The Bluegrass Heritage Foundation is a volunteer organization in Texas which serves to promote and support bluegrass music in the state. They are also involved in the annual Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival & Chili Cook-Off each fall, and also manage a program to get instruments into the hands of talented young pickers called the Play it Forward! Instrument Lending Program.
Funds for the program come from generous donors who want to see more youngsters playing bluegrass, both of cash and instruments. Such donations are always welcome and details can be found online.
Over the years they have helped many teens learn to play, with both instruction and guitars, banjos, and what have you, some even moving into professional music careers. One such success story played out this past October during the Festival in Farmers Branch, TX.
Young Riley Gilbreath, a 13 year old banjo picker from Fort Worth, had been given a student model banjo in 2016 to help him get started. When festival staff saw him this year, the improvement he had made was so dramatic that it caught the attention of Foundation President Alan Tompkins and Steve Huber of Huber Banjos. Steve and Alan perform together as members of Texas and Tennessee, and both were impressed with what Riley could do a year later.
So a decision was made by the two of them that they wanted to get him one of Huber’s Workhorse model banjos. These are professional grade instruments selling for more than $3000, but Huber agreed to let one go for a price that the Play It Forward Program and Riley’s parents could jointly afford.
Talk about an excited young man! His father says that for days after he was presented with the banjo at the festival he would say, “how can something this good be happening to me?”
Here’s a video of the presentation, with Riley picking a bit for the crowd.
Congratulations, Riley, and hats off to Huber Banjos and the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation.