History of the Bluegrass Messengers
In 1995 Richard Matteson (guitar), Alan Kirby (banjo) and Tony Poindexter (dobro) began playing out at coffee shops and for private parties. By 1998 Melissa Dodson (mandolin) and occasionally guitarist Edward Dalton would perform with the group. Brooke Gywn, a talented guitarist and singer also played and sang. All initially were students of Richard Matteson. Matteson had his students sing and play with him at coffee shops and restaurants. Eventually a core group of bluegrass players developed (hard core bluegrass players?!).
An early performance at Barnes and Nobles
Initially the group was called the Matteson Bluegrass Group (named by Alan Kirby) and different people would be added to the group for various concerts. Some of the bigger early concerts were First Night, a no drugs and alcohol celebration of New Year and Family Fourth where they shared the stage with Wayne Henderson, Mike Cross and other nationally acclaimed performers.
The group got its name in 1999 from Craig Ewing, head of First Night, who suggested we use a different name for the performance at First Night 1999. He said, "Why don't you call yourselves the Bluegrass Messengers or something like that." Later in 1999 vocalist and guitarist Maggie Lindley and bassist Anthony Dalton joined the group. With a more balanced sound and better and more varied vocals, the Messengers were ready to make a CD that showed some of their potential. After bassist Anthony Dalton began playing with the group, they headed for the studio to do their first recording.
Live in Mt. Airy
The studio was Bob Vogler's Studio 1 in Mt. Airy where Richard Matteson had recorded a CD of solo guitar pieces for Mel Bay Publications. A big snowstorm hit Mt. Airy the day before the session in late January 2000. The group drove up to Mt. Airy through 8 inches of ice and snow to lay down 15 tracks in about two hours. After one hour of mixing time, the "Live in Mt. Airy" CD was complete. Tony Poindexter and Kyle Gordon designed the CD cover.
The "Live in Mt. Airy" CD has most of the popular Bluegrass standards: Rocky Top, Circle Be Unbroken, Duelin' Banjos, and Fox on the Run are 5 of the 15 tracks.
In 1999 and 2000 the Messengers began alternating performances with banjoist Mark Arrowood and banjoist Alan Kirby (If banjoist isn't a word- it is now.). Alan is retired and travels a lot so Mark began filling in when Alan was gone. Sometimes Mark will play, sometimes Alan. When they both play at the same time, there's a lot of banjo tones flying in the air!
Summer On Trade (Messengers Open For Doc Watson)
In the fall of 2000, Melissa Dodson went off to college at ASU. She still comes back to play when she can. Melissa is a true aficionado of bluegrass music (and I'm sure that what most pickers would say).
In 2000 the Messengers began playing some with fiddle players Wiley Lamm and Danny Proctor. They've also had bluegrass virtuoso Rex McGee play fiddle and mandolin with the group.
At First Night 2000 and again in the winter/spring of 2001 the Messengers also used the vocal talents of Sarah Reiter and Carrie Fryer to fill in for Maggie Lindley. Both are college freshman this year (2001) and are away at school. They both sang at the Guilford College Doc Watson Concert. Michael Barber also sang Paradise by John Prine at the concert. Michael plays guitar and has few songs he occasionally sings with the group.
Diggin' Up Roots
Diggin' Up Roots- The second Messenger CD was recorded in February 2001. Again it was recorded at Bob Vogler's Studio 1 in Mr. Airy, NC on a mild winter day. The Title "Diggin Up Roots" came from the photo for the cover. Outside Studio 1, against a brick wall were rakes, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow that were used as props in the photo. "Roots" is also a slang for traditional music. Eventually Maggie ended up in the wheelbarrow, which is the shot used for the cover.
The big summer concert in mid-June, "Summer on Trade St." was a flop. After the opening group playing their set, the Messengers took the stage with Rex McGee on fiddle. Storm clouds blackened the sky and the swirling wind nearly ripped the canopy over the stage off. After the canopy was removed, the Messengers played two songs before lightning was spotted on the horizon. They played a short version of Go Long Mule and headed for cover, the rain and wind were right behind. The rest of the summer was relatively uneventful. There were a few performances: Barnes and Nobles, a wedding anniversary party and at a wedding reception in Kernersville.
Another Summer on Trade concert was canceled Sept. 16 because of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11. The Messengers played on WSJS radio on Oct. 12 and at the Brookestown Methodist Church outdoor festival on Oct. 13.
October and November were busy months for the Messengers. The big concert was opening for Doc Watson Oct. 28 at the Stevens Center. We didn't get a good sound check and had to play without getting the sound balanced. Rebecca Stevens played fiddle at the concert. Maggie Lindley sang for the last time with the Messengers.
