The Bluegrass Standard - April 2022

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Cover Photo: Lauren Palmer

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Our Staff

Keith Barnacastle • Publisher

The Bluegrass Standard is a life-long dream of Keith Barnacastle, who grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. For three years, Keith brought the Suits, Boots and Bluegrass Festival to Meridian. Now, with the Bluegrass Standard, Keith’s enthusiasm for the music, and his vision of its future, reaches a nationwide audience every month!

Richelle Putnam • Managing Journalist Editor

Richelle Putnam is a Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) Teaching Artist/Roster Artist (Literary), a Mississippi Humanities Speaker, and a 2014 MAC Literary Arts Fellowship recipient. Her non-fiction books include Lauderdale County, Mississippi; a Brief History, Legendary Locals of Meridian, Mississippi and Mississippi and the Great Depression.

Rebekah Speer • Creative Director

Rebekah Speer has nearly twenty years in the music industry in Nashville, TN. She creates a unique “look” for every issue of The Bluegrass Standard, and enjoys learning about each artist. In addition to her creative work with The Bluegrass Standard, Rebekah also provides graphic design and technical support to a variety of clients.

Shelby C. Berry • Journalist

Shelby Campbell is a writer and designer whose heart beats for creativity. A native of rural Livingston, AL, she found her passion in journalism and design at The University of West Alabama, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications. Shelby also has her own photography business.


Susan Marquez • Journalist

Susan Marquez is a freelance writer based in Madison, Mississippi and a Mississippi Arts Commission Roster Artist. After a 20+ year career in advertising and marketing, she began a professional writing career in 2001. Since that time she has written over 2000 articles which have been published in magazines, newspapers, business journals, trade publications.

Stephen Pitalo • Journalist

Stephen Pitalo has been an entertainment journalist for more than 30 years, having interviewed everyone from Joey Ramone to Bill Plympton to John Landis. He is the world’s leading authority on the The Golden Age of Music Video (1976-1993), mining inside stories from interviews 70+ music video directors and countless artists of the pre-internet music era.

Kara Martinez Bachman • Journalist

Kara Martinez Bachman is an author, editor and journalist. Her music and culture reporting has appeared in dozens of publications and she’s interviewed many performers over the years, from local musicians to well-known celebrities. She’s a native of New Orleans and lives just outside the city with her husband, two kids, and two silly mutts.

Emerald Butler • Journalist

Emerald Butler is a writer, songwriter, fiddler, and entertainer from Sale Creek, TN. She has worked and performed various occasions with artists such as Rhonda Vincent, Bobby Osborn, Becky Buller, Alison Brown, top 40 radio host Bob Kingsley, and country songwriter Roger Alan Wade. With a bachelor’s degree in Music Business and a minor in Marketing, Emerald uses her creative talent to share the love of music with others.

Candace Nelson • Journalist

Candace Nelson is a marketing professional living in Charleston, West Virginia. She is the author of the book “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.” In her free time, Nelson travels and blogs about Appalachian food culture at Find her on Twitter at @Candace07 or email






When Emily Epley joined a bluegrass band in college, she had no idea she would one day be in the epicenter of bluegrass music and culture. I studied classical voice in college,” she says. “A teacher invited me to join their band, saying I had a good voice for bluegrass.” Emily grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and went to college in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Her husband’s job brought her to North Carolina in 1995, and Shelby, North Carolina has been home for the past 25 years. Emily was in corporate development until she had her first child. “I got a call from a lady at church who told me she was working on a ‘little project.’ The project director was moving to Texas, and the lady told me she thought of me.” The “little project” was to create two attractions as a destination to draw tourists to the community. “There was a group of volunteers trying to reinvigorate the community. They wanted to find a way to bring life back, so they began to consider what our community had that others did not have.” What Cleveland County had was a strong bluegrass music heritage. It is the home of both Don Gibson and Earl Scruggs. The two projects could bring in “heritage tourists,” tourists interested in the history and heritage of an area. “They stay longer and spend more money,” says Emily. The projects developed were the Don Gibson Theatre and the Earl Scruggs Center. The Don Gibson Theatre is a preserved 1937 art deco movie theatre that seats four hundred people and serves as a music and performing space for big-name touring acts. It includes an event space and a bar.

The Earl Scruggs Center is designed for visitors to learn more about Scruggs’ story and the bigger picture of the area from which he came. “He worked in a textile mill and lived on a farm,” says Emily. “Those experiences became a whole genre of music.” Emily took the job and started in June 2008. “That group of volunteers raised ten million dollars for the projects. Half of that came from individuals, and we live in a small community. We also got an Economic Development Administration grant for $1.543 million.” The Don Gibson Theatre opened in November 2011 with Marty Stuart as the opening act. The Earl Scruggs Center opened in January 2014. “We worked with top-notch museum designers from D.C. to create engaging, entertaining, and interactive displays. People stay longer because of the amazing technology and how information is layered in. The museum honors the music of Earl Scruggs, as well as the music of the region.” Now director of Visit Cleveland County, a job she has held since March 2019, Emily says that the two attractions have been very positive for tourism. “The Don Gibson Theatre attracts local and regional residents, and the Earl Scruggs Center has had people from every state and over twenty countries. We should have a comprehensive economic impact analysis next year.” Another musical attraction is the two murals of the North Carolina Musicians Murals project. “A very talented mural artist wanted to honor North Carolina musicians who influenced American music. There are murals across the state featuring artists like Anita Baker, John Coltrane, and Nina Simone. We were fortunate to get two 9

murals. One of Don on the side of the theater and one of Earl on the side of the Newgrass Brewing Company. It’s nice that folks can sit outdoors and sip on a Five String Ale with Earl looking down on them.” Emily is looking forward to the Earl Scruggs Festival held in Polk County on Labor Day Weekend. “There will be educational programs and multiple stages with amazing artists. It has been canceled twice because of COVID, so we are excited that it is finally happening.” In her time in Shelby, Emily says she has learned that the bluegrass world is a very tight-knit community. “I was one of nine kids, and I did not have formal musical training. I was in choir and choral music in school and decided to go to college to be a music therapist. I never dreamed


I’d be doing what I am doing now, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.” When Emily took on her role with Visit Cleveland County, she restarted the tourism and branding. “We came up with ‘Carolina’s Land of Rhythm and Roots,’ which accurately describes what we have to offer. We have farm-to-table dining, rivers, trails, potters, and much more. We also have an incredibly rich musical heritage interwoven in the community and attractions. It’s beautiful to see what can be accomplished when people come together for the right reasons for the greater good.”




