Scott Napier relates a bluegrass act of kindness

Braxton Miller, Scott Napier, and Steve Mead

Scott Napier recently shared a story with us that demonstrates the wonderful spirit of giving we find in the bluegrass community. One of his music students received a special gift from another student, even though the two had never met.

Napier, former mandolinist with Larry Sparks, Marty Raybon, and Lost & Found, now serves as an Associate Professor for Hazard Community & Technical College’s Kentucky School of Bluegrass & Traditional Music in Hyden, KY. There, he teaches classes in bluegrass music history, songwriting, and ensemble directing, as well as individual string lessons on both mandolin and guitar.

Although Napier is too modest to say so, encouraging young musicians is nothing new for him. From his multiple “Top 5 Bluegrass Vinyl” record giveaways to his involvement with up-and-coming professionals in the business, his passion for next-generation pickers has helped to earn him three IBMA Mentor of the Year Nominations.

“I’ve been an instructor for nine years, but I have been a touring bluegrass musician since I was 18. I have grown to love being a teacher. I do that full time as well as travel with (my band) Wildfire,” explained the east Kentucky native.

“I started working in another program two counties over in Hindman, Kentucky for the Hindman Settlement School. They have a program (Pick & Bow) where they teach traditional music to grade-school kids that are still too young to come to our community college.”

Pick & Bow is a music program that offers free lessons in acoustic instruments to elementary, as well as some high-school, students in Knott, Floyd, Perry and Letcher counties. Students can choose between guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, and ukulele as their instrument of choice. In-person group lessons for grades 4-8, are held at Hindman Elementary. Virtual lessons for any students, grades 4-12, are scheduled individually, and are conducted around Scott’s other work duties for KSBTM.

Napier realized the opportunity to introduce acoustic music to youth who could potentially enroll in his secondary program.

“I thought, ‘this makes sense.’ I can start working with kids and hopefully get them into our school.”

The multi-instrumentalist and music instructor had new clientele.

“It was a different situation, a little more challenging. During COVID, everything went online. I have continued to do that because our school is a good 40 minutes away. I have one student, (12-year-old) Braxton Miller, who has really stuck with me. He is homeschooled, and I met him through his grandmother who I give mandolin lessons. I worked with him on the computer at first through the Pick & Bow program. She started bringing him occasionally and he would sit in on our lesson. We started to pick a little together in person.

We do mini recap lessons and I tune his guitar. His little blue guitar is really hard to play and didn’t even have a case. He was extremely shy at first, and it took a while to get him to do the video (of a song he learned, Angeline the Baker).

He did a good job, and that video sparked a lot of interest (on social media). People from all over the country would comment and share it. Another one of my students, Steve Mead from Buffalo, NY that I teach exclusively online, saw Braxton’s video and it touched him. We had a couple talks about it and one day he said he had a guitar that he wanted to send to Braxton. Steve did visit Hyden to attend one of the five mandolin camps that I’ve directed here at KSBTM (the Bobby Osborne Mandolin Roundup) so I feel that gave him a personal connection, and a desire to help with an improved instrument for Braxton. I think it did him good to do that. It did a lot of good for a lot people: his wife, me, Braxton, and his (Braxton’s) grandmother.”

Mead shared…

“A few weeks ago, Scott posted a video on Facebook of Braxton, who participates in the Hindman Settlement Schools’ Pick & Bow Program where Scott also teaches, playing his first fiddle tune, Angeline the Baker, on guitar. It is my understanding that the school has instruments the students can use or rent. I contacted Scott and asked him if he thought Braxton and his family would be OK with me sending Braxton a gift, a nearly new Seagull guitar. He said everyone was fine with it so I packed it up: guitar, case, strap, pile of picks, and some 1960’s vintage chord books and shipped it off to Scott. The video Scott posted on Facebook shows Braxton receiving it. It truly warmed my heart to watch him unboxing and playing it.

Some are blessed to be fortunate enough to have accumulated more instruments than we can possibly play. What better way to make someone’s day than the ‘spirit of giving’ as Scott put it. I believe all of us involved enjoyed it as much as Braxton did.

Thanks to Scott for facilitating this gift.”

Napier stressed…

“Steve, who has taken lessons for five semesters, is the one who should get the glory. I’m fortunate to be on a platform where I can show this. As a teacher, I do those videos (of my students) for them to boost them. Some have gotten thousands of views

 Braxton is just a good kid from here in the mountains (of Kentucky). Thanks to the school and the Pick & Bow program we are able to make all this happen. It’s all about the continuation of traditional music.

He didn’t even know how to hold a guitar. To see that transformation is really magical. I told his grandmother about the Pick & Bow program. It’s free and I told her that he should sign up. That’s how it started.”

Scott says that Braxton was eager to learn.

“I don’t think he’s ever missed a lesson, which is some kind of record! I generally gravitate to those students who work harder. Braxton is so shy and timid that you have to break through that barrier. To get him to make that video was huge. I was impressed that he read (aloud) the letter from Steve.

As they were leaving the school, Braxton asked me, ‘Is it really mine?’ I don’t think he’s ever had a random, surprise gift such as this. He carried his new guitar out in a really fancy hard shell case. His grandmother said that he was in shock and said he was going to sleep with the guitar.

“I can’t imagine what this will do for him. This reminds me of when I was his age and got my first good F-style mandolin for Christmas. I will never forget that, and I really feel like that was what that moment was like for Braxton. It was really special.”

Well done Steve and Scott, and congratulations Braxton!

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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.