The Bluegrass Standard - May 2024

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Keith Barnacastle • Publisher

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

Our Staff

Richelle Putnam • Executive Editor/Writer

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

Rebekah Speer • Creative Director

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

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 Ruta Beggars


A bluegrass band that takes its name from a root vegetable can’t be all serious. But it’s not just the playful attitude of The Ruta Beggars that makes people take notice. The band, formed by Berklee College of Music students during their first week on campus, is known for sophisticated harmonies, robust instrumental solos, and incorporating country swing and big band influences in their highly entertaining sets.

“The selling point for our live show is not just the music being great,” says guitarist and founding member Micah Nicol. “The thing that we really specialize in is creating a show that people will leave feeling filled up and full of happiness and full of joy, something that people can really latch on to and relate to.”

It’s a busy time for the band. Work is underway on a new album, their tour schedule is filling up, and two of the band’s original members, mandolinist Ariel Wyner and fiddler Sofia Chiarandini, have left. New to the band are Sam Stage and Jean-Baptise Cardineau on mandolin and fiddle, respectively.

“Our two new members are just killer shredding instrumentalists,” Nicol says. “We definitely see this as the opportunity to celebrate the things that we’ve done well in the past that we want to continue to keep as a hallmark and as a time to explore what the two new people add.”

Banjoist Trevin Nelson, another founding member, and bassist Noah Harrington, a long-time band member, round out the group’s current configuration. All the Ruta Beggars, past and present, are graduates of the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Because the first question for the band

is, invariably, “What’s with the name?”

The Ruta Beggars include a brisk theme song in nearly every show that offers an entertaining explanation.

“But the shorter and much less interesting version of that story is we were just looking for ‘roots,’” says Nicol. “We were part of the American Roots Music Program at Berklee. And so, we were trying to find a root vegetable pun, and The Ruta Beggars was the best we could come up with. We didn’t want to be The Carrots or something like that.”

Every band seeks to create its own identity, but that can be a challenge working in a genre rooted in tradition. Nonetheless, Nicol says the Ruta Beggars have attracted a diverse following.

“We appeal to those that are sort of huddled around the fence between traditional and progressive bluegrass. We’ve had a lot of folks who have said to us, ‘Man, I usually don’t like traditional music, but you guys are awesome.’ Or a traditionalist will come up to us and say, ‘I usually don’t like more progressive bluegrass bands, but you guys are different.’ I’d say we focus a lot on the groove of bluegrass and finding music that makes people move. Our vocal harmonies have taken a lot of influence from swing. And we’ve all been fans of the Mills Brothers. So, we tend to include some swing songs in each of our sets.”

Each member has a unique background. Nicol is from Wapakoneta, Ohio—the birthplace of astronaut Neil Armstrong— and from an early age, Nicol sang harmony with his father at jams. “I grew up playing mandolin at around the age of three and then banjo and fiddle and bass and, eventually, guitar and piano. And growing up, I was going to jam sessions in


town and then bluegrass festivals in the summer.”

Nicol never had a music lesson before college. And he learned to read music by studying the Internet.

“I think I auditioned at maybe 20 schools,” Nicol explains. “I was looking at a lot of different programs, even math programs, straight-up engineering programs, and some musical theater programs. But the thing that drew me to Berklee was that I had seen what they had done with other bluegrass roots musicians. And I wanted to be a part of that.”

In addition to being an accomplished three-finger and clawhammer banjo player, Nelson, originally from Omaha, NE, is a certified yoga instructor who teaches health and wellness to musicians.

“It’s so important for musicians to do a lot of stretching and take care of their bodies,” says Nicol. “We’ve got these heavy things strapped around our bodies a lot of the time, and people end up with repetitive stress injuries in their hands. Because that’s what we do. We perform, and we practice. So, Trevin helps us to take good care of ourselves.”

In addition to playing bluegrass, bassist Harrington has an extensive background in Big Band and Bebop music. “He’s been a big help getting us really dialed in on that swing jazz sound,” says Nicol.

The Ruta Beggars are eager to work on a COVID-delayed album and resume a full tour schedule. And while they’ve confronted challenges and changes, their affection for their fans is constant.

“I’d love for people to know that we appreciate their continued support,” Nicol says. “Even through personnel changes--and through the world changes that we’ve all experienced in the last number of years--we deeply appreciate our fans. We couldn’t do it without them.”


Wil Maring


Roots, folk and bluegrass musician Wil Maring is not content with making art or music. She must do both, or life will not be complete. As a visual artist, teacher, and road warrior gigger, Maring said she’s been doing all this for a long time but has absolutely no interest in slowing down.

“I’m still playing out, still writing, still teaching, still doing art,” Maring said. “At a time when many people my age are thinking of retiring, I feel like I am just getting started. Artists and musicians don’t retire. Not ‘til they go blind or deaf.”

