Kevin Prater is kicking off his 40th year in the bluegrass business and 13th as a bandleader with some new faces in his Kevin Prater Band.
Veteran pickers Gary Isenhour (guitar and vocals) and Tim Goins (resophonic guitar) are touring with the group, along with Prater on mandolin and guitar, Jake Burrows on banjo and mandolin, and Daniel Pugh on bass.
“It’s a good fit,” Prater said. “They’re both solid pros. I’m looking for a big year.”
Isenhour previously played with Dewey Farmer and Powder Creek, Dry Run Bluegrass, Sons of the South, and other bands. Goins has a deep resume that includes stints with the James King Band, Jerry Butler and the Blu-Js, Lynwood Lunsford and the Misty Valley Boys, and more.
Prater, an Eastern Kentucky native who toured with King, Melvin Goins and others before forming his own unit in 2007, seems too young to have 40 years of bluegrass under his belt, but it all makes sense when he begins to talk.
“I started in a band when I was seven, playing guitar,” he said. “Music’s pretty much been my life. I don’t let anything come between me and it.”
The band has a busy year ahead, with 80-plus dates booked so far, and Prater expecting to end up with about 100. In addition, he’s starting to sift through songs for a new CD.
“I’m looking through material all the time,” he said, noting that he’s especially eager to find “faster stuff, traditional, but new and upbeat.” And he’s always in the hunt for a Gospel number or two.
While he’s been a bandleader for 13 years, many bluegrass fans remember Prater from his long stint alongside King – a gig that took him through a dozen years, 49 states and 24 countries.
“I guess the James King era will probably follow me to my grave,” Prater said. “But I was fortunate. I was part of something very special.”
Whether as sideman or frontman, Prater said his approach to performing hasn’t changed.
“It’s not about me,” he explained. “My goal has always been to entertain people. I want to give everybody the very best performance I can give, every time we step on stage.”
Prater says that while he hasn’t changed the way he goes about the business, the business itself has changed.
“A lot of the little places we’ve played down through the years, they’re closing their doors,” he lamented. “Unless you’re top of the heap, it’s hard to keep a band going year round.”
He’s noticed a change in the atmosphere, too. “I miss the days when you got to a festival and there was so much jamming, fellowship, and food. The music always had such a family appeal. It seems like a lot of that is gone.”
None of that keeps Prater and his fellow pickers from firing up their big red bus and hitting the road, still chasing the dreams that first consumed him as a child. Among those dreams yet to be realized: Helping land the new lineup of the Kevin Prater Band on a bigger label, and finding success on Sirius-XM’s Bluegrass Junction, the king of all bluegrass outlets in terms of reach and royalties.
And he hopes some day, to appear on the Grand Old Opry as a bandleader, something he experienced three times while playing with King, and twice with Melvin Goins.
He thinks this might be the lineup to get him there. He’s especially pleased with the tight harmonies, which give the band a bit of a throwback sound to the original lineup of the Seldom Scene. That’s probably not an accident. Prater and Isenhour both credit John Duffey, the late co-founder of the Scene, as a major influence.
No matter how it plays out – big label or not, satellite radio hits or regional notoriety, Prater isn’t about to complain.
“I’m blessed,” he says with a certainty that let’s you know he means it.