48 CONTENT OUR STAFF THE NELONS GENE MCDONALD JIMMY BLACKWOOD LE S BUTLER THE 11TH HOUR MEMPHIS QUARTET SHOW THE ERWINS WILLIAM DISSEN SOUTHBOUND CAROLINE WILLIAMSON VIDEO CHART FAN PHOTOS
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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! Keith@TheBluegrassStandard.com
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. Richelle@TheBluegrassStandard.com
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. GoldenAgeOfMusicVideo.com
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. Emerald@TheBluegrassStandard.com
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 CandaceLately.com. Find her on Twitter at @Candace07 or email CandaceRNelson@gmail.com.
Music was a big part of Jason Clark’s family culture in eastern Kentucky. “Music was something that was passed down from generation to generation in my family, and it was always a big part of any family gathering.” Jason’s father was the first in their family ever to be a professional musician, and he was undoubtedly Jason’s inspiration. “When I graduated high school, I began singing professionally as well,” he says. “The first group I toured with was The Singing Americans.” Eventually, Jason moved to Nashville, where he worked as a session musician. He played on a Rex Nelon recording, and afterward, Rex offered Jason a position in his band. “I got to know the family well and even married his daughter, Kelly. We married 21 years ago.” The Nelons have been together as a group, one way or another, for 45 years. Kelly Nelon Clark is the original member of the group. She and Jason have two daughters, Amanda, and Autumn, who round out The Nelons. “Both of the girls are world-class singers,” says Jason. “They are at the top of our industry in terms of vocal talent. Professionally, Amber has recorded since she was nine years old, and she is the youngest ever Dove award nominee. In addition to singing, Autumn also plays the mandolin.” The Nelons tour extensively, although their schedule is not as full now due to the Covid 8
pandemic. “We like to land about 120 shows a year,” says Jason. “We had 101 cancellations due to Covid in 2020 and 2021, but it has picked back up, although we are not traveling abroad at this time.” Jason says that pre-Covid, the group did a bi-annual tour through Europe. “We have a large fan base in Europe, I think due in large part to the Gaither videos.” The Nelons are regulars on the Gaither Homecoming series. The group offers a blend of Gospel, a Capella, Americana, folk music, traditional hymns, and inspirational music. For Kelly, singing in the group has brought her full circle, as she has shared the same stages many times with her father. She now leads the group with her solid and pure vocals, joined by Jason, a versatile singer and musician and a talented songwriter and producer. Amber’s soaring soprano and Autumn’s soothing alto add beautiful vocal harmonies. The multitalented family’s extensive list of accolades includes three GRAMMY® nominations, seven GMA Dove awards, a Telly award, and in 2016 they were inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame. While Autumn was in school at Trinity Baptist College, The Nelons became artists-in-residence and were ambassadors for the college while on tour. In addition to performing, state music and choral conferences often ask The Nelons to serve as worship leaders. “We love to do it,” says Jason. “We have been invited numerous times to the
A Special Blend of Inspiration Susan Marquez
Gaither’s multi-day events where there will be six thousand or more people gathered.” The Nelons also partner with choral companies to take their work into churches. A few years ago, the family moved from Atlanta to a working farm in Roopville, Georgia. “We train horses and have a herd of black Angus, and we hold cattle sales,” Jason says. “There is also a 10,000 square foot venue used for weddings, dinner shows, and concerts. Our next show is
scheduled for Valentine’s Day.” Jason says they also produced a Christmas variety television show called Christmas at the Farm in the venue. “We had so much fun doing it, and it was so well received that we may turn the show into an annual thing.” The future looks bright for The Nelons as they continue to touch audiences worldwide. Amber has two albums out on Daywind Records, Without Your Love (2014) and Just Sing (2015). 9
Autumn is working on a bluegrass album to be released later this year. “I’m writing songs now with Jerry Salley for the album,” says Jason. “Amber likes the Americana folk sound, but she also loves traditional bluegrass as well, so there will probably be a mix of the two.” Jason says The Nelons are gradually getting back to their full touring schedule and will continue providing audiences with the genres they love best and music that crosses age barriers and unifies their audiences with great music.