What Maring said is straight-up truth. Making a life in the arts isn’t always a choice; it’s an inevitability. For Maring, that unavoidable path began when she was exposed to a life of art and ideas as a child. Her father was an anthropologist and a classically trained pianist, and her mother had a “massive” record collection.

An early music memory is of hearing something on the radio that “sounded ‘stringy’... mandolin and guitar, or 12-string guitar sounds, all interwoven in beautiful textures and melodies,” she reminisced. “I lay on the carpet and pressed my ear to the big speaker of the console radio and just fell into those sounds and fell in love. I guess it was then I knew that I wanted to learn to create those sounds.”

She said at first, it was difficult to get bookings when she started since her music “cannot be classified as either folk or bluegrass.”

“I am glad that now those two music genres seem to have become a bit wider in their horizons, but back when I released my first recordings, I was ‘too folky’ for bluegrass and ‘too bluegrass’ for folk…It was hard to find a musical family to belong to in those times.”

“But now things are very different, and I am so happy to see that most promoters and fans are becoming more open-minded and inclusive of everyone.”

Maring said that after playing “a decade in Europe, and a couple of years in Japan, and then almost 20 years of playing in the U.S.,” the pandemic brought change. For many of those performances, Maring had appeared with Robert Bowlin, a notable guitarist and fiddler. However, the focus had to change a bit for both musicians due to how the lingering effects of COVID-19 have shaped the industry.

“Robert has put more attention to his violin and guitar shop and in-house recording studio, and I have been focusing on establishing myself as a visual artist,” Maring said. “That was my college degree and a part-time job in college. I am still writing songs all the time…I’ve done it all my life. It’s just something I do to amuse myself, or maybe it’s cathartic, a kind of therapy, and it’s not something I could easily just quit doing…I always bring [while touring] at least watercolor painting materials and sometimes acrylics or oils so that if I have some time off while traveling, I can do some visual art, too.”

She said the popularity of digital recording has caused a “disappearance” of sales of



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physical formats, so “almost every touring artist I know has had to become creative in finding other things to sell at the merch table.” Her table highlights her artwork.

“There are very many successful musical artists who are also visual artists,” she explained. “Creativity is creativity, and the two go hand in hand. Maybe it all comes out of the same part of the brain. For me, I see an image or a situation in my mind, and I can either describe it in words and melody or in colors and shapes.”

She said people often comment that her paintings “look like how my music sounds.”

“But then, they can’t really describe how,” she admitted. “I can’t either.”

“It’s so strange how it used to be that I’d go out and play music for a career and do art for fun in my spare time. Now, I do mostly art as a career, and play music for fun, though still at a professional level.”


Soon, Maring will appear in Gainesville, Florida’s special concert called “Hogtown Opry” on May 18. She will also teach at the Desert Nights Summer Camp (Kingston, New Mexico) in August, where she will teach songwriting with Chris Sanders, Steve Smith, and Robert Bowlin.

“There is also a nice festival there in September called Pickamania, which we play at every year with Peter McLaughlin and Chris Brashear and other talented guest artists.”

Maring said both she and Robert Bowlin have quite a bit of unrecorded music, but “the funding for ambitious projects will need to be raised.”

“I think that’s a problem many musicians face,” she said. The digital revolution has resulted in most people streaming music for free or nearly free; thus, the money to produce future music is not coming in. Streaming is killing the recording of new music.”

Despite this, she said musicians will always “continue to create, whether we are paid for it or not,” further explaining that “Just as artists will paint, whether anyone buys their work or not…I hope that anyone reading this will make an effort to support independent artists as much as possible—whether musicians or visual artists—by purchasing their creations directly from the creator.”


When a group of like-minded bluegrass aficionados got together fifty years ago in Minnesota, chances are they never dreamed the organization they founded would be what it is today. The Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association (MBOTMA) started with a newsletter and now has a membership of over 700 people, with a monthly magazine and three major festivals presented each year.

Ross Willits serves as the organization’s executive director, a position it seems he was destined to hold. “I have a Ph.D. in theatre history like most other bluegrass artists,” he jokes. Ross ran theatres and non-profit arts organizations for thirty years.

His musical background is a bit shakier. “I moved to a new high school in 1980 and heard a bluegrass band one day. I didn’t know anything about bluegrass, but the banjo player knocked my socks off. He taught me to play the guitar that summer in his basement, and between listening to Deliverance, “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” and the Dillards, I was good enough to play with the band around Wisconsin. But when I went to college, I left the guitar behind.”

Ross picked up playing bluegrass again twenty years ago. A friend needed a bass player for their band, so Ross learned to play bass. “I have been playing in bands for the last twenty years.”

When Ross learned that the MBOTMA was looking for new leadership, he realized that his experience in arts organizations and non-profits, along with his experience in bluegrass, gave him the skills he would need to apply for the position. “And here I am,” he says.


The Association’s magazine, Minnesota Bluegrass, features original articles about Minnesota-based bands and performers and stories reprinted with permission from other publications. It has been published eleven times a year consistently for fifty years.

