by Susan Marquez
Colebrook Road is a band with something for everyone, drawing new bluegrass fans while redefining the genre for the more established bluegrass fans. Compared to a middle ground between the traditional Del McCoury Band and Lonesome River Band to the more progressive Punch Brothers and Billy Strings, their sound earned Colebrook Road a finalist spot in the 2020 IBMA Momentum Band award.
“We are based on traditional bluegrass,” says Wade Yankey, who plays mandolin for the band.
The band likes to push limits a bit, to step into and expand into more progressive bluegrass sounds.
He says the band is “pretty old,” dating back to 2009 when he started the band with Jesse Eisenbise and two other fellows. “Jesse and I are the only original members of the band,” says Wade. There have been a few changes in the lineup, but the current band has been together since 2015. Band members include Wade on the mandolin and Jesse, who supplies lead vocals and guitar and is the band’s primary songwriter. Mark Rast plays the banjo, dobro, and sings bass vocals; Joe McAnulty is the band’s fiddler and baritone vocalist; Jeff Campbell rounds out the band on bass and tenor vocals.
Between 2007 and 2009, when Wade was thinking of putting the band together, he was influenced by bands like The Infamous Stringdusters and Steep Canyon Rangers, especially their song, “Lovin’ Pretty Women.” “There are so many legends and heroes that have influenced us, as well as our peers. And now some of the younger folks have become our inspiration.”
The band got its name from a series of roads that wind through a three-county area in Pennsylvania. “There are several Colebrook Roads,” says Wade. “Jesse lives on Colebrook Road, as does Mark, but they live on two different roads in two different counties. We thought that was reason enough to name the band after the roads, plus it just has a nice ring to it.”
The band’s sound has gone through an evolution over the years. “When Mark joined the band, we began entering a lot of contests. We entered the Watermelon Park festival in Virginia, the Podunk festival in Connecticut, and the DC Bluegrass Union in Washington, DC. We won all of them, and that helped get us invited to larger festivals.” In 2018 they met booking agent Jim Rowe at IBMA. “Jim got us booked at the Gray Fox Bluegrass Festival in New York and other high-profile festivals.”
The band recorded a couple of LPs, one going to the number two spot on the Billboard chart. “We really hit our stride in 2019,” says Wade. “We had our best touring year ever.” Sadly, the Covid pandemic, which swept the country, followed, canceling gig after gig in 2020. “We only did a handful of gigs in 2020, and those were outdoor affairs with limited seating. We were all thankful for our real jobs that year.” Wade works as an environmental engineer, Mark is a family doctor, Jeff brews craft beer, Jesse is a teacher-turned-carpenter, and Joe is the only one in the group who makes his living with music. “Jeff teaches violin, and he plays in orchestras in addition to playing with Colebrook Road.” The band mainly plays on weekends, but during the long tour in 2021, they played Thursday through Sunday nights for six weeks. “We were all pretty exhausted when it was over.”
Things picked up a bit in 2021. “We did 35 to 40 dates, with twenty of those within a six-week stretch.” The heavy tour date promoted their newest album, Hindsight is 2020, on the Mountain Fever label. The LP was recorded in two sessions in February and March 2020 at Mountain Fever’s recording studio in Virginia. “We decided to hold off releasing the album until Covid calmed down a bit,” explains Wade. The album was finally released in October 2021, featuring ten originals. Eight had never been recorded.
“Colebrook Road has a great sound,” says Mountain Fever CEO Mark Hodges. “Their original music is so good, and they do such a unique spin on any covers they do. Not to mention they are so easy to work with. They are true professionals and amazing musicians.”
During the Covid shutdown, Wade says the band continued to get together and play.“We are fortunate that we all live within thirty to forty miles of each other. We generally get together weekly to play and work on new songs. We are now trying to put together new material for our next project.”