Malpass Brothers have a new look for 2023

The Malpass Brothers, host band of Denton FarmPark’s Mother’s Day weekend music festival (formerly hosted by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver), has added a few new young faces to their crew.

Chris Malpass explained, “2023 has brought a few changes to the Malpass Brothers’ Band. We are pleased to welcome our new sound engineer, Jackson Bethune, to the group. He is a 22-year-old Georgia native. We are so proud to have him in this band. We also want to welcome our new fiddler, 22-year-old Connor Murray, from Nashville, TN. He is a true country fiddle player with talent beyond his years.”

Chris had plenty of praise for his former fiddler. “Johnny Ridge set the bar high as a fiddle player with us for almost nine years. Johnny is truly a legend in the bluegrass field and we were proud to have him with us for that time.”

“We welcome Connor Murray to the band who is very hungry to play true classic country music, and as I said to Eddie Stubbs at one of our concerts, he will be a fiddle player you hear of in the history books one day. We thank all our fans for their support and we look to a very busy year.”

Brother Taylor echoed his sentiment. “In the 23 years I’ve been in this business, I have worked with some the best musicians and people of all time. The great Clyde Mattocks and the late Jimmy Capps both taught me more about guitars, music, and life than anyone. Dennis Daniels, Paul Winstead, Joe Turner, the legendary Johnny Ridge, and our dad, Mr. Chris Malpass, all of these guys molded the Malpass Brothers into what we are today, guiding our career until we were able to steer the ship alone. Always worrying what music would be like without them on the road, we kept plowing through until that time came.”

“We have the best group of guys who have filled these big shoes, and have each been approved by their peers. Johnathan Reynolds came in and sat in where the great Clyde Mattocks with 15 plus years, and Joe Turner with five years had played pedal steel and is doing a great job! 19-year-old Landon Smith is behind the drums where Dennis Daniels with 8 plus years and Paul Winstead with 3 plus years had been.”

“Conner Murray started on fiddle at the beginning of 2023 filling Johnny Ridge’s 8 plus years shoes. Jackson Bethune, who is one of the most talented young men I’ve ever known, is doing sound for us and helping out anywhere he can. Last, but certainly not least, the great Jake Riggins has been with us about six years. He came in when our dad retired and is now bass player and road manager. These guys have made the Malpass Brothers even better and are doing an amazing job standing in the shadows of the great men before them. Please be sure to meet them at the next show you attend.”

New sound engineer, Jackson Bethune, said, “I’m very thankful for the bluegrass community and all the people who provided me with opportunities. John Holder with Blue Ridge Sound took a chance on a 15-year-old kid and provided me with a great job for six years. Also, I am very thankful for my co-workers along the way. My bluegrass hero, Little Roy Lewis, and Lizzy Long have also been lifelong friends and provided me with many opportunities. I will continue to spend time and work with them on the side when I can.”

“I met the Malpass Brothers in 2017 and it was an instant connection. For the next few years, I enjoyed the fellowship with Chris and Taylor, and always thought how fun it would be to travel the road with them. They are great people and when the opportunity came up for me to be their full time sound engineer, I couldn’t resist! The whole Malpass Brothers team is made up of great, talented people. I’m very excited about new opportunities ahead.”

John Holder, owner of Blue Ridge Sound & Stage (Bethune’s first professional sound job), expressed, “I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with Jackson for the last seven years. His live sound engineering skills, musicianship, and above all, his character are beyond reproach. Jackson’s sheer engineering talent and his desire as a multi-instrumentalist to play music as well as mix have put him on his current path with the Malpass Brothers.”

Holder had much to say on the young prodigy. “In 2016, I posted that I was looking for interns interested in learning about live sound for bluegrass and acoustic music. Jackson, who was 15, replied and met us at the Adams bluegrass festival in Palatka, FL. I started him out shadowing our monitor engineer, Geoffrey Keyes.” 

“Surprisingly, for a 15 year old, he jumped in and helped with stage changeovers. We realized that he had the talent and temperament to become a great engineer. To my ears, his ‘mix’ reminded me of my own, and Scotty Bolen’s (Dailey and Vincent’s sound engineer) who worked with me for several years. On occasion, Jackson has substituted for me with Balsam Range and Darin and Brooke. They all just love him.”

“In addition to Jackson’s many talents, his personality and character are exemplary. A good sound man needs to be a great listener/psychologist/interpreter and have lots of patience. This certainly describes Jackson! He put up with me for seven years.”

New fiddler, Connor Murray, shared a little of his own history. “I grew up in Chicago. I started playing fiddle when I was four. Jams at a local farmer’s market and a local record shop, Val’s Halla Records, got me into folk music and old records. I started playing gigs around Chicago when I was 12 or 13 years old. In high school, I started The Basement Bluegrass Band, a bluegrass band with my buddies, Caleb Erickson and Charlie Lowman. I also played in a Hank Williams tribute show and with several local artists in the city.” 

“I moved to Nashville when I was 18 and got a music degree from Belmont University. I played fiddle with Larry Efaw on the bluegrass circuit and started another bluegrass band with some other folks my age called Southern Flavor, trying to recapture the early bluesy bluegrass sound that Monroe had in the late 1930s and ’40s. I’ve played all styles of music regularly around Nashville and during COVID, I picked up a job at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.”

Larry Efaw, Murray’s former boss, expressed esteem for the young musician. “Connor is a great fiddler and a wonderful young gentleman. Connor worked for me for a good while. I have nothing but respect for him, as he had respect for me. We traveled all over the country together. It was a pleasure to have him (in my band). He can play different styles. I know he loves the traditional bluegrass and country music. I’m so proud to see him with a great band like the Malpass Brothers.”

As their new year begins with new personnel, the Malpass Brothers are looking forward to their second year at the FarmPark. 

Chris concluded, “We are so honored to be hosting Denton again this year. As kids we grew up loving this festival, and we don’t take its history and importance for granted. We plan to keep this festival traditional and add our flair as traditional country music. We appreciate all the support and want folks to feel at home and welcomed.”

“When you’re at our festival, come up and talk, and enjoy and know you are family, not just a ticket holder. Mr. Doyle Lawson had been so kind to us and produced two albums for us. We are happy to continue this festival and again thanks so much to all who help.”

The second annual Malpass Brothers Bluegrass & Country Music Festival is slated for May 11-13, 2023. For more information, visit the Denton FarmPark web site.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.