We’re excited to announce the 2021 RockyGrass Academy faculty!
Due to COVID-19 concerns, we will not be offering the instrument building classes in 2021. But we expect them to return again in 2022.
Greg Blake was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia but he has spent most of his life living and working in Kansas City - on both sides of the state line. After graduating from high school in West Virginia, Greg attended bible college in Overland Park, Kansas where he met his wife. They both pursued further education, careers, and raised a family for 25 years in Kansas before moving to Colorado in 2007. While in Kansas, he was a member of the Bluegrass Missourians for nearly 15 years.
During that time, the band received multiple awards from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA), and he received two nominations for SPBGMA’s Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year and nine nominations for SPBGMA Guitarist of the Year. By the time Greg moved back to Kansas City, KS in 2017, he had received five consecutive SPBGMA Guitarist of the Year awards, a Kansas State Flatpicking championship and a nomination for the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Male Vocalist of the Year Award.
A highlight in 2015 was a debut solo album that was named by several sources among the Top Ten albums of the year. Greg has also toured with the Greg Blake Band and, most recently, with Jeff Scroggins and Colorado.
In March, 2021 Greg officially became the Special Consensus guitar player and also released a solo recording titled People, Places and Songs on the Nashville-based Turnberry Records label.
Courtney Hartman is an acclaimed guitarist, singer and writer from the foothills of Colorado. Acoustic Guitar Magazine recognizes her as a “distinctive guitar stylist… and a songwriter that delights and disturbs” while PopMatters hailed her most recent release as “a delicate light glistening softly in the darkness.” In 2014 she received a GRAMMY nomination for her work with folk quintet, Della Mae, and in 2017 Americana Music Association nominated her for Instrumentalist of the Year.
Bill Frisell, Mike Campbell and Buffy St. Marie are a few of the artists Courtney has created with as she continues to collaborate across cultures and disciplines, always seeking to bring voice to the hushed and inexpressible.
Evan Murphy was raised in Milton, MA. He received his degree in music from Boston College and spent several years after graduating in New York City where he studied bluegrass guitar with Grammy-Nominated artists Michael Daves and Chris Eldridge. When Evan moved back to Boston in 2014 he cofounded Mile Twelve alongside some of the musicians who inspire him most. He now plays full time with them and teaches privately from his home in South Boston. Evan was featured at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Songwriter Showcase in 2018 and was nominated for a momentum award as Vocalist of the Year.
Avril Smith is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist and is widely recognized as a highly accomplished electric and acoustic guitarist and mandolin player. Avril’s mastery of a wide range of styles makes her a sought-after on-stage and studio performer. She has been featured in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine and has reviewed guitars for Acoustic Guitar Magazine. Avril has played with Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin, Pete Seeger, Hazel Dickens, Tom Morello, the Indigo Girls, Jill Sobule, Darol Anger, Dar Williams, and John Kadlecik, among others.
Avril currently plays guitar in several touring Americana, bluegrass and alt country projects including the Grammy-nominated band Della Mae; Ms. Adventure, a trio featuring Vickie Vaughn (Patty Loveless) and Kimber Ludiker (Della Mae); and award-winning songwriter Becky Warren with whom she has toured opening the Indigo Girls.
Avril has performed at top venues and festivals including the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage (Washington D.C.), Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (Oak Hill, NY), the Birchmere (Alexandria, VA), the Knitting Factory (New York, NY), Freight & Salvage (Berkeley, CA), the Rock-n-Roll hall of fame (Cleveland, Ohio), and on the south lawn of the White House.
Avril plays a 2018 Bourgeois large soundhole OM acoustic guitar, a 2009 Outlier Stringed Instruments OM acoustic guitar, a 1987 Paul Reed Smith custom electric guitar and a 2006 Lawrence Smart mandolin. She teaches guitar and mandolin students in the Washington, D.C.-area and online via Skype or FaceTime.
After graduating with a mandolin music performance degree and spending a 3-year stint in Nashville touring and recording with acclaimed bass player Missy Raines, David was looking for the next chapter in his musical career. So in 2017, he made the move to Boston to join the bluegrass band Mile Twelve. The group quickly gained notice after the release of their debut album Onwards, receiving the 2017 IBMA Band Momentum Award and touring extensively around the US, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. David also claimed the 2018 IBMA Momentum Award for Instrumentalist of the Year. These opportunities have contributed to the development of David’s own artistic voice as an instrumentalist and composer, which is showcased in this new solo record.
Mandolinist David Benedict’s sophomore full-length record The Golden Angle marks a coming of age. Produced by Grammy-Nominated mandolinist Matt Flinner, The Golden Angle presents an original body of instrumental string band music. This new album, recorded four years after David’s last solo release Into the True Country, displays a new level of musical maturity and individuality. With an emphasis on virtuosic instrumental interplay and memorable melodies, the record weaves a complex yet compelling soundscape, featuring collaborations with a host of celebrated and award-winning bluegrass musicians including David Grier (guitar), Mike Barnett (fiddle), Missy Raines (bass), Ross Martin (guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), and Wes Corbett (banjo).
David’s compositions, arrangements and playing style on The Golden Angle demonstrate his ability to integrate seamlessly with the high-caliber company he keeps and confirms his place among notable emerging acoustic musicians. Jazz guitar sensation Julian Lage notes, “David is one of the most inspiring lights on the creative acoustic music scene today. A talented player and composer who is paving the way for new and exciting music! I can’t wait to see where he takes us!”