The three festivals presented yearly include the Winter Bluegrass Weekend, held indoors at the Crown Plaza Convention Center in Plymouth, Minnesota. “That event is special,” says Ross. “There are three stages for member bands to play. This year, we had 33 concerts over the 2 ½ day festival.” Headliners for both bluegrass and old-time were brought in for the festival. “We had the Rick Faris Band from Topeka, Kansas for bluegrass. Our old-time artists were David Scrivner and David Cavins from Missouri. “They led old-time jams, square dances, and more,” says Ross. “It was wonderful.”

The Fall Jam is held in the same venue in conjunction with the Great Minnesota Uke Gathering. “That one is based on learning and workshops,” explains Ross. The last Fall Jam featured a songwriting workshop led by three-time IBMA Songwriter of the Year winner Tim Stafford. For the 2024 Fall Jam, Becky Buller, a Minnesota girl who was the first female to win the IBMA Music Award for Fiddler of the Year, will teach a workshop. And Ned Luberecki, named IBMA’s Banjo Player of the Year in 2018 and Broadcaster of the Year in 2023, will teach banjo. Becky and Ned will also present a show at the event.

The biggest festival of the year is the Bluegrass August Fest, which will be held from August 8 through 11 this year. The festival, which draws 4,000 to 5,000 people, is held


at Minnesota’s largest campground, El Rancho Manana, located in the center of the state. It features national talent, local bands, and member bands. “The stage at the festival was built by members of our Association,” says Ross. It’s an amazing stage—a natural amphitheater in the trees.

Headliners for this year’s August Fest include Ron Block, Dave Adkins & Mountain Soul, Purple Hulls, Amanda Cook Band, The Waddington Brothers, Earl White Stringband, The Baker Family, Dave Peterson & 1946.

According to Ross, the MBOTMA has 85 member bands, many of which play in venues across the state. “It creates such a great community spirit,” he says. The music brings people together in so many ways.”


The Augusta Heritage Center: Concerts, Oral

Histories, and Workshops

In 1973, a group of forward-thinking folks concerned about the risk of losing their cultural heritage came together to form the Augusta Heritage Center. “They were concerned that there was not a structure in place to protect that heritage,” says Seth Young, the executive director of the Augusta Heritage Center. “Without that, the knowledge existed only in people’s heads. There was no internet in 1973. If someone passed away, it would be like a library burned. Because of that, people were highly energized to form a structure for preserving their cultural heritage.”

The Center now provides a way to step back and look at the broader picture. “People can look at how our culture does something, then at how other cultures do it. They can then explore the intersections of commonalities, which gives a deep and authentic experience designed to broaden the participants’ horizons. Often, it is societal conditions that set the tone for art. Through our Center, people can meet the major history and culture bearers.”

The Augusta Heritage Center facilitates cultural education through immersive and experiential workshops in music, craft, dance, foodways, and folklore to preserve the past while promoting cultural heritage. “We also work to build community,” says Seth. “We do that by bringing folk arts education to underserved communities, providing access to cultural experiences to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity.”

The Center preserves its Appalachian heritage through an online archive of concerts, interviews, musical recordings, and oral histories. The Augusta Archive contains a wealth of cultural knowledge spanning nearly one hundred years. The living archive continues to grow as material is collected from the field and digitized. There are now almost one thousand entries, and the goal is to make the material as accessible as possible, with no barriers due to cost.

The Center celebrates local talent, documents traditions, and provides a space for the community to gather and connect, establishing a more inclusive and culturally rich society.

While the Augusta Heritage Center presents several concerts, workshops, conferences, and classes each year, the most notable event is the three-week immersive Augusta Summer Heritage Workshops on the Davis & Elkins College campus. “It’s a cross-pollination of sorts,” explains Seth. “We have three weeks of classes, and each week offers courses on a cross-cultural mix of music, dancing, crafts, cooking, and more.

Ross is excited about this year’s classes. “The first week will be Cajun/Creole and Classic Country, where Lafayette meets Nashville. Participants can choose four classes to take during the week.”

Next is Bluegrass and Vocal Week. “The vocal will have more of a world bent,” says Seth. “We’ll have folks teaching high


lonesome singing and Georgia polyphonic singing. The bluegrass players enjoy listening to the chords of the singers, and some even cross over to study vocalization with our awesome teachers.” This event was recognized as the IMBA Bluegrass Event of the Year 2020.

his Gershwin music. He wouldn’t let us announce it, so we just said it was a workshop with a special guest. Everyone was blown away.”

Among the notables in this year’s lineup of guest artists are Greg Blake, Becky Buller, Greg Cahill, Rebecca Frazier, Tyler Grant, Murphy Henry, John Seebach, and others.

Seth has been involved with the Center since childhood when he took a mini class

The final week is Blues and Old-Time Week. “Both styles are a wellspring of the popular styles of music we have today,” says Seth. “As a slide guitarist, it’s one of my favorite weeks.”

