Ken Waldman primarily plays old-time music, which predates bluegrass. Historically, this is a string-band music linked to Appalachia, though, really, there are variants most everywhere in North America. Some of the tunes he plays are more than two centuries old, though he also has recorded over a hundred he's composed in the style.
Though solo fiddling has its own long-standing tradition—and Ken will still occasionally play solo, especially in conjunction with literary or storytelling events—there's also a long tradition of fiddle and banjo, and of four-piece string-bands with fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass. The permutations are endless: some groups will add a second fiddle, or a mandolin, or will specialize in singing. Some will feature a percussive dancer.
While the music is more widely recognized as square dance music, it's also music of a community, and made among friends. Where bluegrass invariably features hot virtuosic solos, old-time music is an ensemble affair, which relies on a shared background of listening to the music, and playing it.
What distinguishes Ken is that he uses this music in performance as backdrop as he shares original poems—poetry often about this music—and tells stories, most often about the music, or about Alaska. And while bluegrass may he considered flashier, old-time music may be considered more soulful, which doesn't preclude a high level of musicianship, or satisfaction in the listening. Ken started playing fiddle in 1981, long enough that he knows, and has as friends, hundreds of musicians who are among the very best in this genre. When Ken performs, he can bring “local” accompanists who are highest level musicians themselves, artists who headline their own regional, national, international shows.
Over the years, as Ken's performances have evolved, he enjoys assembling these all-star bands, and featuring the all-star musicians during the course of the evening. The resulting roots music variety shows, which also include December holiday shows, have proven to be one of Ken's most popular offerings. Ken tailors the evening to a particular community, so shows will incorporate big groups with multiple fiddlers and dancers as well as soloists, duos, and trios, which Ken introduces with a brief poem or story.