The Bluegrass Standard - July 2024

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Keep your upright bass secure and a comfortable seat while you’re performing.


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Unique hinged “x” format for smaller stringed instruments such as violins, violas, mandolins, and most ukuleles.

in red for an extra splash of color.

Keith Barnacastle • Publisher

Our Staff

Richelle Putnam • Executive Editor/Writer

Richelle Putnam holds a BS in Marketing Management and an MA in Creative Writing. She is a Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) Teaching Artist, two-time MAC Literary Arts Fellow, and Mississippi Humanities Speaker.  Her fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have been published in many print and online literary journals and magazines. Among her six published books are a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Silver Medalist and a 2017 Foreword Indies Book Awards Bronze Medal winner. Visit her website at

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.

Susan Woelkers • Marketing

Susan traveled with a mixed ensemble at Trevecca Nazarene college as PR for the college. From there she moved on to working at Sony Music Nashville for 17 years in several compacities then transitioning on to the Nashville Songwritrers Association International (NSAI) where she was Sponsorship Director. The next step of her musical journey was to open her own business where she secured sponsorships for various events or companies in which the IBMA /World of Bluegrass was one of her clients.

Brent Davis • Contributor

Brent Davis produced documentaries, interview shows, and many other projects during a 40 year career in public media. He’s also the author of the bluegrass novel Raising Kane. Davis lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Mississippi Chris Sharp • Reviewer

Singer/Songwriter/Blogger and SilverWolf recording artist, Mississippi

Chris Sharp hails from remote Kemper County, near his hometown of Meridian. An original/founding cast member of the award-winning, long running radio show, The Sucarnochee Revue, as featured on Alabama and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Chris performs with his daughter, Piper. Chris’s songs have been covered by The Del McCoury Band, The Henhouse Prowlers, and others.

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.

Kara Martinez Bachman • Journalist

Kara Martinez Bachman is a nonfiction author, book and magazine editor, and freelance writer. A former staff entertainment reporter, columnist and community news editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, her music and culture reporting has also appeared on a freelance basis in dozens of regional, national and international publications.

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

The Music of Trees: Andrea von Kampen

Singer/songwriter Andrea von Kampen is deeply influenced by the Great Plains of her youth. The landscapes of her home state of Nebraska both inform and inspire her music, including songs on the record she released this spring, Sister Moon. This third full-album release was shaped by literature, spirituality, and standing in awe of Mother Earth.

“It is loosely based on Richard Powers’ book, The Overstory, and features themes of nature, climate change and mysticism,” von Kampen said. The novel tells the stories of nine people interacting intensely with trees and fighting to keep our earth green.

She grew up in a place usually associated with notions of flatness and emptiness in popular culture, but Nebraska is the state where Arbor Day was founded.

Von Kampen grew up with 100-year-old cottonwood trees in her backyard, and her nostalgic connection to those trees partially fueled her interest in preserving forests for the future.

Von Kampen said the new record will seem familiar to her fans. It’s her, but even more evolved.

“This album feels like my most cohesive work, but it still has the folk and acoustic sounds that I am drawn to,” she said.

At around the same time, she was inspired by The Overstory, and von Kampen was also delving into “Franciscan mysticism.” The story of 12th-century friar and mystic St. Francis of Assisi also fed the themes of her songwriting. A Catholic saint known

for his ability to connect with animals and nature, “the alternative orthodoxy” of St. Francis affected her, allowing for “an entirely new way of seeing Christianity.”

Such complex themes – plus an introspective bent – appear to be par for the course for von Kampen, and that depth did not go unnoticed; it propelled her music into the film industry.

“My friend Alexander was working on his first full-length feature film script and asked if I would write the music,” she explained. “I was thrilled to be able to collaborate in that way.”

The film was the 2022 indie flick A Chance Encounter. She contributed to the soundtrack and made her acting debut onscreen. “I love films and television, so writing for something like that was a dream of mine,” von Kampen explained. “Seeing the film take off and have people from all over the world reach out about it has been pretty surreal. I have a hard time watching myself on screen, but I’m proud of what our scrappy team accomplished.”

Von Kampen has had her heart nestled in music for years. She found her passion— storytelling via sound—during childhood.

“I always felt pretty strongly that I wanted to tell stories for a living,” she said. “I spent a lot of my childhood putting on shows of all sorts, and it was really when I got a guitar and started learning other people’s songs that I realized this was a medium in which I could make art and tell stories. It was clear that the covering of songs would only take

me so far if I wanted to be an artist, so I began to write my own music in college.”

She’s performed at events, including The Newport Folk Festival and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. With three albums and five EPs under her belt, this singer/songwriter is still going strong, doing precisely what she loves.

“There will be an ‘Our Vinyl’ session coming out this summer, and some other exciting releases I can’t share quite yet,” she said. “I just wrapped my four-week North American tour but should have more dates coming out soon…so keep an eye out.”


On the way home from a five-week trip to Utah, Brian Swenk, banjo player for Big Daddy Love, stopped for a bit in Arkansas to reflect on the band, musical genres, and the importance of sharing a sense of adventure with friends.

