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When it comes to acoustic guitar, Tony Rice has picked his way to the top. The Crystal River resident is the driving force of his genre, making a major mark on folk and bluegrass music with an inspiring style and a voice that country star Ricky Skaggs once called "the most comfortable singing I've ever heard." Rice grew up in California in the 1960s, and as a young boy found himself surrounded by such musicians as Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, Chris Hillman and John Hartford. Those young talents were frequent visitors at the house of Rice's parents, and the music they would make at family gatherings had a major effect on Rice.

It formed the foundation for his impressive career - first playing

bluegrass with Skaggs in the New South during the early 1970s; then with the David Grisman Quintet playing jazz-influenced "dawg music";

then a solo stint that produced the folk album Manzanita; and with the Tony Rice Unit, which fuses folk, blues, jazz and bluegrass into his unique sound.

The quintet plays with pinpoint precision and sings with seamless harmony. Rice has two new records on Rounder (The Rice Brothers along with Larry and Wy- att Rice and The Bluegrass Album No. 5), and a third release ready for this summer.

Other members of the Tony Rice Unit are mandolinist and tenor Jimmy Gaudreau, younger brother Wyatt, fiddler Rickie Simpkins and Mark Schatz, on the upright bass.

AT A GLANCE The Tony Rice Unit in concert Saturday at the Friday Morning Musicale, 809 Horatio Street in Tampa. Tickets $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

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