Passing students around the USF campus is like passing volumes of books—each come with their own stories. As if graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average and appearing on an episode of Trading Spouses weren’t enough, freshman Kyle O’Brien’s unique story includes touring the United States with his family’s bluegrass band.
O’Brien grew up in Evergreen, Colorado, where as a 7-year-old he wanted one thing: a fiddle. Since taking up his favorite instrument, he traveled in his family’s band for eight years. He first began singing with his father to songs like “Why Don’t You Love Me” and “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams. Comprised of his mother on bass, his father on guitar and vocals, his sister on the fiddle and vocals, and himself on the fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and vocals, the O’Brien family band soon gained the reputation as “the family that entertains families.”
O’Brien and his family have traveled to over 41 states, as well as to Mexico, performing bluegrass music to eager crowds at various festival circuits. These locations include Nebraska, Kansas, New Orleans, New York, California and Chicago. Janette O’ Brien, Kyle’s mother, said of the family’s journeys, “Each place has its own character, history, and great people. We’ve had a ball meeting people and making friends around the U.S.” Thus O’Brien’s parents were not surprised to learn that their son was set on attending a diverse school like USF.
In addition to their instrumental talents, both O’Brien and his sister are accomplished yodelers. The siblings won The Western Music Association’s International Youth Yodeling Championship. O’Brien has created his own CD entitled “Kyle’s Big Hit.” His other awards include a scholarship to mandolin camp at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in 2004 and he won the first place fiddler in the Ainsworth Nebraska Country Music Festival in 2005.
Of his music taste, O’Brien said, “I really like rockabilly, people like Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Although I never got to meet Ronnie Dawson, I was able to talk with him over the telephone before he died. I think Gene Vincent is really cool too.” O’Brien is majoring in politics and minoring in music. It was not easy for him to move away from his family as well as another band, The Bluegrass Quartet, that he was involved in.
Outside of music, O’Brien’s interests include: baseball, announcing and girls. He is also part of the Saint Ignatius Institute. Although he is in a different atmosphere, O’Brien plans to create a bluegrass band and start a bluegrass radio show in San Francisco. He would also like to start a yodeling class. On choosing USF O’Brien said, “I came because I wanted to expand musically and as a person. San Francisco offered both.”