Brannock McCartan talks Bluegrass and Inspiration

Brannock McCartan talks Growing Up in Bluegrass + Who Really Inspires Him


By: Shelby C. Berry

Rooted in tradition, bluegrass music is often stereotyped as backwoods pickin’ music that only your grandparents would listen to. But the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe created something individual all those years ago that would adapt to a growing audience. Artists like Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, and Nickel Creek approached their music in creative ways, being individual in their craft while keeping their roots and familial feel of the bluegrass they love.
Our world has changed and, along with it, the music changed. Yet, even with new generations, bluegrass inspires young artists like Brannock McCartan, a 13-year-old banjo player with dreams of playing like Bill Monroe. After hearing his first bluegrass song almost seven years ago, Brannock knew bluegrass was what he was meant to do.



“The first song I ever heard was Blue Moon of Kentucky by Bill Monroe,” said Brannock. “The music had a really beautiful sound, and the harmonies and banjo playing sounded really cool together. So, of course, I got into the banjo.” After playing the banjo for about two years, Brannock performed at a birthday party, and for the first time, felt at home in his music.

Brannock met many kids over the years and realizes there is much talent out there. “But I like to make myself different from other young musicians by combining different styles, especially melodic ones, into songs,” said Brannock. “I’ve been trying some ragtime and classical banjo as well, which I haven’t heard played too much from other young musicians.” He wants to be known for his style and his diverse playing.

Brannock formed a band called Kentucky Borderline.

Brannock McCarten Bluegrass StandardGathering for a festival in Kentucky under the direction of Gary Brewer, Ashlyn Smith and Mackenzie Bell on mandolin and bass joined the band. Ashlyn got her start performing with Grammy award-winning Rhonda Vincent in the Ryman Auditorium. The band plans to record an album in Nashville this summer.

Ashlyn’s grandfather Larry Smith, president of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars (TBS) invited Brannock to join TBS after hearing him play a Monday jam in a coffee shop.

“He is a great banjo player, and he has helped me a lot with how I play,” said Brannock. “He has even helped me learn how to play new songs and encouraged me with my timing along the way.”

Here’s more from The Bluegrass Standard (BGS) chat with Brannock McCartan (BM).

BGS: What is your favorite part of playing bluegrass?

BM: I really like the instruments, specifically. The way the banjo, mandolin, guitar, and dobro play well together and sound nice when they are played.


BGS: Who are your biggest influences in your music?

BM: Earl Scruggs and JD Crowe. They are both big influences for me, and I really like their style of playing.


BGS: Do you have any other genres of music that you enjoy but don’t really play? Any favorite artists?

BM: Outside of bluegrass music, I really enjoy rock music. Queen would have to be my favorite!


BGS: What is your dream brand to partner with for your music?

BM: I would love to partner with Deering Banjos. I love their banjos and play one right now actually!


BGS: What do you think makes a great bluegrass concert?

BM: I feel like the band has to be engaged with the audience, and the songs have to be energetic to make them feel excited. With a good variety of songs, some slow, some energetic, and some instrumental, you can create an experience that is memorable.


BGS: If you could fulfill a dream of playing with any other musician, who would you choose?

BM: I would have to say JD Crowe because I really like a lot of the playing that he does. He has been a big inspiration for me.


To keep up with Brannock and his band Kentucky Borderline, follow him on YouTube at Banjo Brannock, Facebook at Kentucky Borderline, and Instagram at @kentuckyborderline.


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