Award-winning Grascals coming to USCL on Saturday

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By The Staff

Great musicians always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must find a bond that goes beyond the purely musical to the personal.

For The Grascals, that bond has been forged by friendships, shared resumes and a keen mingling of bluegrass and country music that has been a Nashville hallmark for more than 40 years.

Now they are coming here. The Grascals will perform 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the Bundy Auditorium stage in the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

Peggy Little, director and manager of the USCL Performing Arts Series, said there are some $50 tickets left.

Their two Grammy-nominated releases, “The Grascals,” and “Long List Of Heartaches,” prove that whether they’re digging into an original song or reworking a bluegrass classic like '”Will You Be Loving Another Man,” or Harley Allen’s award-winning “Me And John And Paul,” their musical empathy gives them an ear for the right touch to illuminate each  other’s deepest spirit.

That bond has propelled the sextet to the top of the bluegrass world.

In a remarkable one-year feat, The Grascals won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year award (2005) to earn its Entertainer of the Year honor the following year.

Those accolades have been accompanied by a Song of the Year trophy, entries in myriad critics’ “best of the year” lists and a set of personal appearances that  are the envy of almost any entertainer.

Their awards don’t end there. Last month, The Grascals won top album and instrumental group of the year honors during the annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America awards.

The Grascals’ banjo player, Kristin Scott Benson, won the best banjo trophy that night. Benson grew up in Union, S.C., where she played trombone in the high school band. 

For those familiar with The Grascals, their quick emergence comes as no surprise. They are musicians whose roots and crossed paths reach back more than 20 years in bluegrass ensembles like the Osborne Brothers, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, the Sidemen and New Tradition.

They are also a vital part of Nashville’s larger country music community, where the Grascals have drawn on legends like Bobby Osborne, George Jones, the Jordanaires, Lloyd Green, Paul Craft and more for songs and for studio recordings and high-octane stage performances.

Through those experiences and friendships, The Grascals embody a profound grasp of and familiarity with country and bluegrass tradition that made them a natural fit for Dolly Parton.

Parton turned to The Grascals as a backing band for recording and tour support not long after the group was formed.

Guitarist Terry Eldredge’s soulful lead vocals have earned him loyalty from bluegrass fans and the respect of his fellow bluegrass musicians.

The Indiana native started his career with first-hand experience of the music of an earlier generation of country stars. He joined the Osborne Brothers in 1988, soon switching to guitar and adding a powerful lead and low tenor voice to the brothers’ 3-part arrangements.

At almost the same time, he and other young Nashville band members created the Sidemen, establishing a regular Tuesday night gig at Nashville’s Station Inn that continues to draw newcomers and stars alike. Eldredge took up the bass again by joining Cordle’s band in the late 1990s. He earned a 2003 IBMA nomination for Bass Player of the Year.

If fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly looks vaguely familiar, he should.

A member of Garth Brooks’ band from 1995 until Brooks’ retirement from the road, Mattingly played before millions and appeared on three multi-platinum albums. Despite that success, his first love is bluegrass music.

Raised in Kentucky, Mattingly has competed in numerous fiddle contests,  culminating in a 1981 U.S. Grand Masters victory.

After stints with Spectrum, the Forrester Sisters and Steve Wariner, Mattingly joined Parton’s band in 1989. He joined the Osborne Brothers during a break in Parton’s touring schedule where he became friends with Terry Smith (bass) and Eldredge. His smooth, expressive style and adaptability between country and bluegrass music genres made him a natural for The Grascals.

Danny Roberts (mandolin and vocals) played guitar with Mattingly when the two were growing up on adjacent farms in Leitchfield, Ky. Soon Roberts was winning instrumental contests on his own. In 1982, he cofounded the New Tradition, a dynamic, ground-breaking bluegrass/gospel group that toured the country for close almost 20 years bringing a bluegrass sound and gospel message to a new generation of fans.

When New Tradition dissolved in 2000, Roberts took a job at Gibson, overseeing production at the company's original acoustic instruments plant but kept his hand in bluegrass music and joined The Grascals in 2004. Roberts was also honored with the 2006 SPBGMA award for mandolin performer of the year.

Benson, who grew up in a musical family, became enamored with bluegrass music after getting a banjo for Christmas when she was 13.

After graduating from Union High School, she moved to Nashville. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Belmont College, but kept playing. After stints with several bands  and  numerous appearances on the Grand Old Opry and The Nashville Network, she joined The Grascals. She has also appeared on cover stories in “Bluegrass Now” and “Banjo Newsletter.”

Want to go?                                                                                                                                                                   WHO: The Grascals                                                                                                                                                        WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: The University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50 each and are available at the auditorium box office inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building. Tickets can also be purchased online at plittle@gwm.sc.edu.