Several guest artists will be on hand to teach classes and workshops. “Rhiannon Giddens was a student here at one time, and she came back often as a teacher,” Seth says. “Last year, we had a surprise performance by Bela Fleck. His wife, Abigail Washburn, was teaching vocals that week, and he wanted to workshop

in blues harmonica there as a child. He became more interested in music during high school and went to Augusta during his teen years to learn more about the music in the region where he grew up. Before working at the Augusta Heritage Center, Seth had spent his entire career in education.

“There are some challenging aspects to


this job, but it’s in those moments when I get to watch an audience’s reaction that makes it all worthwhile. And to make it even better, our guest artists not only perform, but they take us through the process. It’s quite special.”


Elevating Community through Cultural Exchange, Tourism, & Empowering Students Through Engagement.

Good things are happening in Elkins, West Virginia, as the Augusta Heritage Center, home of the state’s largest music and arts educational program, joins forces with local businesses to revitalize the community.

Recently moving its headquarters from Davis & Elkins College to the historic Wilt building located at Davis Avenue and Third Street downtown, Augusta’s new location will host events that include live performances, symposiums, cultural sessions, and dances.

Seth Young, the center’s executive director and CEO, is honored to lead the program that ignited his passion for the heritage arts as a youth. Sharing his enthusiasm about

Augusta’s new location, he spoke about the bright future for Elkins’s residents.

“The building had been owned by the bank for five or six years,” the CEO explained. “Before that, it was already on its way downhill. So, we purchased it with the idea of redeveloping it into a downtown cultural center to celebrate the culture of Appalachia and beyond,” adding that it will cause a positive rippling effect.

While setting its sights on attracting arts and culture enthusiasts, the Augusta


Heritage Center plans to collaborate with other businesses to revive Elkins’s economy.

“Elkins is a small Appalachian town. It’s very vibrant culturally, but it does suffer from a lot of the same afflictions that a lot of Appalachian communities suffer from. The job opportunities might not quite be there, so young people would want to move away to pursue opportunities.”

Young is excited about Augusta’s role in helping Elkins. “In recent years, things have started to turn around, and there has been a lot of reinvigorated investment into some of these small Appalachian towns,” he says, adding that Augusta is one of the driving forces behind improving Elkins. Young anticipates that the project will drive tourism.

“A lot of folks, some traveling from as far away as Australia, who enjoy engaging in Augusta center content, also enjoy engaging in outdoor recreational activities. Providing a mechanism through which someone can visit our town, enjoy [the outdoors], coupled along with cultural activities, we believe, is really going to put the place on the map.”

Reuniting in partnership with the historic Tygart Hotel, Augusta’s original location, they plan to host events together.

“In many ways, we are going back home,” explains Young, who is knowledgeable about Augusta’s history. The Tygart Hotel was where the offices were held and where the programming was delivered.” The idea of partnering with the hotel came during its redevelopment. “We just had this vision of bringing [Augusta] back home.”


Young and his colleagues are committed to sharing their experiences as former Augusta students. “It’s one of the driving forces behind the work that we all do. Everybody that is in this organization has had a transformational experience.” Admitting that he and his colleagues have benefited from the program, “we have all had some sort of opportunity come our way.”

An ardent music lover and touring musician with over twenty years in the arts, Young, an Elkins native, earned the title of master instrumental music instructor for the West Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts. The former educator credits his years of teaching for giving him an understanding of the importance of cultural arts education.

“I taught in public schools for about fifteen years, so that really helped forge my philosophy on music education,” Young remembers, saying that it showed him what it means to be a well-rounded person when it comes to expressing yourself creatively. Honoring rich Appalachian traditions, the center also invites other cultures in what Young calls a “free cultural exchange.” He described a recent project that included Cubin and Ukrainian singing artists.

“We were doing school assemblies where we got everybody in grades three to five together with the tagline ‘We’re celebrating the joy of community singing.’” He added, “We understand Appalachian music and Appalachian culture, but through that deep understanding, we engage in the traditional art of the world.”

With a host of events that include Fingerpicking Guitar Getaway, Cajun and Classic Country Week, and Blues and Vocal Week, Young shared his goals for Elkins and Augusta. “I see a hub that empowers music educators with the resources they need to enact their vision: a place where people live and make a positive impact on their community through the sharing of ideas and art.”


Martin Guitars


With a background in business and a passion for guitars, Thomas Ripsam found his dream job as the president and CEO of C.F. Martin and Co., based in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Thomas grew up in a home filled with music in Ulm, Germany, located in the southern part of the country between Stuttgart and Munich. “My first musical memory is listening to Elvis playing an acoustic guitar and Scotty Moore, who played an electric Gibson ES-295 guitar in Elvis’s backup band.” Thomas learned to play the guitar as a teen and even played in a band, but by the time he got to college, he was serious about his studies.

