It’s time we highlight our good neighbours, New Zealand, for consistently producing some fine bluegrass musicians through the past 40 years. Many of them travelling to Australia frequently to perform and attend festivals; and some have since gone on to base themselves in the United States.
First to mention is Paul Trenwith, who late last year was awarded the ‘Queen’s Service Medal’ for services to country music. He has been an ambassador for Bluegrass music since 1966, and is a founding member of the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band who won several Golden Guitar awards after touring Australia with Slim Dusty & Tex Morton through the 70’s. They were also the first NZ artists to perform at the Grand Ole Opry way back in 1971. Paul is still playing banjo better than ever and hosts a weekly radio show called ‘Back Porch Bluegrass’ on Hamilton FreeFM or podcast.
Recenly, regular visitors The Pipi Pickers hail from the North Island are well known at Aussie bluegrass events and feature the father and son combination Barry (guitar) and Nat (banjo) Torkington, as well as Garry Bigwood on Mandolin and Jenine Abarbanel on upright bass. They have just been in the studio and we look forward to a new album from them this year.
Last November a new family group called Rhodeworkz visited Australia for the first time using money they saved from busking to fund the trip, to attend the Mountaingrass festival. The band is fronted by brothers Laurence, Sam, and Nate who are all multi-instrumentalists and supported by their parents Tracy on bass, and Bruce on guitar. These guys hail from Te Akatea and are certainly worth looking out for.
Another fine young NZ native is Catherine (BB) Bowness who relocated to Boston around five years ago to pursue her music after being the first banjo player to graduate from the New Zealand School of Music with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance. BB spent some time in Australia performing at festivals prior to moving Stateside. The past few years BB has been playing with a group called Mile Twelve, a contemporary bluegrass group with a firm grasp on tradition, that have been announced as an official showcase band at the 2017 IBMA World of Bluegrass music conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.
And lastly, we can’t forget to mention our good friend George Jackson who is known for his work in local bands The Company, and One Up, Two Down. George grew up in NZ before shifting to Australia to study music, and last year re-located to Nashville after many frequent trips to the United States. We are thrilled to see George mixing with some of the best, as well as staying active with his own bands. He has been performing often with progressive acoustic string band, Front Country and multi-award winning bluegrass bass player and vocalist Missy Raines. George recently established the Due South Touring Company (which arranged Tim O’Brien’s 2017 tour) with the aim to bridge the gap for touring bands between North America, Australia and New Zealand.
If you are planning a visit to the Southern Scenic Islands, the Auckland Bluegrass Club meets on the second Wednesday of the month and the Wellington Bluegrass Society holds a regular jam on the third Friday of the month and also host concerts of local and international artists.
Opry member, Bobby Osborne has released a brand-new album titled Original on the Compass Records label; featuring an all-star line-up of guests including Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Trey Hensley, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan, Todd Phillips, Sam Bush, Vince Gill, Jim Lauderdale and Del McCoury. Recognised as one of the most notable, distinctive high tenor voices in bluegrass, Bobby is also celebrated for his mandolin playing and success with his banjo playing brother Sonny in the Osborne Brothers who had a string of hits through the 60’s and 70’s including ‘Once More’, ‘Up This Hill and Down’, ‘Ruby, Are You Mad’ and their most widely known recording of the Tennessee state song ‘Rocky Top’. The Osborne Brothers took their music to the mainstream, blurring the boundaries between bluegrass and country music with the addition of drums and electric bass, and even saw them win CMA Vocal group of the year in 1971.
Other new music to look out for includes a release from long-time US festival favourites the Lonesome River Band with Mayhayley’s House and local WA-based, well known banjo picker Ian Simpson (Flying Emus, Sensitive New Age Cowpersons) along with duet partner Jane Germain have a new album titled Home on the Hill.
A major advancement in the history of this music is that construction has begun on the new Bluegrass Museum and Hall of Fame; to be located in the city of Owensboro, Kentucky; situated on the banks of the Ohio river. As well as being the home to the world’s foremost collection of bluegrass artefacts, memorabilia, and music recordings, the facility will include a 450-seat concert hall and a 2000-seat outdoor concert arena. Completion is estimated for mid-2018.