By Jonathan McNamara
FRANKLINTON — A local bluegrass band recently played at the popular Wide Open Bluegrass Festival, part of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) World of Bluegrass week in downtown Raleigh Sept. 24-28.
The event featured the best in bluegrass music as well as multiple workshops, jam sessions and activities.
Franklinton-based Sourwood Mountain Band was invited to perform at the festival and awards show. The Franklin Weekly was invited to sit in on a jam session
Monday, after which band members talked about their experience and their past.
Together for 18 years, the band has performed all over the southeastern U.S. and has seen a fair share of success along the way.
“The past six years with new band members Carl Norgaard (mandolin, vocals) and Donnie Barham (banjo) have been the best years of the band,” said Tommy Carter (lead vocals, vocals).
Starting as a group of guys meeting on Wednesday nights for a pickin’ session, drinking a beer or two and having a good time, founding members Gary Bray (guitar, lead vocals), Raymond Bragg (bass, vocals) and Carter decided, “well if we are going to play, let’s put something together and see what happens,” said Carter.
The band practices in Franklinton at Bray’s home every Monday.
They play traditional bluegrass, from gospel to fast-paced instrumentals to bar venue-style storytelling numbers.
The band pulls from the past and present bluegrass greats and writes their own songs — like the instrumental titled Robert’s Race written by Barham about his son.
“Repetition is the key to making the music happen,” said Bragg, who taught himself to play bass when he helped start the band, switching from the harmonica.
“Each and every one of us likes people. Where we play, we meet a lot of different people. That’s where we get our enjoyment out of it — in the family atmosphere,” said Carter.
It’s all about the fellowship — a family reunion,” added Bragg.
When asked about the successes the band has had over the years, even after such an event like the IBMA awards, the first thing that came to Bray’s mind was playing at Camp Mackall, a sub-installation of Ft. Bragg near Richmond County, N.C., for Special Forces troops returning from Afghanistan.
“We didn’t play inside or on a parade field, we played out in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere — we played, and they enjoyed it so much,” said Carter.
The IBMA awards were a huge deal for the band, however.
“I have always wanted to go to the awards since they started in Kentucky and moved to Nashville, (Tenn). We never dreamed it would be coming to Raleigh and we would be playing at it,” said Bray.
Another accomplishment was acknowledgement by Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine for their last CD, and a great review by National Bluegrass, a website devoted to all things bluegrass, as well.
All this is done in the band members’ own way, with no manager or booking agent.
The band looks forward to the next two years now that the IBMA has contracted for Raleigh to be the venue city for the next two years.
“The exposure for bluegrass was unbelievable with 170,000 spectators,” said Norgaard.
The band is always busy playing festivals like the annual PreddyFest Bluegrass Festival in Franklinton as well as taking the show on the road for events such as Mayberry Days in Mount Airy. The band also plays churches and local venues, including the Bluegrass Barn in Benson and the Mid-Town Farmers Market at North Hills in Raleigh.
Up next, Sourwood Mountain Band is scheduled to play the Common Grounds Coffee House in Bunn, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m.
For more information, see sourwoodmountainband.com.