MRBA Volunteer needed

Do you love the Montana Rockies Bluegrass Association events?  Would you like to help us get the word out about our events?

We need a volunteer to take on the task of listing our MRBA sponsored events with the media outlets such as the Missoulian,, the Bitterroot Star and the Independent.  We sponsor about 12 events per year and submissions can be made through simple online forms.  Training is available if needed.  This is a very important job for keeping our club vibrant.

Please give me a call if you can help.

-Phyllis  546-6327


IBMA Awards 2011


For immediate release: September 30, 2011
Press Info: Judy McDonough, JEMMedia (615) 243-5994,


On the strength of a busy touring schedule, a string of national television appearances and the release of a new album, Rare Bird Alert on Rounder Records, Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers took home the Entertainer of the Year award at the 22nd annual International Bluegrass Music Awards Thursday night, September 29 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.  Martin, who always included banjo picking in his early stand-up comedy routines, has become more serious about recording and performing bluegrass music during the past two years, with the release of two albums of original music.

Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers, a young group based in North Carolina named IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year in 2007, played “Me and Paul Revere” during the Awards Show—a song Martin wrote from the perspective of Revere’s horse and performed on national television at the Capitol 4th Concert in Washington, D.C. July 4. There’s always been something a little magic about fiddle and banjo music, and Martin’s deft clawhammer style underscored by Nicky Sanders’ exuberant fiddling and soaring three-part vocal harmony from the Rangers definitely did the trick.

Martin appeared at the microphone to receive the bluegrass music industry’s highest music award, leapt a few times into the air, congratulated the other Entertainer of the Year nominees and jokingly thanked them for losing. He went on to thank producers John McEuen and Tony Trischka as well as his band mates, and then he talked about how hard they’ve been working on their music, as well as the humor and entertainment aspects of their show, while trying to never denigrate the music. Martin said that while half of their audience usually comes to see him, not knowing anything about bluegrass, “They all leave loving it, and maybe they seek out other musicians. We’re really, really honored to win this award tonight.”

Steep Canyon Rangers lead singer, Woody Platt quipped, “Working with Steve, we might be the most entertained of all. Most of all we thank Steve for giving us this most amazing ride.”

…Read the rest of this article…

The 2011 International Bluegrass Awards:

  • Hall of Fame Inductees – Del McCoury, George Shuffler
  • Entertainer of the Year – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
  • Vocal Group of the Year – The Gibson Brothers
  • Instrumental Group of the Year – The Boxcars
  • Male Vocalist of the Year – Russell Moore
  • Female Vocalist of the Year – Dale Ann Bradley
  • Emerging Artist of the Year – The Boxcars
  • Album of the Year – Help My Brother by The Gibson Brothers (artists), Eric & Leigh Gibson and Mike Barber (producers), Compass (label)
  • Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year –  “Goin’ Up Dry Branch,” Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (artist), Buddy Spicher & Jimmy Martin (songwriters), Jeff White & Michael Cleveland (producers), Rounder (label)
  • Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year – “Prayer Bells of Heaven” by J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, & Paul Williams (artists), Ben Isaacs (producer), Mountain Home (label)
  • Song of the Year – “Trains I Missed;”  Balsam Range (artists); Walt Wilkins, Gilles Godard & Nicole Witt (songwriters)
  • Recorded Event of the Year – “Prayer Bells of Heaven” by J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson & Paul Williams (artists); Ben Isaacs (producer); Mountain Home (label)
  • Banjo Player of the Year – Kristin Scott Benson and Ron Stewart (tie)
  • Guitar Player of the Year – Bryan Sutton
  • Fiddle Player of the Year – Michael Cleveland
  • Bass Player of the Year – Marshall Wilborn
  • Mandolin Player of the Year – Adam Steffey
  • Dobro Player of the Year – Rob Ickes
  • Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients – Greg Cahill, Bill Knowlton, Lilly Pavlak, Geoff Stelling, Roland White
  • Broadcaster of the Year – Katy Daley, WAMU Bluegrass Country
  • Print Media Person of the Year – Juli Thanki,
  • Bluegrass Event of the Year – Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ Festival; Branson, Mo.
  • Best Graphic Design – Ricardo Alessio & Erica Harris (designer & artist), City of Refuge, Abigail Washburn (artist), Rounder (label)
  • Best Liner Notes – Colin Escott (writer), A Mother’s Prayer, Ralph Stanley (artist), Rebel (label)