Kara Martinez Bachman
The Humble Embrace of Bass
Big ole bass voices have the power to calm and embrace—they’re warm; they’re welcoming; they’re not attention-seeking. Still, bass tones somehow form the vital support and underpinnings of most music. They add depth, mystery, and maturity. Gene McDonald has one of those inimitable voices, and according to this gospel singer, the bass range lures in kids like nothing else does. Before he was old enough to be classified with a bass vocal range – way back when he was singing as a child tenor – he was always roped in by those guys. “My biggest heroes were bass singers,” McDonald said. “Because they loved kids.” His experiences since have given the idea credence. “I think kids like bass singers because it’s something they can’t do,” he said, adding that grabbing onto that interest to form a bond – even if just for a few moments at a festival or after a show – is still important to him. “Kids really need to know they’re important. If we can make that child smile a little bit, then we’ve done something.” McDonald undoubtedly makes both kids and adults smile during his many decades of performing gospel. He tours solo and also is a regular with the Gaither Homecoming Tour. 13
“I started singing with my mom and dad in 1968, at the age of three years old,” McDonald reminisced. At a radio station in Missouri, listeners first heard the little child who would end up with a lifelong career in the business. He traveled the midwest with his family for 15 years. Next, he took up
years now. In 2017 McDonald released “Reflections,” a recording he created independent of a label.
with Jack Campbell and the Ambassadors. He then had stints with the Plainsmen Quartet and The Florida Boys.
next record, which he said will include Christmas music and hymns. He’s aiming for a fall 2022 release.
Today, his main gigs are touring and recording solo and participating with the Gaither Homecoming for many
Classically trained in opera and choral music, McDonald had a change of heart at some point in his college opera work.
“I came back to what I love, which is gospel,” he said. His brief sojourn sounds similar to what happens to many raised around “It was just a fun record,” gospel and bluegrass. he said. “Some old stuff and some new stuff people They become something akin to prodigal sons. had never heard me do.” McDonald says he sees this dynamic all the time McDonald said he is just in his audiences. ramping up work on the
“I’ve seen grandmas and grandpas bringing their kids and grandkids…but they leave at age 17 or 18,” he said. “Then they come back at age 28 or 30.” He said the return to traditional music often happens because they become parents
themselves. “If you had a good time listening to bluegrass or gospel, the first thing you’re gonna do is bring them… like, let’s see if you enjoy it as much as dad did.” “They remember the feelings,” he continued, “and the sounds, and the fun times they had. The kids enjoy the camaraderie of becoming a fan of a group or person.” For McDonald, his bus,” childhood energies went He’d into being a devoted fan of he said. been doing that – touring Doyle Lawson. – for most of his life. “I was always a fan from the get-go,” he said, adding “It made you think about what your life was…we that he and Lawson are all went introspective on now also friends but that our lives,” he said. his fan status has never “For every waned. musician In addition to working on in the the new album, McDonald said the next months involve getting back on track with touring more heavily. The pandemic caused a standstill for musicians in 2020 and 2021, and performance opportunities decreased at least 20-percent both for his solo touring and Gaither appearances.
business, there were some dark moments.” He said the biggest inner question he had personally was: “Were we really doing what God called us to do?” He said in the end, the question resulted in an understanding. “To humble yourself and not take too much pride in what your ability is,” he said, speaking this clear and basic gospel in warm bass tones so that all might hear.
“I had a pretty rough 14 months, never looking at a microphone or riding on a 15
Blackwood. If you have just dipped your toe into the pool of Southern Gospel music, then it won’t be long before the Blackwood name rings a bell. James Blackwood Sr., Doyle Blackwood, Roy Blackwood and nephew, RW Blackwood are the original members of The Blackwood Brothers Quartet getting their start in 1934 in Choctaw County, MS. They were so popular they became “The BestKnown Name in Gospel Music History”.
Miggie Lewis’s (The Lewis Family) in Lincolnton, GA. She received the call that Jimmy’s father, James, has just passed away. I was new to the southern gospel scene in some respects, and I recall trying to figure out who was exactly the father “James” or “Jimmy”. Of course, Miggie set me on the correct path and then also told me about the tragic plane crash in 1954, two weeks after they I can recall precisely the had just won the Arthur first time I learned of the Blackwoods. It was February Godfrey talent scout TV show. The crash claimed the of 2002, and I was over at Fast forward to 1969, James Blackwood’s oldest son, James “Jimmy” Blackwood, Jr., took over as the main lead singer for the group. Jimmy began his singing career in 1962 with the Junior Blackwood Brothers then moved onto singing baritone with J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet by 1965.
lives of RW Blackwood and Bill Lyles. A few years after being schooled by Miggie I would find myself with Ben Speer. I was attending the National Quartet Convention with him in 2010 when I first met Jimmy without knowing it until after. I say met… He was really talking to Ben. I asked Ben who he was talking to, and he told me 18
Jimmy Blackwood. I would later actually meet and talk to Jimmy a few years later after Faye Speer’s funeral. Years have gone by since then and I can now say Jimmy has become one of my dearest friends. I managed to drag him kicking and screaming out of retirement and have him sing on my first single from my Bluegrass Gospel album,
Somebody Loves Me. I have been able to learn even more about the Blackwood legacy and have heard lots of road stories of his time on the road. Jimmy was born on July 31, 1943, in National City, CA. From there the family moved to Iowa in 1945 and eventually landed in Memphis, TN in 1950. He has five Grammys and a
Singing News Fan Award for Favorite Lead Singer. Jimmy left the quartet and began a solo career in 1986. After his father died, Jimmy went back to singing lead with the quartet retiring in October 2012.
Jimmy: I didn’t realize how famous my dad and his brothers were in my earlier days. I always called him “Daddy” and was so proud to be named after him. I can remember thinking Rebekah: So, tell the world when I was about five years what it is like being the son old that everybody’s daddy of James “Mr. Gospel Music” sang in a quartet. Later, I
figured it out that I had an exceptionally gifted family. Rebekah: When did you realize you were a singer? Jimmy: I became interested in singing when I was 20. Mr. Verle Pilant and his wife, Marge, were involved in their local church’s music program and they also
years singing in quartets and in solo music. The traveling was enjoyable, but the miles can really take a toll on your body. I learned to sing when I had a cold and my voice was gone, learned to keep going when I was sick or tired and I learned to smile when I didn’t feel like smiling. It’s not an act it’s just finding strength when you feel like you can’t take another step. Over the years I’ve seen my daddy hold on to a microphone stand for support because he was almost too weak to be able to stand on stage and sing. I had a great example.
taught music. He organized several of us quartet kids to sing in a quartet with him as the tenor, my cousin, Winston Blackwood as the lead singer, me on baritone, Bill Lyles, Jr singing bass and Marge playing piano. That was my introduction to singing and traveling. Rebekah: Do you miss the road? Jimmy: I traveled about 49 20
Rebekah: What was your favorite line-up of the
Quartet? Jimmy: I sang with some of the greatest Gospel singers there have ever been, but I enjoyed the bass singers most. I sang with J.D. Sumner, London Parris, Ken Turner and Butch Owens. Any of those guys could shake the foundation with their low voices. Rebekah: Can you tell a little bit about the plane crash and how that affected you? Jimmy: I was only 11 years old when the plane crash happened, in Clanton, Alabama but I knew it was a turning point in our family. My cousin R.W. was the pilot and Bill Lyles was the
Rebekah: Is there anything you would like to add?
co-pilot. They were doing a few practice take-offs and landings and a local friend, Johnny Ogborn, had joined them for the exercises. On the final approach the plane crashed and all three of them died on the runway.
Jimmy: I am grateful for my heritage and the opportunities to travel the world and experience so many wonderful things. I have met many prominent leaders, entertainers, and politicians. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people from farmers to bankers, from mechanics to athletes, There is a monument to musicians, doctors, teachers, them at the airport in Clanton. All the later events and people from all walks in our lives were referred to of life. I have eaten food from the streets of Hong as having happened before the crash or after the crash. Kong to the cornfields of We never really got over that the Midwest. It has been an amazing life. tragedy.