Steve Martin. The International Bluegrass Music Association honors him, and bluegrass artists across the globe respect him and his playing. However, this Steve Martin hasn’t starred in movies or appeared on Saturday Night Live. An attorney and radio broadcaster and developer of a popular syndicated radio program, this Steve Martin was nominated in 2017 and 2018 as Broadcaster of the Year, winning the award in 2018 for the radio program Steve Martin’s Unreal Bluegrass he has hosted since 2013. He is also a board member of the IBMA. To say that Steve’s journey into radio happened organically is an understatement. “I’m a trial lawyer,” he says. “I have interviewed thousands and thousands of witnesses over my 42 years as a lawyer. One thing I know how to do is talk to people.” With no background in broadcasting whatsoever, he asked a friend in radio if he might need some help. “I had no technical background, but he trained me on Saturday mornings for about six months. A couple of time slots were available, and 12

I said I’d like to put together a bluegrass show and a jazz show. The station hired me on a probationary basis for six months, and at the end of my probationary period, the board of directors let me go.” That could have ended Steve’s broadcast side gig. Yet Steve was bitten by the broadcast bug, and he especially liked doing a bluegrass show. “I called Gracie Muldoon, founder of, and she told me she had a spot for me on Saturday evening.” The live show kicked off with a Sonny Osborne interview. “Sonny had become a good friend, and over several months, I recorded about twenty hours of interviews with him. I had no idea what I was doing technically. I purchased a speaker from Radio Shack that I plugged into the telephone, and I would adjust the speaker to get the sound quality I wanted.” Today the three-hour program is recorded in Steve’s home in Covington, Kentucky, 13

and he sends it out as a file. “I try to record it early in the week and get it out to the stations. Different stations run it on different days and times, seven times each week on six different stations.” The show has a specific format. Each installment opens with an original song, “Pick Peace,” a gift to Steve from Thomm Jutzz and Milan Miller. The broadcast ends with Keith Arneson’s contribution, an instrumental original also entitled “Pick Peace.” Steve’s love of bluegrass started back in the mid1970s. “I started playing the banjo. I really liked jazz music, but I began listening to bluegrass as well. I was familiar with Flatt and Scruggs, but I had to special order Foggy Mountain Breakdown from the record store. There was a guy who played jazz bass, Christian McBride. I saw him on stage with Bela Fleck and Sam Bush at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.” That piqued Steve’s interest in bluegrass music.

involved in the bluegrass industry, including luthiers, songwriters, producers, record companies, and more. He says some interviews are easier than others. “I try to put all my guests at ease, and my interviews are like a conversation with a friend. I remember the interview with a guy who owns the company that makes the thumb pics I use. He was absolutely terrified. He did the entire interview from behind closed doors in his bathroom. But when it was done, and I played it back for him, he was surprised at how good he sounded.”

All of Steve’s interviews can be heard at any time by accessing the archives at www.unrealbluegrass. com, the official website of his radio show. He does most interviews by phone, but he travels from time to time. He interviewed Dolly Parton in a studio in Nashville, and he often conducts interviews at festivals and IBMA. And yes, he interviewed the other Steve Martin, who also plays banjo. “I have The list of people Steve had the opportunity to has interviewed for his interview Steve Martin radio show over the three times,” he says. years is staggering. “I’ve “He is really a quiet, done over four hundred shy guy. The comedian interviews,” he says. In the public sees is his addition to interviewing persona on stage. He is the top stars of the bluegrass world, Steve also extremely humble, and interviews up-and-coming he is passionate about his music.” musicians and those 14

Steve interviews some not immediately recognized as bluegrass artists, such as Maria Muldaur and Don McLean. “I always look for the bluegrass connection. In the interview with Don McLean, he talked about his love for bluegrass and how he learned to play banjo from Pete Seeger and Mike Kropp.” Steve says he doesn’t get starstruck very often, but he was excited about his interview with Tom T. Hall and Miss Dixie. “That was an exciting one for me. Of course, the interviews I did with my friend, Sonny Osborne, were special to me as well.” Steve is fearless when it comes to asking for interviews. He has built relationships with publicists and record labels, and they now contact him to see about setting up interviews. Steve would love to interview Paul McCartney but has been unsuccessful in scheduling one. “I’ve tried,” he laughs. “I have talked with his publicist in the United States a few times.” Steve continues to practice law with Ziegler & Scheider. “My colleagues don’t always appreciate my radio gig, but when there is someone on I think they’ll enjoy listening to, I’ll tell them, and they tune in.” His wife, Susan, enjoys his shows.

Their daughter Abby will soon be graduating from nursing school. “She is also a gifted musician,” says Steve. “She plays the piano, guitar, and flute.”




Long-time banjo player and entertainer Little Roy Lewis of The Little Roy and Lizzy Show turned 80 years old this year, but his spirit and exuberant personality portray him as if he were still in his 20s. He was born in 1942, and he first made money performing when he was only six years old. While speaking with Little Roy, he shared his enthusiasm and gratefulness for the music he has performed throughout his life and is still to come.

Little Roy and Lizzy like to keep the roads hot, so when the band gets home, Little Roy says that “when you live in a bus for three weeks, it turns into a hog pen.” Though the bus may have its blemishes, Little Roy likes to keep his performances and shows like a tight ship. “I learned a long time ago from watching the gospel groups,” Little Roy recalls. Roy began his musical journey performing with his family,

The Lewis Family, and gospel music groups like The Blackwood Brothers and The Statesman Quartet. “They just knew how to do it,” Little Roy stated. He also enjoyed watching Lonzo and Oscar on the Grand Ole Opry. Little Roy has always had an eye and ear for entertainment, not just music. “I loved to watch cartoons, and I just got it from all kinds of directions. The main thing 17




that I want to do is that when I walk off that stage, I want everybody happy, and I want the music to be right. If it’s not right, then I’m in a bad mood for a few days because it takes me a while to get over it. I guess I’m just a—I don’t know what you’d call me, but I want everything right and on time. I tell people if I’m not there, check with the funeral home.” Little Roy has never heard a complaint about his lively showmanship,

but he admits that he wouldn’t listen to them anyway if there were any complaints. “I know what I want to do and I started finding out that people like to have fun.” Little Roy’s advice on being a good entertainer is to “always have something to talk about,” something that contradicts old adages of “shut up and play” once instilled in some traditional groups.

“A lot of people don’t understand that when you’re on the stage, you’re not recording.” He advises to, above all else, keep the show going. The group keeps the show and the wheels turning all over the states. “Pennsylvania has been awful good to us. My family, Lizzy, and me too. I love to go to Pennsylvania because there are so many Amish people and Mennonites. They all really like us. Well, I like everybody; I’d like to say that I guess I don’t have a real favorite place, but if I get there and the crowd is into it, then I’m into it too!” If the crowd isn’t into it,


well, let’s just say the Little Roy puts them into it. “I have jumped out into the crowd and clapped for my own self!” That’s not one of his jokes, but Little Roy says it works every time to get the crowd going. The happiest memory Little Roy shared happened in 1961 during a television performance he did with his family. “I can say that was one of the happiest times of my life. Bluegrass was new to everyone back then.


The record sales that we had were just unbelievable. At the time, we wouldn’t get that much at the door, but we just couldn’t believe the records that we sold. That was a happy time of my life because we were making good money.” Record sales might not be like they used to be, but that’s not stopping Little Roy and Lizzy from releasing new material. The group releases its new album on April 28th, and it premieres at the 9th annual Little Roy and Lizzy music festival. Little Roy shared that he thinks this new record is the best one that he and Lizzy have done together so far. 23







Elonzo Wesley is not who you first think he is or who they are. Rather than an actual person, Elonzo Wesley is more of an idea—no, that’s wrong. Elonzo Wesley was a person, a drummer, a husband, and a father personified by singer-songwriter and audio engineer Jeremy Davis in Carolina’s roots music scene. “My dad’s name was Elonzo Wesley Davis,” Jeremy explains. “He passed away when I was eleven, and he always wanted to have a band.” Like his father, Jeremy aspired to have a band throughout high school and college. Much of Jeremy’s musical taste was inspired by his mother’s. He grew up in a house full of records by artists like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and other folk and Americana music pioneers. Though he begged friends, Jeremy wasn’t very successful pulling a band together until after he graduated when he began an indie rock group with his sister and called it “Elonzo” in honor of his father. 28