Big Daddy Love (BDL) is a band of friends with solid musical backgrounds and a shared love of adventure. “I grew up in Sparta, North Carolina, north of Boone,” says Brian Swenk, who plays banjo for the band. “Joey Recchio (electric guitar and vocals) and I were a year apart in elementary school.” Only after becoming an adult did Brian realize how magical growing up in Sparta was. “My parents actually met playing music – their harmonies were amazing. We grew up in a holler in Allegheny County, and the only television station we could pick up was out of West Virginia. My family spent a lot of time playing music at home. They liked folk and rock – I grew up on Neil Young, the Beatles, Peter, Paul and Mary, Cat Stevens and the likes.” Brian says his dad once opened for the Allman Brothers when Duane was still alive. “I eventually rebelled and went into bluegrass,” he laughs. “I also went through a heavy metal phase.”

While there was bluegrass music all around his part of the world, Brian says he didn’t appreciate it like he does now. “When I started playing banjo, I took a deep dive, listening to Earl Scruggs, the Grateful Dead, and Bela Fleck non-stop. I think I practiced about six hours a day for a while.”

Brian says that Joey is the most natural musician he has ever met. “Not long after he started playing the guitar, he could pick any song on the radio and play it. He plays slide guitar Duane Allman-style. You can’t fake that.” Growing up in Sparta, Brian and Joey would meet at the river and play music. “We really clicked musically, but college took us in different directions, and we drifted apart over the next ten years.” Brian played in a bluegrass band for a few years, and from time to time, Joey, who was playing rock music, would wander into one of Brian’s gigs. “It was always great to see him.”

They got together again when Daniel Smith recruited them in 2009 to join a band he had formed called Big Daddy Love. “A few of the guys in the band had left, and he was trying to keep it going.” While Brian and Joey had a music history together, going back to school days in Sparta, both had a decade of experience under their belts that they brought to the table. “We knew right away that it was magical,” Brian says. “We were at the point in our lives where we knew we had to go all in. We were in our thirties, and we gave up anything with security – our houses, jobs, and relationships. We bought a van and were determined to make it work.”

Ashley Sutton (bass guitar and vocals) joined them, and Scotty Lewis (drums) eventually came on board. “He’s the ‘new guy,’” laughs Brian. “But he’s been with us 12 years now.” Both Ashley and Scotty have musical backgrounds, but they are quite different. “They bring that to the mix, and it just adds to our overall sound.” Daniel ended up leaving when parental obligations called him home from the road.

Based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, BDL has been playing together for fifteen years and is still going strong. It’s hard to pin them down to a specific musical genre. There is rock, bluegrass, southern soul, and psychedelic jams in their music, which they have dubbed “Appalachian Rock.” Brian runs a booking agency and says he counsels the bands he works with to describe their music quickly and succinctly. “That’s what we have done with our Appalachian Rock description. It is exactly what we do.”


Evangeline Elston may be new to Black Oak Artists, but she has been in the music industry for twenty years. “My passion is to try to elevate artists. I find that so rewarding.” She began her career in 2003 at a radio station in Northern California. “I was the marketing and development director, and because I DJ’d as well, I started meeting artists.” Soon, she opened a café/music venue, and when she closed it five years later, many artists wanted her to represent them. Evangeline became a buyer for festivals and clubs and did marketing and promotions for artists. She also made some bookings. After working independently, she decided to take a leap and work for Black Oak Artists. She started her new position in November 2023.

“It’s been great working for such a company with such a strong commitment to being artist-centric. We have a lot of diverse artists on our roster.” Evangeline says she likes the collaborative spirit of the company. “We meet weekly, and everything we do is a team effort. I feel honored to be a part of it.” So far, Evangeline has three artists on the Black Oak roster. Rod Picott, Anya Hinkle, and Matt Axton, the son of the late singer/ songwriter/actor Hoyt Axton. “I just signed Matt a few months ago, but I’ve been following him in the Tahoe area. His dad built a house there, and that’s where Matt grew up. I love working with legacy artists.”

What a legacy. Matt, who is now based out of Los Angeles, says his mission in life is to spread the music and cultural impact of his grandmother’s and father’s music.

Matt’s grandmother, Mae Boren Axton, co-penned Elvis Presley’s first million Selling hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” and quickly became known as “The Queen Mother Of Nashville” launching numerous musical careers such as Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, and Blake Shelton, among others. His father, Hoyt Axton, wrote his first” Greenback Dollar” for the Kingston Trio in 1964. His biggest hits were in songwriting with “Joy to the World”

and “Never Been to Spain,” both recorded by Three Dog Night. “The Pusher” and “Snow Blind Friend” were both recorded by Steppenwolf, and “The No No Song” was recorded by Ringo Starr.

Naturally, Matt grew up surrounded by music. “It was part of life. I absorbed it. My mom was a piano player and my dad’s musical manager. She still plays piano, and she’s a choir director.” Matt played the trombone in his high school band, and his mom taught him to play a Spanish finger-picking song on a guitar that was always in the house. “My dad bought it in Rome when he was filming Black Stallion in the late 1970s.” But Matt had his sights set on playing college football, and even got a scholarship to play in Oklahoma, but a knee injury sidelined him, so he picked up the guitar. “Playing came so naturally to me, and so did songwriting.”

No music is Matt’s fulltime career. From mountain soul rock to acoustic and “very grassy,”

it’s hard to pin him down to any one genre. “I always have several bands going and still play with my mom for weddings and events. I love and respect all genres of music.” When he moved to L.A., Matt built a stable of musical friends. He started a monthly musical showcase he called Americana Joy – the name an ode to his dad’s most famous hit song. “It was on the heels of Covid, and I was determined to pay the bands well. It was very original, music-oriented, and a wonderful community event. That snowballed into what is now a free benefit music festival.”

