Making the World a Better Place
Teen banjo player Riley Gilbreath, born and bred in Crowley, Texas, has made a name for himself with his authentic bluegrass and country music, finding wide success in the industry. He racked up awards such as Bluegrass Heritage Foundation Showcase Artist, Texas State Banjo Champion, Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival Banjo Champion, FFA District Talent Show Winner, Nashville Lights Songwriter Competition Winner, and more.
His drive started with a bluegrass song on the radio and thrust him into a soloist career in country music and a bandleader for his bluegrass band, Riley Gilbreath & Lone Star Blue. However, the pivotal moment was when the Pay It Forward program with the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation gave 12-year-old Riley a loner banjo. His playing improved drastically within a year, and he traveled to Texas and Oklahoma, playing on stage anywhere they let him. He filled in for bands when their banjo players were unavailable.
Riley’s improvement and dedication paid off.
At the 2017 Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival, his parents and Steve Huber of Huber Banjos presented Riley with a new Huber Workhorse banjo.
That year, in November, at age 14, Riley became the full-time banjo player for Cedar Junction Bluegrass Band, and later, he joined his father in Pocket Change Bluegrass Band as their lead guitarist. He even picked up playing mandolin and upright bass along the way.
By January 2021, Riley was ready to focus on his music.
Riley Gilbreath & Lone Star Blue is a 5-piece bluegrass band that fuses up-tempo bluegrass with three-part harmonies and beats that make you want to tap your feet. They opened for Kylie Frey at the Levitt Pavilion and played at multiple music festivals.
“Playing the Levitt Pavilion with my band was the first big stage I’d played on professionally,” said Riley. “There was a big crowd, and it was a memorable night for me and my career. I thought only a year before that I’d never get to play on that stage. It was awesome!”
Riley Gilbreath & Lone Star Blue consists of Riley on banjo and guitar, Cole Gore on guitar, Sam Smith on mandolin, Leah Sawyer on fiddle, and John-Samuel May on bass and guitar. They plan to release a new single this spring.
“Right now, we are taking it one show at a time. We are just having fun. That’s what matters!” said Riley.
In addition to his bluegrass band, Riley is also a songwriter currently working with Grammy award-winning producer Chuck Ebert on his first solo EP releasing this spring.
“I write what comes out of my heart, and it leans toward a mix of country and bluegrass. Some are more the mountain sound of bluegrass. It’s the best of both worlds,” said Riley. “I’m learning a lot. I’m learning that co-writing is okay too! That’s where a lot of really great songs come from. It’s really exciting to put something out that I created!”
Riley feels the most at home when he spends time with other musicians like him, making him the perfect fit for Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars (TBS). Sandy Smith, the wife of TBS president Larry Smith and mother to bluegrass superstar Ashlyn Smith, invited Riley to join, and he found the group a great way to meet and connect and jam with musicians around the country.
A new member of the TBS group, Riley takes pride in preserving bluegrass music for tomorrow’s musicians, an uncommon commitment for an artist as young as Riley.
“I love playing as many shows as I can and spreading bluegrass music! It seems like it’s coming back to life,” said Riley. “Things are going great for me. The more I appreciate, the more blessings God gives me.”
Riley dreams of one day being a full-time musician playing live music — whether for a crowd of five people or a stadium full of millions.