Imagine that your little family band has been playing at churches and small local festivals for over a decade. Just as the kids are becoming of age, you score a contract with Mountain Home Records and release a highly-acclaimed album. You’re booking gigs at larger venues, and then you score a main-stage showcase at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. The little band is rising to new heights and gaining steam.
Then, two weeks before the big event, you lose your mandolin picker/harmony singer and gain a part-time dobro picker. Think you’d be nervous as your family walks out on the biggest stage of their young musical careers? Sam McMahan, patriarch of the family band Mountain Faith, carried the load with poise at Wednesday’s showcase event. McMahan (MACK-ma-han) kept the group on track with solid bass-playing, while holding them together emotionally with strong leadership.
The nervousness showed as Mountain Faith opened with the rollicking train song, Going Home. If you believe that “the proof is in the pickin’,” any doubts about their abilities disappeared when the group transitioned into a barn burning instrumental without comment. Daughter and fiddler Summer McMahan let everyone know she can play, but it took several more songs before she displayed her dazzling smile to go along with her very competent playing. Her brother, Brayden, drove the group relentlessly with solid banjo picking.
By the time guitarist John Morgan stepped up to lead the group’s cover of Buck Owen’s classic My Heart Skips a Beat, the band appeared to start enjoying themselves. Switching gears, Summer began the hymn, It is Well a cappella, rising to a harmonious crescendo as others joined in with voice and instrumentation. By mid-song, the power of her voice was on full display. It is Well is the only showcased song that appears on the group’s recent album, Save Me, and it was superbly done.
Sam served as front-man as well, introducing Summer and Morgan, but neglecting to tell the audience who was playing mandolin and resonator guitar (Jay Schuler and Collin Willis, respectively). He did a credible job, but could have changed his positioning, as carrying the bass from behind the band up to the microphone in front for each comment was somewhat distracting.
I caught up with McMahan after the set to discuss the performance. He readily explained the reason for the band’s tightness as the show opened, but exuded a great deal of pride in his family and fellow-musicians. He explained that Schuler was filling in on mandolin and had worked hard to learn the material in time for the showcase. He also praised Willis’ work on the redo, reminding that he is splitting time with two groups until he joins full-time in January of 2012.
Overall, talent overcame nervousness as Mountain Faith put on an excellent show. Expect continued improvement and a big uptick of the fun meter as they continue to take the stage.