However, Jeremy found that most of the bandmates he persuaded to play music with him didn’t share the same passion and goals. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in media arts, then moved to Atlanta to work at a recording studio. “I liked being in the studio as an engineer, but I wanted to write songs and make my own music,” Jeremy realized. “I was trying to get a job at a much bigger studio…and I went to an interview with the studio manager, and she asked me what my goals were. I said I want to be an engineer and make records, but I’m a songwriter, and I want to do that too. She said, ‘well, you can’t do both.’ Now when I think back on it sounds so insane that somebody would say that because most people who produce records are also songwriters. That’s just how it works.” While discouraging at the time, this interview helped Jeremy discover and define what he really wanted to do. Write, record, and perform his music. 29

The Elonzo Wesley group began shaping into the moniker that Jeremy envisioned. The group appeared as a trio and a solo acoustic act locally and nationally. Its music is genuine heartfelt folk that sounds like a mixture of Bob Dylan and the Lumineers. With a fine collection of albums, singles, and EPs, Jeremy records his music himself thanks to today’s technology and his audio engineering experience. However, he shared that he would like to begin working with a producer to get an extra set of ears to help sculpt his next project. “I want to work with some people to see how that affects the outcome of it. I know what I can do on my own in the studio, and it’s good. I’m proud of it. I’ve done a lot of records that way now, so I think it’s time to expand that. I do think that it would help me grow as an artist, in the studio especially, to work with some other people that can put their stamp on it and help me see things from a different perspective.” Jeremy has written several songs throughout the pandemic to add to this new project. Although Jeremy doesn’t have a date yet for a release, the collection of songs is available on streaming platforms and the artist’s website. Elonzo Wesley already has a slew of show dates for this year throughout the Carolina’s and bordering states. 30



The Crooked


Authentic Road

of Virginia When it comes to getaways for bluegrass fans, few things beat a music heritage tour that takes visitors across natural landscapes to different venues, historical sites, and cool little places where natural jam sessions happen regularly. Travelers who take on the 330-mile path through southwestern Virginia that follows Route 58 are sure to find all that and more. In 2004, the Virginia Assembly designated this stretch of highway as The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It traverses 19 counties that bring visitors through four cities and over 50 towns and highlights the music venues and music history of one of the epicenters of American roots music. For fans of artists such as The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, and The Carter Family – all of whom hailed from this area – there’s no better route for a day or two—or three—of hitting the road. From the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College to the old-timey nostalgic feel of the Floyd Country Store, the drive hits the high points for lovers of music, history, and culture.



Carrie Beck, director of The Crooked Road, explains what she thinks makes the drive special. “It is a literally crooked road,” she laughed, describing the twists, turns, and hills drivers will experience. “There’s wayside exhibits where people can pull off and read about notable musicians from the area.” The path promotes major venues in the region and over 60 affiliate venues and festivals. The goal is to support the work of current musicians while showcasing the history of the past. Both things are important. “The goal is to preserve the traditions of heritage music… bluegrass, old-time, gospel, even blues…we really have a melting-pot of musical styles that would be associated with the region,” Beck said. While The Crooked Road does receive some funding from the state, Beck said it operates as a 5013c nonprofit. Much of the funds used for its work come from donations, ticket sales, merchandise, and other such sources. It’s all turned around and used to better the lives of the people of the region. The Crooked Road harkens back and does much forward-thinking to help local communities and promote the arts and artists who reside there. While the main goal is preservation, The Crooked Road has grown in its work over the years. It encompasses traditional music education and programs to foster regional and local economic development. There are music training resources for teachers and aspiring musicians and initiatives such as partnerships with junior Appalachian musicians, and it hosts a youth music festival. “Last year and this year, we have really unrolled some new stuff,” Beck explained. For instance, a new Artist-in-Residence program started. Beck said the inaugural artist selected – Andrew Small, a multi-instrumentalist from Floyd County – serves as a “Crooked Road Ambassador” at events. A curated “Heritage Artist Directory” has been created, which Beck said is “vetted by a musicians’ advisory board, a committee of eight to 10 working musicians.” Other new things are in the works, including the first year of what will hopefully be an annual educational conference held there in southwestern Virginia. Also on the schedule for the future is the development of a music Hall of Fame. Beck says not only is The Crooked Road optimal for fans of old-time and bluegrass, but it’s an excellent option for people with all sorts of interests. She said it offers much more than you’d find with a glossy standard vacation package. According to Beck, it’s the “realness” of The Crooked Road that sets it apart from the shiny, crafted vacations most people take. According to Beck, something much more meaningful happens along this old twisty road. “It’s almost like living history; it’s just a unique region,” she said, of this functioning world that is as authentic as any could get. “I’m a huge advocate for the people who live in these communities. We have this real dynamic core of legacy families. I love where I live because I love the people.”


Major Venues of The Crooked Road Include: 1. Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College – Ferrum 2. Floyd Country Store – Floyd 3. Blue Ridge Music Center – Galax 4. Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention – Galax – first week in August 5. Rex Theatre – Galax 6. Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace Abingdon 7. Birthplace of Country Music – Bristol 8. Carter Family Fold – Hiltons 9. Country Cabin – Norton 10. Ralph Stanley Museum – Clintwood VIDEO:




The Dark Side of Lonesome Edgar Loudermilk grew up in the hills of north Georgia in a family filled with musicians. He began playing in his family’s band at the age of eleven. “My grandaddy played fiddle, my daddy played banjo, my uncle played guitar, and I played doghouse bass,” recalls Edgar. “I had to sit on a chest freezer to play it.” While he enjoyed his time playing with the family band, by the time he turned eighteen, Edgar wanted to expand his territory. He joined Carolina Crossfire in the Ashville, North Carolina area and played with them for two to three years. Edgar recalls those as his “dues-paying years.” He worked the third shift at a cotton mill overnight, went to college by day, and slept in the afternoon. “On weekends, I would drive to Ashville to play. I wasn’t making much money, but those were still fun and fruitful years for me because I did a lot of writing and arranging during that time. I recorded my first project on Mountain Fever Records, Roads Traveled, in the mid-2000s, with songs I wrote while I was with Carolina Crossfire.” A bandmate in Carolina Crossfire told Edgar that Rhonda Vincent was looking for a bass player. “I didn’t know how to get in touch with her. I bought her CDs, and there was a phone number on the back of one. I called the number, and Rhonda’s husband, Herb, answered.” Herb confirmed that she was looking for a bass player, and auditions were in Nashville in two weeks. “He liked the fact that I had played in a family band.” Edgar went to Nashville for the audition at Ernest Tubb’s record shop. “There were a lot of folks auditioning. I paid attention and noticed each person played a couple of songs and then left. I was the last one in, and they had me play song after song after song.” After the audition, Rhonda asked Edgar if he’d ever been to the Grand Ole Opry. “I said no; this was my first time in Nashville.” Rhonda led me across the street, through Tootsies, and through an alley into the back door of the Opry. I was backstage while she performed, and then she came from center stage over to me and said she wanted me to experience that before she offered me the job. I couldn’t have had it happen in a cooler way.” Two weeks later, at the age of 22, Edgar performed with Rhonda Vincent on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, and CMT televised it. “I had some great days with Rhonda,” says Edgar. “I worked with her for a year.” While at IBMA, Edgar learned that country singer Marty Raybon was making a move to bluegrass. “Marty had sung with Shenandoah, and I was a big fan. I put my name in the hat and got a job playing with Raybon and his band, Full Circle, for the next five years. I did three CDs with him, and Marty became a 37

great friend. He sang on my first album on Mountain Fever Records.” When Edgar found out Ray Deaton was leaving IIIrd Tyme Out, he got excited. “I was a big fan. We did a lot of their music when I was with Carolina Crossfire. I called Russell Moore, and he said they were leaving soon to perform on a cruise ship. He lined up an audition for me after they returned.” A month later, Edgar met with Russell at his house. “It was a real thorough audition. I had always sung high tenor, like my dad, but Russell challenged me by having me sing all the different parts. And even though I had never sang bass before, I always sang bass when singing in a quartet with IIIrd Tyme Out.” Edgar said he was on cloud nine. He recorded the lead on Leaving Town Tomorrow, which paved the way for him as a singer. “We did a CD that was sold exclusively in Cracker Barrel stores, timeless hits done in the bluegrass style. The biggest compliment in my life was the opportunity to sing, record, and tour with Russell Moore.” By 2013, Edgar felt he was ready to go out independently. He released another CD that November with Mountain Fever Records, My 38

