Salty Dogs tear it up on Little Big Shots

The Salty Dogs, a group of pre-teen bluegrass all-stars, brought down the house and delighted millions of television viewers on last night’s edition of Little Big Shots with Steve Harvey. The hit show follows the tried-and-true formula of pairing cute and talented young people with the wit and presence of Steve Harvey, one of America’s most beloved celebrities.

This wasn’t the first time that Harvey has featured young grassers on his show, having helped make Fiddlin’ Carson Peters a star in a previous episode of the program. But this time, the kids were highlighted pickin’ and singin’ for the audience, who were clapping and stomping along to the bluegrass beat.

Here’s video of their performance on Sunday night…

The band includes future phenoms Presley Barker on guitar, Mason Ruble on banjo, Giri Peters on mandolin, Braden Chunn on fiddle, and Kyser George on bass. They don’t perform together as a rule, given the distances between their homes in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kansas – and the fact that none of them can drive – but were assembled in this form through the work of the International Bluegrass Music Association and others in Nashville.

Paul Schimiger, Executive Director of the IBMA, says that it all started with a call from an NBC casting director almost two years ago, before Little Big Shots had even been accepted for air. She was looking for young kids who played bluegrass, likely as a result of the sensation that Mountain Faith had created on America’s Got Talent that summer. The concept for the show she was pitching was to feature outstanding young folks twelve and under.

Paul reached out immediately to Kim Fox and Deanie Richardson with the IBMA’s Kids On Bluegrass program, who put together performance opportunities for exceptional young musicians, and they assembled a group and filmed a video of them together at The Station Inn and submitted it to NBC. For whatever reason, there was no response from NBC for that first season, but the casting director contacted Schiminger again for season two.

They were determined to find something special for the show, so Kim and Deanie got Presley, Giri and Kyser back together from the first band they had assembled, and set out to find a fiddle and a banjo. Braden’s parents are dancers on the Grand Ole Opry, so some Nashville folks knew that he had a great stage personality. The IBMA put the word out to their membership for help finding a suitable banjo picker, and Warren Yates with Yates Banjo brought Mason’s name to the fore. The Salty Dogs were set.

Nashville videographer Bill Filipiak volunteered his time to shoot and edit a video, and all the kids trekked in to town for a shoot at Carter’s Vintage Guitars, with financial support from the Foundation For Bluegrass Music. They sent a tape off to NBC, and this time they loved it. The hardest thing for the kids was staying quiet about it until the show finally aired last night. They had all flown out to Los Angeles to film the show, but were sworn to secrecy until just last week. Not an easy task for a bunch of boys this age!

Schiminger is proud of these talented young pickers, and of his organization’s role in helping them get on TV.

“IBMA always wants to represent the music properly, and The Salty Dogs did just that. A real treat for us is that not only are they amazing musicians, they are amazing young men as well.

We’re here to promote the genre, and to help hand the music off to the next generation. What better way to do that than with such talented young people? It was a bull’s eye for us.”

Their appearance last night was an instant hit, and the Internet is abuzz with talk about those cute young boys on TV last night. Social media in particular has adopted these young fellas as instant stars.

But David George, Kyser’s dad, says that distance between where all the kids live is likely why they won’t be out touring together as a band. All the parents are working folks, and driving the kids to shows just isn’t in the cards right now.

“The logistics make it nearly impossible for the various families to get the kids together to perform as a group. Maybe once a year at a major festival they could do it, but it would be an expensive proposition.”

David also mentioned that Kyser was just a bit nervous about seeing himself on national television.

“He got a little anxious coming up to show time. He was pretty quiet until it came on, but he wanted to watch it over and over again after we first saw it.”

Hats off to everyone involved in assembling this fine band and getting them on TV. It was a moment these young men will never forget.

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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.