer, his years of gigging in the clubs of the Midwest, and the famed honky-tonks of Nashville have helped him develop a gritty voice that cuts with refined clarity. Hoffman’s success has been at the end of a rocky road. After leaving home one night at 17 on a Greyhound bus, he headed for Branson, Missouri where, for awhile, he worked at a pizza joint during the day and played for tips on the sidewalk at night. Later he landed a gig in a high-budget show owned by Dolly Parton. This move opened the doors that would later help solidify his place in Nashville. In 1998 Nick joined famed Midwest Country-Rock band High Noon, and spent several years playing smoky clubs and bars and honing his performance skills. “It was those years in High Noon that I really developed who I am as an artist and performer. They gave me the freedom to try new things, and test new ideas in front of an audience.”