Big Chance Tomorrow, with 15 original songs by Edgar. Shortly after that, he teamed up with David Adkins for a duo project, Adkins & Loudermilk. “I wrote six or seven songs on that project. We toured it and were nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year in 2014.” Edgar went on to record the Roads Traveled CD, which featured twelve of his original songs. Edgar went in his direction in 2015, signing with Pinecastle Records, where he recorded Georgia Maple, a project that features eight of his original songs. Next, Edgar returned to Rural Rhythm Records, where he worked with IIIrd Tyme Out for several years. “It felt like home from the word go.” He put out Lonesome Riverboat Blues, and the title track spent several months on the Sirius XM chart. The Edgar Loudermilk Band’s newest project is The Dark Side of Lonesome, released in March, featuring eight original songs. “I have written hundreds of original songs. On this record, I looked back to the Louvin Brothers, who always wrote songs that tell a story.” The band is joined on the album by guest players Michael Cleveland, Jeff Partin, and Hunter Berry. “I’m excited about the project,” says Edgar. “It’s

got a good blend of old Gospel as well as hard-driving straight-ahead bluegrass – there is something to appeal to different audiences. We are excited about it.” The album is on the Rural Rhythm Records/Green Hill Music, owned by Gaither Music Group.”









Teen banjo player Riley Gilbreath, born and bred in Crowley, Texas, has made a name for himself with his authentic bluegrass and country music, finding wide success in the industry. He racked up awards such as Bluegrass Heritage Foundation Showcase Artist, Texas State Banjo Champion, Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival Banjo Champion, FFA District Talent Show Winner, Nashville Lights Songwriter Competition Winner, and more. His drive started with a bluegrass song on the radio and thrust him into a soloist career in country music and a bandleader for his bluegrass band, Riley Gilbreath & Lone Star Blue. However, the pivotal moment was when the Pay It Forward program with the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation gave 12-year-old Riley a loner banjo. His playing improved drastically within a year, and he traveled to Texas and Oklahoma, playing on stage anywhere they let him. He filled in for bands when their banjo players were unavailable. Riley’s improvement and dedication to his music paid off. At the 2017 Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival, his parents and Steve Huber of Huber Banjos presented Riley with a new Huber Workhorse banjo. That year, in November, at age 14, Riley became the full-time banjo player for Cedar Junction Bluegrass Band, and later, he joined his father in Pocket Change Bluegrass Band as their lead guitarist. He even picked up playing mandolin and upright bass along the way. By January 2021, Riley was ready to focus on his music. Riley Gilbreath & Lone Star Blue is a 5-piece bluegrass band that fuses up-tempo bluegrass with three-part harmonies and beats that make you want to tap your feet. They opened for Kylie Frey at the Levitt Pavilion and played at multiple music festivals. “Playing the Levitt Pavilion with my band was the first big stage I’d played on professionally,” said Riley. “There was a big crowd, and it was a memorable night for me and my career. I thought only a year before that I’d never get to play on that stage. It was awesome!” Riley Gilbreath & Lone Star Blue consists of Riley on banjo and guitar, Cole Gore on guitar, Sam Smith on mandolin, Leah Sawyer on fiddle, and John-Samuel May on bass and guitar. They plan to release a new single this spring. “Right now, we are taking it one show at a time. We are just having fun. That’s what matters!” said Riley. 43

Riley feels the most at In addition to his bluegrass home when he spends time with other musicians band, Riley is also a like him, making him the songwriter currently perfect fit for Tomorrow’s working with Grammy Bluegrass Stars (TBS). award-winning producer Sandy Smith, the wife of Chuck Ebert on his first TBS president Larry Smith solo EP releasing this and mother to bluegrass spring. superstar Ashlyn Smith, invited Riley to join, and “I write what comes out he found the group a great of my heart, and it leans way to meet and connect toward a mix of country and jam with musicians and bluegrass. Some are more the mountain sound around the country. of bluegrass. It’s the best of both worlds,” said Riley. A new member of the TBS group, Riley takes pride “I’m learning a lot. I’m learning that co-writing is in preserving bluegrass okay too! That’s where a lot music for tomorrow’s musicians, an uncommon of really great songs come from. It’s really exciting to commitment for an artist as young as Riley. put something out that I created!” “I love playing as many 44

shows as I can and spreading bluegrass music! It seems like it’s coming back to life,” said Riley. “Things are going great for me. The more I appreciate, the more blessings God gives me.” Riley dreams of one day being a full-time musician playing live music — whether for a crowd of five people or a stadium full of millions. “My goal for every show is to touch one person, touch someone’s heart to make their day,” said Riley. “We need music. It makes the world a better place.”




Not everybody gets the chance to create an album featuring a colossal lineup of carefully curated favorite musicians. Most would call it a dream job to select memorable songs and somehow get musicians such as Doyle Lawson to participate. But that’s what happened for Jack Hinshelwood when he put out the call to the virtuosos in his circle. He had just wrapped up a decade-long stint as director of The Crooked Road, a music heritage trail there in Virginia. After this, he undoubtedly still had many contacts who recognized his efforts to spread Appalachian music and preserve its legacy. “Music had always been a passion, but not an occu-

pation for me,” Hinshelwood explained. At this time of change in his life, it was finally time to delve into something new. What’s more, during the past two years of COVID-19 shutdowns, a record he’d wanted to create for many years started to beckon. It was the perfect thing to fill the empty space. “This project probably helped keep me sane when we were all of a sudden cut off from friends and the music gatherings you would do,” he explained. “It’s rewarding. This is definitely the best work I have ever done. “If I get hit by a bus tomorrow,” he laughed, “I’ll know I did the best I could do.” That “best” culminated in 50 Years in the Making: Old Time, Blues, and Bluegrass Music. The indie release


includes 22 songs he selected from a possible track list he’d assembled for consideration. The result is a release for the first week of April, for digital download and in CD form in two different volumes of music. The list of performers Hinshelwood got onboard is impressive and includes Doyle Lawson, Butch Robins, Scott Freeman, and Michael Cleveland. The lineup features over 20 artists, with a few unexpected participants that will lend a “world” vibe to the sounds, including euphonium player Steven Mead and Irish uilleann pipes, and whistle player Ronan Browne. Hinshelwood had been enjoying and collecting – literally, for about 50 years – a roster of songs he had someday dreamed of recording. Most came from the public domain. A few were from old traditional composers such as 19th century English and Scottish balladeer Francis Child. For added variety, the lyrics of two songs are simply poems Hinshelwood set to music. “Some of them are centuries old,” he said, “and some are modern bluegrass standards.” This music is not just for the bluegrass fan; it’s for anyone who loves all forms of traditional music. While it’s primarily traditional in sound, Hinshelwood wasn’t a stickler for keeping things too narrow. Found throughout are other influences.