David now lives in Cambridge, MA, and continues to perform full-time with Mile Twelve. In between touring and recording, he teaches private mandolin lessons from home and at music workshops around the country. David is the creator and curator of the popular weekly video series Mandolin Mondays hosted by the Mandolin Cafe.
Nate Burie hails from the state of Wisconsin. The product of a multi-generational musical family, he started playing bluegrass and gospel with his three siblings at age 9, when their band The Burie Family began performing locally in the Milwaukee, WI area. The family garnered local and regional awards in music, as well as national attention and nominations with the release of their fifth and final project, Here Today Gone Tomorrow.
While he remained in Wisconsin, Nate was given a platform to mature his mandolin, guitar and vocal styles by playing and recording with Illinois traditional bluegrass band Bluegrass Express and a duet of his own organization and producing, Anderson Burie. In the spring of 2018, Nate joined Summer Brooke & Mountain Faith, “America’s Got Talent” contestant and 2016 IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year band from North Carolina.
He held multiple roles with that band as the mandolinist, rhythm and lead guitarist and baritone and tenor vocalist. Nate toured with Mountain Faith for a year before relocating to Nashville, Tennessee, where he currently resides. He joined Special Consensus in 2019, playing his custom Sorensen Pacifica mandolin and singing lead and baritone vocals.
Nate made his Special C recording debut singing and playing mandolin on the 2020 Compass Records release Chicago Barn Dance, which received the 2020 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Song of the Year Award.
Maddie Witler hails originally from LaCrescenta, CA. Maddie picked up the mandolin when she was 14 and fell in love with the instrument and bluegrass music. She spent the next few years studying with mandolinist Evan Marshall, with whom she worked her way through a lot of Bach, Jazz, and other musical styles, as well as bluegrass. Maddie attended the Berklee College of Music from 2010-2014. While in school she studied with some of her musical heroes including John McGann, Joe Walsh, Julian Lage, Mike Compton, Andy Statman, and many others.
Maddie met her band mates in the Lonely Heartstring Band while at Berklee, and has been a member of the band since it began in 2012. Over the years she has also performed with folks like Peter Rowan, Darol Anger, Michael Daves, Tony Trischka, Molly Tuttle, and she is currently touring full time with Della Mae. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.
Native New Zealander, Catherine (BB) Bowness started playing the banjo at the age of 12 after hearing a friend play the beverly hillbillies theme song. A few years later, BB received the Frank Winter memorial award at the Auckland Folk Festival allowing her to travel to the USA, where she studied with banjo players Tony Trischka, Alan Munde and Noam Pikelny. In 2009, she became the first banjo player accepted to the New Zealand School of Music, graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Perfomance. BB was selected to attend the 2013 Savannah Acoustic Music Seminar, studying with world-class artists such as Julian Lage, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger.
She won first place at the 2015 Freshgrass Banjo Contest and currently keeps busy recording, teaching and performing throughout New England.
Chicago born and bred, Greg has been playing bluegrass banjo since the early 1970s. He co-founded The Special Consensus in Chicago in 1975 and has continued to tour nationally and internationally with the band ever since. In 1984, he created the Traditional American Music (TAM) Program to introduce students of all ages to bluegrass music. He has appeared on all 19 of The Special Consensus recordings, on numerous recordings by other artists and on many national television and radio commercial jingles.
Greg has also released three recordings: “Lone Star” (1980, with guests Jethro Burns and Byron Berline); “Blue Skies” (1992, with Chicago mandolinist Don Stiernberg); and “Night Skies” (1998, with Don Stiernberg and guests Sam Bush, Glen Duncan and Tom Boyd). He has also recorded and toured European countries with the ChowDogs (Greg and Slavek Hanzlik, Dallas Wayne and Ollie O’Shea).
Greg has released four banjo instructional DVDs and three banjo tablature books and he teaches banjo at festival workshops and music camps nationally and internationally. He is a banjo instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and has been an adjunct faculty member of the music department (teaching banjo) at Columbia College in Chicago.
He served on the Nashville-based International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Board of Directors from 1998-2010 (Board Chair/President 2006-2010), became a Kentucky Colonel in 2010 and was awarded the prestigious IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 2011. Greg was also appointed to the Board of Directors of the Nashville-based Foundation for Bluegrass Music in 2007, elected President of the organization in 2011 and rotated off that board in 2012.
The 2012 Compass Records band recording “Scratch Gravel Road” was GRAMMY-nominated for Best Bluegrass Album; the 2014 Compass Records band recording “Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute To John Denver” received two International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards; the 2016 Compass Records band recording “Long I Ride” received an IBMA award and the 2018 Compass Records recording “Rivers And Roads” received two IBMA awards (one for Album of the Year) and a GRAMMY nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.
Early in 2019, the banjo virtuoso, songwriter and educator Tony Trischka celebrated his 70th birthday with a surprise party at the Public Theater, in Lower Manhattan, a reasonable jaunt from his home in New Jersey. Naturally for an artist NPR has referred to as “the great banjo liberationist,” the well-wishers included musicians like Béla Fleck, the premier banjoist to emerge in the past four decades, and the comic genius Steve Martin, the banjo’s unofficial celebrity ambassador, whom Trischka calls “a wonderful player.” At center of the fete—including, all told, “about 80 people I love,” says Trischka—was an unassumingly brilliant, kindhearted fellow who just so happens to stand among the most influential figures in American roots music.
He was born in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1949, and raised in a home filled with music. There were Broadway scores and a sweeping range of classical music, from Stravinsky to Beethoven. (The first thing Trischka learned to play on the banjo, in fact, was the Ninth Symphony.) The wide- open American vistas of Aaron Copland had an especially potent spiritual and visceral impact on him, as did the folk music his left-leaning father held dear. The Almanac Singers, the solo work of its founding members Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and Lead Belly’s children’s LP were in constant rotation.