Thomas attended college in Germany and studied business for another three years in England before moving to the United States to earn his MBA at Columbia School of Business. For 25 years, Thomas worked as an international business consultant. His clients ranged from small, family-owned companies to Fortune 500 powerhouses, including Sony, HP, and PepsiCo. “I helped companies navigate big problems or challenges,” he says. “I helped them to connect better with customers and taught them how to grow, how to become more profitable, and how to leverage technology. I love problem-solving.”

While he worked in business daily, Thomas spent his spare time exercising his creativity. “I recorded a couple of albums. I like the process of recording, mixing, and mastering.” He began to amass a large guitar collection. Because he wanted to understand better the process of building a guitar, Thomas took a sabbatical in 2019 to work one-on-one with a luthier in Delaware to build a Martin-style acoustic guitar. “It was a real eye-opening experience,” he says. I had no idea how involved it would be and how much the human aspect makes a difference in how the instrument looks, sounds, and plays.”

Little did Thomas know that his experiences would make him the ideal candidate for a major role opening at Martin. Chris Martin had run his family’s company for 35 years, but he was ready to retire. Since the company’s founding in 1833, it has always been run by someone in the Martin family. However, with Chris’s upcoming retirement, the company decided to look outside the family for new leadership.

Meanwhile, Thomas was trying to figure out what his next step might be. “I knew I wanted to be involved in music in the arts somehow.” A self-proclaimed long-time gearhead, Thomas followed major and up-and-coming music-related companies through magazines and websites. “I found out about a search firm that was looking for a new company CEO for Martin, so I reached out to them.”

Thomas doubted he’d ever be considered for the job, but after a few months of interviews, he says he found a connection through the process. The convergence of his business experience with his passion for music and guitars and his interest in the people who worked at Martin helped Thomas rise to the top. In June 2021, he became the first non-family member in six generations to lead Martin. “It worked out for me, and I’m humbled and honored to have been chosen. I feel I have something to


contribute as part of the team.”

With “tons of questions” but no preconceived notions of things to change, Thomas hit the ground running, making connections with loyal Martin lovers and new customers as well. “One of the first questions I asked the Board was, ‘Everyone loves Martin, but why? I asked what the company stands for and got a lot of different answers.’”

That inquiry led to doing some branding work, which resulted in the creation of Martin’s “Unleash the Artist Within” slogan. “It speaks to people,” Thomas says. “It was exciting internally and externally. It is super exciting to me.”

With initiatives like sustainability and celebrating the company’s heritage and legacy while looking toward the future, Thomas says he is “all in. They have all of me.” And Chris hasn’t left the company altogether. He serves as Chairman of the Board. “Chris is still involved in a lot of things, and I’m happy. It is his family’s business. We talk weekly.”

Martin manufactures guitars, ukuleles, strings, gear, and accessories. They also make custom signature guitars for artists like Eric Clapton and John Mayer, as well as a host of newcomers. “Everyone who picks up our instruments has an artist within, and we have something for everyone.” And the bluegrass community is no different. “Being a part of the bluegrass community has always been important for Martin,” says Thomas. “We have traditionally had a strong connection with bluegrass. Artists like Tony Rice and many others are all connected with the Martin name.”


The Bashful Youngens

The two halves of Illinois-based Americana duo The Bashful Youngens had never met before but immediately recognized a sort of magic that happened when they made music together. It was happenstance, but they chanced upon what appeared to be a perfect fit.

“We’ve grown more fond of this story over the years because the more we think about it after telling it, the more it seems it was destined to happen,” explained “Youngen,” Carrie Chandler. “We both grew up about only 20 minutes from each other in neighboring small central Illinois towns. It wasn’t until a college party at a mutual friend’s house that we actually met, and just so happened to be in the same room when a guitar was presented. I started playing a song on it that Aaron knew really well, and somehow, we both ended up playing and singing it at this party.”

“We could tell right away that our voices just kind of seemed to click,” she said. “So, we figured we’d see what we might be capable of. We started learning covers and hit up open mic nights around Champaign after that, eventually writing our own tunes, getting a full band to strengthen our sound, and recording and releasing material.”

More new music – which is self-described on the band’s website as falling “somewhere between modern folk and alt-country” – is forthcoming.

“We are currently in the studio working on a new album to be released later this year,” Chandler said. “We’ve been releasing singles and video sessions more recently. It’s taken us a few years to get back into the studio for another full-length project, so we are excited to see it come to life and eventually share it with everyone upon completion.” She explained how they have “been laying low on shows as we focus on finishing this album, but are looking forward to getting back at it this summer, so stay tuned for some more dates.”

Chandler and her performance partner, Aaron Short, have background stories that might seem familiar to others who have devoted their lives to music. For Chandler, becoming a performer was an evolution; for Short, it was more of a spark of inspiration. It was a moment in time.

