(photo via MiZ)
Guitarist Mike “MiZ” Mizwinski has one hell of a résumé, playing onstage with the who’s who of the “jamband” scene— Umphrey’s McGee, Donna Jean Godchaux, members of The Band, Ratdog, moe., Particle, String Cheese Incident, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Marc Ford…
Meanwhile, MiZ has opened for America, The Wallflowers, Derek Trucks Band, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Blues Traveler, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Leon Russell, Railroad Earth and many more.
hMAG had a chance to catch up with MiZ back in April, getting to know a lot about what has molded him as a musician:
“Opening for Derek Trucks Band at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA in 2009 was the first really big opportunity I ever got, and at the time this gig meant the entire world to me. Derek was and still is in my top ten greatest guitar players of all time list… Halfway during our set, I looked to my left and noticed Derek behind the monitor soundboard listening and bobbing his head along with us—that is a memory I will never forget. We got three standing ovations before our set was even over and that gig opened a lot of doors for me.”
MiZ grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but now lives here in Metro New Jersey—trading the sprawling mountains for concrete canyons.
“I really miss the mountains and the beautiful scenery, but I will say that I enjoy and welcome the big city mentality. There are amazing people in both regions, but I relate and connect more with people in this area,” he says, adding “I would love to take a group of city dwellers up on top of “Bald Mountain” in Newton-Ransom, PA—probably my favorite hike/beautiful vista, and see how they would react. That would be interesting, I’m sure.”
Musically, Mizwinski is climbing his own peaks, taking the guitar to the next level as he plays with astonishing tenacity and dazzling skill.
“I honestly do not remember learning how to play a C chord on the guitar. I have no recollection of the very beginnings of my relationship with the guitar because I was only probably 5 or 6 when I learned those things,” says Mizwinski. “My father is an amazing guitar player and he had me playing the entire Dickey Betts part of the Allman Brothers ‘Blue Sky’ by the age of 7. I was writing full out instrumental compositions with very complex chord structures, themes, melodies, key changes, and the like by the age of 10.”
Of course nothing inspires a great musician more than being surrounded by great music. “My mother was taking me to see Neil Young and Bob Dylan when I was like 12. My father also took me to see the Grateful Dead at Giants stadium twice when I was 9 and 12,” says Mizwinski. “That first GD show changed my life and watching how the people reacted to Jerry was just exhilarating to me. I began to take music very seriously at a young age and was full out playing bar gigs and festivals by the age of 16. I started to realize I was actually a better guitar player than most grown men who had been playing longer than I was alive, so that just inspired me to keep at it.”
While the jamband phenomenon is usually experienced via muddy, three-day festivals on someone’s farm, there is a benefit to enjoying a show like this at a venue like Maxwell’s.
“Believe it or not, these type of shows are my favorite to play,” says Mizwinski. “I LOVE the outdoor festivals—don’t get me wrong—but there is something about playing indoors to an intimate audience that inspires me to play my best. Also, sometimes you can lose some of the finesse, the quiet and dynamic phrases, the subtleties of a certain song, section or instrument at a big outdoor show. At an intimate club like Maxwell’s, you are getting it all. None of those things get lost, so it’s just as enjoyable for us as it is for the audience.
“I also tend to get more nervous playing a smaller intimate club, than walking out on stage in front of 2,000 people at a festival,” admits Mizwinski. “I don’t know why, but sometimes it comes out in a good way and the nervousness translates into me staying completely present in the moment and giving every second of the performance my all.”
NO COVER—you’re all guests of hMAG…