Christmas is all about gift giving and spreading cheer. Lincoln Hensley and Aynsley Porchak, banjoist and fiddler, respectively, with the Tennessee Bluegrass Band, have done just that. The talented young duo became a conduit and provided musical instrument donations to the bluegrass band program at Hensley’s alma mater, Unicoi County High School, in Erwin, TN.
“It was Aynsley’s idea,” Hensley proudly proclaimed in a phone interview immediately following their gift to the eastern Tennessee school.
Porchak shared her inspiration. “The Tennessee Bluegrass Band really values the communities that we grew up in. We have all grown up in communities that meant a great deal to us, that started us to learn bluegrass music. At the end of the year, we found the opportunity to do some good in our own community. Lincoln went to school at Unicoi County High School and his teacher, Lori Ann Wright, works so tirelessly to make the bluegrass program at this high school a success. Several successful bluegrass musicians have come through it already.”
“That’s the first bluegrass band that I ever played in,” interjected Hensley. You could hear the pride and excitement as he recalled that experience.
“We got to play in the front of the Opry, and the Ryman, and in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was really encouraging. As Aynsley said, there have been several musicians that went on to play professionally. Troy Boone that played for Sideline, and now plays for the Amanda Cook Band, and Adam Miller that plays mandolin and sings with the Lonesome River Band. My first band ever (Unicoi High School Bluegrass Band) was with those two guys.
We’ve just had a good year, and we tried to figure out a way to give back to the community. I know early on when you’re first starting [to play an instrument] it’s really hard to keep the flame of wanting to learn to play when you don’t have a good instrument. Sometimes it’s hard for a family to afford a decent instrument for a kid, especially if they don’t know how far they’re going to go into it.
We got with Recording King and the Loar instruments. I actually got a banjo, guitar, and mandolin, and cases, from their new line, and Aynsley donated an old 1920s fiddle and bow that she had so they would have at least one quality instrument for each except the upright bass.
We talked with Ms. Wright and learned that they had raised money and just gotten a pretty nice bass so we didn’t need to go that route, but we pretty much got one of everything that they needed.”
On Monday, Hensley and Porchak played Santa Claus, visiting the high school and presenting the students with the new instruments.
“They really loved it,” he stressed. This year there are around 10 students enrolled in the program. “It (the enrollment) ebbs and it flows. When I was there, it was almost like bluegrass choir! It’s been going for over ten years now and is still going strong.”
The following day Wright’s class took their annual field to trip to Nashville to play the Country Music Hall of Fame and attend the Opry.
Lincoln recalls when he got to do that with the Unicoi band.
“It gives the kids something to shoot for. When I was a freshman, we played outside of the Ryman. We just entertained while people were waiting for the doors to open. We ended with Rocky Top. The manager of the Opry walked up and said, ‘Y’all ever heard of Bobby Osborne?’ And I said, ‘YEAH!’ He said, ‘He walked behind you when y’all were playing that song and he looked at me and said, they’re doing a great job.’ As a kid, that was the top to have Bobby hear us do that. I didn’t know that three years later, I’d be playing the Opry with him. It came full circle.
I really believe in this program, those experiences that they get to have in the program goes with you the rest of your life.”
Porchak noted what had sparked their interest in making a donation like this.
“There’s a gospel song that I wrote that will be on our next [Billy Blue Records] album. It’s called Do Good and it’s based off the saying by John Wesley: ‘do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’
We were all talking about how important it is to do good, especially at this time when we’re thankful. We’ve had a really good and busy year. Doing good for the community is something we’ve always felt really strongly about, whether it’s playing at schools or donating instruments to school. We try to do good to the next upcoming generation. That song spurred us on to make this happen. That was our goal to do some good in our community with this donation.”
Ashley Atz, Recording King Director of Artist Relations, stated, “We’ve worked with Lincoln for many years, and he’s always been as kind as he is talented. He does a great job inspiring young people to pursue music and we’re proud to partner in that shared mission.”
Lori Ann Wright, Unicoi High School band sponsor, concluded…
“I always joke with Lincoln Hensley that every time I see his number on my cell phone, I know it’s going to be good news and when he called a few weeks ago, it was no exception.
He told me that he, Aynsley, and The Tennessee Bluegrass Band wanted to do something to help support our program. He knows how much having a new, well set up, easily playable instrument can help a beginner musician.
We hope to use these instruments to encourage our new student pickers for a long while. We are very lucky for the community support we have, and especially the bluegrass band alumni that support our students. The bluegrass band students would really like to thank everyone who made this gift of instruments possible including Lincoln, Aynsley and the Tennessee Bluegrass Band, Recording King, and The Loar. The donation will help us grow and continue the program in the years to come.”