Les Butler laughs when he says he grew up “in the Gospel capital of the United States – Chicago, Illinois.” Les’s parents were from eastern Kentucky, and his father was a preacher. “They were members of the Canaan Record Club, which was active from the 1960s to the late 1980s. Every month we got a new Gospel album in the mail. That’s
how I learned the songs. I also taught myself how to play guitar, piano, mandolin, and dobro by sitting in front of my parents’ huge stereo in the living room and listening to the records over and over again.” Les’s taste in music was varied. “I listened to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and George Jones, which gave me my love of bluegrass
and country, as well as the Happy Goodmans, the Florida Boys, The Inspirations and other great Gospel groups.” Les even had a brush with fame when, as a child, he spent the night at his uncle’s house. Flatt and Scruggs were his uncle’s house guests, and Scruggs showed Les how to do a three-finger roll. 27
Les passed his FCC 3rd Class (with Endorsement) radio license at age fourteen. “I was the youngest person at that time to pass the exam at the Chicago FCC offices.” With his distinct voice for radio and a love for Southern Gospel music, Les put his talents to work at a radio station in Chicago the first weekend in October 1978. He did a Southern Gospel radio program called Crossroads for Christ for a few years before marrying his wife, Bev, in 1983. The couple moved to Kissimmee, Florida, where Les went to work at WFID, a country station that let me play Gospel music on Sundays. “Later, I built a radio station in Haines City, Florida with the late Jack Moseman. The call letters were WHGL, and now it is WLVF Radio Gospel.” In 1997, Les and Bev moved to Nashville, where he went to work for the Solid Gospel Radio Network. While there, he won the 28
prestigious March of Dimes AIR award for his bluegrass Gospel radio show called Front Porch Fellowship. Les served as the host for Delta Airlines’ Southern Gospel radio channel, and for many years, he published Singing
News magazine. In 2016, he flipped the switch on his own company, Butler Music Group. The company, based in Nashville, produces and publishes music for some of
today’s best up-and-coming artists. His publishing companies include Hurry Up Publishing (BMI) and Hush Jean (ASCAP). BMG provides artists who want to take their music to the next level the opportunity to use the best musicians, studios, and production Nashville has to offer. Les and his staff work to guide the careers and ministries for artists such as Mark Wheeler & The Marksmen Quartet, Heart2Heart, Heaven’s Mountain Band, the Williamsons, Barry Rowland & Deliverance, and a group that Les is a member of, Old Time Preachers Quartet. Les and Bev’s son, Matt, runs the studio as the studio manager and engineer. “He produces, he does the studio mixing, and he is also a great musician who does a lot of session work,” says Len. Matt also teaches sound mixing as a mix coach for an online school run by top sound engineer Kevin Ward.
The Butler Music Group truly is a family affair. In addition to Les and Matt, Bev and daughter Amber are also involved. Bev serves as the office manager. “She is a walking encyclopedia of Southern Gospel Music, and I believe she knows every lyric to every song,” says Les. Bev keeps the office and mailroom running smoothly. A musical talent in her own right, Bev has
been singing with the Les Butler Trio for over 35 years. Amber serves as the company’s director of marketing. Les knows the music business from both sides. “I’ve been blessed to produce, play, and promote several Southern Gospel and Bluegrass Gospel number one songs. He enjoys playing with the Old Time Preacher’s Quartet, made
up of all preachers. “We sing, or preach, or both at places like Dollywood. On weekends when he’s home, he is at his home church, Middle Tennessee Baptist in Murfreesboro. With his syndicated radio program, Les Butler’s Southern Bluegrass, reaching one hundred markets, and his Live with Les video version of his radio network airing on 29
Facebook and YouTube, Les is busier than ever. “I’ve got one speed, and that’s GO. I am one of those people who doesn’t require much sleep. I used to go fishing, but I don’t have time anymore.” That’s OK with Les, who is thankful he can do his favorite thing, preaching and singing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Finding Harmony in His Message Amber Eppinette Saunders began singing gospel when she was just a kid. She grew up immersed in gospel music. In her family, everybody either sang or played instruments. They performed as a group called Pure Heart. There were four or five singers and about eight or so musicians. Then, her father decided to spend his time as a pastor instead. He pulled the group off the road and redirected his life. At age 16, Amber chose to continue with this gospel tradition, with the group transitioning into what would be re-named the 11th Hour. This Nashville-based ensemble has been going strong for over 15 years despite some lineup changes, with Saunders at the helm. The trio recorded seven records, performed around 200 dates a year in various church settings, and was nominated for numerous southern gospel awards. Traveling nationwide, they aim to move congregations toward richer worship, and the devotion to both music and faith rings out through every note. The trio’s harmonies sent a meaningful shiver down many spines during church services and other concerts. Eppinette Saunders said she loves southern gospel music primarily for its effect on people. She sees it as a real force for good. “It’s literally the only message that changes lives, for the eternal side of things,” she said. “Christian music is the only one that suits the soul.” The current 11th Hour lineup also includes Victoria Bowlin and Chandler Padgett. Eppinette Saunders had glowing remarks about her fellow performers. 32
“They are wonderful singers,” she said, “but they are also great musicians.” In addition to high vocals, she plays piano and writes many of the songs recorded by 11th Hour. Bowlin writes a bit as well and plays piano and bass. Padgett contributes skills on bass, drums, and piano. “We’re working on a music video that’s gonna be coming out soon,” Eppinette Saunders said when asked about the future. She said they will hopefully release another record “toward the end of this year or beginning of next year” and expects the recording to primarily include original music. She said she is also looking forward to being on the roster of featured performers on a Carnival “Singing at Sea” cruise that offers over 25 Southern Gospel musicians. The cruise sets sail in January 2023. As usual, the group is open to bookings from churches for the coming year. Things picked up quite a bit for them after the slowdown all musicians experienced in 2020; everything now seems back on track. Saunders said they can add gigs to the schedule on shorter notice, but that 11th Hour “will usually try to book three or four months in advance.” She said they travel “anywhere and everywhere” to share their talents with Christian congregations, and the best way to make contact is through the group’s website at 11thhourgg.com When asked for one message she’d like to share with gospel music fans, she didn’t hesitate for a second. “No matter what you do,” she said, “do it full force and unto the Lord.”