Trischka fell in love with the banjo by way of the Kingston Trio’s 1963 recording of “M.T.A.,” and was able to experience the New York-centered folk revival by trekking to the Newport Folk Festival in the early to mid-’60s. He moved to the city in the early ’70s and hit the ground running, settling in among a peer group of extraordinary musicians who saw American roots music as a thriving, living language that could be expanded and combined with other influences and sensibilities. Alongside other young masters like mandolinist Andy Statman and fiddler Kenny Kosek, in such units as Country Cooking and Breakfast Special, Trischka found his purpose. Jaw-dropping musicianship was certainly encouraged, as was comic and literary irreverence, earnest songwriting and a record shop’s worth of touchstones beyond bluegrass, from the avant-garde to fusion and R&B.
That’s essentially the m.o. that defines Trischka’s landmark solo debut, Bluegrass Light, released on the Rounder label in 1974. “For the first album,” Trischka recalls, “I was just doing what I loved, music I was hearing.” That’s a characteristically understated way to describe his synthesis of a vast swath of the 20th century’s most interesting sounds: bluegrass staples, Van Dyke Parks’ orchestral psychedelic pop, Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, the heyday jazz-rock fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea, Weather Report and Zappa, and more. Many other milestone albums followed, among them 1983’s A Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas, which refined the eclecticism of Bluegrass Light and featured such West Coast newgrass royalty as violinist Darol Anger, guitarist Tony Rice and mandolinist David Grisman.
For his 1993 release, World Turning, Trischka crafted a wildly ambitious love letter to the banjo and its mighty journey throughout America’s cultural firmament. Trischka’s reputation and goodwill allowed him to retain the services of champion company, here including Grisman, Parks, the Violent Femmes, Alison Krauss, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Bill Berry, and even beat icon William Burroughs. That project became an essential source of inspiration for Marc Fields’ comprehensive 2011 documentary, Give Me the Banjo, which Steve Martin narrated and for which Trischka acted as musical director and co-producer. (Musical direction is yet another of Trischka’s gifts, and he’s helmed ensembles for Broadway and off-Broadway productions as well as for New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park.”) With frequent airings on PBS stations across the country, Give Me the Banjo was one more opportunity for Trischka to advocate on behalf of his chosen instrument.
He’s raised the banjo’s profile in many other ways as well. Through his theme song for Books on the Air and performances on A Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, From Our Front Porch and other programs, he’s been a frequent presence on NPR. His work with his pal Steve Martin too has helped the banjo gain a wider audience and deeper understanding. Trischka’s Grammy-nominated album Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, released in 2007, and Great Big World, from 2014, feature Martin within a mix of veterans and up-and-coming luminaries. He produced Martin’s Grammy-nominated Rounder album from 2011, Rare Bird Alert, which touts performances by the Steep Canyon Rangers, Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks. His forthcoming album, This Favored Land, is a visionary exploration of Civil War history featuring an all-star cast—from Michael Daves and Maura O’Connell to the Femmes, Catherine Russell, Guy Davis, the actor John Lithgow and many others.
In many ways, Trischka’s collaborators join him to pay homage to an architect of progressive bluegrass—an invaluable pioneer who absorbed the slings and arrows of roots traditionalists and proved that acoustic music could accommodate imagination and individualism. (Trischka, in his self-effacing way, insists he was simply falling into a longer-running tradition: “Bill Monroe, when he invented bluegrass, took all these other elements and fused them together,” he explains.)
One such apt pupil has been Béla Fleck, who began studying with Trischka as a teenaged bluegrass wunderkind struck by his teacher’s wily, genre-bending original compositions. “He showed up and I knew, almost immediately, that this guy had it,” Trischka recalls. “Very quickly, after a few months, I said, ‘You don’t need lessons anymore. We’ll just kind of play and hang out.’ It’s been that way ever since, and we just have a great relationship.” Musically their connection has been fruitful, to say the least, and on collaborative albums like 1981’s Fiddle Tunes for Banjo, with Bill Keith, and 1992’s Solo Banjo Works their rapport is at once fiery and reflective, competitive and full of compassion.
But Fleck is just one of countless students that Trischka has imparted his hard-earned wisdom to, through his private instruction, his books and DVDs and his groundbreaking work with the ArtistWorks online teaching platform. In addition to his Grammy nominations, he’s earned a number of honors over the years, including the International Bluegrass Music Award for Banjo Player of the Year in 2007, and he was named a United States Artists Friends Fellow in 2012. This momentous coming year, between This Favored Land and other projects and concerts, will no doubt garner Trischka more well-deserved acclaim. “I’m 70 but I’m strong,” he says, chuckling. “I’m not ready to retire yet.”
Bronwyn Keith‐Hynes is a Boston-based bluegrass fiddler originally from Charlottesville, Virginia. She began playing fiddle at the age of three and grew up playing Cape Breton and Irish traditional music, before becoming enamoured with bluegrass music as a teenager. Accepted on a scholarship to attend the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music at age 16, she graduated in 2012 with a Professional Diploma in Violin Performance. Bronwyn is fast gaining recognition for her fiddling across bluegrass and acoustic music circles. She has performed with Peter Rowan, Darol Anger, The Milk Carton Kids, Anais Mitchell, The Deadly Gentlemen and Tony Trischka, among others.
