Uwharrie Drive shows the promise of bluegrass youth

Uwharrie Drive is a collaboration of five teenage musicians from central North Carolina, named for the National Forest that is prominent in the region. Individually, they have made great strides in playing acoustic music and now collectively, they are making a name for themselves in the bluegrass community.

“Bluegrass music is alive and well! So exciting to have Jake Goforth join us on stage to display his love of traditional bluegrass music. The future of bluegrass music is in great hands!” was Rhonda Vincent’s Facebook post on a video of Troy, NC’s 13 year old guitarist, Jake Goforth, performing with the bluegrass notable and her band in Asheville for Bluegrass First Class last month.

Milton Harkey of MRH Bluegrass Productions, promoter of the Asheville event, relayed, “This young man reminds me of the pickers of yesteryear. As a young teenager, they were good pickers and singers. Jake is as well. They studied bluegrass and learned how the music is played. Jake does the same. Jake Goforth is playing to standing ovations while innovating within the pillars of bluegrass music.”

The eighth grader expressed his gratitude, “I think that video has brought a lot of attention to my music and I’m grateful for that.”

The 3-minute video of Goforth picking and singing with Vincent has over 60,000 views on Facebook and is still being shared by bluegrass music fans worldwide.

The musical prodigy has joined up with two members of the Stills Family of Asheboro, NC (16 year old fiddler, Kayleigh and 13 year old banjoist, Noah) along with two other of their classmates (13 year old mandolinist, Ethan Davis and 14 year old bassist, David [DJ] Francis) to form the youth bluegrass band, Uwharrie Drive. Their popularity just garnered them a feature on a local TV news segment entitled Roy’s Folks.

Uwharrie Drive just competed during the 95th Annual Star Fiddlers’ Convention this month. With many talented musicians in the competition, young Kaleigh Stills won first prize in the fiddle category, and Goforth took home the $100 Up and Coming Bluegrass Talent.

“I was very excited when they called my name, as first place fiddle at Star. I competed amongst some very talented fiddle players, so it’s very flattering. One of the judges came to me, after the convention was over, and complimented my playing, which made winning extra special!,” the 11th grader shared.

NC Bluegrass Association President, Vivian Hopkins, who was on hand for the talent contest, expressed, “It’s exciting to watch them work together. They’re setting the bar high for other upcoming young musicians.”

Kayleigh explained how she got started in music. “When I was four, I saw Samantha Snyder (of the Snyder Family) play fiddle at Sunset Theatre. I thought that was amazing that she could do that.”

“The very next day, my dad and I went fiddle shopping and bought my first fiddle. I began fiddle lessons, and playing with my family as the Stills Family Band. We have traveled, and played at a lot of different churches, private parties, and other venues.”

Younger brother, Noah, interjected, “I started playing music pretty much since I was born. I started playing the fiddle at 15 months. received my first banjo for Christmas when I was 4, and I started taking lessons when I was 5. Playing the fiddle just didn’t click, so I picked the banjo and it felt right so I have stuck with it ever since.”

Mandolinist Davis, shared his inception into the genre and his connection to the Stills family. “I started playing bluegrass early December of 2019 when I was influenced by a great guy named, Edward Stills. (Kayleigh and Noah’s dad) He had me start chopping on a mandolin, and he would always play bluegrass in the car. I started learning songs and jamming with others, which helps to learn. From there, it has brought me pure joy and fun with great friends.”

Bassist DJ Francis, added his entry into music. “I started playing about a year ago because I felt a connection to bluegrass music. Everything just fell together and I blasted off from there.”

Each youthful musician has their own influences in the genre.

The lone lady in the band said, “My favorite females in bluegrass consist of Allison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. I love their vocals. Both have impacted my music.”

While brother Noah likes a NC banjo picker. “The person I look up to most is Terry Baucom (The Duke of Drive). There is always drive when he is playing. That is what I like about bluegrass the most, is the drive!”

“I love Shawn Lane because of his great mandolin playing and his great vocals. He plays in an awesome bluegrass driving band called Blue Highway. I love Russell Moore due to his great voice and guitar playing. I also love Junior Sisk. All of his songs have a great beat, as well as good rhythm and drive. I also love his vocals!,” stressed Davis.

Francis added, “My biggest musical influence in playing bass would have to be Roy Huskey Jr.”

“I was watching Dan Tyminski’s videos and decided that I wanted to play,” Uwharrie Drive’s guitarist, Goforth, admitted.

One of his music instructors, Greg Luck of Mt. Gilead, arranged for Goforth to meet his real life guitar hero. Not only did he meet and play Tyminski’s guitar, the Troy native has since performed with him on stage numerous times.

Tyminski, best known for his rendition of Man of Constant Sorrow in the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou, praised his number one fan. “Jake Goforth is the type of young player that will help secure the future of traditional music. His prowess was apparent at an early age, and every time I see him he continues to get better and better. The future of bluegrass will surely be safe in the hands of young talent like Jake.”

When talking about their future, Uwharrie Drive has set themselves some lofty goals. Both Stills siblings desire to perform on the Grand Ole Opry.

Noah added, “I hope I can aspire to be just half as cool as the Duke of Drive (Terry Baucom) someday!”

Davis conveyed, “I want to succeed playing bluegrass and try to make a good positive impact on myself and others while expressing my talent and playing with my friends. I also want to do the best I can to keep bluegrass alive and well. Everyone loves bluegrass. Many just don’t realize it yet.”

“My future goals are to keep getting better, and progress, and continue to grow in the bluegrass community. I don’t play bluegrass for the money, because if I did, then I’m pretty far in debt!,” joked Francis.

Goforth is keeping it simple. “I hope to travel and play for the rest of my life.”

Bluegrass promoter Harkey, concluded, “Jake Goforth very well could be the next big star in bluegrass music. He is a great young man and already a great musician.”

Even with many events canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, their futures look bright. You’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more from Uwharrie Drive.

A slightly modified version of this article appeared previously in the Asheboro, NC Courier-Tribune.

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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.