The Local Boys
by Shelby Berry
Bluegrass pioneers Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs started a movement when they created the music almost a century ago. Audiences couldn’t get enough.
Still, bluegrass was considered hillbilly music as rock ’n’ roll music took front and center, reinforcing stereotypes in movies and television over the years. A loyal few dedicated themselves to the bluegrass traditions then, but something began changing in the industry. Bluegrass started claiming more breathing space, and a larger audience appreciated the music.
Today’s ‘hipster generation’ loves folk music, and this acoustic sound caused an upsurge in listeners of traditional bluegrass artists and progressive, modern folk artists bringing tradition into the future.
Either way, the legacy of bluegrass music lives on in many styles, but the musicians defining themselves in tradition uphold the stories and techniques of yesterday’s music. For more than two decades, one band doing that has been The Local Boys, a bluegrass and Americana band based in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. The Local Boys love music that grew and evolved over decades — old-time, bluegrass, country, and rock ’n’ roll.
Starting in the late 1990s in Maryland, The Local Boys have a long tradition of celebrating the roots of bluegrass music.
“Having the knowledge of where the music came from and where it evolved is the most precious thing about bluegrass music,” said band leader and guitar player John Aaron.
“Bluegrass is similar to country in how it has changed over the years. All genres evolve. I’m grateful that I got to know the old stuff and appreciate it. We always respect where we’ve come from and where we are going in the future.”
Although it has changed over the decades, today’s band lineup consists of John Aaron on guitar, Steven Davidson on mandolin, Tommy Ray on banjo, Jake Joines on dobro, and Jesse Chattin on bass.
Based in the home of the iconic Merlefest bluegrass festival, The Local Boys will perform there for the 24th year this spring. Highlighting Merlefest as their favorite performance place, the band also actively participates in the outreach program, sponsored by Merlefest, bringing music to surrounding area schools.
Bandleader and manager John Aaron is the longtime member of The Local Boys, dating back to the band’s origin. The Bluegrass Standard chatted with him about The Local Boys.
The Bluegrass Standard: How do you position yourself with your music to remain true to who you are and continue to be considered traditional bluegrass music?
John Aaron: It’s not exactly the music we play. It’s the idea that if someone writes a song and brings it to the band, it’s the chords, the style, and the way we decide to play. It’s an old school style with a new school bluegrass band.
BGS: Who are your musical influences, idols, or bands that helped mold the music you created?
JA: There are a world of guys out there that epitomize what each of our instruments should sound like, such as Tony Rice, Jimmy Martin, Earl Scruggs, and Sam Bush. They are pioneers that have come up with sounds that go above and beyond what you would expect to hear. It’s awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping. It means something to you when you hear it.
BGS: What does your current music show the world about you and the band as musicians?
JA: Right now, originality. That’s where our focus is. We are in the studio finishing a 100% original album. We are looking so forward to it. I can’t wait to put it out there for the world to hear.
BGS: Often, artists channel their lives into their music. Is this something your band does? If so, how does that reflect who you are as people?
JA: We have two main songwriters, Steven Davidson and Tommy Ray. Steven writes primarily on life experience. It’s so well thought out when you hear the lyrics. You can tell that the music tells the story about something that happened to him. You can relate to him. He is a great songwriter in that way, writing about things you can understand. Tommy writes more about thoughts and ideas in a very positive and upbeat way. They are positive, feel-good kinds of stories. Like in the TV show Full House when something bad has happened, there’s the feel-good positive moment explaining why those things happened the way they did. Our music is similar to that — ending the song in a feel-good moment.
BGS: After many decades of performing, what would you say has been the most rewarding part of this experience?
JA: The camaraderie, the friendships, and the coming together of like minds talking about ideas.
BGS: What are your dreams for your future in music as a band?
JA: Let’s keep it going and play more! I want to play the Grand Ole Opry, Radio City Music Hall, and the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. I want to keep doing what we are doing, and we are on our way to performing those places! You never know what may happen. Lionel Richie, when he is judging on American Idol, has a comment that he says to contestants. He says, ‘I can’t wait to see how you progress on your journey.’ We are on our journey, and who knows what we will come across or bump into. If nothing comes of it, then we’ve had a hell of a time getting there!