Those of us who follow bluegrass know that the family band, long a staple in our business, has a predictable life cycle.
Starting out, it’s a proud Mom and Pop, with a bevy of fresh-faced youngsters in tow, traipsing from one show to another in the family vehicle. For some, that’s as far as it goes and as the children age, they lose interest and the band falls apart. If they have the talent and the drive, we get to see a mature version of the group evolve and some beautiful music results. But in time, it’s the parents who lose interest in touring, and the kids whose own adult lives pull them in different directions.
And so it is with The Bankesters, a musical family from Illinois who have entertained us this past 14 years. Phil and Dorene Bankester and their four lovely daughters have tracked all the milestones described above in that time, plus another common family band trait of bringing a spouse into the group as well.
As a family, they have decided that now is the time to say goodbye to touring and recording together, as three of the girls are married with new families of their own. Melissa plays bass, Alysha is on mandolin, and Emily plays fiddle. A fourth sister, Lindsey, had already left the band a few years ago.
So why dissolve The Bankesters, after a number of successful albums, the last two with Compass Records in Nashville. Proud papa, Phil Bankester, provides the answer.
“The girls are all grown up into their own lives. More than a year ago we hit on this idea. We were trying to decide if we should do one more album or not. Then Emily got married and had a baby right away, and she wants to help with her husband’s career. We are all family-first people, and support her completely.
Alysha was ready to be finished performing. She is so sweet and wonderful to travel with, and she will probably do something in music.
A year and a half ago we had a vote, and decided to do one more record. Melissa and Kyle will both keep performing, and they could end up putting something together that might travel a bit. They both play in several bands in this area.
It was hard for me to come to grips with the fact that it was time for it to be over. Dorene and I are glad to see them, all grown up and starting their own lives. We’ll always support them as parents and grandparents.
We did just under 3000 miles in a few days recently, and we all got home exhausted. I decided that I didn’t want to travel like that with kids any more. The time comes in life when other things are more important.”
Phil leaves out a few details. “Her husband’s career” that Emily wants to help out with is that of rising country star Mo Pitney, and she will be going on tour with him. This allows them to keep their infant daughter with them on the road.
Melissa and Kyle are also married, with Kyle being Kyle Triplett, the band’s banjo player. They have three children which Melissa balances along with being among the most in-demand piano teachers when they live in Carbondale. Kyle works during the week as an IT specialist.
Both girls met their future husbands through bluegrass, as Phil tells the tale.
“We met Kyle at Silver Dollar City at the single mic competition. He was playing with The Punches. We were in the dressing room and Bruce Punches announced that Kyle wanted Melissa’s phone number. Oh, he turned beet red! Dorene and I talked with Kyle and told him that we wouldn’t give him her number just yet, but asked him for his. We checked him out and eventually gave out the number after everyone told me what a fine young man he was.
They were married a year later.
Emily and Mo met at a Terry Lease festival, and both his family and ours were playing. They were both 16 at that time. The families lived on opposite sides of the state, so it wasn’t until they were young adults that they started seeing each other again. And the rest is history.”
And he says that unlike a number of family groups, they had never meant to start one.
“We never set out to do it. The beginnings came from our church’s annual fall festival, where we would do something together as a family at the show. In 2003 when a lot of musical influences had come into our home, including Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek, the girls decided they wanted to do a couple songs from the Alison Krauss and Cox Family album. The following year we attended a local bluegrass festival and discovered parking lot picking. Mike Harman, former Union Station banjo player, was jamming with a group and asked if the girls sang. He put us on stage that night so people could hear them.
Promoter Terry Lease came up and asked if we could do a 40 minute set in six weeks… and we told him we only knew two songs.
One thing led to another… I remember we were all in Wal-Mart when Terry called and asked if we could do five days at Silver Dollar City. We played there in the fall of 2004, and this year was the first time we haven’t done a show for them.”
With so much in flux in their daughters’ lives, Phil and Dorene are planning a move to Maryland where he will pick up his career as a videographer. But they will be back to Indiana whenever they can to see those grandchildren! The band has only two more shows left to play, a local concert in Indiana and the Thanksgiving festival in Brooksville, FL on November 25.
Here’s a look at perhaps their most popular recording, a bluegrass version of When I’m Gone (The Cups song) from the film Pitch Perfect.
“It’s been a really, really good run,” as Phil describes it looking back.
And we say, thanks for taking us along, Bankesters!