Teens on Bluegrass

OK, I know bluegrass isn’t going to replace hip hop anytime soon as the music of choice for teenagers, but I’m no longer surprised by groups like the The Doerfels who suddenly appear out of nowhere. I don’t know too much about this family band except they are from Florida and just released a new CD featuring some of their original songs. The senior member (T.J. on banjo) is only 20 years old, joined by his sister Kimberly (19 on fiddle), and brothers Eddy (16 on mandolin), Joe (14 on bass) and Ben (13 on guitar). Check out this video:

I sometimes point to groups like this when I hear some of my colleagues express pessimism about the extent to which parents and other adults can influence teenagers in today’s media-saturated world. Let’s be honest here, teenagers who embrace and perform bluegrass music are not the norm. These are kids who have grown up in an environment, usually provided by their parents, where they have had constant exposure to the music and lots of encouragement from a community of bluegrass music fans.

I’ve spent time with many of these young musicians, like Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sean and Sara Watkins) who grew up here in the San Diego area. Also the Cherryholmes family, who also came from Southern California and have become one of bluegrass music’s biggest success stories. There are many more just like them. The Wright Kids, who were finalists on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” show and The Clark Brothers, who won Fox TV’s “The Next Great American Band” competition a couple of years ago. I’m always impressed not only by the talent and skill of these kids on their musical instruments, but with how well-adjusted they are and how articulate and comfortable they are around adults.

So how did these kids become such accomplished bluegrass musicians? Did they find the sound of the banjo and fiddle too cool to resist?

To understand these kids, you have to meet their parents. I’ve met some of them and it’s clear that they made a choice when their kids were little to create a family culture that was centered around bluegrass music. In almost every case, these kids were home schooled and taught music as part of their curriculum. They made field trips to bluegrass festivals where they learned to play (jam) with adult musicians who were more than happy to show them how to improve their playing. I also have a hunch their parents turned off the TV and spent a lot of time playing and singing with their kids.

I know most people would shudder at their thought of their kids forming a bluegrass band, but I do think there’s something we can learn from these families about how to raise children up in the Christian faith.

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11 Responses to Teens on Bluegrass

  1. richard says:

    When talking about teens and bluegrass, please don’t forget about Green on the Vyne, a group of very talented teens from middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. They are making a splash on the bluegrass scene and have just released their first CD. You have their info in your bio section and that certainly in appreciated.
    Richard (father of Sydni)

  2. Wayne says:

    Yes, I’m familiar with the music of Green on the Vyne … obviously a very talented group of kids and I hope they do well. Richard, I’d be interested in knowing more about how Sydni became such a great fiddle player at such a young age. Did you push her to take up the fiddle or did she learn to play on her own?

    • richard says:

      She actually chose the fiddle on her own at age nine. We started her off with lessons locally (southern Ky.) but soon realized that she was not getting what she needed. She went on then to take from Cheryl Chunn, a champion fiddle player from Springfield, Tn. who got Syd started playing real bluegrass. When Cheryl’s situation changed, she recommended Deanie Richardson, who has become a driving force behind Syd’s fiddle playing. Deanie also introduced Syd to Patty Loveless, which ultimately resulted in Syd singing on Patty’s two latest projects. We don’t push her at all, but she pushes herself to improve all the time. We actually credit Deanie with instilling that desire to grow and improve as a musician.

  3. Debi Johanning says:

    Thanks for writing about this family, Wayne. We saw them on the local talent stage at Spirit West Coast in 2008. They were visiting family in San Diego and got on stage by a local pastor’s request. God was so good to have us there at that particular time and place as an encouragement for my son Orion (13 years old) who plays bluegrass banjo. We talked to them afterward. What a neat family! Bluegrass music is great for home school kids to get together because you don’t have to practice as a band to play as a band in bluegrass. We keep praying for more home school families to discover bluegrass music – especially here in Temecula!

  4. Vince says:

    Sarah Jarosz has been getting a lot of spins at my house

  5. Wayne says:

    Yes, Sarah Jarosz is amazing. I’ve been playing her new CD on my radio show. I had a chance to meet her at IBMA when I was producing the Awards Show. And of course, Vince, she lives in your neck of the woods (Austin). Very talented, maybe the next Alison Krauss?

  6. Vince says:

    I’m sure i’ll get to a show of hers. Do me a favor and play her cover of the Decemerists song ‘shankill butchers’ next time on your show.

  7. Wayne says:

    Well … my show is a bluegrass show and not everything on that album qualifies but I’ll give it a listen and decide. I just don’t want my listeners to tune out (which they sometimes do) when they hear something that sounds too pop, rock or even country. Gotta have a little fiddle, banjo, mandolin … otherwise it’s hard to justify playing on a bluegrass program. I know, you’re daring me to do it, right?

  8. Dorothy Jane Siver says:

    Hello…..we (the parents of Dorothy Jane Siver) are searching for a special group of kid bluegrass musicians. We are hoping to find a “select” group of kids (individuals or group) already formed needing her musical talents. She is mainly a fiddle player, lead singer, tenor singer and song writer. She can play guitar and some mandolin and bass. She fronts her family band, but we are hoping she can find some real talented band mates her own age to hang out and perform with. If you have any ideas or any contacts please email us or call.

    The Siver Family

  9. Sharon Moore says:

    As a teen who grew up with bluegrass I can’t really agree with all the things said in this article. I grew up going to public school and watching plenty of television (as have many of my cousins and other ‘bluegrass teens’ I know). This article kind of makes it seem like the kids only like bluegrass because they were forced into it. My grandparents and my dad have been involved in bluegrass for as long as I can remember, but I got into it because I loved it not because I was forced to go to jams or museums. I’m not saying that a lot of families don’t do what you said, but you should remember it’s definitely not a majority.

    On a side note, does anyone know of any websites for ‘Bluegrass Teens’? If so can you send me a link? (If not can someone with money to spend on a server/web site make one? =P)

  10. Pam M. says:

    Great post!! My son loves bluegrass. He is 16 and plays bass and mandolin. He also likes designing websites and yes, we homeschooled 🙂 You can check out some of his music if you like at In the Gravel Yard

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