“I really love variety,” he said. “There are touches of Celtic, western swing, and folk mixed in there as well.” It all came together because he just reached out and asked. That’s all it took. “I got to thinking …I know all these wonderful artists. I reached out to folks whose music I really admire,” he said. “I was pleased that no one turned me down. Nobody said no.” He uses the record release to “support local nonprofits who do some great work.” His labor of love has also resulted in “a two-night event in two different locations.” Performances coincide with the record dropping. The first happens on April 4 at the McGlothlin Center at E&H College in Emory, Virginia, benefiting Appalachian Sustainable Development. The second night happens April 5 at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, to help the Montgomery Museum of Art & History. In the record’s liner notes, a message from one of Hinshelwood’s friends might help explain why so many wanted to be involved. The cooperation no doubt came about due to the respect described by Ted Olson, Professor of Appalachian Studies and Bluegrass, Old-Time,

photo: Jim Poston


photo: Jeff Hoffman

and Roots Music Studies at East Tennessee State University. Part of Olson’s comment in the liner notes read: Jack is deeply respected in southwest Virginia for his passionate support of Appalachia’s music and of the culture that sustained the music. Musicians featured on 50 Years in the Making: Old Time, Blues, and Bluegrass Music include: Ronan Browne; Jim Van Cleve; Michael Cleveland; Jacob Eller; Brennan Ernst; Jamie Ferguson; Dom Flemons; Dori Freeman; Scott Freeman; Trey Hensley; Jeff Hoffman; Rob Ickes; Doug Jernigan; Doyle Lawson; Steven Mead; Dale Perry; Ivy Phillips; Butch Robins; Sandy Shortridge; Ronnie Simpkins; Wayne Taylor; Allan Walton; Phil Wiggins; and Debbie Yates. 49

Arkansas to Ohio: Explore these national parks with delicious restaurant detours CANDANCE NELSON

Few things are more all-American than the road trip. Maybe apple pies, baseball, and bluegrass music. But there’s something freeing about just sitting behind the wheel, Bill Monroe on the radio and an open highway ahead. Many seem to agree; road trips have increased over the past few years, and there’s one destination on people’s minds: national parks. National parks in America are preserved spaces, both natural and cultural, that are protected by the government. The Appalachian region is dotted with these unique places, whether designated as a national park, national historic park, national monument, national memorial, national historic site, national recreation area, national river, national parkway, or national trail. Make the most of your adventure (and those gas dollars) by tacking on a delicious destination restaurant meal to your itinerary. Start crafting that “bluegrass road trip” Spotify playlist now. Here are some of the most notable parks in the region and a delicious detour to create a readymade road trip: 50

West Virginia Park: New River Gorge National Park Restaurant: Pies & Pints The New River Gorge in West Virginia was named the 63rd national park in 2020, making it the newest addition to the park system. The natural playground is filled with twisting hiking trails that lead to sweeping vistas, some of the best rock climbing in the world, and crashing whitewater rapids that invite rafters to tackle. After all that adventure, it’s easy to work up an appetite. Pies & Pints (219 West Maple Avenue, Fayetteville, WV 25840) is the original location of this growing chain that serves up creative pies and local beer. Don’t shy away from their award-winning “Grape & Gorgonzola” pizza topped with fresh rosemary and olive oil. Virginia Park: Shenandoah National Park Restaurant: The Fishin’ Pig Shenandoah National Park sits just 75 miles away from Washington, D.C., but the scenery couldn’t be more different from the hustle and bustle of the city. Start your journey along Skyline Drive, where you can enjoy views of cascading waterfalls, ambling deer, fields of wildflowers, and more. When you want to stretch your legs, some hikes are family-friendly while others span for days. Fill your belly in nearby Waynesboro at The Fishin’ Pig (117 Apple Tree Lane,


Waynesboro, VA 22980), which has “the finest from land and sea: savory, smoked meats and flavorful, fresh seafood.” Check out “Grady’s Smoke Shack Sampler,” which features a quarter rack of ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked wings, and andouille sausage served with homemade slaw and hushpuppies. Tennessee Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Restaurant: The Peddler Steakhouse The Great Smoky Mountains are America’s most visited national park. The vast swath of forest is home to black bears, gorgeous wildflowers, and miles upon miles of hiking opportunities. If you visit before the spring trees begin blooming, there’s a good chance you might see stone walls, chimneys, and other remnants from past residents. Nearby cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are known for the tourists that flock to the area, but that doesn’t mean it’s all chain restaurants. The Peddler Steakhouse (820 River Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738) has been around since the 1970s, dishing out classic cuts of steak and old-school entrees. Try the Mountain Cut (16 oz.) Prime Rib with sides of baked potato and fresh button mushrooms. Arkansas Park: Hot Springs National Park Restaurant: Luna Bella 52

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas preserves the rich cultural history of spas in the 20th century. Nine historic bathhouses display stunning architecture, and you have the opportunity to visit ancient thermal springs. It’s all right in the middle of town, so you can even spend some time shopping and getting a bite to eat without any dining detours. Luna Bella (104 Grand Isle Way, Hot Springs, Arkansas, 71913) is an Italian restaurant known for its pasta and seafood dishes. Check out the Veal Scallopini & Shrimp: Thinly pounded scallopini of veal sauteed with shrimp, mushrooms, artichokes, and garlic in a white wine reduction with a touch of butter, served with creamy mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. Ohio Park: Cuyahoga Valley National Park Restaurant: Located along the Cuyahoga River between the Ohio cities of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is 33,000 acres of lush forest, hiking trails, a historic train track, and historical, cultural artifacts. You can sit back and relax on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad as it rolls past deer, beavers, eagles, and more in their natural habitat. If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Sarah’s Vineyard, which serves fine wine, food, and art. Their wood-fired pizzas are well-known and come in varieties like plain cheese: red sauce, basil, mozzarella cheese, and oregano; and chicken alfredo: alfredo sauce, chicken, spinach, onion, parmesan, mozzarella, and oregano. These parks and palate-pleasers are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more incredible parks to visit and delicious restaurants to dine in. Which is your favorite?



Celebrating The Roots of Bluegrass Music SHELBY C. BERRY


Bluegrass pioneers Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs started a movement when they created the music almost a century ago. Audiences couldn’t get enough. Still, bluegrass was considered hillbilly music as rock ’n’ roll music took front and center, reinforcing stereotypes in movies and television over the years. A loyal few dedicated themselves to the bluegrass traditions then, but something began changing in the industry. Bluegrass started claiming more breathing space, and a larger audience appreciated the music.

Today’s ‘hipster generation’ loves folk music, and this acoustic sound caused an upsurge in listeners of traditional bluegrass artists and progressive, modern folk artists bringing tradition into the future. Either way, the legacy of bluegrass music lives on in many styles, but the musicians defining themselves in tradition uphold the stories and techniques of yesterday’s music. For more than two decades, one band doing that has been The Local Boys, a bluegrass and Americana band based in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

The Local Boys love music that grew and evolved over decades — old-time, bluegrass, country, and rock ’n’ roll. Starting in the late 1990s in Maryland, The Local Boys have a long tradition of celebrating the roots of bluegrass music. “Having the knowledge of where the music came from and where it evolved is the most precious thing about bluegrass music,” said band leader and guitar player John Aaron. “Bluegrass is similar to country in how it has changed over the years. All genres evolve. I’m 55

grateful that I got to know the old stuff and appreciate it. We always respect where we’ve come from and where we are going in the future.” Although it has changed over the decades, today’s band lineup consists of John Aaron on guitar, Steven Davidson on mandolin, Tommy Ray on banjo, Jake Joines on dobro, and Jesse Chattin on bass. Based in the home of the iconic Merlefest bluegrass festival, The Local Boys will perform there for the 24th year this spring. Highlighting Merlefest as their favorite performance place, the band also actively participates in the outreach program, sponsored by Merlefest, bringing music to surrounding area schools. Bandleader and manager John Aaron is the longtime member of The Local Boys, dating back to the band’s origin. The Bluegrass Standard chatted with him about The Local Boys. The Bluegrass Standard: How do you position yourself with your music to remain true to who 56

you are and continue to be considered traditional bluegrass music? John Aaron: It’s not exactly the music we play. It’s the idea that if someone writes a song and brings it to the band, it’s the chords, the style, and the way we decide to play. It’s an old school style with a new school bluegrass band.