Bronwyn is a founding member of the IBMA Momentum Award-winning Boston-based bluegrass band Mile Twelve, and can be found touring with them all over the planet. In 2014 Bronwyn won first place in the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship in Winfield, KS and in 2015 won first place in the Freshgrass Fiddle Contest. Bronwyn has been on staff at Berklee College of Music teaching string lessons at The Five Week Program for several years. She also teaches privately throughout the year in Boston, and world-wide via Skype.
Says Darol Anger: “Bronwyn’s fiddle playing is about being present. You can sense the presence of mind, presence of heart, presence of the unmistakable Bronwyn in every note she plays. Her impeccable care in selecting what is to be presented on her fiddle translates to a preternatural tone quality that draws our ear and says ‘Here is a musician with something to say… it’s Bronwyn… wow!’ “
Born of fiddle playing parents in Spokane, WA, Kimber Ludiker is a 5th generation fiddle player who started learning on the lap of her grandfather at age 3. With 11 combined family National Fiddle Championships, Kimber holds 3 herself. In 2009, Kimber founded all-female bluegrass/Americana stringband “Della Mae”. They were IBMA’s Emerging Artists of the Year in 2013, GRAMMY Nominees in 2014 for their debut album on Rounder Records, named by Rolling Stone as 10 bands to watch for in 2015, and have traveled with the US Department of State to 15 countries spreading peace and understanding through music.
Kimber has performed on stage with many artists including the Black Lillies, Dierks Bentley, Ed Helms, Peter Rowan, Mark O’Connor, Alison Krauss, Jim Lauderdale, Laurie Lewis, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, the Travelin’ McCourys, the Del McCoury Band, and more.
Bruce Molsky is “one of America’s premier fiddling talents” (Mother Jones) and a twiceGrammy-nominated artist on fiddle, banjo, guitar and song. He has dug into the deepest reaches of mountain music, while growing his own unique voice. Bruce holds a stage as few other musicians can. His skill at performing a deep and varied repertoire and a reverence for the past, combined with a relaxed, conversational wit, draws listeners in as if they were sitting on the front porch of Carnegie Hall. The result has landed him in collaborations with some of the most highly respected players in the world, from roots to rock.
Molsky is a guest on legendary guitarist Mark Knopfler’s latest CD, Tracker, playing banjo, fiddle and guitar. His collaboration with Anonymous 4, 1865 – Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War, was on the top 10 Billboard charts for weeks. Molsky frequently joins genre-busting supergroups, like Andy Irvine’s Mozaik, with Celtic giant Donal Lunny, and he has been featured on BBC TV Transatlantic Sessions singing with Joan Osborne, Julie Fowlis and fiddling with Scottish legend Aly Bain and America’s great dobroist Jerry Douglas.
Molsky was recently named by Berklee College of Music as its Visiting Scholar in the American Roots Music Program. Through his work there, he is a mentor, friend, and inspiration for the next generation of roots musicians.
“Bruce Molsky is one of those great players who ‘gets it’: has all the links to the past but is happy not to be chained to it” - Mark Knopfler
Greg Booth’s (dobro, banjo, vocals) path to the dobro was a winding road that started with the banjo — and lessons from banjo legend Bill Emerson. After a few years, Greg’s ambition turned to the pedal steel guitar and the last frontier, Alaska. A thriving music scene during the oil boom of the ’70s and ’80s gave him the chance to play as much as 7 nights a week (for 7 hours a night) for many years. That much time playing diverse music forged a style that is uniquely his own. When Greg finally picked up the dobro, he hit the ground running, winning the RockyGrass dobro competition after playing the instrument just one year.
Interest in Greg’s dobro playing took off with his YouTube channel of 30+ dobro videos. Viewed about 1600 times daily, it surpassed 2 million views in the fall of 2015. A regular instructor at Rob Icke’s ResoSummit, Greg has also taught at many music camps in the US and abroad, including the California Bluegrass Association Music Camp, Nimblefingers (BC, Canada), Puget Sound Guitar Workshop (Washington), ResoMania (Washington), and several music camps in Alaska.
Sally Van Meter
Since 1977, Sally’s slide guitar work has gained respect and recognition among peers and audiences for her commitment to staying true to playing music with heart and soul. She is well-known for her performances & recorded works ranging from solo work to collaborations with artists such as Led Kaapana, Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Garcia, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen, Cyril Pahinui, Jerry Douglas, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Alison Brown, Taj Mahal, Peter Rowan & the Rowan Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Tony Rice, Kathy Kallick, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Gerry O’Beirne, Maura O’Connell, the inimitable Leftover Salmon and more.
On the Sugar Hill label,Sally’s work on The Great Dobro Sessions (producers Jerry Douglas/ Tut Taylor) earned her a 1994 GRAMMY AWARD certificate for Best Bluegrass Recording from NARAS as a featured performer. In addition, Sally’s solo album All In Good Time was a finalist nominee for IBMA Instrumental Album of the Year. Film, television and radio credits include the film Gather at the River, the celebrated CBS’ Northern Exposure and TNN’s Texas Connection. Sally has also been invited to perform for nationally acclaimed NPR show A Prairie Home Companion, and Nick Forster’s popular NPR radio show, E-Town.
In 1995, Sally joined with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia for a special project, The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers-A Tribute produced by Bob Dylan for Columbia Records. From 1977 -1996, Sally was a member of the Good Ol’ Persons, a much-beloved San Francisco- based band. She has been an IBMA Finalist Nominee for Dobro Player of the Year from 1990-1997 and in 1996 won two IBMA awards, Best Instrumental Recording and Recorded Event of the Year (The Great Dobro Sessions). For nearly three decades, Sally’s musical journeys have taken her from the US to the United Kingdom, Europe and Japan.