This will be the second year for the Tahoe Joy Festival, held in Tahoe City. Proceeds from the event go to both music and environmental education. “My grandma and dad had a lot of success in the music industry, and they did it with care and community focus. I want to

continue that. I believe great music can change the world.”

Matt does a tour every six months, working his way to Nashville. “My grandma had a deep legacy there for decades. Going to Nashville feels like going home. Touring is important to Matt. “It’s an old-fashioned organic way to get up close with an audience. We added a lot of new markets to our last tour, and we hope to add even more.”

Evangeline is currently booking his next tour. “He’ll be out in September and October, ending up at the Americana Fest in Nashville before working his way back to L.A. Matt does a great job of shepherding his dad’s music and making it relevant.”


When ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro crafted duets with Willie Nelson, Ziggy Marley and Bette Midler for his Jake and Friends album, he was in part paying tribute to the people and sounds that forwarded his passion for music.

Okage Sama De translates as: “I am what I am because of you.” It is an old saying from Shimabukuro’s native region of Hawaii. This idea – of character and talent being nourished because a person believed in or inspired another – is exactly what drove Shimabukuro to make “Jake and Friends” with these music legends.

Often considered one of the top ukulele players ever, Shimabukuro recently went back in time and paid tribute to the artists of Hawaii who also had a hand in cultivating his early talent.

His latest album release – aptly titled Grateful – is an act of appreciation for the role of mentors. People such as Jimmy Buffett took Shimabukuro under their wings as he matured into his career. Before that, however, it was local uke legends from Hawaii.

“I thought to myself, I should do an album of duets and collaborations of all the people who influenced me from my CHILDHOOD,” Shimabukuro recalled. “The whole thing of this album is gratitude.”

I am what I am because of you. That’s – yet again – what it’s all about. The “you” referenced here includes island names such as Henry Kapono and Brother Noland. Recorded live in-studio, these collaborations celebrate both the music of Shimabukuro’s home and the musicians

who excited him as a kid. While the record did not include a duet with his “biggest inspiration” – the uke legend Ohta-san – it did feature a duet with Ohta-san’s son and one of Shimabukuro’s teachers, Herb Ohta Jr.

“Ohta-san was my biggest inspiration for playing the ukulele,” Shimabukuro reminisced. Many uke players sing along with chords, and Shimabukuro doesn’t consider himself a gifted vocalist. Ohta-san modeled something different for the young musician: A playing style that emphasized using the uke to create melody. There was no need for vocals.

“He didn’t sing,” Shimabukuro said. “He played very melodically and was able to improvise.”

This self-described lack of vocal chops – combined with learning from some of the greats of the diminutive four-string instrument – drove Shimabukuro to become better and better at moving fingers fast.

Shimabukuro’s work hit the world in a storm when he went viral on YouTube over 15 years ago; it was with his complex rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by the Beatles. Few had ever heard the ukulele played that way. Shimabukuro’s rendition of that song – and his versions of other music not commonly associated with either Hawaii or ukuleles, such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” – helped many see the instrument’s power and versatility. Before Shimabukuro, the uke had often been erroneously relegated in the U.S. popular culture to the status of a humor device (Think: Tiny Tim) or as a source of fun, but usually saccharine ditties by Don Ho or by “Over the Rainbow” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (known as “IZ”). In the hands of Shimabukuro, however, the ukulele could suddenly be seen as much more. It was suddenly…cool. Well before former Pearl Jam frontman and iconoclast Eddie Vedder evolved into a softer, gentler uke-wielding folk singer with his 2011 Ukulele Songs record, Shimabukuro had already set the tone for a new way of seeing this traditional instrument.

It first grabbed the young Shimabukuro’s heart for the same reasons it appealed to other kids.

“It only has four strings, and the strings are made of nylon.” He said that, in comparison, his tender “beginner” fingers found guitar strings to be rough and hard. “I didn’t like pressing down on those strings because it hurt.” He explained that the instrument is “easily accessible and easy to learn. The ukulele is perfect for people like me who want that immediate gratification. I loved running around with my instrument and playing it as fast as I could…making it more physical.”

It sounds as if this corralling of energy was the perfect channel for the outgoing and extroverted musician.

“My parents would have to take it away so I would do my homework or eat my dinner,” he laughed.

Shimabukuro keeps his career going at a speed that rivals that of his fingers. He’s on the road on his summer tour, “Tradewinds and Rainbows,” performing with fellow Hawaiian

artists and duet partners from Grateful, Henry Kapono and Jeff Peterson. He’s also stretching himself into all new territory – the blues – working on a record with the cofounder of Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood.

“It’s coming out probably early fall,” Shimabukuro said. “It’s actually a blues record. This was a really fun and special project. It was one that challenged and pushed me in various ways.”

He said it features a four-piece band, with Fleetwood, of course, on drums. “To be able to play with Mick Fleetwood,” Shimabukuro said dreamily, “he kind of pioneered that kind of blues drumming.”

One of the coolest things about Shimabukuro is his encouragement of other budding musicians, similar to how his heroes enlivened him. When he speaks to groups of school kids, he stresses the importance of staying drug-free and imparts other feelgood suggestions, such as “be kind and help your community.”

One bit of advice hits a bit deeper, though, and reflects how Shimabukuro strives to live his own life.

“I always tell kids to be a good person first and a good musician second.”

When you live by the motto “I am What I am Because of You,” this message about the importance of gratitude and character can only lead to something good.