pioneers that have come up with sounds that go above and beyond what you would expect to hear. It’s aweinspiring and jaw-dropping. It means something to you when you hear it. BGS: What does your current music show the world about you and the band as musicians? JA: Right now, originality. That’s where our focus is. We are in the studio finishing a 100% original album. We are looking so forward to it. I can’t wait to put it out there for the world to hear. BGS: Often, artists channel their lives into their music. Is this something your band does? If so, how does that reflect who you are as people?

JA: We have two main songwriters, Steven BGS: Who are your musical Davidson and Tommy Ray. influences, idols, or bands Steven writes primarily that helped mold the music on life experience. It’s so you created? well thought out when you hear the lyrics. You can JA: There are a world tell that the music tells the of guys out there that story about something that epitomize what each of our happened to him. You can instruments should sound relate to him. He is a great like, such as Tony Rice, songwriter in that way, Jimmy Martin, Earl Scruggs, writing about things you can and Sam Bush. They are understand. Tommy writes

more about thoughts and ideas in a very positive and upbeat way. They are positive, feelgood kinds of stories. Like in the TV show Full House when something bad has happened, there’s the feel-good positive moment explaining why those things happened the way they did. Our music is similar to that — ending the song in a feel-good moment. BGS: After many decades of performing, what would you say has been the most rewarding part of this experience? JA: The camaraderie, the friendships, and the coming together of like minds talking about ideas. BGS: What are your dreams for your future in music as a band? JA: Let’s keep it going and play more! I want to play the Grand Ole Opry, Radio City Music Hall, and the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. I want to keep doing what we are doing, and we are on our way to performing those places! You never know what may happen. Lionel Richie, when he is judging on American Idol, has a comment that he says to contestants. He says, ‘I can’t wait to see how you progress on your journey.’ We are on our journey, and who knows what we will come across or bump into. If nothing comes of it, then we’ve had a hell of a time getting there! The Local Boys’ first original 10-song album will be released this April. Follow the band for updates on release dates at



For sixteen years, Melinda Massey has been touting the assets of Polk County, North Carolina. As the county’s travel and tourism director, she knows that people are drawn to the area to enjoy the hiking, waterfalls, and mountains. “We are a driving destination,” she says. Polk County is part of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, where folks work to preserve the stories of the mountains through music, craft, agriculture, nature, and Cherokee heritage. The Heritage Area encompasses 25 counties. “Our visitation actually doubled during Covid,” says Melinda. “People couldn’t go to Europe or visit the big cities, but they wanted to getaway. Our area is very rural. As a matter of fact, we have four ZIP Codes, and half of the county is rural.” The area is quite scenic and has a lot of vacation rentals, ranging from rustic cabins in the woods to grand dwellings that can accommodate a large family gathering. “Our website is firstpeaknc. com because we showcase the first designated mountain peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains as folks drive into the state from South Carolina.” One of the big attractions in Polk County is the Tryon International Equestrian Center & Resort in Mill Spring. Opened in 2014, the center features restaurants, shops, entertainment, cabins, and a 50room motel. Horse shows have been the main attraction at the Resort, but Melinda says that concerts are just coming into play. This fall, the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival 58

will be held at the Resort September 2 through 4 after being canceled two years in a row due to Covid. The festival will celebrate Earl Scruggs’s legacy and unique banjo-picking style in partnership with WNCW 88.7 at Isothermal Community College in Spindale and the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby. The lineup for the festival will feature the best in traditional roots music and progressive fusion. Hosted by Jerry Douglas and The Earls of Leicester, the lineup boasts a strong slate of artists, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sam Bush Band, Alison Brown, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Dom Flemons, and more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Earl Scruggs Center and Isothermal Community College, serving Scruggs’ home region of the Carolina Foothills with cultural programming. “It’s great to see the Resort celebrating the legacy of such an impactful icon from our music history. Attendees to the Earl Scruggs Music Festival can expect a terrific weekend of Bluegrass music in a top-notch venue,” says Melinda. “When I see how beautiful the Resort is and how they framed the landscape, it makes me appreciate the mountains all over again. It is such an asset to our area. We have 20,000 people in our county, and the Resort regularly has 3,000 5,000 people attend events. A large festival may draw 9,000 or 10,000. The Resort focused on horse events when it opened, but it has expanded into music festivals and events. That’s



and more. A public concert happens on the closing day of each session. “We also have a local cheese maker with their own aging caves, four In 2021, Night in the Country Carolinas wineries with tasting rooms, and other agricultural attractions that was the debut music festival at the weave perfectly into the bluegrass Resort. “It has been held for over story we have in Polk County,” says twenty years in the desert out west,” Melinda. “We have amazing farmsays Melinda. “The promoters were looking for an east coast location, and to-table restaurants in our towns. I would say we are authentic here. Most it landed here. It was very organized and well-received. We look forward to businesses are locally owned, and having it back again this year, August we offer a simpler way of life. Folks can escape the city and see dark 25 through 27.” skies filled with stars at night and the beautiful mountain views during the Another music feature in the area day. We can’t wait for people to come is the annual Junior Appalachian to visit us.” Musicians sessions at the Tryon Fine Arts Center each spring and fall. Local students and music teachers participate in preserving the music of the Appalachian cultural heritage. Students also learn local music history and theory, dance, folklore, exciting and gives both locals and visitors another way to experience the Resort.”


Sprig of That Modern Acoustic Band Carving Out their Genre of Music SHELBY C. BERRY We typically think of the progressive bluegrass genre as jazz-influenced and experimental in the bluegrass community. Progressive means something a little different when it comes to Sprig of That. It means occupying the space between Northern European fiddle styles, modern American string music, and indie contemporary classic music — even if all the instruments are still acoustic. Quickly making a name for themselves with their approach to acoustic music amid a global pandemic, Sprig of That delights listeners with their wide range 62

of musical interests that become a cohesive, constantly evolving sound. “The fluidity with which we have found a common language together has been one of my favorite parts of playing in this group,” said tabla player Krissy Bergmark. “When we are together and making music, it just feels like we are bringing ourselves to the music and creating an experience. The fluidity, teamwork, and the way we care for each other as friends and people make it fun.” Formed in the storied musical city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the band plays their original acoustic

songs and fresh arrangements of folk favorites intended for an audience who likes a more modern approach to acoustic music. While bluegrass wasn’t the primary influence in their musical background, this band of accomplished musicians understands the importance of bluegrass tradition. Sprig of That has found themselves in a sub-genre, understanding that traditional and typical progressive aren’t the only types of bluegrass. They drew from varied musical traditions to play thoroughly modern music — something unlike any other band today.

