It's almost a historical necessity that bluegrass bands rarely stay intact from year to year.
Look at the likes of band leaders Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, and you'll see that multitudes of pickers have passed through their employment on their way to other musical pastures.
Sammy Shelor has gotten used to the itinerant nature of the bluegrass business. In fact, he played banjo for several groups before landing on the doorstep of the Lonesome River Band in 1990.
Shelor, 49, has remained ever since and is now the band's boss, a role that he says suits him well.
"It's been a training ground for a lot of great musicians over the years," he said. "I like to think we've set some standards in the bluegrass industry."
Shelor is right about that. But the band, which performs Saturday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival, didn't achieve its success by upsetting the bluegrass applecart. Rather, Shelor and company's clever blend of traditional and contemporary influences appeals to a wide audience, from staunch traditionalists to devotees of "new grass."
Over its 20-year history the Lonesome River Band has racked up an impressive list of accolades, including numerous industry awards.
But music awards alone aren't gratifying for a true musician. That's why Shelor is fond of telling people that the minute he stops learning about music is the day he'll call it quits.
"Wanting to be better and evolving — that's a personal mission with me," Shelor said. "I really think that the music we're making now is the best we've ever done."
That's no easy feat. Indeed, the group, which also includes Brandon Rickman (guitar), Mike Hartgrove (fiddle), Randy Jones (mandolin) and Barry Reed (bass), has compiled a half dozen or so albums that are considered by enthusiasts to be modern bluegrass classics.
Shelor said that when coming up with subsequent albums, he simply tries to find the best material available.
"We're fortunate in that we've met a lot of good songwriters who've given us great stuff through the years," he said. "I think having strong material has made the band distinctive."
As the band's legacy has grown, so has Shelor's recognition as a banjo master. In addition to being a four-time winner of International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year award, he recently won the prestigious Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.
As a result of that honor, Martin arranged an invitation earlier this month for Shelor and the band to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Said Shelor: "It was a thrill to play for people who may not hear this kind of music very often. I'd like to think it helped bluegrass become a little more popular."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.