When thinking of Memphis, The Blues, BBQ, and Elvis are usually the first topics that come to mind. However, along with Rock’N’Roll and Blues icons, Memphis is called home by another genre of music whose roots have grown up among the muddy banks of the Mississippi River. That genre is gospel music, and like Elvis, the kings of the quartet made their start and their home in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s one of the reasons why the annual Memphis Quartet Show continues to bring some of the most prominent quartet groups to the historic city. Randy Shelnut and Stewart Varnado started The Memphis Quartet show after the National Quartet convention decided to stop hosting their all quartet night at the event. “People got kind of upset about it,” Randy remembered. “For some reason, they all found us to complain to.” Randy shared that after about 25 people approached them with complaints, Randy and Stewart decided to start their event that was all quartets all the time. “Memphis is the first city the National Quartet Convention was held in,” Randy stated, “so we thought it would kind of be a nostalgic trip down memory lane to go back to the old place where it was.” Initially, the convention took place at Ellis Auditorium, one of Memphis’ most historic auditoriums. 36
The building is no longer standing, but the Cannon Center for Performing Arts hosts the Memphis Quartet Show where Ellis Auditorium once stood. Acts like John Philip Sousa and Katherine Hepburn performed here, and Elvis Presley performed his first sold-out show in the Auditorium. Quartet staples like the Blackwood Brothers and J.D. Sumner grew up and formed in the greater Memphis area. Elvis Presley even attended the National Quartet Convention started in 1957 by J.D. Sumner and the Blackwood Brothers. Elvis was a big fan of gospel and quartet music. “J.D. Sumner sang with Elvis for so many years,” Randy said, “so Memphis is kind of a home place for quartet singing anyway.” Randy shared that The Memphis Quartet Show works with Elvis Presley’s Graceland to promote the show and help the regional tourism. “Our crowd likes that style of music, and with Elvis’s ties to gospel music, that helps us also.” Randy, a member of the gospel group the Dixie Echoes, says that show-goers can expect “a whole lot of singing” when they attend The Memphis Quartet Show. “We make sure people get their money’s worth on singing and not a lot of talking and extracurricular things like that. We like to let our hair down, sing and have a good time. It’s kind of like a big family reunion.” The 9th Annual Memphis Quartet show will take place June 15-18 of this year. Order tickets and admission online at quartetshow.com. Attendees are encouraged to check out more of Memphis’s rich music history at places like Graceland, Sun Studio, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame while in town.
SHELBY C. BERRY
MAKING MODERN CHRISTIAN MUSIC A FAMILY AFFAIR There is rarely a sound in music, specifically bluegrass and gospel music, that is more distinct than siblings singing and harmonizing together. But Keith, Kody, Kris, and Katie aren’t just your typical band of siblings. The Erwins are collectively known for an eclectic sound appealing to all generations and sibling harmonies that speak to your heart. If you’ve never heard of them, by the time you finish reading this, you’re going to want to. A nationally-recognized gospel group that tours across the country each year playing hundreds of dates, The Erwins are known for blazing new trails in the gospel and contemporary Christian genres and showing fans what the future of gospel music holds. The Erwins were born in music ministry, their father Pastor Dennis Erwin, an evangelical Baptist preacher in northern and eastern Texas. “We started as organically as you probably could with our father, singing two or three songs before he would go on stage to preach somewhere,” said Kris. “I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of our lives. We never imagined God would bring us where we are now. Nothing we ever did as siblings with our music ever felt forced.”
With a shared love for music and sharing the word of Jesus Christ with the world, the Erwin siblings officially established their band as we know it in 2013 when Katie joined her older brothers in their music. After Katie joined her brothers, with a little bit of encouragement from their parents, the Erwin siblings hit the ground running, signing a record deal with their record label StowTown Records less than a year later in 2014.
to do this in a way that stayed true to our message in a way that simply broadened our audience, to join a more fully-realized sound that Wayne helped us create to join with a lyric that is timeless,” said Kris. “That’s our goal that we strive for with each album. Stylistically, we always want to push ourselves.” Often identified by a mixture of musical styles, The Erwins don’t like to label themselves and their sound. And rightfully so — these siblings have a rare outlook on how they present themselves and their music to their audience.