Maggie started her solo performances and was busy playing with her church group. She was also busy working and going to school. She decided she was too busy to play with the Messengers and didn't have the time to devote to the Messengers CD recording scheduled for January 2002. Maggie has a great voice and will be missed.
Rebecca Stevens took over the vocals for the concert in McClellanville, SC. Rebecca's vocal range was lower but she did a great job filling in for Maggie. Rebecca is a natural musical talent especially at playing the fiddle. She added some great fiddle solo on the Messengers songs.
That November the Messengers played at Davidson Community College, Irving Park Retirement Home and the Lodge St. Hispanic Church. At the Hispanic Church we used an interpreter to bring the message of the gospel songs lyrics to the Mexicans that worshiped there. They were a great audience. Fiddler Sarah Girvan played for the first time with the Messengers. December was also busy with two performances at Creekside Terrace and one at Silas Creek Manor. The Messengers were getting the music down for their upcoming CD, Farther Along. After the Christmas break the Messenger's traveled through a snowstorm on Jan. 3 to play at Koinonia Apt. Retirement Home for Rebecca's grandmother and the other folks staying there.
The Messengers recorded their 3rd CD, Farther Along, on Sat. Jan. 6. Jeff Matteson played harmonica and Michael Barber played guitar and sang two songs on the CD. After four hours recording an exhausted group of Messengers called it quits. The next day the group returned to the studio and in about an hour finished recording and then mixed the CD. The result was a more complex CD with fiddle, harmonica and three and four part vocals. The sixteen song CD has some great songs and unusual arrangements.
January was a busy month for the Messengers with performances scheduled every weekend. Feb. 2 the Messengers were again scheduled to open for Doc Watson. On Feb. 1 the Messengers played live on all three major TV stations and also did two radio shows earlier in the week to promote the Doc show. The Doc Watson show went well but it was not one of the Messengers better performances.
After the Doc show Rebecca Stevens decided to stop playing with the group because of her busy college schedule. She felt a lot of pressure going back to UNCG after taking off a semester. Rebecca is a very talented musician and her fiddle solos were a great addition to the group.
Since Rebecca's departure the Messengers have used Lisa Parrish and Sarah Girvan to fill in on several radio and church performances. Michael Barber even played mandolin at the Arts Festival in McClellanville, SC on Feb. 9!
The big concert for the Messengers in April was at Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem. The concert was tied into a celebration of art by Thomas Hart Benton. The Messengers played several songs that related to Benton's artwork- Mountain Dew (Moonshiners painting) Frankie & Johnny (Frankie and Johnny etching) and Jesse James (Jesse James etching). Several new Messengers were Debbie Gitlan (fiddle); Martha Bassett (vocals & guitar) and Ted Lyons (mandolin).
On June 15, 7:30pm the Messengers played with a pick-up group from Maryland at the Opening of the River Concert Series at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City, MD. The Messengers played one song with the symphony orchestra (Directed by Jeff Silberslag) and Paul Reed Smith's Band then closed out the concert. Approximately 4,000 people were in attendance. Special thanks to Don Bloomgarden (fiddle) who help put the band together. It was fun!
Messengers At St. Mary's College
The Messengers played July 4 at a special dinner at Creekside Terrace in W.S. and on July 13 at the Village House in Clemmons.
Tamarac Marina- High Rock Lake, NC
After playing several times at the Village House, the Messengers played at Tamarac Marina several weekends in the Fall of 2002. The big fall concert was with Doc Watson on Oct 5, 2002 where the Messengers opened the concert and brought Doc Watson out to play 'Bluegrass Boogie' with them. Several new members began performing including Kristina Powell (Vocals and Bass), Kevin Crooks (bass), Justin Swaim (banjo) and Joshua Birchem (Mandolin).
In fall of 2002 the Messengers began preparing for their fourth CD, "Bluegrass Boogie" named after a song written by Richard Matteson. In Jan. 2003 the Messengers again got a chance to perform with Doc Watson at Guilford College, this time Doc played three songs with group, including Bluegrass Boogie.
Messengers Play With Doc Watson in Eden, NC
In Feb. 2003 the Messengers went into Michael Barber's studio to record their 4th CD, Bluegrass Boogie, which featured more upbeat breakdowns showcasing the skills of fiddler, Debbie Gitlan, and banjoist Justin Swaim. The CD includes two original songs by Richard Matteson, Bluegrass Boogie and Fishing Bound. The CD release is scheduled for mid-May of 2003.