There’s no better way to bring meaning to life than to let go of fear and jump into a passion full force. That’s what photographer Jeff Fasano did when he went from the unfulfilling corporate grind into a brand-new life at age 40. With hard work and intuition, Fasano earned the privilege of photographing some of our greatest musicians. From icons such as Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, and David Crosby – to up-and-coming names in Americana, bluegrass, blues and folk – Fasano had sessions with them all. He created a new, exciting life around capturing these musicians – and other celebrities– during those tiny windows of opportunity when they are at their most authentic.

That moment of authenticity often comes in a flash, such as a quiet reflection wherein Molly Tuttle picks up a guitar, or a split second of action, when Del McCoury smiles the most vibrant and honest of smiles, or when the enigmatic late folk-rock-blues man Sixto Rodriguez was photographed before his passing, showing a complex mix of what seems like both strength and defeat. In the hands (and eye) of Fasano, the people we love to listen to also become those we love to see in a new light.

In the years before his career change, Fasano dabbled in photography as a hobby but his interest dates to high school. That passion sat somewhat silent while he built a career elsewhere. Then, one night, amidst feelings of not being on the right path, Fasano asked himself, “What brings me the greatest amount of joy?”

The answer was clear.

“When I pick up my camera, I’m in a whole different state of consciousness,” he realized. I love it. I absolutely love it.”

Since that fateful day of reckoning, he’s photographed icons such as Quincy Jones, Jewel, Steven van Zandt and Joan Osborne. He’s got a “partnership” as a photographer for the Americana Music Association and has done artist portrait sessions for both the IBMA and Folk Alliance International.

His “Americana Portrait Sessions” is a high-quality coffee table-style book of photographs of performers in roots genres ranging from folk to bluegrass and even to rock. It’s like a walk-through of the personalities of American music. It’s a “who’s who” of American roots, where Chris Isaak and Rufus Wainwright are pictured in the same collection as Sam Bush and bluesman Bobby Rush. The book features a shot of blues performer Keb’ Mo’ on its cover. These portraits run the gamut, but the cohesive tie-through is American roots.

Fasano described how he knows he’s captured the “perfect” shot. It’s not easy to describe, but he tries.

“It’s something I feel…” he said, trying to explain the almost mystical insight an artist gets when he or she just “knows.” Fasano said he rarely needs to wait to see if he’s captured something special – he usually knows right then and there.

“Even when I’m shooting, I know when I’ve taken an image that that’s gonna be a great image,” he explained. “I feel it in my soul.”

He referenced the idea best described by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose book The Decisive Moment helped other photographers identify that feeling of a sort of creative gnosis when they see—and grab at—an absolutely true moment. Fasano relies on instinct for that “Decisive Moment.”

“It’s like when musicians are writing songs, and they say ‘I’m feeling it,’ or ‘I’m not feeling it,’” he said.

Published by Vanderbilt University Press, the collection is dedicated to NYC photographer Mario Cabrera, who he studied under when learning his craft. He credits Cabrera as the main force behind his mastery of the medium of photography. He also cites as influences photographers such as Dorothea Lange, who chronicled the plight of migrant farm workers in California during the Great Depression, and Walker Evans, who “photographed people on the streets in New York” during that same period.

Fasano said he didn’t grow up with bluegrass but grew into it. He eventually moved from New York City to L.A. and then to Nashville and started to be exposed to it more. However, his experience of the music at his first IBMA made him a fan of the genre. He’d always liked all roots music forms, but IBMA helped him turn a corner, and his appreciation grew big. It’s not uncommon for this to happen to people after attending their first IBMA convention. “I just became really appreciative of the musicianship and dedication of bluegrass,” he said.

As a catch-all category for roots forms that aren’t easily shoved into a box, Fasano loves the breadth of the “Americana” genre.

“The all-inclusiveness…the diversity of it…is a big part of this book,” he said.

Another thing the book’s about is Fasano himself. He wants to impart his own life lesson to others, whether they be budding photographers, musicians…or anything at all. His

conversion from doing a corporate job he didn’t enjoy to photographing people who make music is the type of risk he hopes others might have the fearlessness to take. We all end up in different places since we’re all different, but Fasano’s advice – which isn’t new – is still wholly relevant.

“Follow your dreams,” he said. “Follow your passions.”

In their eighteen-plus years in the music business, Indi-Americana band The Steel Wheels has walked away with prestigious awards, including the 2010 IMA Vox Pop Awards for Best Country and Gospel Song. In 2012, they started the Red Wing Roots Music Festival, adding to their legacy an annual weekend-long music celebration held in Mt. Solon, Virginia.

Their first studio album in five years, The Steel Wheels, met up at The Great North Sound Society Studio in Maine to record their Sideways LP. “It’s a real celebration of the live and collaborative process of being in the studio together,” explains lead vocalist, guitarist, and banjo player Trent Wagler.

Producer Sam Kassirer once again joins The Steel Wheels on their latest effort. Coproducing the band’s albums Wild As We Came Here (2017) and Over The Trees (2019), Kassirer, a musician, plays piano on the album.

“We just felt we wanted another person in the room to help inspire and maybe get us to

do things we never would think of ourselves. Sam is a solid and amazing musician who can play different styles. It was almost like he was another member of the band.”

