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Born for bluegrass

Madison’s Brown tours nation
playing traditional music

Local musician wants to turn his
weekend job into full-time profession

By Michella Marino
Contributing Writer

(June 2006) – Most young adults in their early 20s are drawn to popular music such as rhythm & blues, country, rap, hip-hop, hard rock, and Top 100 music. Many young adults couldn’t even name a bluegrass song, much less play bluegrass music. But Madison, Ind., native Jake Brown is an exception.

Jake Brown

Photo provided

Jake Brown (left) plays the mandolin
and performs with the professional
bluegrass group, Wildwood Valley Boys.

Brown, 20, belongs to a professional touring bluegrass band called The Wildwood Valley Boys. He joined the pre-existing band nearly two years ago. Since then, he has been touring the country on the weekends playing traditional style bluegrass music. During the week, Brown, like a normal 20-year-old, attends classes at Ivy Tech Community College, where he is majoring in business administration.
The mandolin, guitar and banjo are the instruments of Brown’s choice and, despite his natural talent, he’s only been playing for five years.
For Christmas five years ago, Brown’s father bought his mother, Christy, a mandolin, but it largely sat unplayed for about a month. Christy Brown had taught Jake a little on the guitar previously, but he wasn’t very serious about playing.
But after the mandolin sat around for a while, he began to listen to a CD that had a mandolin instrumental. He learned how to play by ear from that CD and, according to Brown, “Things snowballed from there.” Now he finds it addicting to play.
Brown belonged to another local bluegrass group before joining The Wildwood Valley Boys. His current group was in search of a full-time mandolin player when Brown’s then band leader, James White, suggested Brown for the position. Vaughn McGuire also provided a reference for Brown to Tony Holt, the lead singer of The Wildwood Valley Boys. Brown rehearsed with the group and recalled that “everything gelled.”
The Wildwood Valley Boys have a new CD out titled, “Daylight’s Burnin,” and Brown considers his involvement in the recording of the CD his favorite moment and honor with the band so far. The Wildwood Valley Boys recorded the album at the River Track Studio in Fort Gay, W.Va., and it was officially released April 25 under Rebel Records. Brown said that Rebel Records is a top of the line label for bluegrass bands and was excited to have been a part of the album.
Brown has many musical inspirations, especially Mike Cleveland from Charlestown, Ind. Brown complimented him, saying, “He’s the most amazing musician I know.”
Occasionally, Cleveland fills in with The Wildwood Valley Boys as a fiddle player. Cleveland and all the local musicians Brown has played with in the past few years have been a big influence on him and his music. He believes that the local bluegrass scene has been very supportive and encouraging.
“They’ve got me where I am right now,” he said.
Lori Herring, Brown’s older sister, is proud of Brown’s accomplishments. She describes his experiences as “pretty exciting. It’s neat to hear his stories.” Brown’s family tries to catch as many of his shows as they can, but since The Wildwood Valley Boys travel, it’s hard to follow them everywhere.
Herring said that they were able to catch a really neat show in Xenia, Ohio, that took place in a ballroom-type setting. Herring also said that even though their whole family loves music, Brown and her mother are the only two who play. In fact, Brown’s mother was in a local band when she was younger, so it appears that Brown is following in his mother’s footsteps but on a much grander scale.
Right now, Brown is only playing music on the side, but he would prefer it to turn into a profession in some way or another. “It’s a ton of fun, feels great, and nice to be compensated for something you love,” Brown said.
He’d love to continue to move up the ladder in the bluegrass scene and even eventually own his own studio or music related business. Thus, his degree from Ivy Tech will come into play.
According to The Wildwood Valley Boys’ website, the group will be touring all summer long playing at festivals nationwide. The band will play in Hoboken, Ga., on May 5-6 and will be all over the Midwest in June. The nearest concert to Madison, and the only one in Indiana this summer, will be July 28 in Everton.

• For more information on The Wildwood Valley Boys, visit: www.wildwoodvalleyboys.net.

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