The Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys were a mainstay for years at the Mountain Home Music concerts held throughout the High Country during it’s first 20 years, serving as Joe Shannon’s house band. Back in the day, this quartet made up of some of the High Country’s best nationally recognized pickers were the glue that held Shannon’s folksy concerts together.
This Sunday’s May 29 Memorial Day Salute marks the return of the original members of The Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys(MHBB) for the first time in three years. Joining them on stage will be their neighbor and musical friend, Willard Gayheart, another JSMHM favorite on guitar and vocals. This much-anticipated show kicks off the JSMHM 2016 Summer Indoor Concert Series at the Harvest House Performing Arts Venue in Boone, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
JSMHM director Rodney Sutton explains, “The number one request that I have received from long-time audience members during my first two years as Director of JSMHM has been – please bring back the Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys(MHBB). Though various incarnations of MHBB have played in our Brass and Grass concert and our Appalachian Christmas shows, with everyone’s busy music schedules, it has been difficult to find a date that these four guys could all make. This year I made it a point to book them on a Sunday.”
The stories behind the origins of the Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys leads directly back to Shannon himself. The band consist of two-time national bluegrass banjo champion and noted guitar player, Steve Lewis; two-time national studio musician of the year award winner, David Johnson; mandolin, fiddle and vocalist, Scott Freeman; and holding things together on bass and vocals, Josh Scott.
“I had hoped to make the focus of this article the MHBB”, say Sutton. “But to a man, each one of them credited the late Joe Shannon as being ‘instrumental’ in the formation of the MHBB.”
Yet, there is a second thread that weaves these musicians together – Steve Lewis. Lewis hails from Todd, the small mountain community north of Boone where he was raised. His dad would tell the story of how Lewis held his first guitar back in 1967, just before his third birthday. By the age of seven he was playing along as he listened to his father’s albums, the radio – or as he watched musicians on the television. His biggest influences were Tony Rice and his close-by neighbor in Deep-gap, Doc Watson. Not only was Lewis gaining a reputation for his flatpicking, by age 10 he was teaching himself how to pick the banjo with inspiration from JD Crow, Earl Scruggs and Tony Triska. Lewis would soon be hauled around all over the High Country by his dad to play at restaurants and at Lees-McRae College, fascinating folks as the wonder boy who flat-picked the guitar that was bigger than he was.(This image is being mirrored over 40 years later, as Lewis is now the mentor for the newest local flat-picker phenom, 11 year-old Presley Barker.)
Lewis’ reputation grew and he soon found himself playing at Opryland in Nashville and from there he went on to play with a number of noteworthy country and bluegrass bands in the 1990’s. It was during this time that Lewis played at the very first Mountain Home Music concert. “I met Joe when he was doing an artist in residency at my elementary school when I was in the fifth grade. Later on Joe would have me gig with him occasionally. That’s kinda how MHM came about”, remembered Lewis. He goes on to say, “Joe and I had an early afternoon gig and I commented that it was a shame we didn’t have somewhere else to pick that night. Joe soon put legs under that thought. Shortly after Joe, Rachael Nelson, Becca Eggers and I played the first MHM show at Our Daily Bread in Boone on February 4, 1994. I played most of the first season’s programs. What Joe had in mind was to showcase local and regional musicians that otherwise might not be heard outside their own communities.”
As they say the rest is history – through MHM, Lewis met Johnson. Lewis and MHBB member Scott Freeman had been picking bluegrass together for years. Josh Scott had been playing bass with both of them in different bands so they brought him along to play a MHM concert. Shannon realized that he had lucked into one of the most talented bluegrass house bands anywhere, one that could play just about any style of music. He proclaimed them a “band” and named them the Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys. It stuck!
It is difficult to get the MHBB to talk about their band – they kept deflecting the conversation back to Joe Shannon.
Freeman says of this pairing of friends, “My old group, Skeeter and the Skidmarks, played one of the MHM shows in the 90’s. Joe and I became friends almost instantly. Joe Shannon was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. He was so good with the kids he taught, especially special needs kids. Passionate is the one word that describes Joe for me. I’d played with Steve since we were teenagers. David I met through Joe. Both of these guys, I look up to musically. We never practiced for the shows, Joe would spring new songs on us an hour before time to play. He had a lot of faith in us that way.”
Lewis finished up by saying, “Joe worked tirelessly to secure sponsors and venues to keep MHM going. His passion for the musicians and the music they played was enough to keep MHM going. No one ever had a better friend than Joe Shannon. There should be a biography written on the life and accomplishments of Joe Shannon.”
Friendships and passion for the music are what makes Mountain Home Music what it is today – a small mountain non-profit concert series that strives to honor the vision of it’s founder, Joe Shannon. This up-coming Sunday night concert – A Memorial Day Salute – will give the MHBB a chance to celebrate the beginning of summer with an unforgettable evening of music with a special segment of patriotic songs dedicated to our veterans and to the memory of those who gave their all in service to our country!
The Harvest House is located at 247 Boone Heights Dr, Boone, NC 28607
This concert is supported by the following private sponsors: The Ned Trivette Family, Dr. E. Frank and Tara Hancock, Lynn Hubbard, Merida H. Steele – In Honor of John H. Steele, and The Estate of Joe Shannon. Business sponsors include; Mountain Times Publishing, The Harvest House Performing Art Venue, The United Way(courtesy of Jack and Karen James), and Mountain Times Publishing. Additional support is provided by the Watauga County and North Carolina Art Councils. Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music is also proud to be included as a site on the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina(BlueRidgeMusicNC.com).
Tickets cost $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Student tickets are $10. Children 12 and younger are admitted free. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.mountainhomemusic.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the Mast General Store (Boone and Valle Crucis), Fred’s Mercantile on Beech Mountain, Stick Boy Bread Company(345 Hardin St, Boone), The Blowing Rock Market and Pandora’s Mailbox both on Main Street in downtown Blowing Rock.