Trent, a Virginia native, says the last four years have had a musical impact on the band. Fiddle player Eric Brubaker took the role of violinist on some of the songs. “We usually call him a fiddle player, but he is a great violinist. For example, in some of these songs, like “Enemy,” he layers several violin parts.” The singer explains that the new musical ideas result from their isolation. “During the pandemic we were passing around these tracks. We got to flex muscles we never used before.”

While Trent admits that The Steel Wheels have departed from their earlier folk-roots style, he explains that it’s not intentional. “It wasn’t like we were trying to make a different kind of record. We started tapping into influences that we’ve always loved.” Trent references the iconic rock group The Band. “The way Levon and Robbie would use mandolin and fiddle along with horns, there was this wide-open pallet.” The singer says that adding drummer and keyboardist Kevin Garcia and electric bassist Jeremy Darrow to

the band has broadened their sound.

Trent points out, “If you go back and listen to Red Wing, our first Steel Wheels album, keeping things acoustic and rootsy was important to us. A lot of the songs are still being led by me on banjo or acoustic guitar. There is almost always fiddle in our songs, but the bed underneath can sometimes be very electrified with effects. It’s more like this is where we are right now, and we are excited to perform both kinds of songs on stage.”

Creating an animated music video for the first time, the band teamed up with film producer, director, and stop motion photographer Stefan Zeniuk. “We thought we would love something like that in this album,”  Trent recalls Zenuik’s reaction to the title track.  “We sent Stefan the whole record, and he replied, ‘I’m digging this song Sideways,’ so we let him run with it.” Both Trent and Stefan worked out ideas for the video. “We both talked about it for a while,” adding, “[We] both felt happy about the collaboration.”

Seeds were planted for The Steel Wheels in 2004 after future bandmate and mandolinist Jay Lapp joined Trent on stage for a performance. “I had opened for Jay’s band as a solo act, and I asked him to jump on stage with me for a couple of songs, and he ended up staying there for the whole opener.”

Recalling how the band started, “After that night, we conceived a plan of me going up to his home studio and recording a solo record. Even though the record was released in 2005, it was the beginning of The Steel Wheels.”

The Steel Wheels frontman boasts impressive credentials, including degrees in theater and peace, justice, and conflict studies. “I think of how my education ended up pushing me in a very subtle way towards songwriting,” Trent says. He says he learned the importance of empathy by studying the characters he played on stage.

He hopes to find time to write new songs with a busy schedule ahead that includes touring and their summer Red Wing festival.

“We’re touring heavier this year because we have a new record, but after this little run we’re about to go on, we have a month off. I’m hoping to ride my bicycle [laughs] and write a lot of songs.”


Andrew Morris of the bluegrass band The Matchsellers says Kansas City has its own bluegrass identity, and he and his partner, fiddler Julie Bates, are proud to be a part of it. But their story starts in Leipzig, Germany, where they met as students busking on the streets.

“We both studied German independently of one another,” Morris explains. “We both were what they called ‘cultural ambassadors,’ but we were basically working in schools, helping teachers.”

Bates grew up in Missouri, playing violin in the school orchestra. Her introduction to bluegrass came when she attended a small fiddle camp in Ottawa, Kan., and learned “Orange Blossom Special.” They were both fairly new to bluegrass when they met as buskers. “She would show me ‘Tallahassee’ (a fiddle tune popularized by Bill Monroe), and I was like, ‘Whoa, I’ve never heard that tune before.’ I was just kind of getting into the music a little bit, too. So I feel like we learned it and discovered the music together.”

Morris did not grow up steeped in the music, unlike many bluegrass musicians. “I’m from the flat part of northern Indiana and I had to look around hard to find people who come from that tradition. When I went down to college in southern Indiana, I met a guy who played mandolin, and he was all into Bill Monroe. And another guy I met played banjo, and he took me to Bean Blossom (a bluegrass festival) for the first time, and I was hooked on that from there.”

Morris assumed he’d return from overseas to become a German teacher. Instead, when he and Bates moved to her hometown of Kansas City, they followed their bluegrass heart. “I got offered a teaching job, and I was getting ready to do that, but I just always wanted to do the music thing. And Julie was really encouraging to say, ‘You know what? The worst that could happen is we run out of money. And then you go become a German teacher or whatever.’ A lot of our education just came from booking gigs and living out of our car for like five years and buying bluegrass CDs wherever we went. I mean, we’d just buy these eight CD Stanley Brothers compilations and Don Stover recordings. I got really into Don Stover.”

Morris and Bates perform as The Matchsellers--usually as a duo, but sometimes as a band--and are known for their accomplished musicianship and original and unique approach to bluegrass. They’re mainstays of the Midwest festival circuit and continue to release creative and compelling recordings. Their recent showcase at Folk Alliance was an acknowledgment of their growing popularity. And The Matchsellers strive to put on an entertaining show because, to Morris, that’s part of the bluegrass DNA.

“I was really, really inspired by that Dillards’ Live!!!!, Almost!!! Album. Just, like, how hilarious that was. And if you watch some of the old Don Reno and Red Smiley videos, you can find stuff that is entertaining, really fun, and just weird. And I love that part of bluegrass that I tend to feel like is overlooked by a lot of people in the tradition because they try to take the music so seriously.

“It’s not just the Tony Rice hot licks or the murder ballads. Bluegrass is that, and it’s all this other stuff, too. So, I’ve always tried to do that kind of stuff and maybe highlight that

kind of goofy, theatrical side of the music that sometimes gets overlooked. So, maybe that makes us unique.”

