The B.O.R.N. (Band On Rise Nationally) award from National Bluegrass is a program that recognizes bluegrass bands for their talents and abilities that can make them the next "breakout artist". The recipient of each award receives not only the pride and exposure that comes with nomination, but also a valuable package from our website that will assist the winner with the advancement of their careers.
This month's B.O.R.N. recipient is Monroeville
Although the same thing is often said about many up and coming bands, it really would be hard to find the kind of young and extremely accomplished talent in one place that Monroeville can boast. Among them they hold four Grammy nominations and their ranks include two entrepreneurs and a biomedical engineer. This is not your average bluegrass band.
The band’s style fuses bluegrass, newgrass, and acoustic country. They cut their teeth on the fast-flying high-lonesome bluegrass tradition, which you can hear in all of their music. Monroeville cut their debut EP, “Monroeville,” just over a year ago, and since then have already been on the national Festival scene at Greyfox and IBMA, featured on The Today Show, and released their first video, for the song “Pot of Gold.”
What makes Monroeville particularly outstanding is the dedication and commitment to making music that drives them. The band has developed an educational presentation that they bring to schools, encouraging and instructing young students to pursue their passion for playing music. While barely getting started themselves, they are already thinking about the future of bluegrass, and recognize that it’s never too soon to pass it on.
Monroeville is vocalist and bassist Daniel Salyer, Nothin’ Fancy and Pine Mountain Railroad alum Eli Johnston on guitar, Grammy-nominated ETSU grad and accomplished dobro sideman Travis Houck, Grammy-nominated banjo player Zane Petty, Grammy-nominated engineer and musician Matt Munsey on mandolin, and multi-instrumentalist Matt “Scooter” Flake on fiddle.
National Bluegrass caught up with Munsey to learn more about what makes Monroeville special.
How did Monroeville get started? How did you all meet each other?
A few of us played together with Barry Scott– me, Zane, and Travis. Bluegrass is a small world, and we’d always been friends with Matt and Eli so it was pretty natural to bring them on.
All of us except for Daniel play on a regular basis at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg, about five days a week about 10 hours a day. We are really lucky that way. Most bands have other day jobs, and we’re really appreciative because it’s regular work for us.
What do you think sets Monroeville apart?
The way I explain it to people is that we have some amazing musicians. There are plenty of other musicians who play better than we do individually, but collectively we play as a unit. We also have a powerhouse of vocalists. Having the amount of vocal range that we have is unheard of. Another thing is that we have great songwriters. We have all the ingredients to make a great band.
Also the diversity with our set – we don’t do the same set list. I get a sense of the crowd and then I write the set list out before every show to take people on a musical journey that keeps people’s attention. I’ve seen that really been very successful for us.
I think groups that have the talent sometimes do not have good business heads, and that’s something that we’ve always paid attention to. Not having a business sense can keep a lot of good music from getting out there. We’re very fortunate to be working with Sherri Clark, she’s been with us as our manager from the beginning and sacrificed just as much as the band, and she loves coaching people on what she’s learned the last 35 years in the business. You have to take chances and go with the flow but at the same time for those who are making good decisions, those opportunities happen more often.
How did you get interested in working with schools?
The way we got into the schools is that we were all brought up with people teaching us, so its good for us to share what we’ve learned, and because we’re so young, we do really well with them. We want to do something to give back that will also build the band fan base. For us personally, all of the guys in this band are good guys. Last weekend we played a festival and the highlight for us was a little girl who brought her guitar for us to sign and told us we inspired her to learn to play. So even though we got to play for thousands of people, it’s moments like that when you know you’re making a difference that make it worthwhile.”
What do you guys think about “crossover”?
We all come from a traditional background - we all play that stuff really well. We can do the bluegrass stuff about as good as anyone, so if we are going to a traditional style festival, we give them what they want. The first four or five songs are going to be traditional bluegrass style, and that leaves the door open to introduce some of the newer stuff and original material. Some bands come out with the original stuff but never get to the stuff people want to hear. I’m very detail oriented and pay attention to how people react to things, and I pretty much know bluegrass and festival crowds. We always get to the festival early. In Virginia you have more hard core traditionalists, but at Strawberry Park in CT it’s a whole different crowd so we had more freedom to include original stuff.
To me, good music is good music. If it takes talent, whether I like it or not, I can appreciate it. I think with this band nobody is close minded. We approached it as bluegrass because we had to start somewhere, but we’re going to be doing lots of other stuff. We’re going to take bluegrass with us. Our goal is to change the perception about bluegrass. It’s not about Deliverance. We feel like Monroeville can break past that the way that Alison Krauss and Ricky Skaggs did.
What does the band do for fun when you're not making music together?
We just like hanging out with each other, so being on the road is always a fun trip. We’ve been working a lot but there is a little hobby shop in Gatlinburg that sells model helicopters, we had a good time with those. But it’s hard for us to get free time.
You might not find Monroeville on a lot of festival bills. The band wants to take a different approach, getting engaged with communities and audiences through a 3 or 4 day visit to conduct educational programs, perform on college campuses, and doing shows and lessons at performing arts centers. Stop by www.monroevilleband.com to find out where you can catch Monroeville live at a gig near you.