Meet the Acoustic Kids Ambassadors – MerleFest, 2016

Watch the video!

Conlan KerschnerSilas PowellRuth Shumway
Conlan KerschnerSilas PowellRuth Shumway
Cane Mill RoadGravel Road BB-group_optShadowGrassStrictly Strings
Cane Mill Road   ♦   Gravel Road Bluegrass Band   ♦    ShadowGrass   ♦   Strictly Strings

The Acoustic Kids Ambassadors program debuted at MerleFest in 2014. With a showcase on the Cabin Stage in front of a main-stage audience, the Ambassadors is intended to give our most advanced participants a chance to perform in a larger setting, give the audience a taste of what we mean when we say, “The music’s in good handsTM” and serve as outreach for the larger Acoustic Kids Program. This is the first year we have had bands as Ambassadors – and we have four of them. Along with our three individual performers. That’s a lot of talent in one 25-minute showcase!  Video of past AKA shows:   2015  ♦   2014


Kerschner-Conlan-2015-optFacebook iconConlan Kerschner


Conlan Kerschner of Adamstown, PA, was first introduced to the sound of the banjo by his grandfather, Randy Steffy, who played bluegrass music on the radio in his garage.  When his grandfather offered to pay for Conlan’s lessons, Conlan replied, “Why not!”  Since the Summer of 2008, Conlan has been taking banjo lessons at Kupp-Tone Music Studios in Adamstown, PA.

Conlan enjoys sharing his banjo music & personal stories at schools, weddings, fairs, senior living communities and bluegrass festivals up and down the East Coast.  Conlan also shares his music as a hospice volunteer.
Age: 16  –  Years in Acoustic Kids at MerleFest: 2015, 2016
Mentor: Keith Kupp

Powell-Silas-optFacebook iconSilas Powell


Silas is a 4-time Maryland State Junior Champion on mandolin, placed 5th at the West Virginia Vandalia Gathering, and is a 2-time Houstonfest Scholarship recipient. He plays with The Powell Family Band, a three-generation bluegrass band made up of  Silas, his dad, Josh, his Aunt Angela, and his Grandpa Jeff. He also participates in his middle school band and was named West Virginia Youth Volunteer of the Year for his volunteer time entertaining residents at Clarksburg Nursing and Rehab.

Age: 13 –  Years In Acoustic Kids at MerleFest: 2015, 2016
Mentor: Mike Compton

Shumway-Ruth 2016_optFacebook iconRuth Shumway

Fiddle, Singing

Ruth has performed as a fiddler in many settings including Acoustic Kids Showcase at MerleFest, for Governor Pat McCory as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. NC State celebration 2014, Woodsongs Old Time Radio hour, and many regional fiddler’s convention and festivals.  Scott Mason, the WRAL Tar Heel Traveler, aired an interview with Ruth performing in September 2014.

In spring of 2015, Ruth accepted an invitation to perform at Iguazu En Concierto, an international youth music festival in Iguazu, Argentina. Ruth was selected to be member of Charlotte’s Junior Youth Orchestra for the 2015/16 season.  Ruth leads her family band, The High Ridge Pickers.

Age: 13  –  Years In Acoustic Kids at MerleFest: 2007-2016
Mentor: Jamie Laval


Cane Mill Road

YouTube IconFacebook iconBluegrass, Old-time Appalachian, Newgrass, Progressive Bluegrass Music

Cane Mill Road is a youth bluegrass band from the Appalachian Mountains in Deep Gap, North Carolina. The band plays in a variety of styles, but  specializes in preserving the traditional bluegrass music of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Cane Mill Road represented the USA in May, 2015, at the International Music Festival, Concierto En Iguazu, Argentina, where they were a featured band and the first in the festival’s 6-year history to play bluegrass. The band was also honored to play at IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, NC, in 2015, and at the inaugural Carolina in the Fall Festival in Wilkesboro. Cane Mill Road has been featured on National Public Radio’s Woodsongs Old-time Radio Hour and has played major festivals, including MerleFest, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (Nashville), on the main stage at The Doc Watson MusicFest at Sugar Grove, and HoustonFest. The band regularly plays regional venues from Northwest North Carolina to Southwest Virginia to Eastern Tennessee.