While The Matchsellers delight crowds with their faithful renditions of traditional tunes and bluegrass favorites, Morris’s original songs reflect astounding creativity. Bluegrastronauts is a “space opera” album. The Wishful Thinkers Hall of Fame includes a 16-page chapbook with accompanying stories and illustrations.

Morris contends that Kansas City bluegrass, though perhaps overlooked nationally, has a unique character--one that he finds welcoming.

“I think it’s maybe a little wilder. I think it’s a little more driving. It’s a little bit, maybe more punk rock. Punk grass stuff. It’s a little bit wilder, a little bit crazier, and it’s not so tied to a particular tradition. So it really feels like you can play anything out here. It’s almost like the Wild West. You feel like you can play anything out here and make it bluegrass.”

The Matchsellers have recently released a live album and have booked a busy festival season. Morris and Bates also have a number of gigs in Europe this summer. Wherever they play, Morris strives to put on a show.

“I really hope that people get their money’s worth,” he says. “I don’t want it to be a vanity project for me. I want the people to enjoy themselves and have a good time because I think people’s time is really, really valuable. They don’t have to sit there and watch me. They can get up and go and do anything else. And if we’re not doing a good job, I think they probably should just get up and go somewhere else. But hopefully, we can do something that gives them a good value for their time.”


To have a conversation with Jan Bell is to get a history lesson about the arts and music scene in Brooklyn, New York. Specifically in the Dumbo area, with Dumbo being an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. “It’s something the artists came up with in hopes that it might frighten off developers,” says Jan. The neighborhood encompasses two areas. One is between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan across the East River. The other area continues east from the Manhattan Bridge to Vinegar Hill.

Jan hails from a coal-mining village in Yorkshire, England, but she has been a resident of the United States for thirty years. “I’m from the Kentucky of England,” she quips. “Both have coal mines, unions, and folk music.” She has made her name as a songwriter, promoter, and sound engineer in New Orleans, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Brooklyn. And she has recorded seven critically acclaimed albums as singer-songwriter and

bandleader of “The Maybelles,” who have opened for artists such as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Wanda Jackson, and Odetta. Jan formed the band with Melissa Carper in Eureka Springs.

Jan explains that the Dumbo area has long been a place for artists, both visual and musical. “I worked at a restaurant here called Superfine before it moved to its current location. Together, we produced the Urban Cowgirl Cabaret in the Between the Bridges Bar.” Jan says the bar was named after the many ironworkers who frequented the bar when working on the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The area was a haven for artists, and the Dumbo Arts Festival became a big event. “They

started having live music on the loading docks, and I managed that aspect,” says Jan. But changes in the neighborhood (developers bought buildings and converted them into luxury residences) forced many of the artists out of Dumbo, and the arts festival folded. “When it folded, people asked if I was going to keep the music going.” Jan got hold of Eric Adams (current mayor of New York City), then - Brooklyn Borough President.

“He encouraged me to get the music part of the festival going again and to apply for grants, sponsorships, and discretionary funding from the City.”

Now, the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival is a major draw to the area. While free to the public, opening night at the Jalopy Theatre is a ticketed event. The rest of the festival, scheduled for September 12 through 16 this year, is held at the 7000-square-foot cobblestone Archway Plaza under the Manhattan Bridge.

“There are actually trains running overhead, but we have the sound dialed in,” she says.

Jan is proud that at least 60% of the artists at the festival are women. “I’m pretty sure we have the most diverse festival in the country in terms of race, age, and LGBTQ. And while the festival is free to the public, we do pay the going rate to our musicians. And, of course, they get to eat a nice meal, too.” Jan says the stage crew, including lighting and sound, is women-led. “I’ve been a live sound engineer for 25 years, and I have made it my mission to teach others how to do what I do. A lot of people know how to run sound, but they don’t always know how to mic a banjo or even a clarinet when we have a jazz band from New Orleans.”

As the oldest of four children, Jan says she is used to her “big sister” role, not only with training but also in seeing the performers she books grow. “For example, Nora Brown, the wonderful singer and banjo player, has played at several of our festivals since she was 13. She has really come into her own, and it’s been a joy watching her journey.”

The music isn’t over for Jan when the festival ends. She started a long-running brunch at Superfine, now located at 126 Front Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. “We’ve been doing it every Sunday since 2001, when Katy Rose Cox, a fiery fiddle player, approached us with the idea of bringing in her band with Sheriff Uncle Bob - a legendary leader in the country music NYC jam scene,” she says.

“Bands now play from noon to 3 pm. We have a lot of folk and bluegrass revival music. Some bands are local, and others come from places like Nashville, Austin, and New Orleans. We’ve even had bands from Canada and one from Italy, ‘La Terza Classe.’”

Jan has received the Dumbo Dozen Award for “Impactful work in the community as musician and curator.” She has also received the Brooklyn Country Music Award for “Dedication to Folk Music in NYC.”

Christian Serpas and Ghost Town:

Years of Rockin’ Louisiana and Beyond

Christian Serpas and Ghost Town have reached two big milestones as one of the Gulf South’s most prolific country-rock bands. After decades of gigging hard – including sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in country music – they’ve hit the 25year mark as a band, a rarity in music that speaks to a track record of success. Longevity means something.

What’s more, the band recently learned—while performing at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans this spring—that they were being inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

“I was thrilled to hear about it,” explained frontman and acoustic guitarist Christian Serpas. “It makes us think back on everything that has happened.”

