Waddington Brothers take 2023 SPBGMA Band Championship

When the 2023 SPBGMA International Band Championship was decided last month in Nashville, the The Waddington Brothers, from southwest North Dakota, were declared the winners. Over multiple rounds, they came out on top out of 15 competing groups during the SPBGMA national convention.

We always like to highlight the contest winners, but their bus broke down on the way home in Omaha, NE, so we gave the guys some time to make it back to North Dakota before scheduling an interview.

But we caught up with Ethan Waddington over the weekend, who plays banjo with the four piece family band, and he shared some background on their group, and their SPBGMA experience. It turns out the four brothers are part of a larger musical family of seven siblings who used to tour all over the US and Canada with their parents as The Waddingtons. Their three sisters, and mom and dad, pulled out in 2011, when current bass player, Job, now 17, was just a boy.

Ethan tells us that eventually, he and his twin brother, Jacob, who plays mandolin, and older brother Seth on guitar, started the band up again.

“When the family band quit, we didn’t perform together for about seven or eight years, and then we decided that us brothers would start up a bluegrass band. That was when COVID started, so all our work we booked starting out was cancelled.

When we started back we met up with Special Consensus, and Greg Cahill told me that we should go to SPBGMA and showcase, and all that. Once we saw that there was a contest, we figured we needed to be involved.

Last year was our first time in the Band Championship, and we came in fourth. There is nothing like this in North Dakota, and we loved being down there, and meeting people. We did it mostly to get on the big stage, but we also made a lot of contacts.

We decided to come again the year, with no goal or expectation of winning. We mostly hoped to crack the top three. But we did do a lot of preparation beforehand.”

They did more than crack the top three, taking first place with their brother harmony on traditional bluegrass music, along with a polished stage performance.

Here is one of their songs in the final round, the gospel classic, Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown.

Ethan said that the welcome they received in Nashville was both gratifying and humbling.

“I was just blown away by how well the people accepted us. It was kind of overwhelming. Bluegrass people are great people.

We want to do more and more of this, playing bluegrass music. Our next step is talking to booking agencies and record labels. Now’s the time to try to move forward.”

He also admitted that North Dakota isn’t exactly bluegrass central

“There’s not much bluegrass up here. Seth Mulder is from here, and Jasper Lorentzen from The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. There are just not many bands. I guess it worked for us because we’re brothers.”

SPBGMA, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, has designed the contest so that it is difficult for pickup bands to beat out groups that actually work together regularly. The competition is spread over three rounds, with only 12 making it to the finals. Bands must perform two songs in the first round, and three in the finals, and no songs may be repeated across the several rounds.Judges score each contestant using a point system awarded over seven different categories.

They award prizes to the top ten competitors. The 2023 results were as follows:

  1. The Waddington Brothers
  2. Charla Freeland Band
  3. Dalton Harper & Ramblin’ Heart
  4. Slcamore Special
  5. The Baker Family
  6. Headin’ Home
  7. Lydia Hamby & Seminole Drive
  8. New Primitive
  9. Boonie Bevins & Carolina Drive
  10. Jaelyn Taylor & 21 South

Congratulations and well done all!

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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.