Crossing the Laurel River Line
by Susan Marquez
Since 2009, a group of guys in London, Kentucky have been playing bluegrass together in a band called Laurel River Line.
“Most of us knew each other growing up,” says Matt Scarbrough. “We all grew up listening to bluegrass. When we started playing together, we had enough songs to start playing at some of the local churches. We started using the Laurel River Line name around 2009 when we played our first bluegrass festival. We were nervous as could be and so young! But the response we got really made us feel appreciated and gave us the confidence to get out and do more!”
The name, Laurel River Line,
comes from Laurel County, where London, Kentucky is located. “There is a Laurel River, and when you cross the county line, there is a sign that says Laurel County Line. We had a song on our first CD called Riding the Line and we just kind of put it all together and came up with the name Laurel River Line. It seems to fit the area where we live.”
That first CD was released in 2011 and was all Gospel. Their second CD had some more progressive songs, but the third CD, released in 2016, has a more traditional bluegrass feel. “We do almost all of our own original music, but we do a few covers. We are influenced by IIIrd Tyme Out, Lonesome River Band, and Doyle Lawson. We feel like our sound can be compared to the Lonesome River Band. We have a Stanley Brothers tune on the last album as well.”
The band consists of Matt Scarbrough on mandolin, Nat Kirby on guitar, Dillon Abney on bass, and the newest member, Malachi Smith on banjo. “Doug Davidson, who used to play dobro for us, passed away in 2013. He played the Festival of Bluegrass with us as well as a few other festivals.” Matt, Nat, and Dillon all live in London and have played together for the past eight years. Malachi lives in Dayton, Ohio.
“It’s a challenge for us because we can’t all get together to practice, but we are determined to make it work.”
The band has taken a bit of a hiatus as families have expanded. “Having children changes the whole dynamic of a band,” says Matt. “We all started having kids at the same time, and we all shifted our focus to family for a few years.”
Matt has two daughters at home, ages three and one. A stay-at-home dad, he changed his work schedule as a water plant operator to the weekend so that he can be with the girls during the week while his wife is at work.
“We felt that it was a good way to avoid daycare,” he says. But the challenge there is that most of the gigs the band has are on weekends. “I’m able to take time off to play when we have a gig.”
In early March, the band played at a church in Dayton and they are on schedule this year for a series in Lexington, Kentucky in the Moondance Amphitheater at Southland Jamboree.
“It’s a beautiful open-air venue that features a free Thursday evening bluegrass concert throughout the summer,” says Matt. At this time, the first performance of the year is scheduled for May 28.
One of the highlights of Laurel River Line’s career has been playing the Stringbean Memorial Festival. David ‘Stringbean’ Akemon was a comedian and famed clawhammer banjo player who was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. His family lives about 20 miles from Matt’s family in Kentucky. “We normally headline the Stringbean Memorial Festival,” says Matt. “We’ve had the opportunity to play with many of our influences, which has been such an honor.”
Another festival that has been important to the band is the Festival of Bluegrass in Lexington. “I’ve been going to that festival as long as I can remember,” says Matt. The Seldom Scene is big at the festival, and we had the privilege of playing the festival with them in 2013. The TV series Jubilee filmed us for a segment on their show. That was a real checkpoint for us as well.”
Matt says the band enjoys collaborating on original songs. “We actually have enough songs now to make a new album, which is something we are seriously talking about. Our original songs have their own feel that make them unique. We are proud of the music we are putting out there and hope our fans continue to support us as we get back out into the festival scene in the coming months. We all had goals of things we wanted to accomplish, and now we are working hard to get back on the road playing as much as we are able to.”