Trinity River Band, the bluegrass Harris family group from Callahan, FL, has officially called it quits after playing their final show last Friday, October 22, at the Northeast Florida Agriculture Fair near their home base.
The entire family had earned their living in bluegrass since 2011, and it took them places none of them thought they could ever go. Touring sent them all over the US together, playing on major festivals and stages, with 8 successful recordings to show for their time as a band.
Though there were bittersweet moments, the decision to stop performing together as a full time career was reached mutually, with the natural stresses of keeping a family band together as children become young adults intersected with reduced touring opportunities post-COVID. For the past ten years, not counting the lost time in 2020, Trinity River Band included Mike Harris on guitar and vocals, his wife, Lisa, on bass, and their three children: Sarah on mandolin and vocals, Josh on banjo and vocals, and Brianna on fiddle and vocals.
For the Harris siblings, life on the road as bluegrass artists is the only thing they’ve known. Brianna, the youngest at 19 years of age, has been performing with her family since she was 9, probably giving her more time with her parents than the average teenager.
“As of right now, it has been the biggest segment of my life, more than anyone else’s. I mean, it’s literally been my life.”
When I caught up with Mike last week, he was frantically preparing for that final concert, while the rest of the family was running over songs at their studio. He said that a number of factors combined to let them know that now was the time, particularly the fact that Sarah had married and moved to Tennessee. Just recently she let the family know that she couldn’t continue making the trek to Florida to hook up with the band for touring.
Mike told us that other signs pointed to this as an inevitable conclusion, as most family groups discover at some time.
“All of us are sweetly sad. No one is crushed, but we all know it is time.
We were doing this as our only living until COVID came along. At first we believed that it would get back to normal after a couple of months, but the cancellations kept coming in. Our whole lives were set up to do this, and by October the financial strains became severe. I went back into construction and home repair, and Lisa and I started teaching music lessons under the Orange Blossom Special company. Sarah and her husband, Bryce, moved to Knoxville for a job. Then, in May of 2020, Sarah and Bryce told us that they couldn’t keep doing shows, and we all agreed to work out the shows we had, and tonight’s show is the last one.
Now everyone is so ensconced in their new jobs, that we just couldn’t keep the band going.”
Sarah, who drew the focus of both fans and reviewers as the group’s primary lead singer, shared a few thoughts about growing up in the world of bluegrass music.
“In the beginning stages of our band, I was still a teenager in school, playing guitar and singing, and just starting to learn the mandolin. The transition to full-time in the music/entertainment industry is the point in time I look at as being the true start to my evolution as an artist and performer. Everyone has heard the phrases, ‘learn through experience’ or ‘trial by fire’ – that’s really how it happened for me, for all of us, really. I evolved from an unsure beginner and a ‘still finding-my-voice’ teenager into a seasoned and confident performer and business woman by learning, failing, and succeeding as I went. I hardly recognize that little girl anymore in the early photos of our band.
We’ve had a unique lifestyle that ‘grew me up’ in so many ways, I feel, and not just musically. This band was always centered around our faith, our family, and people. So, when we reached new heights, we did it together. To me, that is the most rewarding and fulfilling thing about anything we can say we’ve accomplished. We did it together.”
Josh has also married, and after deciding to turn down an offer to join Josh Turner’s country band in early 2020, has found a career in a new setting close to home with what he was accustomed to doing for Trinity River Band.
“Over the past year and a half, I have had the privilege to work at Callahan First Baptist Church. And though, it wasn’t something I expected, I am beyond thankful that God opened this door for me to be here. I get to use all of the skills in audio, video, graphic design, and social media that I have worked to learn over the last 15 years.
I have now been married to the most amazing woman in the world for just over a year. You could say that mine and Allie’s connection was because of the music we played. To begin our relationship, we were still touring and performing full time, and she was the most supportive partner anybody could be. She was completely prepared to travel the world with us, but God did have different plans. Now though, being able to be home every day and not have to be apart from each other is a huge blessing.
It’s been a HUGE paradigm shift. From traveling every weekend and trying to find time to rest during the week amongst all the other business, to now attempting to find rest DURING the weekends, that right there is a big change as far as schedule. But even though a lot is different now, our family’s love and closeness is still there. Despite not being together as much, I have a feeling that that will never diminish our relationships.”
As a mom, Lisa thinks back on the wonderful good fortune that had come their way, to travel as a family and be together so much of the time.
“We never dreamed that God would allow us the opportunity to play and sing. It took a leap of faith for us to step out of our comfort zone to go full-time in 2011. We have traveled from Miami to Maine and from Idaho to Arizona. We’ve seen so many sites in this beautiful country of ours… Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, as well as all five of the Great Lakes. We have met some amazing people along the way and are so thankful!
We are in a new season with our careers and personal goals and we are excited!”
Mike said that he and Lisa always planned an eventual exit from the band, leaving their children to keep it going if that remained their passion, but fate conspired to bring it to a close even sooner.
“There’s a time to put a period on it. We did some things that no one else did… for a while there we were the most successful, all family band in bluegrass. We had two dozen top 20 hits on the Bluegrass Today charts, and won some awards. We feel fortunate that we can stand on our body of work.
Since announcing the end we have gotten some of the loveliest calls and messages from both fans and industry folks. It was a tremendous validation of what we did, making it a bit easier to let the thing go, knowing that we managed to touch some people with our music.”
A couple of those follow…
As is often the case, the youngest Harris, Brianna, is the sole family member who will be pursuing a career in music.
“I plan to delve into a singing/songwriting career. I am currently teaching beginning guitar and fiddle for Orange Blossom Music Academy. I found my new passion in music with singing and songwriting, and I just want to continue it.”
She is being a bit humble here, as her songwriting and singing has attracted the attention of Carl Jackson, Nashville star maker, who is producing an album for her. Here is Bri singing one with Carl at The Station Inn last month.
Sarah is working part time in Knoxville, where her husband works in IT and software development, and she is happy now living a “normal life,” singing only in church. She says that she is mildly apprehensive about starting a new chapter, but trusts that her faith will guide her wherever she goes.
“We wanted this last year as Trinity River Band to be a celebration of this amazing and unforgettable chapter in our lives, and it has been. Though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s been bittersweet too. My husband and I are in Tennessee, my family remains in Florida, so it’s hard to let go of the closeness and life we’ve known. But God is growing us all in new ways. He never promised us growth and change would be comfortable, but His ways are above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts. We choose to trust Him as we always have. God has never failed us. So, we look to the new seasons and chapters with joy in our hearts for all the blessings and memories we get to take with us.”
Mike is working now with a startup firearms company in Florida called Sacred Honor Arms, and Lisa is teaching music.
So we say farewell to Trinity River Band, and wish all the Harrises the very best going forward.