It’s all too easy to refer to Wyatt Ellis as a prodigy of sorts, given the fact that he started playing music as a child of ten and now, he’s releasing his debut album, Happy Valley, at the tender age of 14. So too, he’s played the Grand Ole Opry three times, won the admiration and acceptance of any number of musical icons, and performed for admiring audiences in venues large and small.
Granted, there’s some obvious novelty in one so young being able to claim such accomplishment. After all, his interest in the music’s origins began early on, although the pandemic prevented him from interacting with other musicians in person. He took online lessons, increasing his interest and abilities exponentially. By the time he was immersed in his second year of lessons, he was practicing several hours a day, and writing tunes that tapped into the core roots he had relished in the process.
“Growing up and hearing Rocky Top was what made me want to get a mandolin,” Ellis explains. “Eventually, I was lucky enough to work with Bobby Osborne online. We became close friends, and even wrote a song together during my last lesson with him. Bill Monroe was also a huge influence on me.”
As a result, his proficiency as a mandolin player need not be confined to or qualified by, his youth. Happy Valley is an album that needs only to be judged on the quality of its music. It’s a culmination of time well spent, not only in learning his instrument, but in how to play it with such proficiency. His ability to create such stirring music and write inventive original tunes indicate he has enough talent to be judged on, while transcending age or experience. All instrumental, the album finds him switching styles with ease, from the playful pluck of Goin’ to Townsend and the lively sounds of Blue Smoke, Wildwood, and Sandy Gap, to the thoughtful approach that marks Get Lost, Two River Waltz, and Johnson Mountain Blues.
To his further credit, a host of special guests play a part in the proceedings as well, among them, such notable names as Marty Stuart, Sierra Hull, Dominick Leslie, Jake Workman, Rory Hoffman, Michael Cleveland, Scott Napier, David McLaughlin, Mike Compton, Alan Bibey, Danny Roberts, Lauren Price Napier, Christopher Henry, Mike Bub, and David Harvey. There’s a decided air of authenticity that rings through each of these offerings, holding true to tradition, while moving forward into other realms of interest and intrigue.
Naturally, Ellis is grateful of the support he’s received along the way, particularly as it applies to those that contributed their talents to the making of the album. “The bluegrass community has been really supportive of me,” he says. “They’ve been so interested in the music I’m making. That’s the bluegrass way. The tradition of this music is to hand it down to the next generation, and I’m very thankful to be a part of that circle.”
The fact that he not only had a hand in writing each of these twelve tunes, but also composed them at age 12 and then initially recorded them at age 13, indicates the fact that young Ellis may genuinely be a genius. Nevertheless, given the fact that the music is so articulately executed indicates that age is irreverent when the results are so remarkable.
“Happy Valley exceeded my expectations,” Ellis replies when asked if he’s pleased with the way the album turned out. “Hearing how my tunes came to life with some of the best musicians on the planet was more than I could ever have imagined. I hope some of these tunes will be future classics.”
That may well be the case. Asked about the particular tracks that he favors now, Ellis demurs. “I can’t really pick a favorite song,” he insists. “I feel like they are all equal, but I like each one for different reasons.”
As for the future, Ellis suggests that what he’s looking forward to the most is the opportunity to further share his music while performing it live. “I’m starting to tour a little bit more this year,” he said. “I’ll be playing the Big Ears festival, Southern Skies, and MerleFest. Plus, I’ve got some other shows we’re working on.”
Clearly, Ellis’ future looks bright indeed. It’s also clear that his destiny has plenty of time to fully unfold.