A Stars & Bars Reunion

Joe Zauner and Missy RainesIt’s a good thing Joe Zauner was hungry one night while visiting his aunt and uncle 35 years ago. It cemented his place in bluegrass folklore.

Zauner, a picker from the Washington D.C. suburbs, chose a western Maryland pizza shop that night because he heard it offered live music. He remembers the bass player in the little pickup band was “phenomenal.”

One thing led to another, and Zauner offered the bass player a job, thus making Stars & Bars the first regular band to employee Missy Raines.

Saturday night, 35 years after she joined what became one of D.C.’s most popular bluegrass bands, she’ll be back on stage with the old gang, celebrating a one-off reunion at McGinty’s Public House in Silver Spring, MD.

“I loved playing with Stars & Bars,” Missy said. “It was a fun time in my life.”

From its founding a year before Missy joined until 1980, the band played about 400 shows. Those were the days when countless clubs and bars advertised live bluegrass and the crowds came out in droves.

There were some complications surrounding Missy’s first big gig. First of all, she lived 150 miles away. Second, the band’s first gig of the week was on Thursday night and Missy was a senior in high school. She solved the first problem by getting her dad to drive her most of the time. She solved the second problem by getting an excused absence from school on Fridays for “career development.”

Stars & Bars, back in the day: Pete Salisbury, Missy Raines, Joe Zauner and John AkinToday, with the vision that comes with hindsight and the understanding that comes with maturity, Missy knows she was fortunate that her parents were so understanding. “I don’t think I understood then the kind of sacrifice it was on my dad to drive 600 miles on a weekend just so I could play music (four 150-mile trips, two with Missy in the car and two with him driving alone.) I do now. He was amazing. Both of my parents were.”

Missy went on to become the most-honored female instrumentalist by IBMA, taking home bass player of the year accolades seven times. But she’s not the only Stars & Bars alum to make it big. Jeff Wisor has been David Bromberg’s fiddler for 29 years. They and Zauner will be joined by John Akin and Pete Salisbury.

Saturday night’s show gets underway at 9:30 p.m., but anyone lucky enough to attend shouldn’t plan on getting to sleep until sometime Sunday. The set list has 40 songs on it, all of which the band played when they were together.

The band got together for several rehearsals last week at MerleFest and they’ll do one more dry run Saturday.

Then at the stroke of 9:30, they’ll turn back the clock and let it rip.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.