The Highland Travelers

Adam Steffey started playing bluegrass music in the early eighties, as a freshman in high school, on a mandolin his grandfather got him at a flea market. “I was actually a late starter,” he commented. “So many kids these days, they are eight years old and just blastin’ already. But I took an interest in it right away. I took lessons and just continued to get consumed by it.”

An eventual collaboration with Tim Stafford, guitar player and songwriter with Blue Highway, and school friend Barry Bails led Adam to the big stage. “It was with those guys that I started getting outside of the local reach,” he said. “We played more regionally at first, and then we started spreading out further in the summertime. It was during that time we became acquainted with Alison Krauss. She was 15 or 16 at the time, with a record out and a second one on the way with her group Union Station.”

Through playing with Allison, Adam was able to meet a lot of other people and enjoy opportunities to play on a lot of things for a lot of people that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. “Of course Allison is a legend now sure but she’s still just a great friend to me,” he said.

“I’ve been really fortunate. It’s just always surreal when you’re doing it,” Adam said. “I got to play with the Dixie Chicks, and we did shows with Alan Jackson and played the Grand Ole Opry almost every week in the wintertime because Allison was a member there. With all that stuff going, it was like a dream world.”

I’m Actually Doing It
“Everything was sort of a blur,” he recalled. “I was in my 30s and thinking, ‘wow, this is pretty cool, I’m actually doing it.’ As much as I would have wanted to when I was a young man, I never thought I’d be able to do this. And so I still kind of feel that way. It’s like, ‘OK this is sort of what I do now. All that time with Allison was a huge, huge learning experience and a great, great opportunity that I’m just so fortunate to have been a part of that.”

Adam moved on from Alison’s band to spend a season with the bluegrass gospel super group, The Issacs. “I thought it was going to be a year and it ended up being three. It was intense. We were going five days a week. One year I figured I was on the road almost 300 days between traveling with them and doing studio work and any other thing I could get. It was a wild ride, you know. But it was it was fun too.”

Adam then played with Mountain Heart for about eight years before his friend Dan Taminski “my old buddy from Alison’s band,” contacted him about a solo project he was working on. After a few years with Dan, Union Station got back together. Adam and band mate, Ron Stewart, decided to keep on playing together. “That’s when we formed the Box Cars,” he said. That was a project that lasted until just this past December when the band decided to step away, and take some different directions.

Time For A Change
“We were together for about eight years and put out four albums during that time together. Everybody in that group was great. But we just thought it was time to take a rest, time for something different. We just wanted to end on a good note while we were all still friends,” he said.

Adam’s new band is the Highland Travelers with Keith Garrett and Gary Hopeman, who were originally part of the boxcars. “Gary and Keith and I wanted to continue to play on together and see what could happen. We had gotten together many times previously with Cameron Keller who now plays bass with the Travelers, and also with Jason Davis, who to me is just a monster on the banjo.”

“Jason had been traveling with Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice. Junior was getting ready to change directions with his band, and Jason wanted to slow down a little bit. It just felt right to put something together. We started a little late in the game; kind of an odd time of the year to put the word out in the middle part of January, but we are fortunate to be working with Jim Rowe at Rowe Entertainment. He’s been great finding things for us. The schedule’s not as full as it will be in 2019, but we’re happy. We’re rehearsing right now, getting ready to do some shows in April.”

Adam say the guys have made a conscious effort not to just work up old Boxcar songs, or Junior Sisk songs. They’re not planning to play any of those live. “We may have a couple of traditional songs that folks are familiar with from the catalog of bluegrass historic songs,” he said, “But we’re going to steer away from any songs that the Boxcars have recorded or any songs that maybe those guys were doing with Sisk. It’s going to be hard enough already for a lot of folks to make that disconnect. I’m sure there’ll be folks asking for something we may have cut. And I won’t rule out the possibility that if two or three people are hollering for a particular song we might just throw it the in set somewhere. But it’s not going to be the standard or the rule by any means. For certain the set will take on a different feel because there are different personalities onstage; and we will change up the whole lay out of how the show works.”

That New Feeling
Adam says the guys love the feeling of being in a new band. “You have to pay attention. This will keep all of us on our toes. It’s fun to have that kind of nervous energy out there; Not that being super comfortable isn’t cool too, but it’s neat to have that feeling again.”

As an artist, you get to that place where you don’t want to be too comfortable, you want to be challenged again, and that’s what allows different musicians to be almost interchangeable with different bands, or new projects because it’s that challenge of starting over and learning the way new guys play, and learning a new style that actually keeps the whole thing interesting. Fortunately the bluegrass fans follow artists as much as they follow bands, so they’re just as curious to see what this new project is going to sound like just as much as the guys in the band are.

“That’s a perfect way of putting it,” Adam said. “That’s an absolutely ideal way of stating that because it is that way. I was certainly happy and comfortable with the Boxcars, and everything was great. Everything was going well, but it was almost like it was it wasn’t fluid anymore. With the Travelers, from the minute we talked about it, we felt like it would be so exciting. We were ready to jump in the studio immediately and we wanted to play now. We were excited about picking material, excited about wondering what it would sound like if we work a particular song out. It just put a whole new spin on it again.”

The new album is self titled. “It’s just going to be the Highland Travelers. The main thing right now is just to get the name out there and have people associate the players and singers with the band and then get this album under way, and get the wheels on the road with it,” Adam concluded.

Greg Tutwiler