Members: Dick Laird, Heath Laird, Jeff Laird, Carroll Swam, Tom Neal and Russ Hooper. Fiddlers Jon Glik and Patrick perform with the band on occasion.
Who we talked to: Heath Laird, 44
You guys have been together for about 20 years or so? Pretty close to that.
How did you meet the other members? My father had played in a band (called) Jeff Presley and South Central Bluegrass. They kind of disbanded. My brother and I were actually in college at the time and my dad said, "Well, I'm not done playing music again. Are you interested in playing?" And we said, "Yes." We ended up with two of the guys (Neal and Swam) who were in the previous band as well.
It sounds like you guys grew up in a musical household. My dad and Carol have been playing since the late '50s together in a band called Keystone. I started playing when I was 17 with my father. I play the upright bass. My brother plays the guitar and my father . . . plays the mandolin, fiddle, the bass and the guitar.
Who were your musical influences? My grandfather had played. That's how my dad got into it. My dad's been playing since he was 4 years old or 6 years old. We used to go watch my father play all the time. He opened for national acts that would come into the area . . . most of the time it was over in the Lancaster area at a place called the Guernsey Barn, which is where the outlets are now.
What are some of the highlights of the past two decades? We've been to Nashville. We entered a band competition years ago for SPBGMA, which is The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. We've had the opportunity to play the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. We've played the Whitaker Center and opened for the guys that did the soundtrack for "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" (Dan Tyminski and Ralph Stanley). The other place we normally can be seen is up at the National Apple Harvest Festival.
What acts have you shared the stage with? We usually do a Christmas show in West Manchester Township. We've done that the last four or five years with Hanover Express and Shiloh Ridge (and) Iron Ridge. We've done some benefits with Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass. My dad and Tom Neal were part of Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals. (My dad also) played the bass with Jimmy Martin.
Do you have a catalog of CDs? Most of the guys in the band are singers/songwriters. I'm not one of them, but we do a lot of . . . original music plus we've taken old music and renovated it to some sort of different arrangement. We have two CDs out. We originally had a tape out, and we ended up putting that on disc as well. The second album we cut, we sent out to about 50 stations all over the country. (It was picked up by a station) around the Virginia Beach area. We've been reviewed by Bluegrass Unlimited probably three times.
How did the "Songs of the Mountains" gig come about? That came about with Russ Hooper . . . who's a renowned Dobro player. He's from down around the Baltimore area. He's the one (who) tied us in with the folks at "Songs of the Mountains." It's very cool. We're ecstatic about it, to be honest with you.
Are you guys getting prepared? We've scouted it fairly well. We know what the setting is. We've seen other acts . . . so we pretty much know what's going to happen. We have 30 minutes. We've got a set list together and we had to time everything out (two weeks ago). We're trying to do songs that actually showcase everybody's talents. Most of the stuff is material that we've done. I don't know if (the program) is going to be available until next year.
Are you going for a certain look? (It's) always a professional look - usually vests. We are going black vests and probably black pants and a dress shirt. We will definitely be coordinated.
What do you have coming up after "Songs of the Mountain?" Currently, we don't have any local shows. We're going to be down in Lucketts, Va. (next week), which is a big bluegrass venue. We'd love to do more locally. We've never had the opportunity to play the (Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center). It seems like the local talent seems to get overwritten sometimes with national acts.
It seems like the bluegrass scene is a tight-knit community? There's always somebody starting up something. There (are) guys (who) are always willing to help others out when somebody can't make it (to a gig). There are fundraisers and all kinds of stuff going on for people who get in trouble funeral arrangement-wise or with a death in the family.
Are you going to pass on the bluegrass tradition? I have a daughter (who's) 5. Will she be into (bluegrass)? I don't know. I wasn't into it until I got older. I was always the one who was going to play rock 'n' roll. She loves (Bluestone). She always wants to go with us (which is) no different than when I was as a kid with my father.
- Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff
The "Songs of the Mountains" show 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Va., will be taped for national broadcast on PBS. Local group Bluestone will perform. Other groups on the bill include Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, Sweet Potato Pie and Lorrie Carter Bennett with Ronnie Williams.
The ongoing concert series showcases bluegrass and old-time music acts. Most of the monthly shows are taped for the award-winning television series of the same name, which can be seen on PBS affiliates. For details, visit www.songofthemountains.org.
For details about Bluestone, visit www.bluestonebluegrass.com.
Listen to the interview at www.flipsidepa.com.
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