These days Sally resides professionally in Lyons, Colorado. She currently freelances with touring acts that include Jorma Kaukonen, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, Led Kaapana, and performs locally in Colorado as well as currently enrolled in film school. She misses California and the ocean each and every day.
Dan grew up in Crystal City and St. Louis, Missouri, and his grandparents began taking him to bluegrass festivals at a very young age in the 1970s. He began playing music on drums, then banjo and guitar, and eventually electric bass at age 12. Dan played in country and rock bands throughout high school and attended college on a music scholarship. His study of jazz bass playing eventually led him to the upright bass and a very diverse musical education that included study of nearly all styles of American music and procurement of a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Webster University in St. Louis.
In 2003, after many years of teaching at several St. Louis-area colleges and universities as an adjunct professor, Dan’s desire to get back to his bluegrass and country roots prompted his move to Nashville.
He has been teaching, performing with various bands and working as a studio session musician since his relocation, and he has appeared on the television show “Nashville” several times as a side musician in bands that support main characters.
Dan joined Special Consensus in 2013 and made his first band recording appearance on the 2014 Compass Records band recording “Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute To John Denver” that received two International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards. He also appeared on the 2016 Compass Records band recording “Long I Ride,” which also received an IBMA award, and on the 2018 Compass Records band recording “Rivers And Roads” that received two IBMA awards (one for Album of the Year) and a GRAMMY nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.
Dan released a solo recording titled “Look What The City’s Done” in March 2019.
Nate Sabat is a bassist, vocalist, songwriter, and arranger currently based in New York City. A native New-Yorker, he attended LaGuardia High School as a vocal principal and went on to study upright bass at the Berklee College of Music. He has performed on stages throughout Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States. With his ability to pay close attention to detail and quickly internalize musical form and feeling, Nate has become an in-demand sideman both on stage and in the studio. He has worked with artists such as fiddle maestro Darol Anger, banjo legend Tony Trischka, bassist/composer Bruno Raberg, gypsy-jazz musicians Albert Bello and Oriol Saña, Canadian rock band Fish & Bird and singer-songwriter Jenny Ritter.
Nate has written vocal music for NPR’s Radio Lab, written string arrangements for the Heifetz International Music Institute, and written songs that are in rotation on Sirius XM’s Bluegrass Junction channel. The debut project under his own name, Walking Away, was released on November 30th, 2018. At the core a rock project, it draws from influences as wide as the Stanley Brothers, Dvořák, Joni Mitchell and XTC.
Vickie Vaughn started singing when she was knee-high to a grasshopper. At the age of 9, she was hired as a background vocalist at the Kentucky Opry in Draffenville, KY, where she grew to love Classic Country and Bluegrass. At sixteen she challenged herself to learn stand-up bass and after graduating high school she moved to Nashville, TN to study Commercial Voice at Belmont University. In 2010 she released her 4-song EP, which features acclaimed pickers and longtime friends Josh Williams and Clayton Campbell performing three Vickie Vaughn originals and Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.” Touring fulltime, Vickie plays bass and sings with Della Mae and Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike and HanaLena, but she still finds time to pursue her solo career with her best friends.
Celia Woodsmith is a GRAMMY Nominated performer, vocalist, and songwriter. The daughter of the Vermont based poet Sybil Smith she is influenced by artists such as John Prine, Janis Joplin and Mahalia Jackson. Over time, and without any formal training Celia molded her own vocal style and has been hailed by the Boston Globe as “Unvarnished and intimate (…) but then sounds like she’s about to part the Dead Sea”. Woodsmith’s performances can be described as “one of a kind: gritty, muscular, folksy and intimate sometimes all at once” (Bluegrass Situation) Not confined by genre she is as comfortable playing Bill Monroe as she is singing an old jazz standard, or a Led Zeppelin rocker.
In the last 14 years Celia has released nine albums of original music most recently with Nashville based bluegrass band Della Mae and her Boston based vintage rock project SAY Darling. In 2014 Della Mae was nominated for a Best Bluegrass Album GRAMMY for their record “This World Oft Can Be”.
The all female Della Mae has performed in 19 countries with the US Department of State’s cultural diplomacy program “American Music Abroad”. Woodsmith recently spoke about her experiences with travel and music at TEDx Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, NH.
In 2016 Woodsmith took a hiatus from Della Mae to write, listen and reflect about her years on the road. With her husband she biked 1.700 miles from Geneva, Switzerland to Vlorë, Albania, completing a physical task that she was unaware she could accomplish. In that time off she was able to write and record for her debut solo record “Cast Iron Shoes”. Recorded with New York musical heavyweights in July of 2017 Woodsmith brings 11 fresh new tracks to the table. A bold artistic nod toward Bonnie Raitt’s Nick Of Time combined with firey notes of Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill, Cast Iron Shoes is sure to please bluegrass and rock fans alike.
Michael Daves was born in 1977 in the southern empire of Atlanta, Georgia. Soon after, he began to make loud noises, so his loving parents put music instruments in front of him. It was a good plan. He grew up in that grand tradition of staying up late & singing real loud. Although he’s since moved north, the humid south remains in heart and sinus cavities. Heralded as “a leading light of the New York bluegrass scene” by the New York Times, Daves has garnered attention for his work with Chris Thile, Steve Martin, Tony Trischka, and Rosanne Cash in addition to his solo performances.
