Tray Wellington: Hitting All the Notes
by Kara M. Bachman
Trajan “Tray” Wellington might be young, but his accomplishments are already tremendous.
This banjo player hailing from Jefferson, North Carolina had already received two recognitions from IBMA even before reaching age 21. Amongst his numerous awards are the 2019 IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year and the 2019 Momentum Band of the Year, which he earned while playing with Cane Mill Road.
“It was definitely a cool feeling,” he said of the wins. “It was kind of shocking. It was really an encouraging thing and gave me the motivation not to stay stagnant.”
It is charming to think of someone so young worrying about becoming “stagnant,” but this approach has gotten Wellington far.
After that IBMA win, he thought, “maybe it’s a good thing if I have an album of my own originals.” That idea soon became a release called “Uncaged Thoughts.” The record includes eight tracks, but he classifies the recording as an EP.
As someone who prefers to keep moving, he’s touring as much as he can with his whole group, The Tray Wellington Band, and is already working on the next record.
“I have an album coming out next year…it’ll be recorded in the next couple of months,” he said. “Three singles I already have released will be on there. I think it will be a pretty different project in terms of material, and it won’t be a traditional bluegrass album by any means.”
Wellington said there would be some covers, such as his take on “Strasbourg St. Denis” by Roy Hargrove.
“But the rest will be original; it will be 10 to 12 tracks, with about three covers,” he said. “I’ve been writing instrumentals for four or five years,” he explained. “But when it comes to songwriting, it’s something I got into more during the pandemic.”
This banjo talent is honing his writing chops and doing it precisely the right way: He’s seeking advice, input, and critique from those he admires.
“I know a lot of really great songwriters, and I hear their input on things,” he said. “Also, I have been able to co-write with some heroes, such as Jon Weisberger. He’s such a great songwriter.” He also mentioned banjo-pickin’ maestro and songwriter Pete Wernick and guitarist, producer, and writer Thomm Jutz.
From the looks of it, the banjo is where Wellington plans to put his future. He probably never imagined someday being fully immersed and quickly successful in the bluegrass world back when he got his feet wet with making music. He played trombone in the school band and was learning his first stringed instrument.
“I was in middle school and had originally started playing electric guitar,” he reminisced.
Then, while enjoying his grandfather’s music collection, Wellington “ran into Doc Watson.” In short order, he’d joined the Mountain Music club at his middle school. A teacher there started playing the banjo for them, and it made an impact.
“I got the spark immediately,” Wellington recalled.
He’s already accomplished much, so what does he see in his future?
“I want to keep playing with my main band, they have really pushed me musically, and I want to play with them as long as I can,” Wellington said.
He enjoys and performs country, jazz, blues, and rock, but for this musician, the sounds and people of bluegrass tug at his heartstrings.
“It draws me in, the realness of it,” he said. “The energy of it.”