Say hello to Broken Compass Bluegrass

Broken Compass Bluegrass – photo by Snap Jackson

If you live in northern California, or frequent the bluegrass scene there, you may not need an introduction to the three talented teens who make up Broken Compass Bluegrass. But wherever you hang your hat, these young musicians will make you sit up and take note.

The group consists of Kyle Ledson, age 20, on mandolin and guitar, Django Ruckrich (17) on guitar and mandolin, and Mei Lin Heirendt (16) on fiddle. All three sing and contribute original material to the band effort, which has only officially been established since 2021.

Folks with long memories will recall that the last time a young trio of skilled bluegrass pickers and singers emerged from the California bluegrass scene, it became the sensation that was Nickel Creek. We certainly don’t want to jinx these kids with that sort of comparison, but it is undoubtedly a tribute to the Youth Programs of the California Bluegrass Association, who have nurtured Django, Kyle, and Mei Lin for years.

Let’s let them demonstrate their proficiency and street cred on a song Kyle wrote called The Bend in this live video shot by Zephyr416Live during a radio performance for KZFR 90.1 FM Community Radio in Chico, CA.

All three of them got an early start at music, Django and Mei Lin at 4, and Kyle at 5. They all grew up in musical families who supported their budding young pickers from the start. Bluegrass also grabbed them early, from attending festivals where they saw other youngsters playing, and from developing a genuine love for the music.

When we caught up with Mei Lin yesterday, she shared some of the history behind Broken Compass Bluegrass, and the sort of small world coincidences that brought them together.

“Django and Kyle met at the California Bluegrass Association’s (CBA) Kids On Bluegrass program at the annual Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley. Django was 8 and Kyle was 11. They performed together for a just under a year.

Django and I have also known each other for a while. My mom (Juli) was Django’s 3rd grade teachers aide. Our families would get together and jam in the living room sometimes. I believe I was 11 and Django was 12-13.

Kyle and I knew of each other, but we hadn’t jammed together in person until 2020. The three of us had a bonfire at Django’s house and jammed for the first time that December (during the first year of the pandemic).

The next month, I invited both of them to perform with me as a part of the CBA’s Jam-A-Thon, a 48-hour livestream benefitting the CBA Youth Program. This event was the brainchild of Kimber Ludiker, and was nominated for IBMA Event of the Year. From there on out, we kept the performances going and it started clicking into place more and more.”

It clearly didn’t take long for them to gel as a unit, and it’s no surprise given their age that they are open to a variety of sorts of bluegrass, including jamgrass, country, and even Grateful Dead songs.

Here’s another live video from earlier this month, which finds Broken Compass covering Molly Tuttle’s Crooked Tree with Mei Lin taking the lead. It bears mentioning that Molly is also a veteran of the northern California bluegrass scene, and CBA Youth Programs.

Though they haven’t recorded together just yet, each of the members have album projects under their own names. Expect that to change soon.

Heirendt tells us that the three of them fit together like a glove, which has so far kept them from adding a fourth.

“We love playing music together, we love each other as people, we have good chemistry as a trio, and we’re all around the same age! We think it’s important as a band to all have a lot of the same motivations and visions for a career in music, and being around the same age helps with that. But we aren’t set on staying a trio. We’d love having a bass player, but we’d be picky about who since we really want it to fit well. At the moment, we have a couple bass players that sit in with us for certain shows.”

You can learn more about Broken Compass Bluegrass 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.