From Hollywood to York: A bluegrass singer's journey
Nicolette Worth Wagman likes to joke that her life is like “The Beverly Hillbillies” in reverse.
She grew up in Toluca Lake, an L.A. neighborhood predominantly populated by people in show business. So, it wasn’t unusual to run into the cast of “Happy Days” down the street, ride horses with John Wayne and Muhammad Ali or walk Bob Hope’s dog.
“It was just normal life pretty much,” Wagman said. “We knew they were celebrities, but we were used to having celebrities around us all the time.”
But when her father – a musical director and composer known for writing the “George of the Jungle” and “Hollywood Squares” theme music – was killed in a plane crash when she was 15, her family was forced to relocate to a more affordable area.
They chose central Pennsylvania, where her mother was born.
“We had all this stuff that we dragged to Pennsylvania just like the ‘Hillbillies’ dragged to California,” Wagman said.
On her first day at Red Land High School, her mom dropped her off in a limousine.
“We were fish out of water here, like (the ‘Hillbillies’) were there,” she said.
But she eventually embraced the “hillbilly” lifestyle, purchasing a farm house on 32 acres in Seven Valleys, where she raised two boys with no TV, no computers and no battery-powered toys. Instead, they played bluegrass music.
It started out as something to do around the house, she said.
But soon, she found herself learning to play upright bass so she could perform in a family band with her husband on guitar, her 4-year-old son on violin and her 6-year-old son on banjo. They’d play at weekly jams in Waynesboro and other area events when they could.
As the boys got older, Wagman started filling in for other area bluegrass bands.
And now, 14 years later, she’s the upright bass player and vocalist for the traditional bluegrass group, Lovesick Hillbillies.
“If you bet me a million dollars 20 years ago that I’d be singing in a bluegrass band, I never would have dreamed this is something I’d be doing,” she said.
Growing up, her father enforced classical training on the piano and violin – not bluegrass. And even though she lived next to “The Beverly Hillbillies” creator Paul Henning for years in Toluca Lake, playing bluegrass in a band never really crossed her mind.
But it’s something she feels she was meant to do.
“This is an outlet for us,” she said. “It’s our release, our therapy.”
Lovesick Hillbillies formed about five months ago after entering the D.C. Bluegrass Union’s Mid-Atlantic Bluegrass contest on a whim. They took second place and now consist of acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and upright bass.
“We’re traditional bluegrass,” Wagman said. “A lot of bands call themselves bluegrass … But traditional bluegrass players take pride in a lot of them being multi-instrumental so they can flip around to a lot of different instruments.”
The group performs a couple times a month in northern Maryland and southcentral Pennsylvania and is currently working to break into the York County region. Their next show is slated for June 11 at Glen Rock Mill Inn.
“At shows, we play music that’s familiar to people,” Wagman said.
You’ll hear a lot of Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse and Flatt & Scruggs (known for “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme song), she added.
Lovesick Hillbillies also plan to introduce some new, original music this year.
“We’re trying to keep bluegrass pure and focus on getting tighter,” she said. “We want to be one of the better regional bluegrass bands.”
- Glen Rock Mill Inn: 8-11 p.m. Saturday, June 11
- Brown’s Orchard & Farm Market: 2:30-5 p.m. Sunday, July 10