The dazzling fiddling by Isabel Dammann and guitar by Ilan Blanck set the stage for their memorable musical moments — the tabla. Krissy Bergmark’s staple instrument anchored by its Indian Classical traditions and melodic beat produce the band’s sound. “I think the kind of music we originally bonded over was this modern, acoustic, fiddle style. That’s what we were listening to, so the music we were writing was inspired by guitar and fiddles playing chords in a medley. That’s just where we ended up,” said Ilan. “Whatever I’m listening to at the time is what I’ll be inspired by. It often comes out as string music in the folk umbrella, but we have influences from other genres as well.” Family and early musical influences inspired Krissy, Isabel, and Ilan at a young age, leading them to find each other. A shared love of string music and a connection with a musician friend brought Sprig of That together in January 2018. Since then, the trio built its name in Minneapolis and played on New York’s historical Rockwood Music Hall stage, partnering with organizations like the Carnegie Hall, The Julliard School, and Minnesota Public Radio for educational workshops around the country. It was almost serendipitous when

Ilan and Isabel met their first week of college when they sat next to each other at a first-year orientation for string players. Meeting Krissy a few years later through a mutual classmate, all three musicians found themselves living in Minneapolis after college. One jam session later that lasted for hours on end, they knew they had found something special.

and original venues around the country. “We even played a show in a used bookstore in a small town on the edge of Wisconsin. It was the largest used bookstore in the state and located in an old tobacco factory,” said Ilan. “We were surrounded by 600,000 books while we sang. It was a smaller crowd but hearing my guitar in that room felt like what it sounded like in my head. That place was just magical.” After four years of exploring their sound and finding out exactly who they are and who they want to be as musicians, they decided it was time to record their debut album. Although they had recorded an EP a few years ago, this time was different.

Sprig of That, a name inspired by food servings and the imagery of nature, quickly began writing music together, recording and performing their music live. A small taste of the welcoming nature of the bluegrass community had them surrounded by the magic of music, playing shows in some of the most iconic

Sprig of That brought on producer Wes Corbett of the Sam Bush Band and Grammy award-winning sound engineer Dave Sinko to record at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios. Now that the album is recorded, the band is raising money through a Kickstarter campaign to release their music to the world. “Everything we wrote came from a place of curiosity and passion,” said Isabel. “We’ve been pulling from our backgrounds individually. It’s been special as we’ve grown as a trio and honed 63

our sound in a special way. We know each other so well as musicians and humans. People can feel the communication between us when we play.” After writing music that they felt was the best they had ever created, Sprig of That wanted to pull out all the stops for this debut album. They connected with Art House Connection to help them fund this project through Kickstarter. With a team reminding them that this community-centered campaign allows them to send love into the world with their music, it launched in early March.


“We have learned that if we reach out genuinely and make connections with people who want to see us succeed, it will be successful. I feel so inspired not only to keep doing this but to be able to return the favor to others that need support in the future,” said Ilan.

in the suburbs of Milwaukee,” said Ilan. “The fact that I ended up in a band that is several different things and different styles that people don’t know what to make of feels par for the course. A lot of groups are at the edge of things, but with us, it feels like it’s part of who we are.”

Sprig of That looks forward to releasing their debut album to the world and hitting the road to perform their new music live, fostering the best versions of themselves for the world to see.

To support Sprig of That in funding their debut album, donate to their Kickstarter campaign: projects/sprigofthat/help-sprigof-that-release-our-debutoriginal-album?ref=653nuz&tok en=19643153.

“I’m the son of Mexican and Jewish immigrants that grew up






Chris Sharp

CD: Rare & Fine: Uncommon Tunes of Bill Monroe Artist: Mike Compton Label: Taterbug Music Artist Website: https://www. Mike Compton has produced an uncommonly good CD, Rare & Fine. It has proved difficult to review because I must say the right things about this work. I cannot overstate the importance of this collection of tunes, all masterfully rendered for us to enjoy, all previously unrecorded tunes composed by Monroe and heard on cassette tapes and CDs compiled of field recordings of Monroe’s shows and from the seats in his bus as the Bluegrass Breakdown sped down the road to another show. My first listen transported me to the many times my young twenty-something self sat on the ground in front of the stage at Monroe’s feet in mid-week performances at Bean Blossom. Monroe reached deep into his repertoire for something his 68

audience had not heard during previous sets. Even Monroe can’t perform the same two or three sets of music when he plays two sets a day for nine days to the same folks. I can remember that twenty-something Mike Compton seated right there, staring up at the master. I remember me and a host of others seated right next to him, our mouths open, our jaws hanging slack as Monroe hammered the midweek crowds with music they’d likely never get to hear anywhere else. Rare & Fine is almost like Bill Monroe has reached beyond the grave to enthrall us once again. It definitely shows that Monroe’s music is still fresh and relevant as so many other things fade, wilt, and return to the Earth. I close my eyes and listen, transported right back to the foot of the Bean Blossom stage. I have wanted this in Bluegrass music. I have longed for it. I now have it in my hands. Some singles from Rare & Fine have already been released, and the entire CD is set for release in March. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the singles as I have been listening carefully to this CD preparing to write this review. Sometimes I have to make myself listen to a CD twice, but not this time. I must have listened fifty times, and I’m just getting started.

Compton assembled a great cast of musicians who absolutely nailed Monroe’s music and the spirit. Jeremy Stephens on guitar, Russ Carson on banjo, Mike Bub on bass, and Laura Orshaw, Michael Cleveland, and Shad Cobb on fiddles. They did justice to the music. They honored the music. They made these uncommon tunes of Bill Monroe come alive. It’s not possible for me to pick a favorite, as the favorites change with every close listen. This is a wonderful thing because it means that I am getting something different out of each listen. I suppose that means I’m growing as it grows on me, speaking to be a bit differently each time around. This is the way of good music. There are lots of blues here, underscoring the influence of the blues on Monroe. There are also several places where tunes presented here have solid references to other tunes Monroe composed and recorded. All artists get themes that suggest themselves in such a way that the theme keeps returning until the artist has accomplished whatever the ether demanded of them. We can hear this in musical phrases in Jemison Breakdown and Nanook of the North and their nod to Brown County Breakdown, Let’s Get Close Together’s nod to Tombstone Junction, and a slight nod to Big Mon on The Old Stage Coach.

The triple fiddles on Mississippi River Blues, California Forest Fire, Orange Blossom Breakdown, The Old Stage Coach, Trail of Tears, Up in the Front and Out in the Back, and Big Spring are to die for. The fiddling of Laura Orshaw, Michael Cleveland, and Shad Cobb reminds me of some great 50’s Monroe recordings, all tendered with some great reverb. The triple fiddles also bring back vivid memories of Kenny Baker, Joe Stuart, and Enoch Sullivan playing triple fiddles with Monroe at the Lochwood Festival in Chatham, Alabama, back in the ’70s (Oh My!). Laura Orshaw’s fiddling on Jemison Breakdown and Galley Nipper is sublimely rendered, making my soul soar. Jeremy Stephens’ guitar shines all the way through, but nowhere better than Let’s Get Close Together Blues, which gives us a double dose of the raw power of The Monroe Brothers. Russ Carson’s banjo attack, tone, and timbre on Galley Nipper and The Old Stage Coach are just perfect, and his banjo work on Trail of Tears is beyond perfect. Certainly, more notes could have been played by many, but not a note here is out of place, time, or the spirit of the music. It’s as if the assembled musicians wanted to sound like a band rather than use this recording as a showcase for hot picking. How refreshing! I spoke to Compton about the CD. He said he had received some feedback on the tempo of some of the tunes, suggestions that perhaps some were too slow. “These tunes are as they came from the hands of Monroe. That’s where they belong.” I find the pace of the CD just perfect. The music breathes. It leaves us some space to insert ourselves, to contemplate the mood that washes over us as we listen. Orange Blossom Breakdown is

