A decade and a half long partnership between Public Radio KSMU and Silver Dollar City continues this Saturday May 28th, when the 15th Annual KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest gets underway. This Year’s competition starts at 10:30 am inside SDC’s Opera House Theater, and will present 22 bands representing 9 states.
D.A. Callaway is SDC’s Bluegrass and BBQ Festival Coordinator, and organizer of the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest: “We would like all the musicians to be 21 or younger, but in the case of a family band, the mother or father or both, if they’re in the band, can compete with their children. All 22 bands will play a total of 6 minutes before 3 morning judges, and 6 minutes in front of 3 different judges in the afternoon. The scores from both rounds will be totaled and we will declare a winner.”
Silver Dollar City will pay a total of $4,000 prize money to the top 5 bands, $1,500 to the winner, but D.A. Callaway says the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest goes much deeper and is much more personal than prize money: “We know that we have a role to play in developing the pipeline for young talent, but it didn’t take long to see the contest serves a much bigger purpose. Back Stage, the boys and girls and moms and dads become lifelong friends, and in a couple of instances, we’ve had marriages develop from these kids meeting at the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest.”
Cindy Clark is the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest Official Backstage Bluegrass Mom: “So many really good musicians develop out of this contest, but so many wonderful friendships do too. When you get together with families who do what you do, it’s instant bonding.”
Cindy Clark played stand-up bass with her sons’ band, The Jed and Harry Clark Band, when they competed in the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest in 2008, 2009, and when they won the event in 2010. Since then, Jed and Harry have gone pro on us, and Cindy helps D.A. Callaway before, during and after the contest, riding herd on the hundreds of young pickers and parents participating: “What I so love about the contest is it gives you the opportunity to connect. I’ve spoken to many of this year’s bands and they’re very excited and interested in how things are going to go. Most of the 1st time families ask if I have advice and I say yes and here it is: Have Fun! Because if you’re having fun, the crowd is having fun, and let me tell you, that (Opera House) crowd has fun!”
Performing in the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest also serves to prepare these young musicians to play professionally should they choose and many of them do. Cindy’s sons, 24 year old Jed and 22 year old Harry, returned to Silver Dollar City May 12 and 13 to perform for Bluegrass and BBQ as members of the nationally known Bluegrass band, Volume 5. About the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest, Jed Clark says it’s a major confidence boost.” That contest is what told us we could really pursue this as professional career.”
Harry Clark fondly remembers his first KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest in 2008: “I was 14 and it was the first time I played on stage in front of any sort of audience. Before that the largest crowd was about 15 people in a field listening to me play from the back of a flatbed farm truck. Since then I’ve played before 15-16,000 people when I was a member of The Roy’s, before I came to Volume 5, and with Volume 5 at Merle Fest before huge crowds there.”
Jed Clark: “What’s really interesting is the connections we’ve made through the contest. Folks who have pursued it (professional) and even taken it farther than Harry and I. The first person to come to mind is John Meyer, a 3 time contestant who has gone on to record and play with Kenny and Amanda Smith; Mountain Heart; The Ramblin’ Ruhks and Jimmy Fortune.
Harry Clark: “Courtney Hartmann is another one. She competed several times with her family band and is now a member of the Grammy nominated all female Bluegrass band, Della Mae.”
D.A. Callaway: “We’ve seen these kids grow up before our very eyes. We’ve seen kids 10 or 12 years old that we thought, boy young person is really smokin’ mandolin player or a great fiddle player. Several years later we see that person making a living doing that, and it feels good to be a part of that path. And especially that we are at the Opera House Theater with the beautiful stage, lights and 800 adoring fans. It may be a highlight, perhaps not their entire life, but certainly a highlight up to this point in their lives.”
My co-host for Seldom Heard Music, Harry Moore, will serve as a 2nd round judge and I will be the MC for the 15th Annual KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest, beginning at 10:30 Saturday morning at Silver Dollar City. For information about the contest or the Bluegrass and BBQ Festival, which continues through May 30th, silverdollarcity.com.