Daves’ most recent project is a two-album set, Orchids and Violence, released February 2016 on Nonesuch Records. Both discs are self-produced and have identical track listing of mostly traditional bluegrass songs. The first features straightforward interpretations of them and was recorded live to tape in a 19th-century church by Daves and a band of roots-music innovators: bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and banjo player and Punch Brother Noam Pikelny. The second disc was recorded in Daves’s home studio and includes bass, drums, and electric guitar, mostly played by Daves, and takes a raw, experimental rock approach to the same old-time material. “The identical track listing makes for a good comparison study,” says the New York Times music critic Nate Chinen in his review, “and to his credit, it can be hard to pick which version of a tune is best.”
Daves previously recorded bluegrass standards on Sleep with One Eye Open, his Nonesuch debut, a duo session with mandolinist Chris Thile (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) that earned the pair a 2011 Grammy nomination. The duo makes for “a rip-roaring partnership,” writes the New York Times. “Bluegrass, in their hands, gets roughed up in the best possible way, with skill and fervor, and a touch of abandon.”
Although he is best known as a roots musician, Daves gravitated toward experimental music and jazz while studying at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Relocating to Brooklyn more than a decade ago, he began to crave the social interaction and musical challenges of bluegrass: “In Western Massachusetts, I was mostly doing jazz. By the time I moved to New York, I was ready to leave that behind, get back to my personal roots in bluegrass music. There were good jam sessions in New York and I was excited to reenter a regular jamming culture in the city. And I was getting back into rock music, too. The Brooklyn scene in 2003 and 2004 was pretty fertile. There was a lot of great, kind of raw, experimental rock music happening at that time, drawing me in, scratching an itch.”
Since 2006 Daves has maintained a weekly residency on Tuesday nights at The Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan where he continues to draw a devout following, and uses the informal setting to showcase special guest appearances with a who’s who of bluegrass musicians including Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan. Daves has also used the setting to develop his electric trio Wax Lion with experimental rock drummer John Colpitts (aka Kid Millions) and electric bassist (and visual artist) Jessi Carter, Daves’ wife and collaborator on the electric side of Orchids and Violence.
Daves is also an in-demand teacher and noted booster of NYC’s thriving bluegrass music community. In addition to offering private instruction and group classes in Brooklyn (as well as the occasional festival or music camp workshop) Daves recently launched an online school in bluegrass vocals on ArtistWorks.com, the leading music learning website.
Kimber Ludiker, Avril Smith, Vickie Vaughn, Maddie Witler, Celia Woodsmith
Della Mae is a GRAMMY-nominated, Nashville-based, all-female string band made up of lead vocalist/guitarist Celia Woodsmith, 2-time national champion fiddle player Kimber Ludiker, and mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner. Hailing from across North America, and reared in diverse musical styles, they are one of the most charismatic and engaging roots bands touring today. They have traveled to over 30 countries spreading peace and understanding through music. Their mission as a band is to showcase top female musicians, and to improve opportunities for women and girls through advocacy, mentorship, programming, and performance.
In the making of their fourth album Headlight, Della Mae has claimed a more daring sense of freedom than they’d ever allowed themselves before. Boldly breaking genre convention, the Grammy Award-nominated band pushed beyond their bluegrass roots and followed their instinct to their most sonically adventurous body of work to date. And in lyrics, Della Mae has fully embraced the album’s potential as a platform for change, delivering a collection of songs at turns fearlessly personal and powerfully resonant.
David Benedict, Catherine “BB” Bowness, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Evan Murphy, Nate Sabat
Although their sound is rooted in traditional bluegrass, Mile Twelve surveys a broader landscape on their newest album, City on a Hill. All five band members bring their own influences and observations into the music, resulting in a project that feels contemporary, thoughtfully crafted, and relevant. City on a Hill follows multiple IBMA Momentum Awards, presented by the International Bluegrass Music Association to emerging bluegrass artists. Mile Twelve won the band category in 2017, shortly before releasing their debut album, Onwards. The following year, Keith-Hynes and Benedict secured IBMA Momentum Awards in instrumental categories, while the band earned two major IBMA Award nominations for Emerging Artist and Instrumental Performance of the Year in 2018.
Those kind of accomplishments were far from anyone’s minds when Murphy, Sabat, Keith-Hynes, and Bowness started crossing paths at house parties and pick-up gigs in Boston. In time, they recognized each other as regulars at a Cambridge dive bar called The Cantab Lounge during Tuesday night bluegrass jams. In 2014, they decided to start their own band. By gathering grassroots and industry support, they were well on their way when Benedict, who was living in Nashville at the time, relocated to Boston to join the band in 2016.
“Original bluegrass music, written and played by young people, is very much alive,” says band member Evan Murphy. “I hope people take away that songwriting and arranging really matter. It’s about the material and playing it in a way that feels honest. This album isn’t political in the sense that we’re beating people over the head with anything, we just tried to tell stories that feel authentic.”
The album title alludes to the idealized imagery of a shining city on a hill – a historical phrase that has often been applied to Boston, where the band got its start. Murphy adds, “We realized that many of the characters in these songs were in crisis, had been failed in some way, or were failing themselves. It’s an unintentional theme but it came out in the songwriting.”
The Mile Twelve lineup offers five of the most promising young musicians in bluegrass: David Benedict (mandolin), Catherine “BB” Bowness (banjo), Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Evan Murphy (guitar, lead vocals), and Nate Sabat (bass, lead vocals). All are credited as songwriters because everyone in the band helped shape the material throughout the writing and arranging process. Murphy and Sabat initiated most of the lyrical ideas for City on a Hill while Benedict wrote the instrumental track, “Rialto.”