there if speed is what one needs; it leaves some smoke in its wake. The lasting and permanent importance of Bill Monroe and his contributions to American music cannot be overstated. But, and it’s a big but: lots of Bluegrass fans seem to prefer the idea of Monroe at the expense of his music. This was a mystery until I thought about my first encounter with the man and his music. Compton says it best in the liner notes, which speak for me and so many others: I don’t remember really when or where I first heard Bill Monroe, but I do remember it being quite a jolt. The primal sound of his style made me a bit uncomfortable, having grown up with more polished recordings, but I couldn’t stop listening to him. Primal. Powerful. Durable. Raw. Just like Compton, many of us started with the polished but learned to prefer the primal for the foundation it gives. Better than anyone else, Compton captures the rhythmic and sonic qualities of the mandolin. Sure, there are notes, and lots of people give us plenty of notes, but few give us that percussiveness that Monroe did. The best examples of this to my ear is on Jemison Breakdown, Let’s Get Close Together Blues, and particularly Galley Nipper, with its close micing that gives us those uh-uh-uh sounds of the wood and the attack of the pick, the sounds of a fine instrument in experienced hands, giving us what it was created for. These tunes all have melodies. Keeping close to the melody surely does not hurt the tune. I have longed for this music. My heart has yearned for it. I am so glad it’s here.

favorites, they might be Galley Nipper, Jemison Breakdown, The Old Stage Coach, Trail of Tears, and Let’s Get Together Blues. The truth of the matter is that my favorite happens to be the one playing right now. Any recording that can give one this experience is a real bargain. This recording is very likely to be the next big thing in Bluegrass. We had the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Circle Album in the ’70s, which brought many of us into the fold. Then in 2000, we had the Oh Brother! soundtrack, which captured whole new generations (Compton was also a part of that project). Far more recently, we have the phenomenal success of Billy Strings, who introduced a new generation to the sounds and styles of Doc Watson. Now, with Rare & Fine, we have the very thing that could and should bring about a renaissance of Monroe’s fabulous musical creativeness, power, and style, showing us all that despite a serious handicap, Monroe isn’t quite through with us. Rumor has it that there are enough unrecorded Monroe tunes to make another CD. I can hardly wait. Thanks to my lifelong friend Mike Compton (whose birthday is today!) and Taterbug Music for producing this CD and the assembled musicians who all made it come alive. If it were mine, I would wish it was done just like this. I stand and salute with a swelling heart as Bill Monroe looks down and smiles. The Rare & Fine release date is March 4. Don’t wait!

If one insists on having me pick 69

effort in interviews, discography, anecdotes, photos, the history of Roland White’s tenure in many bands, and a glossary of Bluegrass icons and venues mentioned in the book. Any student of Bluegrass music, particularly those new to the music they would make their own, will benefit from studying this book. It is a lesson in the glory of perseverance and persistence, both White’s as an artist and Black’s as an author. Book: Mandolin Man: The Bluegrass Life of Roland White Author: Bob Black Publisher: University of Illinois Press Publication Date: June 7, 2022 The University of Illinois Press and their Music in American Life series are on a roll for Bluegrass fans in 2022. We’re only two months into the new year, and so far, I have read and reviewed two books about Bluegrass music. The first was Mark Hembree’s On the Bus with Bill Monroe, and now, former Bluegrass Boy banjoist Bob Black’s Mandolin Man: The Bluegrass Life of Roland White. Bob Black has spared no 70

Like many other converts to Bluegrass, at first, I found the hard, raw edge of Bill Monroe a bit shrill, which says nothing about Bill Monroe and a lot about tastes. Ripe olives, oysters on the halfshell, lutefisk (that halfrotten fermented fish that Norwegians love), and haggis (that Scottish dish the FDA says can’t even be imported into the USA) are not typically items placed on a toddler’s menu. One has to grow into those more mature flavors. That may not be the case for everyone, but it is for many of us. Unlike the mature flavor that is Bill Monroe, the Kentucky Colonels and The New Kentucky Colonels, featuring Roland and Clarence White, were palatable to me right off the bat: my first Bluegrass love, as it were. On a two-week

honeymoon in January 0f 1980, that became less and less about a new marriage and more and more about being broke and hanging out in Nashville among many Bluegrass pals. My new bride, Debbie, and I, too broke for hotels by then, spent the last couple of nights at the shared house of my friend and former Bluegrass Boy Bob Fowler and one of my first Bluegrass idols Roland White. Though I daresay it was not so for my new bride, it was a high point for me. Still, she was a good sport about it. She is still a good sport after forty-two years of marriage. It was my first time being face-to-face with one of my earliest Bluegrass heroes and influences. I was smitten. Roland was gracious, which could serve as a good second subtitle for this book. Roland White’s contributions to Bluegrass music cannot be overstated. To try and list them here would be to pay short shrift to what Black has so superbly done in his book. In the reading, it became apparent that nothing short of a book-length project could do justice to Roland White. Bob Black has given us that justice. He has done so admirably. The book is very readable. Sometimes it seems a bit redundant, but it is more a matter of format than anything else. Sometimes

things need to be said more than once. Listen closely to The Kentucky Colonels, Country Gazette, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and The Roland White Band. Then listen again. Repeat. Read the book’s glossary. Repeat. Read White’s discography. Repeat. Watch old Andy Griffith shows that feature The Country Boys. Repeat. Repeat. Read the book. Repeat. Redundancy has its place place [grin]. In fact, a lot of what we like about music is its stellar moments interspersing its redundancy.

found on a recording of hotshots in a hot band. Something anchors the music while still allowing for experimentation within its structure. Something grounds it to the earth. That something was frequently Roland White. The body of work Roland White has blessed us with is immense. It was my first study, and it’s still studied. Black gives things we no doubt would have missed along the way, which is true for the veteran and far more for the novice.

Bob Black is a top-shelf banjoist himself, having Black makes a great, successful effort to point out worked on some of my favorite recordings, Roland White’s sincerity in particularly those he did encouraging new players, with the great fiddler, Kenny helping them find their Baker. Black has another voice in a musical style book out, Come Hither many see as limiting. It’s to Go Yonder: Playing a debate that rages in the Bluegrass with Bill Monroe, bluegrass world. The only limits are those placed there also available from The University of Illinois Press. by others or those we place I haven’t read it yet, but I for ourselves as we come face to face with our musical think it’ll be next on my list. limitations. Aside from Having seen more than having pleased our ears one pre-release book, I with his music for so many years, White’s greatest legacy find that they typically may be to have watered and contain boilerplate language warning reviewers of the nurtured tender shoots in dangers of using quotes an often thorny and rocky from the pre-release in ground. their hands. Well, I found a quote I have to use here, Black rightfully points ignoring the publisher’s out White’s unceasing warning about changes in interest in the sound of final editions. Black graced the music and what he can us with a great Bill Monroe contribute to that sound. The result is often a synergy quote that is not likely to change. This Monroeism and cohesiveness seldom

came from a story White told Black about a left-over lunch found in a paper sack aboard Monroe’s bus, aka The Bluegrass Breakdown. When questioned about the unrefrigerated old food found in a greasy paper sack, Monroe replied, “You can’t hurt ham.” I laughed out loud. Thank you, Bob Black, for your contributions to Bluegrass music and the gift of knowledge in this book. Hard work pays dividends to more than just the one doing all the work. All I had to do was read the book to tap into that big dividend. It was so enjoyable, and it was not work at all. I think I’ll spin up The New Kentucky Colonels Live in Sweden and cut me off a big slice of country ham. It can’t hurt.







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