MILTON - In the history of bluegrass music, family bands have always been in the mix. From Jim and Jesse and the Osborne Brothers back in the early days to The Gibson Brothers, The Cherryholmes Family and the Del McCoury Band in more modern times, family harmonies blend common accents and seem to have a sixth sense about habits and timing.
Williamson Branch is a family band that has been going strong for a few years now. Father Kevin Williamson has been in the bluegrass world for a long time, playing in various well-known bands as well as in a group with his father called Redwing. Now, with his family band Williamson Branch, he is the lone male in the outfit, joined by his wife and three talented daughters.
In a month or so, the band will record a new album on the Pinecastle Records label with multiple International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year award winner Dale Ann Bradley as producer.
"With Dale Ann, we felt like she was one of the strongest female vocalists in our genre, and that is where our girls are headed, we think, as they are really strong singers individually and as a trio," Kevin Williamson said. "So, we are excited to be able to work with Dale Ann Bradley, who is obviously a strong female singer as well."
He said being on the road with his wife and three daughters can be a whirlwind of hairspray and makeup at times, but working with female singers is something he's done nearly his whole career.
"A good percentage of the bands that I have been in over the years have had a strong female singer in the group," he said. "The first band I was in back in Huntington featured Cathy Chapman from up in Sissonville (West Virginia), and she was a really good singer and that was a good experience. Eventually, my dad and I started the band Redwing, and we had three female singers in the group at various times including Irene Kelly, Lauren White and others."
When you deal with a family band containing kids that are growing and changing every year, the sound and focus of the group can vary slightly with every new season. The youngest daughter in Williamson Branch is 8-year old daughter Caroline.
"Caroline is a really strong singer who could sing harmony when she was 3 years old," Williamson said. "It is very cool to be able to arrange these trio singing parts around all three of the girls. Instrumentally, Caroline is still playing her fiddle, but for Christmas we got her a ukulele because everything else was too big and bulky to play. So, she got the ukulele on Christmas morning and by New Year's Day she was already playing it onstage. But, we know that when she gets bigger, other instruments will come into play more naturally."
Cadence is the middle daughter, who is 13 years old now and is a good dancer as well as bass player.
"We probably get more compliments and comments about her bass playing more than anything else we do instrumentally," Williamson said. "She endorses that little Kala ukulele bass, and she has really good, solid timing. The bass is unusual in itself as folks are not used to seeing this little ukulele-sized bass, and the audience is looking around like, 'Where is the bass sound coming from? I can hear a bass, but I don't see a bass.' And all along, it is Cadence playing it, and she is just rocking that thing."
Melody, the oldest daughter and fiddler, is now 18 years of age. While she enjoys playing with her peers, there are no signs yet of her wanting to break away and go in her own direction in the music world.
"Melody has continued to grow on the fiddle," Williamson said. "She is our primary lead instrumentalist, and she does a great job carrying the band. She does have a bunch of buddies that are in that same musical scene, but so far we have been able to keep her in the family band. I think she really enjoys getting to play with the family and sing with the family, and we try to put her out front vocally because she is such a gifted lead singer."
Melody Williamson has also been part of the IBMA's "Kids on Bluegrass" program for the past five years.
"She was first chosen to be in that group when she was 13, and every year she would get to play with the top kids in the genre. This past year, she was one of the kids chosen to perform in the pre-awards show at IBMA convention," Williamson said.
Williamson Branch perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at the Mountaineer Opry House, just off the I-64 exit in Milton. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $5 for kids 12 and under. More information can be found at www.mountaineeropry.com and by calling 304-743-5749.