BOONE — If a music fan were to create a soundtrack for the High Country, bluegrass would certainly be featured prominently in the mix. The region is filled with wonderful bluegrass musicians, from hot pickers to soulful singers.
Some of the world’s best bluegrass music is played in living rooms, kitchens and front porches of northwest North Carolina. And, on Friday, Feb. 26, some of the High Country’s best bluegrass musicians, known collectively as Surefire, will gather at the Jones House Community Center in downtown Boone to give an indoor house-concert style performance.
Surefire formed around 10 years ago when friends Tom Isaacs, Robby Norris and John Bryan decided to turn their collective passion for bluegrass music into a band. The band quickly went on to win several local and regional competitions and awards. Over the next few years, the group performed regionally and made a couple recordings. They continue to perform periodically, but the band members have various musical endeavors.
Tom Isaacs grew up learning music from his grandmother and other family members. He started playing the violin in school, but found he preferred to play by ear, finding melodies of the mountain music he knew. Soon, he learned to play banjo and guitar, taking his practicing and playing more seriously. Isaacs began playing with various groups, eventually leading to gigs with Ralph Stanley II and with Ralph Stanley on fiddle. He also performed for several years with a local friend, Kody Norris, and as the banjo player for Larry Efaw and Lonesome Will Mullins.
Robby Norris has been performing around the High Country since he was a young boy. Norris started on mandolin and was a featured player in the long-standing local bluegrass gospel band Southern Accent for several years. He became fixated on bluegrass music at a young age, and he soon learned to play all of the instruments in the band, making solo recordings performing all of the instruments and parts. While Norris plays all of the stringed instruments, his focus is on the mandolin and fiddle, the two instruments he plays with Surefire.
John Bryan grew up in a musical family, and he started singing and playing music as a boy in church. After seeing his first bluegrass concert, he became hooked on the genre. He started picking around on the banjo at age 10, and a few years later met Isaacs. The two started playing music together, and Bryan learned to play guitar. When the group formed Surefire, Bryan was also honing in on his strong tenor and lead vocals. Bryan stuck with Isaacs to join Larry Efaw’s band, and last year, he was hired by Grammy Award winning bluegrass band, The Grascals.
Though Bryan’s touring schedule only allows him to perform occasionally with Surefire, Isaacs and Norris have kept the band active in the High Country. Other friends from the local bluegrass community, banjo player Tim Norris and bass player J.M. Trivette have become staples of the Surefire outfit, and they will be joining the group for the Jones House performance.
“I am really excited to have Surefire back to the Jones House,” said concert organizer Mark Freed. “These guys play good, traditional bluegrass music, and you cannot beat hearing them perform in a small room, unamplified.”
The concert will also be filmed and documented as part of a grant project supported by the North Carolina Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts.
“We will be inviting Robby and Tom to come work with our Junior Appalachian Musician students, and we will get to film the concert as part of the grant project,” Freed said. “Eventually, the public will be able to watch a short, three or four song, clip of the performance on the Jones House website.”
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26, with the doors opening at 7 p.m. Concerts take place in the Mazie Jones Gallery in the Jones House, and there is a limit of 40 seats for the performance. Advanced reservations are encouraged, though any open seats will be available for purchase at the door. Seats are $20 per person and will include an opportunity to meet the artists.
For more information, visit www.joneshouse.org or contact the Town of Boone Cultural Resources Department at (828) 268-6280.