“Even in our first project, our producer Wayne Haun pushed us in a way that we had never been pushed before in music. We wanted “We want to remain diverse 44
with what we do,” said Keith. “If you hear our records, you know. One of the main parts of our ministry is to be applicable to all generations. Our father raised us to never be in one place and never box yourself in, especially with your art. Our music is different and eclectic.” Intending to have something on each album for all ages, The Erwins create songs for the whole body of the church with a message that can reach everyone. “We are fully aware that not everyone will like our style, but we hope the message will relate and speak to everyone.
We know that as long as God gives us peace in our hearts, that’s all that matters,” said Katie.
starting the journey of writing their music.
Today, with the siblings all in their 20s and well into adulthood, The Erwins “But I love when young continue to put their people sit in the audience faith first in their music, and sing our songs! We providing them with the don’t know what they’re drive and passion behind going through. It’s every note they sing and ministering to them. I don’t know how to describe every song they write. it. It’s a great feeling, showing young people that Though these siblings have you can be cool and live for fared pretty well on the road to success, they’d had Jesus!” to endure a bit of heartache along the way as well, like Since they recorded their sickness and a bus accident first album, The Erwins a few years ago. However, have come a long way — performing at hundreds of it was their faith and a reminder of their music’s venues across the country lyrics that resonated more each year, recording than ever throughout those multiple albums, and
moments. When the world is full of chaos, these siblings released their most recent project, This Is Love, in April 2021. The album is a refreshing blend of sibling harmonies written alongside Kenna West and Sue Smith. “We wrote some of our music and sat on these lyrics for a long time,” said Kody. “Every time you put new music out, you feel like it’s the best. I feel like it’s evident here. I feel like it sounds different and means more to a lot of people. It was important for us to come out of the gate with new material and lyrics the
world needed to hear at this time of uncertainty.” The Erwins were notified of their Dove Award nomination for 2020 Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year while they were recording the album. “It was the little piece of confirmation and encouragement we needed,” said Katie. However, being nominated
for Best Roots Gospel Album at the 63rd Grammy® Awards shocked the Erwins. “Being nominated for a Grammy Award was truly one of the greatest and most humbling things. We had absolutely no clue. We got a call right after it was announced! We are so thankful,” said Kris.
back in the studio to record their next album, and getting ready for Katie’s fiancé Logan to join the band after they marry later this year. While blessed with success and praise over the last few years, The Erwins do it all for God’s glory.
They are currently writing songs, preparing to get
Getting to the Roots of Mountain food: CHEF WILLIAM DISSEN IS APPALACHIA'S PRODIGAL SON
A great meal is like a great song: a sensation for the senses. At their root, there’s a reason for living and the means to get there, often steeped in divinity, enrobed in delicious melody, and soused in flavor. No one knows that better than Chef William Dissen, owner of three high-end farm-to-table restaurant 48
concepts: The Market Place in Asheville, N.C., Billy D’s Fried Chicken at The North Carolina Zoo, and Haymaker in uptown Charlotte, N.C. “As a child, I remember going to Mountain Stage at the Cultural Center in Charleston, West Virginia. There I heard musical acts like Bela Fleck, Alison Kraus, David Grisman, and more. Every festival I attended had bluegrass
music, and as a child, it felt like the music of the mountains,” Dissen said. “Hearing impromptu jam sessions at a friend’s homes and watching how connected everyone in the room was to the music played an important role for me as I took the time to understand the food and culture from my home. I love how both music and food can bring people together, to make someone
smile and to spark a conversation between two strangers over something they love.” The Appalachian prodigal son draws inspiration from his roots to craft global cuisine that has earned him the reputation of being the definitive trendsetter in the Southern culinary world. “I was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia, and while my journey as
The early pioneer of the southeast farm-to-table movement uses those experiences to inform how he develops world-class meals and nourishes his community with placebased food.
grandparents had a farm in rural West Virginia where they truly lived off the land; growing a garden, keeping bees for honey and as pollinators, raising livestock, foraging for wild mushrooms and herbs, and preserving the bounty of their garden through techniques like fermentation, pickling, canning and more,” Dissen said.
