By Jaine Treadwell
|Gospel Bluegrass Band from Coffee County. The Broken Strings is striking a chord with fans of bluegrass and gospel music all around Southeast Alabama.
If one blade of bluegrass is growing in Washington state, it has yet to be found.
If there are chords of bluegrass being played in the Evergreen State, they are yet to be heard.
But bluegrass stirred in the heart and soul of Bonnie Caron. Although she grew up in Ohio, her parents were from Tennessee and North Georgia and they grew up with bluegrass in their blood.
Caron laughingly said the love of bluegrass must be inherited because environmental influence was definitely not a factor in the love her children have for bluegrass.
She is not even sure when that love of the high, lonesome sounds of bluegrass got in their blood. And, she isn’t sure why she provided the receptacles. Maybe it was just a hunch or maybe it was fate.
||Wyman McWaters (left), guitar player and lead singer for the Old Southern Gospel, saw potential in The Broken Stings Gospel Bluegrass Band and offered to work with them. Here he works with Peter, Katie and Matt Caron.
Caron said when her family left Washington about three years ago bound for South Alabama so her husband, a contractor for helicopter repairs, could be near Fort Rucker, their cargo included a stock of acoustic instruments. That was a rather strange cargo as no one in the family played an instrument.
"I play piano some," Caron said. "But I wanted to have instruments for the children, just in case. We had an opportunity to buy several instruments: two fiddles, a banjo and two mandolins, so we did."
The family arrived in South Alabama and made their home in the Victoria community in Coffee County.
And the five instruments?
"They were somewhere around the house," said Joseph, 18, and the oldest boy in a family of nine children. "But we didn’t try to play them."
But mom didn’t haul acoustic instruments 2,500 miles across the country for them to just sit around not making "sounds."
"We found a place in Enterprise, Music Music, where they taught lessons on acoustic instruments and suddenly we had a house full of music," Bonnie said.
At first, there were more squeaks and plunks than there was music but, by and by, seven of the nine children were making music.
But their real inspiration came from a group from Blountstown, FL, The Rivertown Girls, who performed at a nearby church.
"The Rivertown Girls were fantastic," said Katie, 9. "I wanted to be able to play like them."
The Caron children were impressed and inspired by The Rivertown Girls, who play bluegrass gospel and just plain bluegrass.
"We didn’t have our instruments with us that night but, when we went to hear Old Southern Gospel play, we had our instruments," said Joseph, who is the spokesperson for his siblings.
And, that was when fate played its hand again.
Wyman McWaters, guitar player and lead singer for the Old Southern Gospel, hung around that night and listened to the Caron children play. As inexperienced as they were in their music, he saw potential in them and offered to work with them.
Their music lessons with Rusty Frith and Ashley Withrow of Music Music continued and McWaters worked with them as a group. The children became more confident as musicians and as performers.
"None of us read music. We all play by ear," Joseph said. "Carolyn and Katie are taking piano so they’re learning to read music. But not reading music has not been a problem."
McWaters agreed, "These young people are dedicated to playing and they listen and learn. They are doing a great job and the potential is there for them to take their music as far as they want it to go."
The Caron children are now a bluegrass band.
"We even have a name," they said with great pride. "We’re the Broken Strings Bluegrass Band."
"It seemed like we were always buying strings for one instrument or the other," their mom said, laughing. "So, I told them if they ever had a band, it should be the Broken Strings."
And, so it is. The Broken Strings Bluegrass Band is made up of Joseph, banjo; Peter, 16, mandolin; Carolyn, 14, fiddle; Doug, 12, guitar; Matthew, 10, guitar; and Katie, guitar. Becki, 17, also plays the fiddle and joins the band from time to time.
Matthew plans to be a spokesman for the band and laughingly said he is going to push Joseph for the job.
The Broken Strings play bluegrass gospel and also share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
"We want to share our message of faith but we need to gain more confidence as speakers," Joseph said. "We’ve just been playing since September 1, 2007, so this is all new to us."
Bonnie said it’s only a matter of time before the children "come out of their shells" and become even more confident as musicians and speakers.
"For a while, we couldn’t get them to sing but now they are singing and they all have good voices," McWaters said. "You can tell they are having fun when they perform and people enjoy seeing young people share their message in song."
Most appearances of the Broken Strings to date have been at churches so most of the bluegrass they have played in public has been bluegrass gospel and old time favorites like "I’ll Fly Away."
"But they played at St. John Baptist Church and somebody asked them if they could play ‘Boil the Cabbage Down,’" Bonnie said. "They played it and everyone seemed to enjoy it. So, yes. They play some ‘hysterical’ bluegrass, too."
Katie said she enjoys singing and likes to sing for a crowd. All of the Caron kids seem to enjoy playing for an audience.
And, just as much, they enjoy playing for mom at home.
"When we practice, sometimes it’s by ourselves but most of the time we play as a group," Peter said. "We really like to play together."
To a band member they said they have improved "a lot" and give credit to their teachers and McWaters.
Their dad is in Kuwait and hasn’t heard them play together since they have "gotten better."
"He left from Fort Benning and we went over to see him off," Bonnie said.
"The children took their instruments and played a little for him. They were just beginning so it was…not so good. But at St. John they made a CD for us and we sent it to him. He couldn’t believe how they have improved. He said, ‘Are those my babies?’"
The Broken Strings Bluegrass Band is unique in that the band is made up of six, sometimes seven, siblings playing bluegrass. Six or seven siblings playing anything together would be unique.
But they feel blessed to be able to play together and even more blessed they have bluegrass in their blood.
"There’s no other sound like it," Joseph said and not one of his brothers and sisters disagreed.
Mom knew exactly what she was doing when she crossed the country with bluegrass on her mind and fiddles and guitars in tow.
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.