“I grew up with a piano and organ in the house,” Short explained. He said his mom


played the organ at church on Sundays. When bored, he’d sometimes “goof off” on the ivories, but he remembers thinking he was “too cool” for the piano lessons his mother suggested. It’s something he wishes he could “go back and slap myself for.”

Then…something changed. He had an unforgettable moment because of Nirvana.

“I never really caught the bug to learn any instrument until I was about 13, and a friend at a sleepover started playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on his acoustic guitar,” Short reminisced. “I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen anyone do.”

“I used all of my savings to get a guitar from a local shop that had closed down shortly after that, and then used a well-timed,

month-long disciplinary grounding from my folks to teach myself as much as I could and practice all the time,” he continued. “I never really thought about playing in front of anyone, let alone singing on a stage of any kind, until I met Carrie. I guess I needed someone else to lean on to get me out of my shell and start performing in that capacity.”

Chandler also recounts her lifelong love affair with music.

“I’ve been heavily involved in music in one form or another since I can remember,” she said. “My parents were very encouraging of pursuing the arts, and I was naturally drawn to that more than sports or other extracurriculars. I remember as a young kid writing my own little songs in a journal with a


melody in my head far before I knew how to play an instrument.”

Her grandmother used to play piano as well, and Chandler still carries that influence with her: “That same piano now resides at my house and is the main tool for writing and teaching lessons.”

She took some music lessons on both piano and guitar, but the lessons she really stuck with were for vocals and drums.

“I dedicated a lot of my time in middle and high school to drumline and chorus and was convinced I would move on to play on a drumline in college until a back injury my senior year of high school forced me to part ways with that dream,” she said. “I picked up a guitar a year later at 19 and started trying to write my own songs.”

“The rest is history, so they’d say,” she added.

Chandler said The Bashful Youngens have enjoyed the warm embrace of the Americana music world.

“Most of the people we’ve been lucky to be around in that community have just been very supportive, engaged and willing to help without hesitation,” she explained. “And it usually goes beyond music. Most of these folks are small business owners in the area or have other sets of skills that get shared when needed.”

“It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced,” she said. “Specifically, the Champaign-Urbana scene. I’ve heard a few people who have left this area talk about how much they miss the community aspect they experienced here.”

While she compliments her home area, Chandler recognized it might not be special in that regard; she’s seen the same support networks in places across the country where The Bashful Youngens travel for gigs.

“That’s the type of folks this kind of music attracts, I think, that’s why maybe it’s a feeling so universally experienced,” she said.


In 2016, fans of the reality TV series “The Voice” cheered for award-winning, topcharting singer Billy Gilman. America watched as he rose in the competition to eventually snag the second-place spot as the Season 11 runner-up. As part of Team Adam Levine, Gilman showed off his fondly remembered, country-steeped singing chops but also ventured into new territory as a performer.

Viewers recalled Gilman due to his stunning early successes as a top-charting artist. In 2000, an 11-year-old Gilman released “One Voice,” which skyrocketed in sales. It landed on the Billboard Top 40 charts, entered the Top 20 on Billboard’s country chart, and was part of an album (also titled “One Voice”) that hit the #1 slot on the country charts. Gilman was nominated for a Grammy for that record, won an American Music Award, and received incredible success for an artist who was still a preteen. He was even named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest singer to ever reach #1 on the Billboard Top Country Album Chart.

Now, Gilman has revved up his career for a new phase: Delving deep into the world of bluegrass.

While the Northeast is usually considered a high-population place filled with large cities, Gilman’s story reflects something different: “I did grow up very rurally.” Hailing


from Rhode Island, he was raised on “a 40-acre horse farm with brooks…it was very low-key. Very simple.”

Gilman said he started very early with a love for country, explaining how, at age four, he was “singing Pam Tillis karaoke.” While his early music was country, bluegrass was always in his heart as well.

“I grew up with the Osborne Brothers and Ricky Skaggs,” Gilman explained.

His success on “The Voice” underscores how he’s evolved by experimenting with different genres. As he showed on the program, he’s able to transition easily as a performer, doing everything from country to pop to rock.

Apparently, “The Voice” actively courted the singer.

“They called like 16 times in four years,” he laughed. Eventually, Gilman said yes. His performances on the show ran the gamut, from covering Martina McBride to Queen.

“It was fun for me to play around with different songs, letting my voice go in different avenues,” Gilman said.

With “The Voice” driving him forward, Gilman never lost sight of the dream that simmered in the background. He said he recently read Barbra Streisand’s biography, and one thing that struck him is how long it took her for things to come to fruition. “Fifteen years it took her to get a movie off the ground,” Gilman said, adding that he


similarly “always kept a fire inside to do this project.”

He strives today to seamlessly combine his early fan base as a child star with his newer fans who found him via “The Voice.” Many are coming along for the ride and embracing his evolution into bluegrass. While he thinks people will always respond to “country stuff and storytelling,” he’s found a perfect home in the music born in Appalachia. It simply feels “right” for who he is.