In May the Messengers begin a hectic performance schedule. The band played on live-radio on May 9th at Minton's Pawn Shop in N. Wilkesboro with one of their best perfomances of the year. The performance with Richard Matteson on Guitar and Vocals; Lisa Parrish on Guitar and vocals; Justin Swaim- banjo, Kevin Crooks- bass with Debbie Gitlan on Fiddle featured a guest performance by vocalist Shannon Montgomery. The Messengers then performed a set the next night at a Praise Concert at Midway Methodist Church.
There were new additions to the group in 2004 and several new talents that played with the Messengers. Wayne Hauser, a fine banjo player, started playing in 2004 when Justin Swaim was busy with the marching band in the Fall. Wayne has recorded with famed fiddler Clark Kessinger and plays with several other groups. Several talented students played mandolin and sang. There were also guest performance by Ted Lyons, an excellent mandolinist and singer. Championship fiddler Debbie Gitlan would occasionally play when her schedule permitted. In late 2004 Daniel Habib, one of Richard's students, started playing bass for the Messengers. Kristi Powell started singing and alternated playing bass with Daniel.
In 2005 the Messengers featured Wayne Hauser and/or Justin Swaim on banjo, Kristi Powell or Daniel Habib on Bass. Debbie Gitlan would still occasionally play fiddle. Wylie, featured playing fiddle at High Rock Lake played fiddle sometimes. Ted Lyons and different students played mandolin. The Messengers started bluegrass performances at Prissy Polly's in Kernersville. As one the regular bands the Messengers continue to rotate with other bands at Prissy Pollies. They also became a regular band at the Celtic Cafe, playing at Cafe every month or two.
In 2006 The Messengers added a talented young singer Kristen Johnson. Kristen began singing in Jan. and also started singing in Richard's other band, The Matteson Blues Band. Kristen had sung with Richard in his praise band, Stand on the Rock, the praise band for early service at Midway United Methodist Church. The Messengers have received many compliments on Kristen's vocals. Debbie Gitlan played on WXII TV with The Messengers in June to promote Richard's new bluegrass book, Mel Bay's Bluegrass Picker's Tunebook. The book was published in late May 2006 and most The Messenger's concerts have been booksigning/performances to promote the new book.
Justin Swaim (banjo/vocals) Daniel Habib (bass) and Richard Matteson (guitar/vocals) have become the steady performers in the group. The Messengers plan to record their 5th CD, "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" in late 2006 or early 2007. After several years of performing together the vocals and rhythm section are beginning to jell.
Beside the new book coming out several new faces have joined the Messengers in 2006. Fiddler/singer Marilyn Bledsoe has become the regular fiddler. Marilyn is an excellent singer. Singer/bassist Kristi Powell has rejoined the group. With Kristen Johnson leaving to go to Appalachain State University in the fall, singer/guitarist Carly Pratapas with be singing some with the group as well as taking over the female vocals for The Madison Blues Band.
The Messengers continued performing with singers Carly and or Kristi and occasionally got help from Kristen when she was on break. Justin Swaim (banjo/vocals) and Daniel Habib (bass) and continued to play regularly with Richard Matteson. Booksignings and regular stints at a nursing home in High Point along with the Messengers regular rotation at Prissy Polly's in Kernersville kept everyone busy.
There were several TV features and one that featured a video with Kristen and Richard singing and Justin and Daniel playing. The planned CD never developed and Richard began having marital problems in Nov. 2006. These problem led to separation and Richard moved to Oquawka, Illinois in March 2007.
In Oquawka Richard reorganized the Messengers for several performances and concerts that featured Chris Robbins on banjo and Gary Richards on guitar along with a dobro player and bass player Dan Houll. The Messengers were featured in Henderson County Heritage Trail Day in Sept. 2007 and played a bluegrass gospel concert in Burlington at West Hill UMC along with Richard's praise band at West Hill.
In 2006 Richard started a series of Bluegrass paintings he calls the Bluegrass Series. So far he has painted eight bluegrass paintings: All the Pretty Little Horses; Molly And Tenbrooks; Bird in a Cage; Froggie Went A-Courtin’; Darlin’ Corey; Silver Dagger; Red Apple Juice; and Banjo Pickin’ Girl. Richard remarried and moved to Louisville KY in June 2008 and will be giving his first concert featuring music about his Bluegrass paintings. The paintings are now on display and July 5th he will give a concert at Amazing Grace Whole Foods on Bardstown Rd with a performance of the songs featured in his paintings along with a lecture on the history of the songs. Plans are underway to reorganize the Messengers. His new number is 502-290-5090.
Bluegrass Messengers in Louisville