Meet rising Texas grasser Riley Gilbreath

Riley Gilbreath is an 18 year musician in Crowley, TX who is making noise on both the bluegrass and country scenes. His expressive voice, original songs, and skillful banjo and guitar playing have led him to be named The Next Big Twang by TV’s The Country Network, and we wanted to learn a big more about this talented young artist.

He was introduced to bluegrass the way most of us are, by first hearing banjo on the radio.

“My parents had always listened to country growing up, but I never really got into it until I was about 12 when I heard Joey + Rory on the radio, which aren’t primarily bluegrass, but they had banjo in the song I was listening to. I was attracted to the way it sounded, and wanted to be able to do what I heard on the radio. So my dad then contacted Alan at Bluegrass Heritage Foundation in 2016 and got me a loaner banjo, and connected me with Jim Penson (former banjo player for the Front Porch Boys w/ Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keene) for lessons.

I played the loaner banjo until I saved enough money to buy my own Recording King RK-35. I began going to Oakdale Park in Glenrose, TX early on as well, and would get invited to play with the bands from time to time, including The Kody Norris Show and the regular band that performed there, The Paluxy Pickers. Many bluegrass legends have performed at Oakdale and I grew up playing bluegrass there, therefore it holds a special place in my heart.

I have many supporters and friends that I met at Oakdale, including my guitar player and very good friend, Cole Gore. These people will also always hold a special place in my heart. It also is the first place my band, Riley Gilbreath and Lone Star Blue, played before we started playing on a regular basis.”

From a start on banjo, he quickly expanded into guitar.

“I picked up guitar after my dad showed me the three basic chords, and taught myself to play after that. I picked up mandolin and bass, and also began songwriting along the way. I played in my first bluegrass band with Cedar Junction Bluegrass in 2019 with Band Leader Dale Brawner, until he passed away a year or two later.

After that I joined Pocket Change Bluegrass Band with my Dad, Danny Gilbreath. This band consisted of Melody Hendrix on mandolin, Darrell Lambert on bass, Roger Starnes on banjo, me on lead guitar, and my dad on rhythm guitar. I began to take my bluegrass talents to open mics that were mostly if not all country artist centered. A lot of the people listening had not heard much bluegrass, so they loved it! I also would sing country songs as well which is another passion of mine.

I eventually grew a family in the country scene around North Texas, and have continued to expand that family over the years. Here recently in 2021, I started my band, Riley Gilbreath andnd Lone Star Blue, which consists of me on banjo/lead vocals, Cole Gore on guitar/tenor vocals, Sam Smith on mandolin, John Samuel May on upright bass/baritone vocals, and Leah Sawyer on fiddle.

Alan Tompkins is a former and original member as well when I first started in 2021, and performed at The Levitt Pavilion with us in Arlington in September 2021.”

So what’s ahead for Riley after high school?

“I do not plan to go to college for music. I’ve already graduated, and have a full-time job building metal buildings/fence lines/etc. But I also play music as often as I can, and I want to make it a full time job sometime as I continue with my bluegrass band and solo country act.

This year I am looking forward to possibly working on and releasing a full debut album with original material, along with a few covers that are ’70s/’80s style country. As far as the band goes, I hope to release a bluegrass album with them as well soon.

We all look forward to opening for Darin And Brooke Aldridge at The Arlington Music Hall this August as well!”

Keep an eye out for the name Riley Gilbreath. You can expect to be hearing it in the future.

You can follow his music career online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.