Bluegrass banjo player Barry Abernathy contends that his present group, Appalachian Roadshow, is “probably the best band” that he has played with in his musical career.
That’s a mighty powerful statement since Georgia born and reared Abernathy has been in three of the most popular and critically praised bluegrass groups of all time.
Local music fans can decide for themselves if his estimation is true when Appalachian Roadshow comes to the Imperial Theater for a show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11.
It will be the second offering of the 2019-2020 Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music Southern Soul & Song Series and features opening act Darrell Scott.
Tickets are $15, $24, $30. Buy at the box office 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, call (706) 823-3241 or buy online at imperialtheatre.com.
Abernathy toured the nation and recorded five albums with his first major band Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver led by one of bluegrass music’s legendary figures.
That led to being with the outstanding group IIIrd Tyme Out followed by Abernathy co-founding an equally fan-favorite band called Mountain Heart.
Due to nerve damage in his neck that made it difficult and often painful to play his banjo, Abernathy took some time off before coming back on the bluegrass music scene with his new group.
His partner in the creative venture is mandolin player Darrell Webb; especially known for his work with Dolly Parton on her albums “Halos and Horns” and also “For God and Country.”
Webb also has recorded with Marty Raybon (lead vocalist of the chart-topping country band Shenandoah) and bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent.
Additionally, he toured with banjo legend J.D. Crowe as well as the Lonesome River Band.
Abernathy and Webb are joined in Appalachian Road Show band by Grammy-winning bass player Todd Phillips, fiddler Jim Van Cleve (who also co-founded Mountain Heart) and newcomer guitarist Zeb Snyder.
Just a few days ago, Abernathy was eager to talk about his new group and the upcoming Imperial show.
He was calling from his tour bus as his band was pulling into the 45th Annual Hall of Fame & Uncle Pen Days Festival at the Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground near Bean Blossom, Ind.
It was at that park decades ago that Lester Flatt and Monroe (“The Father of Bluegrass Music”) finally ended their long-standing feud.
As viewers of Ken Burns’ “Country Music” series on PBS television know, the two had stopped talking to each other because Flatt and Earl Scruggs had left Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys band to form their own Foggy Mountain Boys group.
You would think Lawson would have been just as angry when Abernathy, Van Cleeve and Steve Gulley left his Quicksilver band in 1998 to start Mountain Heart with Adam Steffy and Johnny Dowdle.
But apparently there was no serious riff that couldn’t be mended. Abernathy speaks in almost religious tones of his musical education acquired traveling with Lawson.
“It was an education all right,” Abernathy said laughing. “Doyle was one of my heroes growing up, and when I started out playing I aspired to be a musician working with Doyle Lawson.”
His childhood years, besides pursuing music, included playing football at his schools in Ellijay in the north Georgia mountains. That’s where Abernathy still lives.
“Doyle himself is a quarterback and a coach on the stage [leading his team of musicians],” Abernathy related.
Lawson especially could “read a crowd,” Abernathy said, and would adjust his songs during a show based on the mood of the audience.
“The way he hit a note on his mandolin in a certain way meant that we had to get ready for a change in our songs.”
Abernathy is proud of his association with mandolin player Webb and their new band.
“I’ve known Darrell ever since I started playing music,” Abernathy said. “He’s the king of the parking lot jam sessions at bluegrass festivals. There is not a bluegrass song that he doesn’t know well.”
Appalachian Roadshow released its debut album in October of last year, and the band is back in the studio working on its second offering due out early next year.
One of the special banjos that Abernathy has been playing on the new recordings is owned by another banjo king: Little Roy Lewis of The Little Roy & Lizzy Long Show based in Lincolnton, Ga.
“Little Roy is a great friend of mine and a great inspiration,” Abernathy said. “I was at his home last May when I played for Ben Isaacs at Jeff & Sheri Easter’s Homecoming Festival.
“Little Roy was showing me this old Gibson of his that is worth a great deal of money, and he said, ‘Why don’t you take that home with you?’ I thought he was just kidding but he added, ‘I’m going to sit it in my driveway, and if you don’t take it somebody is going to run over it.’”
Abernathy then realized that Lewis wanted the younger bluegrass star to borrow it for his new album and took him up on the generous offer.
And unless Abernathy returns it to Lewis before the Imperial concert, you just might get to hear that special banjo when the Appalachian Roadshow takes the stage this coming Friday night.