“We all inspire each other and recognize that everyone has different strengths,” Murphy says. “What makes this band so collaborative is that everyone in the band can do something at a really high level. That’s the balance. We’re all challenging each other.”
Produced by Bryan Sutton and engineered by Ben Surratt, City on a Hill begins with a lively rendition of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Down Where the Drunkards Roll.” From there, the album explores a number of unexpected perspectives, such as a modern war veteran with PTSD (“Jericho”), a Jewish immigrant fleeing war (“Liberty”), and a man who cannot escape the stigma of the penal system (“Innocent Again”). As the album winds down, the light-hearted power waltz “Barefoot in Jail” and the ethereal, old-time dream sequence “Journey’s End” leads to the poignant “Where We Started,” a portrait of small-town life written by John Cloyd Miller.
Bryan Sutton observes, “I’m a fan of bands who strive for a balance of being musically unique and individualized, while at the same time working to include time-honored traditions found in this music. This blend is not an easy thing to accomplish. Mile Twelve does this with well-honed and refreshingly honest songwriting, along with powerful playing, singing, and performing. Not only did I have the privilege of producing this album, but I also got a chance to know the band better. I’m impressed with how much they bring out the best in each other.”
The band takes their name from the mile marker that sits at Boston’s southern border on route 93, the city’s main artery. It’s a road sign they’ve passed countless times while heading out on tour. Through an active social media audience and radio support from terrestrial stations and Sirius XM, the band has found receptive audiences across the globe, touring all over North America as well as Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Asked about the band’s influences, Murphy cites Alison Krauss & Union Station for their precise arrangements and execution, the Del McCoury Band for their grit and groove, and the Punch Brothers for their genre-bending virtuosity. As for writing, Murphy praises the mastery of Gillian Welch and Jason Isbell for their ability to tell a fully-realized story within the confines of a three-minute song.
These influences shine through in City on a Hill, but at the core the album is a representation of the band’s emerging voice. “We decided to record this album as live and authentically as possible,” Murphy says. “There was no metronome, no filler material, no smoke and mirrors. It was very real, you know? We all feel that the end result is an honest statement of who we are.”
Greg Blake, Nate Burie, Greg Cahill, Dan Eubanks
The Special Consensus is a bluegrass band that has achieved a contemporary sound in their four decades of performing, making their music a modern classic. Band leader and founder Greg Cahill is a recipient of the prestigious Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and Special Consensus has received five awards from the IBMA and two Grammy nominations.
Special Consensus’ sound is grounded in a deep appreciation and understanding of bluegrass music; the infectious band sound reminds people of the past while utilizing the innovations of today. With the foundation of Greg’s unique banjo playing style, Rick Faris (guitar), Nick Dumas (mandolin), and Dan Eubanks (bass) effortlessly support each other and consistently maintain their bluegrass center whether they’re playing a jazz-tinged instrumental or a song from their award-winning John Denver tribute album. These four talented vocalists and instrumentalists follow their creative desires without straying too far from their roots.
Rivers and Roads, the band’s 19th recording, was nominated for a 2019 Grammy, received five 2018 IBMA nominations and was awarded Album of the Year. The tune “Squirrel Hunters” from that recording received the Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year award.
Rivers and Roads captures the energy of a live Special C show. Just listen to Rick’s high, emotional singing, Nick’s fluid mandolin providing the formidable counter to Greg’s driving banjo and Dan holding everything together on the bass with his bluegrass, country, and jazz experience. Their voices blend seamlessly. International tours have brought the band to Canada, Europe, South America, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The band has also appeared on National Public Radio, The Nashville Network, the Grand Ole Opry at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, and in concert with symphony orchestras nationwide.
Dedicated to preserving their craft as well as keeping it fresh, in 1984 Special Consensus initiated the Traditional American Music (TAM) Program to introduce bluegrass music to students in schools across the country and in several foreign lands.
Special C’s continued success is a testament to their adaptability and contemporary appeal. The band records for Compass Records and proudly celebrates its 44th anniversary in 2019.
Long Road Home
Originally from Northern Illinois, Justin Hoffenberg currently makes his home in Boulder, CO. Growing up in a musical household, he attended many concerts as a child and was drawn towards music. At 10 years old Justin joined his 5th grade orchestra, where he played the violin for one year before beginning Suzuki lessons, which he pursued until graduating high school. The summer between 5th and 6th grade proved a fateful one, as a family friend recommended attending the Rockygrass festival in Lyons, CO, as well as the camp that precedes it. Justin ventured to the camp not knowing anything about Bluegrass, but was immensely changed by the experience.
After spending the week with such fiddlers as Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band), Justin never looked back.
He played in bluegrass bands from the time that he was 13; professionally since he was 15 years old. While a senior in high school, Justin helped form Long Road Home, the bluegrass band with which he is still playing full time. When not with Long Road Home, you can find him playing with a variety of projects, across a variety of genres. He’s been known to appear with his Rock and Roll band, The Bimarinal, and even at times as a guest eTone on the eTown radio show (where he appeared with such acts as the Indigo Girls, Tim O’Brien, Big Al Anderson and the North Mississippi All Stars).
Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers
Like all troubadours, singer-songwriter Phoebe Hunt is a rambler. Recent years have seen the Texas native relocate from Austin to Nashville to her current residence in Brooklyn. This wanderlust is evident in the variety of projects she is a part of, moving in and out of multiple styles and genres of music with an effortless grace. You may find her performing completely solo, with her violin and her voice, drawing you into her memorizing vortex, or surrounded by a group of young musicians from all around the world as a part of The One Village Music Project, playing songs written and recorded at a program that Phoebe initiated out of her desire to play her role in healing the world with music.
