BY PAUL BICKLEY
When he moved to Bloomington in 1985 at the age of 15, Jason Wilber says he found a vibrant music town. “Bloomington had lots of good musicians, good record stores, and good places to play,” says the guitarist, 47, who is about to release his 10th solo album, Reaction Time.
Wilber still lives in Bloomington, and the city has figured prominently in his career. “All of the auditions and gigs I’ve ever gotten, I heard about through Bloomington friends or acquaintances,” says Wilber, who started playing paying gigs while still a student at Bloomington High School South.
When he was 17, he happened to be at a Bloomington nightclub checking out a local band the same evening as country/folk musician John Prine. Several band members recognized Prine and asked him to join them onstage. The local guitarist, however, wasn’t familiar with Prine’s music. He did, however, know Jason. “He said, ‘I don’t know what to do with this guy. Wanna play with him?’” Wilber recalls. “So of course I ran up on to the stage!”
Nine years later, in 1996, Wilber met up with Prine again. Former Bloomington guitarists Larry Crane and David Steele were playing for Prine; Steele was about to leave the band to join singer-songwriter Steve Earle, and Crane and Steele recommended Wilber as a replacement.
Since then, Wilber has worked with Prine on his Grammy Award–winning album Fair and Square and has appeared with him on TV shows including Austin City Limits and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He’s performed with Prine alongside Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and others.
“There’s something about John’s music that moves people deeply,” Wilber says. “I think it’s his ability to articulate some of the mysteries of the human experience in a way people can identify with. Playing with John has made me a better musician, artist, and writer.”
Wilber’s latest release, Reaction Time, is a mix of acoustic and electric Americana, and includes collaborations with Allie Summers and Iris DeMent. “Allie added a whole new dimension to the album, and I love Iris’ voice,” Wilber says. “I really feel that this is the best record I’ve made.”
For more information, visit jasonwilber.com.