By Greg Tutwiler
I can’t think of many genre’s of music where the entire family can be in the band all at the same time. One of the neat things about bluegrass/string music is that it affords those families who choose to pursue music as a shared passion, the opportunity to share the stage and life style together.
Currently, there are several family bands on the road in the bluegrass industry. I recently caught up with Sarah Harris, lead singer for the Trinity River Band in which she performs with her siblings Brianna, and Josh, and parents Mike, and Lisa.
Callahan, Florida is home base for this family who spend quite a bit of time on the road as full time musicians. In their short eight years together they have been nominated for several awards, and had five charting hits including the recent, “How Blue,” which peaked at number two.
From their humble beginnings as a local church/gospel band, to the national act they’ve become today, these folks have stayed true to their faithful beginnings while blending Inspirational Country, Acoustic Roots, Folk and Bluegrass music into their now popular act. Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Award-Winning Singer-Songwriter, Larry Cordle said, “Trinity River Band has an incredibly close and beautiful family harmony.”
“My parents both grew up around music,” Sarah told me, as we talk about the inner workings of their family band. “The very first time my mom and dad met he was singing. And from the early beginnings of their relationship they always thought music would be a part of their journey as a marriage and their life.”
Even though music was the dream, it wasn’t cemented in their relationship until much later. Sarah told me that the family music plan didn’t start taking shape until she was about twelve. “Even though I’m playing mandolin now, dad taught me how to play on guitar. My brother started playing banjo about a year after that. About that same time, we all went to a festival together, and we knew that’s what we wanted to do.”
“It started just for us really to have something to do together as a family, but more and more doors kept opening,” Sarah said. “Long before we knew it we were a part time band, and now we’ve been full time for over four years.”
The band still plays in churches when they get the chance, and when they are at secular music festivals, they still strive to include a few gospel songs into their set. “We just love so many different genre’s that we’ve incorporated a lot of many different things,” she said. “Our love of music is so vast. We do a lot of bluegrass, but we also add in some country, folk, Irish Celtic, and even some swing occasionally.”
Full Time Family First
Many bands strive to be a full time band and make a living at it. “We are so blessed to be able to do what we do. We love as a job, and it’s also our passion and our hobby at the same time,” Sarah said. “My mom was a school teacher and my dad was working at the Sheriff’s office. The band was only playing on weekends, very much part time, but we were getting busier and busier all the time. It just finally came to that point where they really had to make a hard decision to take a leap of faith and quit their jobs to fully invest into this band full time.”
People kept asking the band to play places and we kept having to say no because of Mike and Lisa’s jobs and the travel schedule. “That was really a tipping point that caused us to ask that tough question. And spiritually, we were all on the same page and really felt like this is what God wanted us to do. Mom and dad had a very serious conversation with my brother and I about what this meant, and even though we were younger, we were totally committed to the plan, and to each other more importantly. It’s been incredibly special and God have been blessing the hard work.”
There are pros and cons to being a family band however, Sarah says there are more pros than there are cons. “We really are such a close family. And we know it’s a special thing. A lot of families couldn’t do this. It takes commitment to each other, and God is the center of our lives. God comes first, our family second, and then music after that. As long as we keep it in that order, it’s wonderful. Certainly not to imply that we’re some kind of perfect family that never has problems – we’re still human. But when we have issues come up, we get it out, pray about it, and get it over with. For us, a family that plays together, and prays together, stays together. That’s how it works for us.”
We Write The Songs
Sarah has been nominated several times for her talent as a song writer. “It’s an art. It’s a craft, and I love it even though it’s hard work,” she said. “My dad is an amazing song writer too. I know I’m biased, but he should really win more awards for his songwriting. My brother writes a lot of our instrumentals, and even my mom has even written a few songs for us. Little sis Brianna is starting to get pretty good at song writing too. It’s really a collective thing when we look at our original material.We also have an amazing songwriting friend that sends us amazing songs as well.
“How Blue,” by Reba McIntire was their most recent release and it turned out to be a #2 song. “As a cover song, although it felt like this was the time to record it, it also felt very risky,” Sarah said. “You just never know how people will respond. It’s a country song by a classic country artist – and we put our spin on it – so it’s just one of those things we took a chance with, and it paid off. The way we did it was so different from her version, I feel like we made it our own. It just made us feel really, really good, and accomplished for doing it in the right way. The response was very unexpected, but it was so nice to have people love our version of that song.”
Does It Last
“We talk about it pretty often actually,” Sarah said. “We’ve talked about it very openly. We know this family unit as a band doesn’t last forever. At whatever point that mom and dad bow out, hopefully there is some other folks in the wings to take their place. I am in a serious relationship, so I can see that kind of shift happening over the next few years, but it’s okay. We really love each other so much and we love what we do, so we don’t worry about it. It will sort itself out when it needs to. We all want a long lasting career out of this, so we’ll do what we need to do to make things work out. In three to five years, you might see an extra band member, who knows. I don’t want to jinx anything. We’ve already gotten to do this longer than we could have imagined anyway,” she concluded.