Having collaborated and toured with such inspiring artists as Ben Sollee, Shakey Graves, The Belleville Outfit, and The Hudsons, Hunt is never one to turn down the opportunity to create a new sound or be a part of a musical experiment, but it is as a band leader that she truly shines. In her musical project, “Phoebe Hunt Sings the New American Songbook”, Phoebe presents a unique show nodding to the jazz and swing roots from where she came, by singing her renditions of the classics. Featuring an all star band of unique talents (Nathaniel Smith: Cello, Dennis Ludiker: Violin, Dominick Leslie: Mandolin, Danny Levin: Piano, Nick Falk: Percussion, Andrew Pressman: Bass), this captivating performance also features Hunt’s original material infused with the nuances of the art form.
Recently, she has returned from a journey to India, wherein she and a group of her peers studied Indian Classical Music with master violinist Kala Ramnath. She has returned to the states with a vigor for creation, and is currently recording her debut full length solo album, Shanti’s Shadow. To support this creation, Phoebe is reaching out to her network of peers, friends, family and fans alike as she independently releases the essence from her soul.
Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers | Hawktail
Colorado native Dominick Leslie has been around live music all his life, having attended his first bluegrass festival when he was just five months old. Growing up he was surrounded by music, listening to and jamming with his dad’s bluegrass band, and thanks to his Dad’s influence, he has been playing instruments since he was old enough to hold one. At the age of four, Dominick acquired a ukulele tuned like the bottom four strings of a guitar, igniting a deep passion for music that still burns brightly. Dominick’s abilities progressed rapidly on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, but eventually the mandolin became his obsession and demanded his total focus.
By the time he was 12, Dominick was writing his own music and practicing every day. At 15, he recorded his first solo CD, “Signs of Courage”, receiving rave reviews from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine, among others. Dominick’s technique and emotive style were far more advanced than his young age would suggest. In 2004, Dominick became the youngest contestant ever to win the Rockygrass mandolin contest. He also placed first in the Merlefest mandolin contest, and second in the Walnut Valley International Mandolin Contest.
Dominick was featured in Mike Marshall’s Young American Mandolin Ensemble. In October 2007, this elite group of seven young musicians was invited to perform with Mike at the Mandolines de Lunel festival in France.
Dominick has also had the unique opportunity to study with mandolin virtuosos David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Don Stiernberg, Andy Statman, Mike Compton, and Hamilton de Holanda at the Mandolin Symposium. Over the years his bluegrass roots have evolved into interests in Jazz, Classical and other World music. These musical directions led him to enroll in the Berklee College of Music in 2008.
Dominick has been involved with many projects over the years including The Brotet, The Deadly Gentlemen, The Grant Gordy Quartet, Noam Pikelny & Friends and a few other spontaneous acoustic groups. Whether writing a new piece, learning a tune, or performing with his confreres, Dominick will always share his love of music with others.
Gina Marie Leslie
Colorado-raised songstress Gina Marie Leslie is a longtime RockyGrass Academy student, now living in New Orleans. Born into a family of musicians, she grew up in a culture of jamming that uplifts all players involved and creates a welcoming atmosphere. A multi-instrumentalist (guitar, fiddle, bass, voice, ukulele) and songwriter, Gina has the tools to guide a musician at any level to feel the joy and beauty of connection through music. She plays with Damn Gina, The Bad Bad Leslie’s, Mean Gina Jazz Band, and as a side musician for other projects.
“Murph” first fell in love with bluegrass music while living in Chicago and immediately started studying it with the great Czech guitar player Slavek Hanzlik as well as Don Stiernberg and Greg Cahill. After living in Chicago he moved to Colorado and founded the band Slipstream which performed at many notable festivals such as Grey Fox in New York. He then toured the country performing with Nashville singer/songwriter Rorey Carroll and has performed with such bluegrass luminaries as Noam Pikelny, Matt Flinner, the Infamous Stringdusters, Crooked Still, Darol Anger as well as many others and has been an endorsed artist for Elixir Guitar Strings for 14 years. Currently Murph is living in Shanghai, China, performing with mandolin virtuoso Tom Peng and teaching guitar lessons while exploring as much of Asia as possible.
Like Dominick Leslie, this will be Murph’s 21st year in a row at Rockygrass. “It doesn’t matter where in the world you might find yourself, once you go to Rockygrass…you have to be there every year!” he proclaims. MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Chris Thile says about Brad Murphey: “a great lead guitarist….. and awesome rhythm player too!”
Hailing from both Michigan and West Virginia, Leslie has been studying the upright bass since she was just a little girl. As she got older she decided to further her music education at Western Michigan University where she focused on Music Education. While in college, Leslie also toured the midwest with the many orchestras and string ensembles she represented. Outside the classroom, Leslie immersed herself in Kalamazoo’s local music scene where she discovered her deep love for Bluegrass and folk music.
It didn’t take long before she was singing and playing in numerous bands such as The Mossy Mountain Band and Who Hit John?
With string music tugging at her heart, Leslie decided to move to the mountains where there was sure to be no shortage of good pickers. Since the summer of 2009 when she moved to town, Leslie has played with some of the Colorado’s most talented acts including Spring Creek Bluegrass Band, Bonnie and the Clydes, and many others. She is also an active member of Magnolia Row, another great Boulder-based group.
By day, Leslie teaches orchestra music in the Boulder Valley School District, where she nurtures and encourages the future generation of music lovers.
Leslie keeps The Railsplitters in time with her driving rhythm on the 1920s German upright which was restored at the Guarneri House in Grand Rapids, MI.