Bluegrass Jam in Buffalo, WYO

Excerpts from a nice story on  read the entire story at Wyofiles Wyoming Series

By Brodie Farquhar, WyoFile, 10-19-10

Reborn Occidental Plays Hostess to the Beating Heart of Buffalo, Wyoming

Four years into the jam sessions at the “new” hotel that defines this part of the world, it’s a standing-room-only crowd. But you can still get a dance with Whitey.

Bluegrass jam in Buffalo

Merlin “Whitey” White is 93 years old and never sits down during the weekly four-hour jam sessions. Photo by Dewey Vanderhoff

The beating heart of Buffalo, Wyoming, and arguably of Johnson County, isn’t only found in a school, church, town hall, museum or courthouse.

You’ll also find it in an 1880-vintage hotel and 1908-era saloon, in downtown Buffalo.

Every Thursday night in the Occidental Hotel bar, musicians young and old, local and from far afield, jam together playing bluegrass, folk and country music.

“Most jams among musicians last a month or two, and then they fizzle,” said David Stewart, a professional songwriter and co-founder of the Bluegrass Jam, which celebrated its fourth anniversary on Oct. 15, 2010.

“The first time we got together in a corner of the Occidental Hotel bar, there were maybe five people in the audience,” Stewart said. Now on many Thursdays, the bar is standing-room-only, with people spilling out onto the sidewalk of the historic hotel.

The musicians are loyal. Charlie Firnekas, 75, a Kaycee-area rancher, is the oldest of the original founders of the jam. Every Thursday, he drives 73 miles one way (25 miles on a gravel road) to get to the jam and play guitar. Winter blizzards have never held him back, and he’s missed only a few sessions.

The audience gives back. There are tips, used to help needy families with rent or send an aspiring high school student to college for a music education. There are things people bring from home, like baked goods, fresh country eggs or handmade birdhouses. Everyone in the audience is given a numbered ticket and drawings are held during the jam. Even if a winning ticket isn’t drawn, first-time visitors usually win fresh-baked cookies or other prizes.


But to get a feel for the town, go to the Thursday night Bluegrass Jam at the Occidental.

What goes on is less of a formal performance and more like a group of musicians playing for and with each other – the entertainment is free, notwithstanding brisk sales at the bar. “The model is the Grand Ol’ Opry, where the musicians would play in a circle backstage,” said David Stewart, the songwriter and co-founder of the jam. “Often, that’s where the best music happens.”

Each Thursday, the jam opens at 7 p.m. with “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” and closes at 11 p.m. with “Amazing Grace.” In between, almost anything can and does happen. Tourists wander in, figure out what’s going on, and dash out to retrieve a guitar, banjo or fiddle from their car and jump right into the jam.

A few weeks ago, a young couple from Ireland asked shyly if they could join in. “They sang an Irish ballad a cappella,” said Occidental owner Dawn Wexo. “You could have heard a pin drop.”

Musicians from Denver, Billings, Rapid City and beyond will drive to northern Wyoming to play in the jam. About the only rule is no instruments that would overwhelm the others, said Lynn Young, another co-founder of the jam. “No drums or electric guitars,” he said. About every kind of stringed instrument is brought to the jam – bass, guitar, dobro, autoharp, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. Oh yeah, and smokin’-hot harmonicas.

Stewart said he hoped no one ever shows up with a Hawaiian ukulele – doesn’t quite fit the whole bluegrass, folk and country thing.


“One of the town ministers likes to come hear us play,” said Young. “He said the Bluegrass Jam was a church, more than most churches.”’

Jerry Swofford & Jim Swigert banjos for sale

this just in from from Greg Boyd’s House of Fine Instruments…

The “House of Fine Instruments” has 3 fine banjos in stock that were owned by well-known area players who were very active in MRBA and local music scene over the years.

These banjos are on our website, but we thought that we should point them out to those of you in our area bluegrass community who might not otherwise know they are for sale.

