Songs From The Road

Humphrey, Wharton, Epstein, Schimick and Schlender. No, it’s not a hedge fund management company. No, not an intellectual property law firm. They’re the pride of Asheville, N.C., the best bluegrass band you’ve never heard of, the Songs From The Road Band. And they’re the headliners at the third installment of Summer Sessions, at A.K. Bissell Park outside the Oak Ridge Civic Center, the highly acclaimed, free concert series produced by the ORNL Federal Credit Union, ably assisted by WDVX 89.9 FM.

© Special to The Oak Ridger Songs From The Road Band

These guys are an instrumental fireworks display, so get ready. From 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, come celebrate Bluegrass Independence with the Road Band. If you want to see how much fun it is to be the best there is, here’s your chance.

They’re kind of like the Grateful Dead, without all the acid.

© Special to The Oak Ridger John Job

Remember the fireworks on July 4, after being called off a year earlier? The crowd waited patiently after the Community Band’s heartfelt concert until the velvety black skies reached the perfect tactile depth, and then, way past the announced start time, the sizzling vacuum-like sound of a rocket launch said, “Here we go!” The next 35 minutes were a non-stop, gasping, wonder-filled, eye-popping, ear-splitting release of COVID-stymied energy, and the climactic last 90 seconds had every adult around me squealing louder than their numerous kids. It was fantastic.

The Songs From The Road Band have the same potential.

Bassist Charles Humphrey III, formerly with the Steep Canyon Rangers, started the Road Band in 2004 as a side project to SCR. A musician with fabled stamina, he could easily qualify to run the Barkley Marathons in Frozen Head.

Charles has written or co-written nearly all of the 100 or so songs the Road Band has recorded. He has a Grammy, several IBMA awards, a plaque in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, and he’s a Kentucky Colonel. Top that.

Sam Wharton’s guitar skills were honed out in Telluride, Colorado. Good thing for us he traded the Rockies for the Smokies. He’s the lead singer for the group.

Gabe Epstein is a graduate of East Tennessee State University with a degree in, you guessed it, Bluegrass. How cool is that?

Mark Schimick on mandolin is as North Carolina as they come. He’s in it for the long haul, and has been since he was knee-high to a wooley adelgid. He knows every two-lane road between the Outer Banks and the banks of the Mississippi.

James Schlender picked up the fiddle when he was nine, and he won two National Fiddle Championships before he learned how to shave. James has been on stage with George Benson, Bobby McFerrin, and Chick Corea, so he’s way cooler than these other guys.

The Road Band is coming to Oak Ridge directly from having played MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C.. It’s safe to say they’ll be more than a little bit cranked up. When their new album “Amarillo Blue” was released a couple of weeks ago, it hit the charts on Bluegrass Today in the Top Ten, ahead of Sierra Hull and Mollie Tuttle’s new albums. Game on, baby.

Don’t miss this show Saturday evening. There’s nothing more satisfying than telling someone about a great band they know nothing about.

One more thing: ORNL-FCU and WDVX have just revealed the name of the headliner band for the final show of the 2021 concert series. It’s the Steeldrivers! The opening act for the Steeldrivers will be the absolutely mind-boggling fiddle player Michael Cleveland. This line-up could bring a standing-room-only audience spilling out onto the Turnpike.

See ya Saturday night for Songs From The Road Band.

John Job is a longtime Oak Ridge resident and frequent columnist for The Oak Ridger.

This article originally appeared on Oakridger: Songs From The Road

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