Alan Niederland passes

Another member of our bluegrass family has passed. Mandolinist, Alan Niederland, 66, of Chapel Hill, NC, passed away on April 4 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Raised up north, he later relocated to North Carolina where he played in bands, attended mandolin camps, shared his knowledge of the instrument with others, and loved to jam. As news of his passing spread throughout our musical community, condolences poured in, mostly from players of the 8-string on social media sites such as Mandolin Café and Facebook. When asked, many more had Alan stories to share. 

Alan BIbey, two time IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year, shared, “Our dear friend and mandolin brother, Alan Niederland, has passed on. Alan was incredibly talented. He was a great mandolin player and a very talented writer. He was also an avid runner and push up king. He had been to every camp before he got sick, and even made it last year, with the help of his loving wife, Alice, to a rousing ovation. This void can’t be filled, but I’ll do my best, along with our other biggest mando buddies to keep our camp thriving as he would want. We are a family. He has more mandolin and music related learning tools, such as recordings and tablature, than anyone I’ve ever met. He was so willing to help anyone he could and happy to share all he had. Alan’s highest praise was to call someone a ‘Righteous Dude.’ He was definitely one of the most Righteous Dudes I’ve ever met. Please pray for his wonderful family. As many of you know, they are as special as Alan. RIP Alan Niederland. You’ll never be forgotten.”

Another North Carolina mandolinist and collector, Tom Isenhour, reflected, “We knew each other because of vintage Gibson mandolins, although Alan liked the newer ones like his favorite Gilchrist custom F5 model. I know he loved all types of music besides bluegrass and newgrass. He was a fan of Dave Apollon and country rock groups like the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Eagles, etc. He would come to my house and we would discuss these groups while picking on vintage Gibson mandolins.”

Florida mandolinist, Richie Kalikow, said, “We had heard of each other for decades because I grew up in Pennsylvania. We had even been at the same festivals going back to the ’80s at least, but had never met in person until Facebook, I think.” 

“He was the type that you’d instantly be best buddies. Always an optimist! Alan was a prince of a guy and an asset to the mandolin community. He was the type of person that if you even mentioned a mandolin break you liked on a record, he’d just send you the tablature or a recording of it. You asked something about a certain pick, and you’d see one in your mailbox soon! He loved talking about mandolins, bluegrass, even jazz, rock-n-roll, etc. 

Originally from New Jersey, Alan relocated to North Carolina about 26 years ago. He loved living there. One thing he liked to say was that in North Carolina if you shook a tree, a mandolin picker would fall out! He was a big fan of everyone’s picking, and he was a great player himself. He previously had a Loar, but loved his Gilchrist with the bound F holes. Selfless and generous are probably the two words to succinctly describe him. Here’s an example: After he got sick I told him that I needed to have back surgery, and all of the sudden support gifts just started showing up at my mailbox! All at the time he was suffering with a deadly form of cancer himself.”

Mando man, Scott Napier, shared an original tune, Untitled Bb in memory of his fallen friend on Facebook.

“I feel this is one of the most personally emotive pieces I have written. I’ve not shared it much before. I felt compelled to share in memory of Alan Niederland. He sure loved the mandolin,” Napier posted.

Others weighed in as well. North Carolina Banjoist Danny Bowers said, “Alan was always a joy to be around. He was a good picker and loved to play.’

North Carolina bassist, Donald Jones, picked with Alan on numerous occasions. “He loved to jam. He used to go to Bass Mountain, and was a regular at Curtis Coble’s in Staley, and Lowe Vintage Instruments. Alan would get up every morning and practice 30 minutes before going to work. He would play not only bluegrass, but swing, jazz, and off-the-wall stuff. He liked to play Bye, Bye Blues and See You In My Dreams.”

Vivian Pennington Hopkins, former North Carolina Bluegrass Music Association President, stated, “Alan was just an all-around great guy. His enthusiastic approach in sharing his knowledge and love of bluegrass made him a joy to be around. Alan was an excellent mandolin player who will be dearly missed!”

RIP, Alan Niederland.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.