He may serve as the front man for one of country music’s newest modern bands, but Nick Hoffman is a direct stylistic descendent of Roy Acuff, Charlie Daniels and Bob Wills.
A native of tiny Nowthen, Minnesota, Hoffman is the lead vocalist and fiddler for The Farm, reconnecting the genre with a forgotten image.
“There hasn’t been a fiddle player/front man in country music since Charlie Daniels,” Hoffman accurately observes.
It’s a role Hoffman was practically groomed to fill. He played the fiddle for the first time at age four, and it served him well in the first grade when his parents went through a tumultuous divorce. He retreated to his bedroom and played the instrument incessantly, using it as an emotional salve.
Not that he kept his talent locked up in the house. His grandparents played bass and piano, and they had an informal weekly community jam session where neighbors would gather to play country music and Scandinavian folk tunes. He soon learned hundreds of fiddle pieces and became steeped in the classic country of George Jones, Gene Watson, Merle Haggard and western-swing pioneer Bob Wills.
Hoffman, in fact, was stunned when he discovered that his classmates had no idea who those artists were. The other kids on the school bus listened instead to New Kids On The Block, a band Hoffman had never heard of.
“It was like Greek,” he says. “I was the only person who knew any of the music I knew. Then I kind of became ostracized musically. I got beat up once because I played the fiddle.”
Still, Hoffman was good at it, and he started playing in Minnesota bar bands even before he was of legal age.
Two moments during that era established his long-term goal. First, he saw Roy Acuff on a telecast of the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff was a showman, a vocalist and a fiddler, and Hoffman immediately recognized it was possible to play the fiddle and lead a band. Shortly after, he saw a Garth Brooks concert at the Target Center. Fiddler Jimmy Mattingly completely commanded Hoffman’s attention.
“Here was this rock-country band up there with this fiddle player that was running around, jumping off things, stomping his foot,” Hoffman remembers. “It was The Beatles on Ed Sullivan for me. It blew my mind. I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s me. That guy is me.’ That’s who I wanted to be, and everything else from there was I couldn’t wait to get out of town.”
With all of $60 in his pocket, Hoffman took a bus to Branson, Missouri, playing for tips on the street and sleeping on park benches. He eventually made some friends among other musicians in town and landed a gig in a Dolly Parton show. He returned briefly to Minnesota before making a permanent move in January 2000 to Nashville, where he played Lower Broadway and soon got an offer to hit the road with Kenny Chesney.
Shortly thereafter, Chesney’s career took off, and Hoffman was playing arenas and stadiums on a regular basis, learning from one of country’s iconic acts about the behind-the-scenes effort that makes the difference between a struggling artist and a real success.
Even as a well-paid sideman, Hoffman held on to his artistic dreams, which matched up well with Damien Horne and Krista Marie when the threesome became The Farm.
Just as he did with his solo efforts, Hoffman has developed a vision for the band’s future.
“We’re already thinking past this record,” he says confidently. “With a few hits under our belt, we’ll really get to have a lot of fun.”