Revisiting the Grassabillies
by Shelby Berry
For years, Robbie Helton felt more home on a stage than anywhere else. He played thousands of gigs, either as a part of theater groups or with his own bands, and didn’t hesitate playing guitar for Emilie “EmiSunshine” Hamilton when her band came calling.
“Touring with EmiSunshine was awesome! She is the real deal, and I can’t say that enough,” said Helton. “Anyone who doesn’t know about Emi is really missing out. Once you work with someone who has the talent Emi possesses, it really makes you want to achieve more. Set the bar higher.”
Helton played on stages he’d only dreamed about stepping foot on— Austin City Limits, Merlefest, Stagecoach, and even the Grand Ole Opry. At the end of his tour with EmiSunshine, Helton moved back home to western North Carolina and reignited his old band The Grassabillies, which formed in 2003. He chose new band members and his first choice was Luke Edwards.
Edwards had gained popularity with his band being featured on MTV. He invited Helton and Saxon to play a performance and shortly after the three were booking shows as The Grassabillies.
The Grassabillies, a high-energy trio playing a soulful blend of bluegrass, country, and roots rock-n-roll, puts a spin on acoustic music with traditional bluegrass instruments while planning its own rules musically. All three members have versatile music backgrounds. Helton plays the upright bass and talking jive; Luke Edwards takes on the acoustic guitar, lead vocals and harmonica; and Randy Saxon plays the mandolin and banjo.
“Before we performed together, I had never met Randy, but his reputation preceded him. Just a superb, tasteful musician,” Helton said.
The guys all started in rock music, but over time, gravitated toward the realness of bluegrass. Helton loves what the band does with their music – hard hitting bluegrass music that loves tradition and experimentation.
“There’s nothing like real music performed by real people,” Helton said. “The melodies, the groove, the lyrics. Bluegrass music just takes you somewhere no other form of music can take you.