“Growing up, my
“As I grew to become a
a chef has taken me all over the world, my heart has always yearned for a home in the mountains of Appalachia,” Dissen said.
chef, my recognition of my roots helped to guide me toward fresh, local flavors and to ensure that we are preserving the land around us by supporting sustainable agriculture and seafood practices.” His culinary prowess was most recently recognized when he competed with - and beat - Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay on National Geographic, winning the accolade “World’s Most Sustainable Chef ” by Ramsay himself. His other titles collected over the years include: “Green Chef of the Year” from FORTUNE Magazine, “White House Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood” from the Barack Obama Administration, and “Featured Chef ” six times from the James Beard Foundation, which included Dissen cooking more than 16 times on the foundation grounds. Dissen’s long commitment to foraging local ingredients and showcasing Appalachian cuisine has secured his position as the region’s most influential ambassador. He prepares dishes influenced by his heritage while infusing techniques from all over the world, which results in one-of-a-kind meals lauded by world leaders, global culinary institutions, and award-winning chefs.
“As I have grown as a chef, I have experimented in all different types of cuisine from around the world. I’ve learned about avant-garde and modernist cooking, and I’ve eaten and cooked street food from Southeast Asia. While I was studying in culinary school, one of my chef instructors told me that if I wanted to be the best chef, then I needed to use the best ingredients. For him (as a French Chef), I think that translated to ingredients like foie gras, truffles, and caviar, but for me, I knew the best ingredients were the ones grown in the hills and valleys of Appalachia, just like my grandmother had done,” Dissen said. As Dissen takes the next steps in his culinary journey, no ramp, morel, or fiddlehead fern will be left unturned. His Appalachian roots will continue to influence his craft moving forward, as he pays homage to the land, upbringing, and real food from the mountains. And he continues to spread the gospel of Appalachian cuisine wherever he goes. “Cooking with my heritage is how my cuisine will continue to evolve. I know that fresh food tastes the best, and being able to showcase the amazing heirloom ingredients from our region will be how I continue to showcase the beauty and richness of Appalachia.” For more information about Dissen, visit https://marketplace-restaurant.com/chefwilliam-dissen.
SHELBY C. BERRY
Contemporary Christian Group
Southbound Gospel Music With An Edge
One spontaneous moment on a Fall day in 2020, three friends of more than two decades gathered around a piano to sing for the first time for a Facebook Live. And, man, did they not know what was coming next. When Clint Brown, Seth Elbe, and Jody Braselton
sang “Address Change Notification” and other songs they grew up with on that first day, they honestly didn’t know that their lives were about to change. Their harmonies, musical connections, and genuine enjoyment in their musical sound produce instantaneous power.
Grammy® and Dove nominated artist Clint Brown is no stranger to gospel music, with three decades of experience, 23 albums recorded, and 500 penned songs recorded by top gospel artists in over 13 different languages. 53
In the early 1990s, however, he shifted direction and moved to Orlando, Florida, following God’s plan for him to become a pastor. Seth Elbe currently serves as the worship pastor at Clint’s church in Orlando. Before he met Clint, he moved 39 times, spending most of his life between Georgia, Florida, and Texas. He grew up singing with his family in local churches and later recorded a few albums.
“Once we did that initial Facebook live around the piano, we decided to start recording some songs — before we even met with any record companies. We love writing music and enjoy being in the studio. The most difficult part about our first album was deciding which songs to put on it,” said Seth. As
Jody, the son of a Baptist minister, recorded his first album at age 15 and has recorded six more albums since. Jody has led worship for 25 years and serves as a worship pastor in Covington, Georgia. Since that moment around the piano, a lot has changed for these three men. While they have each had incredibly successful careers on their own, they had no way of preparing themselves for the success heading their way. After overwhelmingly positive responses from their Facebook Live performance, they decided to head into the studio together to record a few of their favorite gospel songs and a few originals, 25 total. 54
they recorded these songs, they quickly realized that this had become something much more substantial than they had ever expected when record labels started approaching them, ultimately signing with Daywind Records. Several different record companies approached
them, and “after sitting down with so many of them, we felt like Daywind Records was the best fit for our heart and for all that we want to accomplish thru Southbound,” said Seth. “They have been a total blessing to us, and we enjoy working with them during this journey.” The name Southbound relates specifically to their gospel music roots, as do their harmonies and lyrics. “My experience growing up has everything to do with the style and direction of our music,” said Clint. “With growing up in a traditional southern-based church, there wasn’t a Sunday that we didn’t sing Southern Gospel.” Their debut album was released a few short months later, in September of 2021. In less than five months since that release, Southbound has had two singles in the top 5 on the charts, and they have received countless praise for their rendition of Elevation Worship’s Graves Into Gardens. With a sound nicknamed Gospel Grit because it’s Southern Gospel with a bit of an edge, Southbound
uniquely identifies with the soulful cajun bayou sound and deep Georgia Southern Gospel country sounds. Clint, Seth, and Jody each plan to continue working full-time in their churches, using Southbound as a tool for ministry that merges into their current lives and ministries because faith, in reality, is at the foundation of everything they do. “Our faith determines our music selection on our current and future albums, during our concerts, and even in our songwriting,” said Seth. “I struggled with depression and fought suicidal thoughts for over 26 years of my life. I reached a point where I had lost hope, and that’s a very sad and dangerous place to be mentally. I’m glad to still be alive and free from those thoughts, and I have determined that I will tell my testimony to help and encourage others so that they, too, can keep going and not give up. And that testimony is our song ‘He’s Got A Way.’ God’s got a way of making beauty from brokenness and can break chains of hopelessness.” Southbound’s desire as a new band is to touch and change 55
people’s lives through their music. “This is not something that we have to do; it’s something that we get to do! We love being able to be on stage in a different city every night and being able to minister to people from every walk of life and see their lives changed,” said Jody. Another Southern Gospel album is in the works with Southbound as they continue to write and record new music. We can only hope that Clint, Seth, and Jody realize how much they have blessed us with their gifts of music and ministry. We are so grateful that they decided to share them with the world.