Thanks, Greg Boyd

2003 Huber Kalamazoo Banjo

Jerry Swofford's 2003 Huber Kalamazoo Banjo

c.1963/64 Gibson RB-250 w/ RB-800 Neck Banjo

John Swigert's c.1963/64 Gibson RB-250 w/ RB-800 Neck Banjo

1997 Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard w/ especially nice Maple Banjo

John Swigert's 1997 Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard w/ especially nice Maple Banjo

click image to see full details on Greg Boyd’s House of Fine Instruments

new UofM Prez a picker

Royce Engstrom, UofM President and bluegrass guitar player

Royce Engstrom, UofM President and bluegrass guitar player

Just read n interesting tidbit about new University of Montana President, Royce Engstrom.  He’s a a picker.

quoted from UM’s Engstrom a renaissance man by CHELSI MOY Missoulian The Billings Gazette

..Jack Williams, dean of the college of health sciences at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., is a longtime friend.

The families’ kids grew up together. Engstrom and Williams both served as Cub Scout leaders for their sons’ troop, and the men would take their daughters on annual camping trips. The families attended the same church.

Engstrom and Williams both worked at the University of South Dakota and still share a passion for building wooden canoes. Their wives chat often.

Yet seven years of friendship passed before Williams learned that Engstrom played a musical instrument.

“Royce is not one to really talk too much about himself and brag,” Williams said. “I wasn’t active in music, but, with his encouragement, he got me playing again.”

Now, some of Williams’ most fond memories are of the two sitting around a campfire, swapping stories and playing folk and bluegrass music, Engstrom on the guitar and Williams on the standup bass.

A 1904 Morris canoe and the wooden frame of a kayak await completion in the large shop next to the Engstroms’ upper Miller Creek home. Engstrom has built 10 wooden boats, including a rowboat for Mary as an anniversary gift….

Ten Jammandments

Great tips for jamming from

Ten Jammandments

by Charlie Hall and Robert Rosenburg, as printed in the January/February 2002 Folknik newsletter of the San Francisco Folk Music Club

THOU SHALT TUNE THY INSTRUMENT. There are too many good, cheap tuners around not to do this.

THOU SHALT LISTEN. If you can’t hear the lead instrument or vocalist, then consider yourself too loud.

THOU SHALT PASS. When handing off an instrumental solo, try to follow a pattern either clockwise or counter clockwise. If you want to skip the next solo or pass it on to the next picker, be sure that the next person is aware of the handoff. No one wants to start his or her solo in the middle of the song.

THOU SHALT WELCOME OTHERS. Open up the circle if others want to join. The jam can’t be too big if people are polite.

THOU SHALT SHARE IN THE SELECTION. Open the choice of songs to the pickers around the circle. Don’t monopolize the jam.

THOU SHALT TRY NEW STUFF. Once in a while a participant may suggest original material or one that is out of character with the jam. This is A-OK (refer to Jammandments #2 and #4).

Bands may sometimes be rehearsing and may need to exclude non-band members from jamming. If so, an explanation would be nice for the would be jammers.

THOU SHALT NOT RAID. Don’t interrupt an active jam by calling musicians away to begin another jam. (Bob’s note: Also don’t raid and take over a jam, by having your full band suddenly decide to sit in on a jam and end up playing all your own songs.)

THOU SHALT KEEPTH THY RHYTHM STEADYTH. Errors in rhythm are most difficult to overcome. Avoid adding or dropping beats. Play quietly if you can’t keep up and pay attention (refer to Jammandment #2).

THOU SHALT NOT SPEED. Do not start a song too fast for the others to play. Once everyone has had a turn at the lead, then one may announce that the temp is about to increase.

Preparing for next weeks Jam at Ruby’s

As you practice for next week’s jam at Ruby’s you might find it fun to check out our Playlists on the MRBA YouTube Channel.  These include a lot o the standards performed by the guys who made ’em standards.

Current Playlists:

  • Rank Beginner Jamming
  • Bluegrass Instrumental
  • Bluegrass Jam Standards
  • Bluegrass Jam Standards – Gospel

To see the Playlists:

  1. Go to
  2. Click on Playlists