“I believe in beautiful melodies…touching harmonies…I feel it [bluegrass] is truer to country bones than what country is right now,” he explained.

Gilman has released several singles, with a full album hopefully slated to drop in midApril or May. Since taking that turn down the lane that leads to bluegrass, he’s been embraced by people such as Rhonda Vincent, who recorded the song “That’s Bluegrass to Me” with him. They debuted it at the Ryman Auditorium last year.

Gilman said he suspects the positive reception is due to listeners truly sensing where his heart is. “It’s working; people are believing in it,” he explained. I’m a big believer in truth. I always had a low tolerance for BS and lying. Any time I do a record, it has to come from a place of truth.”

He believes his warm reception from the bluegrass community is due to the sense of respect and authenticity he insists upon. He hopes it continues to propel his career. “I think they see I have the utmost respect and want to create longevity. It’s the sincerity


of the transparency that I think works.” He added, “I’m a bad faker, and that’s what scared me about ‘The Voice.’”

As it turned out, Gilman discovered—after 16 attempts to get him onboard—that there was a way to experiment with genres and styles while still being true to himself. He hopes to bring something new to bluegrass over time, to be part of a less closedoff movement that is more about welcoming alternative people—and views—to a genre that’s often been slow to change. Mountain music is always known for its deep reticence to change, but Gilman sees an opportunity for people from all walks of life to enter the fold without disrupting the existing deep traditional roots.

“I definitely – with the respect of the community of bluegrass and Americana – want to push the envelope with the utmost respect,” Gilman said.

When asked where he sees himself in a decade, Gilman’s reply was loaded with a sense of gratitude. “I hope to be still taking this in,” he said. “Enjoying what is being given back to what I’m giving out. I want to stay in this lane as long as they’ll have me,” he added.


Del Mar Foundation

The city of Del Mar, California, with a population of around 4,000, is a hotbed of cultural activity thanks to the efforts of the Del Mar Foundation. The foundation continues to grow, with a mission to promote civic pride and cohesiveness, acquire and preserve open space, improve beaches and parklands, raise and grant funds, and sponsor diverse cultural programs and community events in Del Mar. Founded in 1982, the Del Mar Foundation (DMF) is the community’s oldest nonprofit organization.

Betty Wheeler is a Del Mar Foundation board member and the immediate past president. She got involved with the organization twenty years ago. “I approached them and said I’d like to bring a bluegrass show to Del Mar. The woman I spoke with, a former president who founded the DMF’s Cultural Arts Committee, said, ‘I don’t know what bluegrass is, but it sounds great!’ she gave me the green light.” With that


nod, Betty got to work, planning the first bluegrass concert in Del Mar featuring Phillips, Grier, and Flinner, with guest artist Gabe Witcher on fiddle. “A lot of people bought tickets without knowing much about bluegrass because DMF had such a good reputation for bringing in high-quality music,” says Betty. The San Diego Bluegrass Society also co-sponsored and helped publicize the show.

That concert launched DMF’s “Bluegrass and Beyond” concert series in 2004. “We have gradually grown a strong bluegrass fan base in Del Mar,” says Betty.

“Many people trust our series and attend, whether they have heard of the performers or not.”

The series brings nationally recognized bluegrass and acoustic musicians to Del Mar, generally several times each year. “There is also some jazz in the mix,” says Betty. “Our first concert with Todd Phillips, David Grier, and Matt Flinner was progressive bluegrass with a lot of jazz influence.

I think if you are going to introduce people to bluegrass, don’t start with Bill Monroe. Instead, start with a more contemporary sound like Nickel Creek, then work from there to introduce more traditional styles.”

The shows the Foundation has presented have been well-


received, and the acts have been quite impressive. Groups as diverse as the Infamous Stringdusters, John Jorgenson Quintet, Nefesh Mountain, Della Mae, The Railsplitters, the Gibson Brothers, and Blue Highway have performed for the series, Rob Ickes, a 15-time IBMA Dobro Player of the Year, dubbed Del Mar “the Nashville of the West” at one of his many Del Mar appearances. Most recently, in February, Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, a California-grown act led by a two-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, performed two consecutive shows: one for DMF’s “First Thursdays” series, followed by a sold-out Bluegrass and Beyond show.

The first concerts were held in the city-owned Powerhouse Community Center. “The Powerhouse is a cool venue,” says Betty. The building was renovated in 1999, and DMF launched its subscription series, “First Thursdays,” in 2000. The series includes ten jazz, classical, and eclectic concerts each year. “When standing on the Powerhouse stage, performers can look out the windows and see the ocean. But the venue only seats around 130 people, and when the new Town Hall was built, it was designed to open into a 200-seat venue, so DMF concerts moved there to make the concerts available to a larger audience.”