Caroline Williamson SHELBY C. BERRY
Finding Her Voice in a Family of World-Class Musicians
From the Cotton Pickin Kids to The Family Sowell, bluegrass and folk music bring a lot of successful family bands to the surface. Family harmonies and the ability to almost read another’s mind on stage allowed for an impeccable amount of bands in all genres of music for generations to connect with their audience in a way that other bands cannot. Recently, another family band is becoming somewhat bluegrass musical royalty — the Williamson family, better known as Williamson Branch. The Bluegrass Standard featured 58
the Williamson Family’s blend of bluegrass, country, gospel, and dance music in 2017 and 2020, as they prepared to release their most recent 2021 studio album, Heritage & Hope. Williamson Branch became a household name in 2020 with their daily live stream videos during quarantine, growing their social media pages to over 442,000 likes and getting millions of likes on multiple videos on their channels. They interacted with their audience through their old hymn performances and prayer requests. However, this Bluegrass Standard feature covers Caroline Williamson,
the youngest Williamson who has grown into her own as an artist. “I’ve grown up in this band. I was always on stage, doing what I love,” said Caroline. “Recently, I’ve been thinking about each element of the hard work and skill that goes into the showmanship and music, getting better at what I do, and being a good person in the musical business — not just the musical part of being in a band, but the showmanship and the presence on stage that goes with it. I’ve started thinking more about what it looks like, not just what it sounds like.” Finding your voice in a band with your siblings can be challenging, but Caroline is rising to the challenge. Celebrating her thirteenth birthday this February, Caroline is a multiinstrumentalist in her own right, starting fiddle playing at four years old. She clogged and sang harmony
before picking up her second instrument, the Cajón drum. Since then, she’s learned the ukulele, the banjolele (Banjo ukulele), and the mandolin, the primary instrument she plays in the band. “Through quarantine in 2020, I started learning how to play the mandolin,” said Caroline. “We did a lot of live videos, and we still do. We started every night, and we now do two or three nights a week. My dad would always have me play mandolin, so I learned how to play them for the live videos. Since then, I’ve been taking lessons. I love it and really enjoy it!” The Williamson girls are homeschooled and alternate their time between their hometown of Nashville and traveling to performances, the only life that Caroline has ever known. “Getting to travel around the world doing what we love, spreading the 59
word of God and his gospel, and showing people what He can do through you is such an honor,” said Caroline. Caroline brings interactive energy to the stage, but what stays steady is Caroline’s faith and how she weaves it into her part of the band and their recordings. “Through quarantine, we had wanted to do a more gospel album. After doing all of our live videos, each night we would do a hymn,” said Caroline. “People were responding to those. As much as our newer songs we were planning were great, we decided to do a 2-disc album instead, one Heritage with hymns we all grew up singing in church and the second Hope with new songs that they will love too.” 60
“We had two or three number one songs from that album too, which was really awesome!” Caroline enjoys her family band’s success and being a member of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars, which connected them with their banjo player Anthony Howell. The mission of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars is to connect young artists, providing connections and growth opportunities for the future. The Williamson Branch Christmas album will be released by the end of 2022, with new singles releasing in the spring. Follow Caroline Williamson and her family on all of their upcoming successes at williamsonbranch.com.