And A Little Child Shall Lead Them?

My wife and I recently held a bluegrass festival, Gabefest, and among the bands we booked was a newer group of talented young musicians, Monroeville. One of the reasons we chose them was the fact that we knew they had performed numerous times over the past couple years in our area, and seemed to have a good following. Particularly, they seemed to bridge the gap of being enjoyable to a traditional bluegrass audience while also attracting younger fans.

I was aware that they had visited an area public school, Barboursville (WV) Middle School, which educates students in grades 6-8, and spent the day performing, working with students learning to play string instruments, and otherwise interacting with the students. As a result, they have built an enthusiastic following among area teens and won new fans to bluegrass.

Vocalist and mandolin player Matt Munsey said the connection was initially made by Barboursville Middle School principal Jerry Lake, who is a bluegrass fan, and that Monroeville has visited the school several times. The response has been amazing, as evidenced by the video compiled from their visit, which is reminiscent of footage from Beatles concerts (have you ever seen so many screaming teenage girls at a bluegrass concert?).

When asked if Monroeville plans to do more such programs in other schools, Munsey somewhat surprisingly but thoughtfully indicated that Monroeville may occasionally do such programs when they can fit it in their schedule, but does not want to be seen as taking commercial advantage of an opportunity to be involved with the educational process. They view the opportunity as one to be of service, and to give something back to the community.

While I certainly understand and applaud their attitude, I also see the benefit to the greater good of our music to have such ambassadors introduce young and impressionable minds to a beautiful, culturally valuable, and wholesome form of music that they are not hearing in mainstream media and commercial radio.

I’ve heard It often said that we have to rely on parents and grandparents to bring in the relatively few teenagers we see in bluegrass audiences. However, having seen it work with Monroeville, I could envision teenagers won over as fans and introducing their parents to our music. In fact, our gate personnel reported numerous teenagers being dropped off at the gate by their parents to see Monroeville perform. One parent simply parked outside the gate and read a book while her child came in to see the show. Wouldn’t it be something to see the children leading their parents to become bluegrass fans?  It could happen.

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About the Author

James Gabehart

Jim has been playing the banjo, and other string instruments for nearly 40 years. Since joining the musicians union and becoming a performing musician at the age of 15, he won five West Virginia State Banjo Championships, as well as dozens of other competitions, and has taught hundreds of students. Jim was elected as Prosecuting Attorney for Lincoln County, WV in November 2012, and is an active touring performer with his wife and musical partner, Valerie. Learn more about their music at