Betty says a perk for the performers is the opportunity to stay in the donated artist housing on the beach. “Bluegrass bands typically play two nights, the first night for First Thursdays, and the next night for a ticketed Bluegrass and Beyond show.” When booking bands, DMF looks at touring schedules to find national-stature bands that are passing their way, and rarely books bands unless Betty or another member of DMF’s Cultural Arts Committee has seen in a live performance. Betty recalls, “I attended IBMA’s World of Bluegrass one year and went to a showcase early to get a good seat. The Railsplitters played before the band. I was there to hear, and I was so impressed. I ended up following them around all week, going to all their showcases. I just knew I had to get them to play in Del Mar.”

While Betty calls herself “a poor dobro player,” she has been involved in the bluegrass scene for many years, including co-founding ResoSummit with Rob Ickes in 2007. She organized the annual dobro event in Nashville for 13 years. Bringing bluegrass music to Del Mar has been a joy for her, and in doing so, she has helped introduce a new audience of listeners to one of America’s great genres of music.


Regional Hot Dog Styles In Appalachia

Hot dogs are entrenched in America’s culinary history as an iconic ballpark, picnic, and cookout favorite. While hot dogs are often associated with iconic cities like New York and Chicago, they have also found a place in the hearts and palates of Appalachians, who have put their unique spin on classic food.

In Appalachia, hot dogs are more than just a convenient meal—they are a cultural phenomenon. These hot dogs feature regional variations in toppings and condiments, each reflecting the local flavors and traditions of the area.

West Virginia

The West Virginia-style hot dog is one of the most iconic Appalachian hot dog variations. In this rendition, a weenie is nestled in a soft, steamed bun and topped with chili, mayonnaise-based coleslaw, yellow mustard, and raw white onion.

The chili—sometimes called chili sauce or just sauce—is a thick, meaty sauce that can be sweet or spicy.

North & South Carolina

The Carolina-style hot dog also draws on the chili, slaw, mustard, and onion combo, but more attention is paid to the wiener itself.

Bright Leaf brand hot dogs are an iconic red hue. “This frank is a true old-fashioned beef and pork hot dog made the same way since 1941 when we started!” reads the website.

“These franks were dyed red to distinguish themselves as a genuine Southern delicacy and stand out among the competition. Today, the tradition is so strong that many locals won’t even consider a brown hot dog.”


Boar’s Head published a recipe inspired by the local barbecue scene in Memphis.

The Memphis hot dog features a beef hot dog wrapped in bacon, paired with Tennesseestyle barbecue sauce, and covered with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped green onions.


Boonedogs Bar and Restaurant in Lexington makes a “Hot Brown Dog,” which doubles down on its Kentucky roots. The hot brown sandwich is a broiled, open-faced turkey, bacon, tomato, and cheese sandwich that originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville.

The hot dog is made with country ham, turkey, Mornay sauce, cheddar jack, bacon, tomato, Parmesan cheese and chives.



Ohio is home to two distinct hot dog styles, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

Cleveland has “The Polish Boy,” topped with French fries, barbecue sauce or hot sauce, and coleslaw. It can also be topped with brown spicy Dijon mustard.

Cincinnati offered a Cincinnati-style chili dog topped with chili sauce and a mound of grated cheddar cheese—just like the famous Skyline Chili “three-way” spaghetti.


In Birmingham, the “Special Dog” is well-known at Gus’s Hotdogs and features yellow mustard, onions, and sauerkraut. It’s topped with a “special” sauce, typically a beef-based sauce with various spices.

These hot dogs were first crafted by Greek immigrants who came to Birmingham from New York and Chicago in search of work and put their spin on the hot dog to differentiate it from a more standard New York version.



One pharmacy in Columbus created a hot dog that is the only one on the list to require a fork and knife. Maybe a spoon.

The Scrambled Dog, created by Dinglewood Pharmacy, starts with a chopped-up hot dog on a bun smothered in chili, pickles, diced onion, and a layer of oyster crackers. Optional toppings include relish, cheese, or sour cream. Required accompaniments include an eating utensil. The pharmacy reportedly sells around 600 Scrambled Dogs per week to this day.


At South Miss Hotdogs and Handpies in Petal, there are a number of hot dog variations on the menu. The state namesake hot dog, though, “Mississippi Crack,” includes crack dip made of cream cheese, ground sausage, Rotel canned tomatoes, and chilies, and topped with crispy onions for extra crunch.

The term “Mississippi Hot Dog” also refers to a beginner violin song often used to teach children the instrument.

From homemade chili and cheese sauces to spicy relishes and pickled vegetables, there’s no shortage of creative ways to dress up a hot dog in the mountains. Each regional variation offers a unique twist on the classic comfort food, reflecting the diverse flavors and traditions of the Appalachian region.

In an area known for its strong sense of community and hospitality, hot dogs serve as a delicious reminder of the shared bonds that unite us all. Whether enjoyed at a local diner, a family cookout, or a community festival, hot dogs bring people together, fostering connections and creating lasting memories.



by : Gabriel Acevedo

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