The Farnum Family Band: Spreading God’s Love through Music
by Shelby C. Berry
Based out of the Missouri Ozarks, the Farnum Family band consists of the children, Hannah, Nathaniel, Maggie, Daniel, Benjamin, alongside their parents, Trish and Norm. Their acoustic string style bluegrass, gospel, old-time, western, and Irish tunes with added humor is performed in places like Cody, Wyoming, the Texas Rio Grande Valley, the Midwest, and their home state. The band regularly performs at Silver Dollar City during the Bluegrass and BBQ Festival, but they also take the stage at other festivals, churches, historic theaters, and fairs.
Their musical adventures started in 2003 when older siblings, Daniel and Benjamin, began music lessons and were soon singing with their parents. Since then, The Farnum Family band has received instrumental awards and vocal recognitions.
Sharing their testimony and love of Christ, the family uses Colossians 3:16 as their mission, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
The band takes the Apostle Paul’s advice in this verse to heart and pray that their music and their lives reflect their love for the Lord. It is also reflected in this Bluegrass Standard interview
The Bluegrass Standard: How long have you been a band?
Norm: We started our family music before Y2K, as some of the children would sing at church events with myself and Trish. Our oldest three children began instrument lessons in the summer of 2003 – Daniel on bass, Benjamin on mandolin, and Hannah on fiddle. We played our first program together at a conference in August of 2004, and it has grown from there!
BGS: Tell us some your earliest memories playing music.
Norm: My earliest memory with our family band was a rather emotional one. It was after the first year or so of lessons, Daniel was playing the upright bass, Benjamin was playing his mandolin, Hannah was bowing a tune on the fiddle, and me on the banjo & Trish on the piano. I introduced them to Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and lo and behold, the kids all jumped right in, and I got all teary-eyed! That was one of the earliest bluegrass tunes we all played together as a family.
BGS: Why did you pursue music?
Norm: Trish and I have played music together as a duet since before we were married (over 30 years ago), so it was pretty natural that all the children were subject to homegrown family music–from the womb, onward.
Benjamin: I guess I was pretty much just born into it – seeing and hearing mum and dad do it for so long, it just seemed natural to follow them into it.
BGS: What is your favorite part of playing bluegrass?
Norm: For me, it has always been the camaraderie and being challenged with new tunes at jam sessions. And playing the banjo, despite the jokes, I’ve always felt welcome by others.
Benjamin: The people, the traveling, hearing all the different ways different folks interpret the music, and how other genres can influence it.
Hannah: Meeting new people and getting to jam with some great pickers.
Trish: What I love about bluegrass is the community—so many great friendships made, and it is truly like a family reunion when we get together with many of the bands we have met over the years. Even with the “big names” in bluegrass, there is an approachableness—a willingness to get to know and even jam with their fans that you don’t find in other types of music.
BGS: Who are your biggest influences?
Trish: Some of the trio work that the girls and I do has definitely been influenced by the Quebe Sisters.
BGS: What is your most memorable on-stage moment since you began playing?
Maggie: Taking third place in the 2019 Youth in Bluegrass Contest at Silver Dollar City! Hannah, Nathaniel, and I formed a band called Ozark Highways with Alex Clayton and Justus Ross since our brother, Benjamin, was too old to compete.
BGS: Tell me about your sound and what makes you different.
Benjamin: As much as we love bluegrass, we’ve always been rather genre-blending in our music; Dad has always loved the old 20’s and 30’s show-tunes. Our older brother, Daniel, was very much into western music. Hannah has learned a lot of Texas-style fiddling, and then we’ve all always been fans of Celtic music and folk and gospel music from almost every era.
Norm: Our instrumentation has always been a bit unique, as we’ve nearly always included the piano in our shows. Trish has played it since she was six years old, and it goes with so much of what we do. And now she has added the penny whistle to our mix. In other words, we actually play more than bluegrass: some call it Americana or roots music. We’ve done everything from Stephen Foster and Scott Joplin to Guy Clark and Stan Rogers, Bob Wills to Appalachia, along with many stops in between.
BGS: What about your partnerships with brands and instruments?
Norm: As a result of Hannah’s fiddle playing, we have endorsements by Black Diamond and Super-Sensitive Strings. And although I’ve played a Gibson banjo for much of my life, I now play a Piotr Bulas handcrafted “Polish Eagle” Banjo that was custom made for me. That goes with some of our family’s European roots—my maternal grandparents were both born in Poland.
BGS: What inspired you to create the album Song of the Bandit and what does it tell the world?
Norm: Hopefully, it conveys our love of God’s creation, the message of redemption, and Daniel’s ability to relay a great story whether in poem or song! Cowboy music has been a part of our sound since the early years, but we’ve always done a variety of styles, and still do. There is such an interesting mix in American music—many of the early cowboy songs and bluegrass standards were taken from or influenced by Irish songs and tunes. And we probably mix it up more than most! That said, our sound has changed some in recent years. Hannah’s and Benjamin’s talents have matured, and Maggie has really come into her own on the bass. With Daniel’s departure, Benjamin is now the lead male vocalist, and mom and the girls do a lot of trio singing. Our son, Nathaniel, has also moved on in preparation for marriage, so we no longer have his Dobro or Irish Bodhran as part of our sound.
BGS: Any plans to record a new album?
Norm: Yes. It has been long overdue, and we just wrapped up in the studio on June 1. There is still mixing, mastering, and cover art in the works, but we hope to have it out by late summer or early fall. It will be a variety album including bluegrass, gospel, western swing, Irish, and folk tunes.
BGS: What has been your experience with Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars?
Norm: I was first introduced to TBS and John Colburn by another banjo player, Kevin Decker (who coincidentally also introduced me to the Bulas banjo). We met briefly a few years ago at a SPGMA event in Nashville. I really didn’t get involved at that time, but rather maintained an awareness of TBS for a few years. It was only recently that John reached out to me about the prospect of becoming a regional director, an office which I have held since late last fall.
Benjamin: Dad encouraged me to join in a mentor capacity (since I’m well over 18now), though I’m afraid I haven’t done much with it yet; but if anyone is in interested in lessons, or just has any questions about rhythm and/or lead guitar and/or mandolin, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
BGS: How has Mr. John Colburn and other TBS leaders helped you with your career in bluegrass?
Norm: We were thankful to be included in the very first TBS-hosted online bluegrass festival that aired during the quarantine in April. That gave us exposure (pun intended) to many other TBS member families.
BGS: Do you have upcoming events? Have events from the last few months affected your plans?
Norm: We’ve also booked an Independence Day event on July 3, some churches in August, and another event or two in October. We are hopeful that opportunities will continue to open for live performance. On the brighter side, the last few months’ crisis has helped us to see the value of going stronger into social media platforms, primarily Facebook Live. We’re still breaking the ice but see great potential there. In fact, we would invite your readers to check out Hannah’s weekly Facebook LIVE program: Fiddlin’ Friday at Five. That’s Central Time, folks.
BGS: What are your dreams for your future in music – specifically bluegrass?
Norm: I would like very much to see our family make a full-time livelihood playing at fairs, festivals, and other family-friendly venues, as well as expanding our online fan base and CD sales. It would be fun to start writing some of our own music, too.
BGS: Anything else you would like readers to know?
Norm: Based out of Galena, Missouri, we travel to play or minister in music near and far. Please contact us to inquire about booking.