Bluegrass club launches at North Carolina State University

Here’s an appropriate story from Raleigh, NC, with the bulk of the professional bluegrass world about to descend on that city next week.

North Carolina State University, located in Raleigh, has a new club on campus for students interested in playing bluegrass music. Called simply The Bluegrass Club at NC State, the new organization is the brainchild of banjo player John Lee, a North Carolina native, who serves as the club’s first President.

Lee has had a solid education in the music, starting when he was just a boy. He shared a bit about his background.

“I thank my parents for making sure I was listening to traditional bluegrass all my life! I began taking lessons when I was 8 years old from Mr. John Marler in Statesville, NC, and he remained my teacher until I was 14. At that time, he referred me to Craig Smith in Winston Salem. I took lessons with Mr. Smith until I enrolled in college. I have played in various youth bands for many years, mainly the Back Creek Bluegrass Boys, and the Jones Sisters Band. I was accepted and awarded a scholarship to Béla Fleck’s inaugural banjo camp in 2018. I was also honored as a Kids on Bluegrass participant from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 2018.

I still play as time allows between classes and other commitments. I am very thankful for finding other students at NCSU who share my passion for traditional bluegrass.”

Starting in the fall semester of 2021, John began looking for others students interested in picking and singing some grass. As he began to locate a few, he started hosting a weekly jam. A brother/sister team joined up, Izzy and Evans Humphreys from Columbus County, plus Carson Beckham from Nash County, Aaron Howard from Wake County, and longtime friend John Michael Hill from Lee County.

He made Izzy the Social Media and Promotions Coordinator, and she helped develop a logo, artwork, and the Club’s Instagram Page, @ncsubluegrass. After laying the groundwork for two semesters, John officially founded the Bluegrass Music Club at NC State during the fall semester of 2022. By jamming regularly at the school’s prominent Wolf Plaza or in the Expressions Tunnel, other pickers were soon showing up. Lee’s academic advisor, Dr. Travis Park (Agricultural and Human Sciences), is also a bluegrass lover and agreed to be the Bluegrass Club advisor. Once the bylaws and constitution were submitted to the Student Organizations department, the club attained official recognition by the university. 

John says that this gives them a status on campus that can hopefully continue once all the founding members have graduated.

“The Bluegrass Club at NC State is officially registered and sanctioned by the university. Although we do have access to apply for funding from NCSU, we have not done so yet as we have a low overhead and are just making our start. The Student Organizations department maintains our club information and registration is renewed each year. As a registered club, we can request meeting rooms and spaces to use as needed.

Now that the mask mandates have died down, we will certainly take advantage of using this resource when cooler weather prevails. In reference to meeting dates and times, we have to see each semester how class schedules line up. This semester, we are meeting on Monday or Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. Izzy creates a post on the NCSU Bluegrass Instagram page when a jam is taking place. Again, it depends on schedules but most are all out in the Brickyard or at Wolf Plaza, and we gather a lot of spectators. We just have fun, and it’s a wonderful way to meet new people.”

New members are always welcome, and The Bluegrass Club encouragers all NCSU students to follow their Instagram page for information about upcoming meetings. You don’t have to be a picker to attend; grinners are gladly received as well.

“Bluegrass musicians are all like one big family. We get together and jam every week, catch up on what everyone is doing, and have a great time playing music we all love. We welcome all to come to our jams, even if they do not play, and most times when we get together, pretty soon there will be students who stop and start videoing us, or just stop and listen.

Bluegrass is happy music with a lot of energy at times. Students tend to be drawn to the sound – some of the best people in the world I have met playing bluegrass music. I’m so thankful I can continue to play while attending North Carolina State University.”

Well done all! Maybe before long we will be seeing concert videos from the NCSU Bluegrass Club, and even a set during World of Bluegrass at some point.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.