Serpas said the concurrent induction and 25th anniversary gave rise to nostalgia trips. The bandmates looked back over years of creating their version of country rock and sharing it during 2,000+ live performances at festivals, clubs, casinos and major music venues

across the Gulf South. Based in Mandeville, Louisiana, Christian Serpas and Ghost Town have opened for/shared stages with Kenny Chesney, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Montgomery Gentry, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band, and “nearly 100 other national artists.” They’ve received numerous awards from local and regional organizations and publications and have done dozens of television and radio appearances.

When receiving the award, Serpas said it brought back a flood of memories. He’d shared many great times with bandmates Jeff Oteri (drums, vocals), George Neyrey (guitar, vocals), and Don Williams (bass guitar, vocals).

“We thought back on all the great people we’ve met, all the shows we’ve been a part of,” he said.

Described once as playing “twangified rock ‘n’ roll,” Serpas and the band have willingly adopted this descriptor. Their music is part Elvis, part pure country, part rockabilly and part Southern rock. It’s uniquely Ghost Town. And as an energetic lead man, with his vintage-style shirts and towering stature, Serpas does a good job of keeping the retro vibe alive.

“I collect Elvis records,” he explained in a not-at-all unexpected confession. He likes the music and still loves the older music format of vinyl records. It’s tangible. It brings back memories. “I like the smell of the old records and to look at the artwork on them…I like the hunt. I like to go in a store and flip through the records.”

His passion for music began in childhood.

“The soundtrack in our house was…my mom listened to Elvis, and my dad listened to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.”

Soon, Serpas branched out into listening to all sorts of country – including Hank Williams Jr. and Sr., and Johnny Cash – and then into rock legends such as Led Zeppelin and The Ramones.

“I always liked guitar-based stuff, but it all started with Elvis,” he said.

There was room for all these influences to coexist when Serpas started Ghost Town.

“‘Folsom Prison’ was the first song we ever played when we got together,” Serpas reminisced, “and we still play it.”

Serpas recalls his thoughts when he formed the group. His goals seemed big at the time, but they have now been surpassed many times over.

“If I could just get a CD, I could put on my shelf among my CD collection, that would be so great,” Serpas had hoped long ago. “And now, we’ve got nine of them!”

In the beginning, Serpas said his two major influences were Dwight Yoakam and The Derailers. He could never have dreamed that his band would soon be near them in a shared space.

“Within about three years,” Serpas said, “we were opening for Dwight Yoakam and were in Austin playing with The Derailers.”

Serpas willingly admits that part of their success in the biz was due to timing. They broke onto the scene in 1999 when the surge of 90s-era interest in the country was still afire. The big names toured widely to packed stadiums and festivals, and Serpas and the guys were a hot commodity during that heyday. They still perform full-band shows and many scaleddown duo shows. They’ve pulled back some and become more selective in recent years.

“The band now just plays festivals

and special events,” Serpas said. He’s recently focused on the duo shows in restaurants and other venues in south Louisiana and South Mississippi. Nightclubs are no longer appealing, however, due to the late-night hours.

Serpas said the biggest payoff over the years of being road warriors is the little moments of true awareness.

“There are little transcendent moments you hit every once in a while onstage,” Serpas said. “I remember a House of Blues show. The floor was packed, and the balcony was packed. As we were playing, I said to myself: Take this in. Remember this.”

Another instance was when he opened for Merle Haggard. Serpas said they came offstage worn out and sweating from playing hard. They’d been told not to interact much with Haggard, so they were surprised when he walked over after their set.

“Hey boys, I really liked what y’all did,” Haggard said.

“When I grasped his hand,” Serpas recalls, “I thought, ‘You’re shaking Merle Haggard’s hand; do NOT forget this.’

And of course…he hasn’t.

Cary Morin Summons

Summons the Old West Muse

Photos by: Grayson Reed

Americana Singer-songwriter Cary Morin has accomplished a lot over the years. He’s charted at #7 on the Roots charts, won numerous awards, mostly in the blues arena, and performed at great venues, including The Kennedy Center, The Lincoln Center, and the Paris Jazz Festival. Now, he’s added a new challenge to this list of accomplishments: He’s gone country.

“I grew up around country, grew up around bluegrass,” Morin explained, “but I had never recorded anything like that before.”

The 14-track 2024 release Innocent Allies is a record about the late Charles M. Russell, a well-known Western artist and sculptor. The artist’s work reflected the old West of the early 20th century, depicting scenes of the landscapes, cowboys, and Native Americans of the western frontier. With over 2,000 artworks, Morin had much to choose from when selecting the art he wrote songs about.

“I started writing songs about these paintings,” he said. “They are vivid…they have a lot of movement…a lot of action.”

He often presents the music in tandem with videos of the artworks themselves. While it was a goal to write all the songs so they could “stand alone” without the listener seeing Russell’s art, Morin enjoys knowing the richer experience he intended is also being appreciated. People will give him feedback indicating that they truly “get it.” They see how creative inspiration makes something more meaningful. Deeper.

“The colors in that song were awesome” is the kind of comment Morin will get from audience members. It’s hard to tell where the spirit of Russell leaves and the spirit of Morin takes over. That mix – that creative synergy – is when true artistic expression is in its highest state of revelry. There’s the artist, but there’s also the muse…both are present on solid footing.

