Musicians Share Love of Bluegrass

Musicians Share Love of Bluegrass

Next month, local bluegrass band Flint Hollow will be playing at the Lucketts Community Center. And while playing the local community center might not seem like a landmark event, for a bluegrass band that is exactly what it is.

"This is a venue that has been played by every major act across the country," Randy Collins, Flint Hollow's guitar and vocalist, said. "I am not going to say it's like the Grand Ole Opry of bluegrass, but it's a major national venue."

For a band that formed mostly for the fun of playing bluegrass music, being able to play at the Lucketts Community Center is quite an honor.

"They are very careful about who they hire to play," Collins said. "So we are quite grateful and are really looking forward to the opportunity."

The Lucketts performance is only one of the things happening for the band. Throughout the summer the band played events in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, Maryland and even Pennsylvania, and has performances booked through next spring and into summer 2007. Most exciting perhaps, is that in June the band released its debut compact disc, Flint Hollow.

"It is just surpassing all of the milestones that I had ever dreamt of," Vince Diem, the band's mandolin player and vocalist, said. "We just wanted to be known as a regional act."

FLINT HOLLOW WAS founded more than two years ago by Diem and Collins, who met while playing at jam sessions. They were what Collins calls, picking buddies.

"Vince was really the instigator there," Leesburg resident Collins said. "He convinced me to give it a try. To get together and see what happens."

To start their bluegrass band, Diem, a Winchester resident, and Collins knew they would need a banjo player. The two found Ashburn resident Chris Athey, a lieutenant in the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, who had played with bluegrass band Vintage Blend until 2002.

Last year, after losing other members of the original lineup, fiddle player Dave Miner joined the band and, six months ago, stand-up bass musician Mike Marceau made the current lineup complete.

"We're like any other group," Collins said. "It is rare that a whole group stay together the whole time. We feel like there is connection, a synergy here."

ALL FIVE MEMBERS of Flint Hollow have full-time jobs, but each man has had a love of music and bluegrass through most of their lives.

"I went to see bluegrass shows with my parents, when I was really young," Diem said. "Then I got away from it because it just wasn't the cool music to listen to."

After getting out of the Army, Diem began listening to bluegrass music exclusively and immersed himself into the bluegrass scene in his Pennsylvania hometown.

"I had no experience with the guitar or mandolin or really bluegrass music before then," he said.

Collins grew up surrounded by music, learning to play and appreciate music from his father and grandfather, as did Miner, who learned the fiddle from his great-grandfather growing up in Pennsylvania. Both Athey and Marceau discovered music on their own, picking up instruments as younger men and falling in love with bluegrass music.

Collins compares bluegrass to opera, a music form people can relate to, but can only listen to it for short periods of time.

"But eventually," he said, "it becomes a part of you."

Friend and fan Bev Barker did not know much about bluegrass when she first heard Flint Hollow perform, only that fellow Chamber of Commerce member, Collins, played in band.

"I thought it would just be a fun thing to go and hear him play," she said. "But I loved what I heard. It was realistic. Telling real stories filled with music that you can tap your foot to or could bring a tear to your eye."

THERE IS NO universal method for teaching bluegrass. Instead it is handed down, generation to generation, often learned on the fly, Collins said.

"That's what makes it interesting," he said. "It is so eclectic."

While bluegrass has never experienced long-term public popularity there has been resurgence recently, sparked in part by the 2000 movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

"Like any type of music people stumble on, they can relate to it," Collins said. "It's not for everyone, but the population seems to be growing, which is great."

Because Flint Hollow plays for the love of bluegrass, the band plays wherever music is "wanted or needed," playing private parties, weddings, festivals and fairs.

"We decided early on that we didn't want to play in bars or taverns," Diem said.

The decision was part of Flint Hollow's attempt to keep their music accessible to everyone.

"It really is music that people of all ages can enjoy," Barker said. "[A performance] is just a wonderful way to spend an evening with your family and friends."

IT WAS AT their performances that the idea of putting out a CD first came about.

"People who were coming to performances wanted to buy a CD," Collins said. "It was really surprising to me and quite humbling."

Originally the idea was to put together a demo CD, Diem said, recording just three or four songs, but it soon morphed into creating a full-blown recording. For 18 months, the band worked when they could at the Echoes Recording Studio in Sharpsburg, Md., a studio that specializes in acoustic recordings.

"We are happy with how we were progressing through that 18 months and we learned a lot during the entire process," Diem said. "Because we took the time and care we did, we have a product that we are really proud of."

The 10-song disc contains five original compositions and five covers of traditional bluegrass songs. Of the five original songs, three were written by Diem and an instrumental piece was written by Athey. The songs range from stories about love lost and people from the men's own lives to gospel music and upbeat banjo numbers.

"We really wanted to create a mix," Collins said. "We always try to have instrumental, fast and slow songs in every performance so we wanted that in the CD as well. A lot of the songs tell a tale, like a folk song."

The band has other original compositions that they are working on for a possible second CD, Diem said, but for now the band members are just enjoying the experience.

"We didn't have any ideas of it getting to this point," Diem said. "Now within a year we are playing at premium venues before premium audiences. It is really kind of larger than life."