The Tater Hill Mashers: Boone’s Youngest Old-Time String Band Continues High Country Traditions

Published Friday, March 25, 2016 at 2:28 pm

By Bailey Faulkner

Empty Bowls

Tater Hill Mashers/Ken Ketchie

Think only old-timers play old-time music? Think again, because the young’uns in the Tater Hill Mashers are carrying on traditional High Country music one performance at a time.

The group is filled out by:

Wesley Coatney       (guitar)

Henry Coatney         (banjo)

Asa Nelson                (fiddle)

Anneli Burnett         (fiddle)

Sophia Burnett         (upright bass)

The old-time string group — with pickers ranging from 9 to 12 years old — recently played throughout the afternoon at Watauga High’s recent Empty Bowls fundraiser.

Their performance was a hit, but it certainly wasn’t the only recent appearance for the Tater Hill Mashers. Back in early February, the band competed in the Appalachian State Old-Time Fiddlers Convention. The Mashers played one of their favorites, “Liza Jane,” during the full band competition (click here to check out the video).

The Tater Hill Mashers

The band got its start after the Coatney and Burnett families first met at church. Each member also takes lessons at the Jones House on King Street, so the idea for forming an old-time string band was basically a no-brainer. The band is especially thankful for Cecil Gurganus, High Country famous old-time fiddler and music instructor at the Jones House.

Empty Bowls

The Coatney Brothers/Ken Ketchie

In addition to taking lessons, many of the members have older siblings that helped spark an interest in music from an early age. The Mashers’ Coatney brothers have even started a rock band with their older brother, turning to traditional rock groups for inspiration (Crosby, Stills & Nash was just one of the favorites they mentioned). The Burnett sisters are also involved in another band with their siblings.

The Mashers have been together since last fall. In that relatively short time, the group has frequented many regional conventions like the Historic Happy Valley Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention and the Laurel Bloomery Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in Johnson County, Tennessee. In addition to competing as a full band, each of the members has participated solo in regional conventions, oftentimes challenging adults of all ages since many events do not feature younger age brackets.

The kids’ love for the old-time genre is perhaps as remarkable as their talent on the instruments.

Empty Bowls

Asa and Anneli/Ken Ketchie

“I like feeling that I’m passing the music on to the next generation,” Asa said.

Mindy Coatney, mother of the Coatney brothers and the band’s motivating force, reminded Asa that he is the next generation.

“The music tells stories, and you can develop your own style,” Asa added.

Asa isn’t the only member who is vocal about his love for the old-time music.

“It feels more free than a lot of other styles,” Wesley said.

In addition to loving the music, the band is thankful for the support from older generations that play old-time music in the region.

“The older generations are extremely encouraging to new generations. They have a genuine desire to see traditional music being played,” Mindy said.

Empty Bowls

Asa and the Burnett Sisters/Ken Ketchie

Musicians of all ages love to see the Mashers in concert. Thanks to support from pickers who have also loved the music from a young age, the group often gets a lot of stage time at old-time conventions.

There’s no doubt they love the old-time tunes, but its members share a passion for music in general and each one plays several instruments.

While the members are currently inspired by string music ranging from Doc Watson to Nickel Creek, there’s no telling where their careers in the industry will take them. At the very least, we know that the Tater Hill Mashers will continue to grow as some of the finest musicians around.

“Music to me is a lifetime,” Mindy said.

You can be sure that music will be a lifetime for each member as well.

Keep your eyes and ears open for these young old-timers!

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