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Bluegrass Parlor Band: Pickin' and grinnin' since 1988

19

March

bluegrass

Who they are: Jeff Jones (vocals), Austin Wilder (guitar, vocals), Tyler Walker (guitar), Jarrod Walker (mandolin, vocals). Former member Jana Jones (Jeff's sister), above right, fills in when regular bassist Kayln Hall can't make it.

Their story: Tom Henderson, owner of the old Bluegrass Parlor music store on Busch Boulevard, formed the ensemble with his students more than two decades ago. The Bluegrass Parlor Band went through various lineup changes over the years, and in 2003, Henderson retired and turned over leadership to multi-instrumentalist/singer/music instructor Jeff Jones, who now teaches an evolving group of teens how to play traditional bluegrass music.

The goods: Click here to listen to the Bluegrass Parlor Band's John Hardy, and watch the video below to see them in action. Then click here to vote for them as Tampa Bay's 2009 Ultimate Local Band. And after the jump, keep reading for a look at how Jones and his youthful students are keeping the music of your grandpappy alive to this day...


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Few sounds are more soothing than the assemblage of acoustic instruments like banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle ‚Äî especially when augmented by high, sweet vocal harmonies. Those are the basic ingredients of traditional bluegrass, a music that has its roots in Appalachia and took shape during World War II. 

But even in the 1950s, when bluegrass was at the height of its popularity, it never proved all that commercially successful. Nevertheless, it remains one of the purest and longest running music disciplines around.

In Tampa, the Bluegrass Parlor Band proudly maintains its legacy.

Tom Henderson, owner of the old Bluegrass Parlor music store on Busch Boulevard, formed the ensemble with his students more than two decades ago. The Bluegrass Parlor Band went through various lineup changes over the years, and in 2003, Henderson retired and turned over leadership to multi-instrumentalist/singer/music instructor Jeff Jones.

The 29-year-old first fell under the bluegrass spell as a child. “My dad took me to the Bluegrass Parlor for a Thursday jam session when I was about 8 years old,” Jones says. “A guy in his mid teens was playing banjo and it caught my attention. I was motivated from that and just stuck with it.”

Kayln Hall (bass), Austin Wilder (guitar/vocals), Tyler Walker (guitar) and Jarrod Walker (mandolin/vocals) join Jones in the band. They are all teens still mastering their respective instruments. But each member has already reached a skill level that allows the band to perform at festivals across the state, doing bluegrass standards and twang-y versions of pop/rock gems by the likes of the Beatles.

“It’s one of the younger lineups I’ve been a part of,” Jones says. “It’s a little more of a teaching/learning situation, but they’re all great musicians.”

Opening for bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley last year in front at Skipper’s Smokehouse ranks as one of the Bluegrass Parlor Band’s current lineup’s biggest gigs. The crowd of about 600 offered the opening act a warm welcome. Stanley listened from backstage.

“It was great to see him out, one of the founders of the genre, still going,” Jones says. “I introduced myself and told him how he was a big influence on me as a banjo player.”

Barring an anomaly like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, bluegrass remains largely an underground sensation. It’s like the original indie music, with only boutique labels releasing the music almost for the entirety of its existence.

To what does Jones attribute its longevity despite minimal mainstream appeal? “Bluegrass has stayed true to itself because it hasn’t blown up big,” he says. “Lots of funny things happen when a music gets big — just look at country.”

-- Story by Wade Tatangelo; photo by Luis Santana

[Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 1:00am]

    

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