In his case, Morin believes despite this record being country – and thus, a new style for him – it still feels familiar to his supporters. “I think there’s enough of my personality in it,” he said. “The songwriting isn’t a huge departure from what I normally do.” Morin said the questions he asked of himself before putting out his first straight-up country record were many, but they helped him make it better. “It created this conversation: Well, what IS country?” Morin explained. “Where does Americana stop, and country and folk begin?” Morin laughed, saying it sometimes comes down to something as simple as: “How talented is the pedal steel player?”

As a Native American, Morin said his heritage often affects his work…but not so much that it feels intentional. It’s just there, lying as an organic thing under the surface, a part of the scaffold that holds his worldview together.

“It’s always been present and a big part of how I look at the world and how I write songs, but it’s not real obvious to someone who isn’t familiar with my songwriting.”

For Morin, influences came from far and wide, and they blended seamlessly into something authentic. “My Dad was in the Air Force. We moved around a lot…but my

mom was very connected to her family and our people. I listened to a lot of traditional music growing up, but also listened to a lot of Neil Young,” Morin laughed.

Just because he’s made a first country record does not mean his love for it -- and bluegrass -- is new.

“I was listening to Bill Monroe around the time Nitty Ditty Dirt Band made ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken.’” Morin said he eventually became a big fan of New Grass Revival and “southern rock that had acoustic instruments in the recordings.”

Today, he said his tastes and influences still run the gamut. For instance, he appreciates the funk of late, great fretless bass player Jaco Pastorius as much as he does the playing of Earl Scruggs.

“Music is music,” Morin said, offering the perfect three-word summation.

Appalachian Restaurants on the Small Screen

● Hillbilly Hot Dogs (Lesage, West Virginia)

↳ ○ Capitalizing on the kitschy hillbilly stereotype, this hot dog restaurant features various wieners. But the most famous of all is the Home Wrecker, which is a 15-inch hot dog bun filled with a one-pound weenie and two pounds of toppings: jalapenos, sauteed peppers & onions, nacho cheese, habanero, chili sauce, mustard, slaw, lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese.

● Central City Cafe (Huntington, West Virginia)

↳ ○ Guy Fieri found himself in an old-school, traditional cafe that features white bean chili with homemade cornbread, home-style meatloaf, open-face roast beef dinner, fried bologna, and pinto bean soup.

● Kelly O’s Diner (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

↳ ○ “Although Kelly O’Connor opened her diner with no cooking experience, she was armed with a handful of family recipes. Guy swung by for a DDD first: haluski. The Polish dish is made with egg noodles, onions, cabbage and bacon. For another tasty bite, try Kelly’s “winner-winner” turkey pot pie soup,” reads the description for the episode.

Best Thing I Ever Ate

Food Network

● Prime 44 West (White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia)

○ Prime 44 West is known for its fine aged steak, but the lobster mashed potatoes steak the show. “Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ, knows Prime 44 West’s Lobster Mashed Potatoes are far from road food. A former trucker, he calls it full-blown, splurging vacation food, as they add butter-poached lobster and creamy Boursin cheese,” reads

● Bottega (Birmingham, Alabama)

○ Owned by celebrity chef Frank Stitt, Bottega is an Italian restaurant that features fresh, locally sourced ingredients. It was featured in the “Southern Charm” episode for its award-winning coconut pecan cake, James Briscione’s pick for “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” The layered round cake has a coconut filling and Chantilly creme anglaise.



● Midway West Drive-In (Huntington, West Virginia)

↳ ○ In Season 2, Katie Lee Biegel shares her favorite hot dog, which she describes as “blissful.” Served on a steamed bun, the hot dog is topped with chili and slaw for a nostalgic dish. Paired with a peanut butter-chocolate milkshake and French fries, the Midway meal requires about 20 napkins, Biegel joked.

● Village Tavern (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

↳ ○ Village Tavern began as one location serving burgers and other casual fare. It has since grown in size and menu options. “Jackée Harry is a devotee of the Hot Crab Dip: Tender morsels of crabmeat are added to a rich base made from more than 1 pound of cream cheese,” reads the website.



● Audia’s Family Restaurant (Nutter Fort, West Virginia)

↳ ○ In Season 15, Episode 4, “A Single Dad Sparks His Passion,” Robert Irvine visits a restaurant with a confusing identity - whether American or Italian or barbecue.



● Various restaurants in Lewisburg, West Virginia. In Season 3, Episode 10, Chuck explores Washington Street. “His first stop is at Stella’s Tea House where he digs into Chef Samantha Hall’s sticky toffee pudding. Next, he visits a historic landmark that dates to 1778, Greenbriar Resort, where Chef Bryan Skelding prepares a 14oz veal chop with cheddar grits and fresh veggies. At The Bakery, Sandy Carter makes a jalapeno bagel that rivals any New York or Montreal bagel. Last, Chuck stops by the Livery where Chef Michel Neutlings prepares an Appalachian-style dish with roasted quail, wild rice, apples and fig,” reads the website.


Travel Channel

● Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro (Townsend, Tennessee)

○ This Tennessee restaurant features Southern-style Appalachian cuisine and has been featured on Food Paradise as part of the “Hotel Hotspots” episode. The pork osso bucco consists of braised pork shank that has been rubbed with cayenne, chipotle and smoked paprika, seared in “meat butter” with purple carrots, red onions and green herbs and deglazed with a shot of Tennessee bourbon. It is served with collard greens sautéed in orange juice, salt, pepper, ginger and peanuts, and “dirty rice” made with wild rice, ham bits, sausage, onions and spicy tomato paste.


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