Band members include blue ribbon winners at major festivals including one of the oldest and biggest, The Galax Old Timers Fiddlers Convention. Band members have performed at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) convention and MerleFest and have played on stage with bluegrass legends from J.D. Crowe to Pete Wernick to the Krüger Brothers to Rhonda Vincent.

Years in Acoustic Kids at MerleFest: 2015, 2016
Mentor: William Purcell


Cane Mill Road-Purcell-Liam_optLiam Purcell Vocals, Fiddle, Mandolin, Claw-hammer Banjo
Note: Liam sings and plays anything with strings, including fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, bass, and Dobro. Liam is the 2014 Brian Friesen Award winner for banjo and was an official artist at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in 2014 and 2016.
Age: 13 – In Acoustic Kids: 2012-2016
Mentor: Steve Lewis

Cane Mill Road-Wellington-Tray_optTray WellingtonBluegrass Banjo
Note: Trajan has won ribbons and banjo contests throughout North Carolina and Virginia.
Age:  16 –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016
Mentors: Steve Lewis, Eric Harden
Also: Kinsey Greene (Acoustic Kids alumna)- Vocals, Bass;  Eliot SmithGuitar and Mandolin

Gravel Road BB-group_optGravel Road Bluegrass Band

YouTube Icon Facebook iconBluegrass

Gravel Road Bluegrass Band is a youth band hailing from the New River Valley area of Southwest Virginia. Since their formation in January of 2013, this talented group of young pickers has developed into a powerful vocal and instrumental group whose reputation and demand continues to grow throughout the region. Firmly rooted in tradition, with a fresh style appealing to audiences of today, Gravel Road is proud to help represent the face and future of bluegrass, gospel, and traditional string band music.

Member Bios
Years in Acoustic Kids at MerleFest:
2015, 2016
Mentor: Jesse Weitzenfeld


Gravel Road BB-Weitzenfeld-Nick-optNick WeitzenfeldGuitar, Vocals
When Nick was 8 years old, he saw a video of Doc Watson flatpicking a guitar and was immediately hooked.  At age 9, he won his first guitar contest.  By 10, he had joined his first band.  Now a seasoned performer, Nick continues to impress audiences with his guitar skills and has also become an accomplished singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist.
Age:  15 –  In Acoustic Kids: 2015, 2016
Gravel Road BB-Levy-Addie-optAddie LevyMandolin, Vocals
Note:  Addie started singing with her dad at the age of 3 and has been singing, acting, dancing, performing and playing music ever since. Her musical influences range from Dolly Parton to A.J. Lee, Sierra Hull and Adam Steffey.
Age:  14  –   In Acoustic Kids: 2015, 2016
Lydia BowmanFiddle, Vocals
Lydia began taking violin lessons at the age of 5 and was trained initially in Classical Violin.  Naturally, the influence of Appalachian Mountain Music in S.W. Virginia drew her to Bluegrass.  The regimented classical training has translated well into Bluegrass over the course of her career with Gravel Road and adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the bluegrass music. Aside from music, Lydia plays volleyball and soccer for her high school.
Age:  14  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2015, 2016
Gravel Road BB-Houseman-Jared-optJared HousemanBass
In addition to playing bass and performing with Gravel Road, Jared is an honor student, and he is active in martial arts. He studies jiu-jitsu and has a junior black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Age:  13  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2015, 2016


Facebook iconBluegrass
All of the members of ShadowGrass are award winning youth musicians. The name ‘ShadowGrass’ was created by the members when they came to realize that they are playing bluegrass music in the ‘shadow’ of such great players as: Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and other founders of the early bluegrass genre. ShadowGrass has performed at venues such as The Blue Ridge Music Center, HoustonFest, Heartwood, The Crooked Road, The Historic Earle Theater, The International Bluegrass Music Association Convention (IBMA), and The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA). In 2015, the band was awarded title of the Most Promising Youth Band at the historic Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Convention.

ShadowGrass is striving to be the next torchbearer to carry on bluegrass music to future generations.

Member Bios

Years in Acoustic Kids at MerleFest: 2016
Mentor: Noel Amaral


Shadowgrass - Amaral-Kitty-opry-photo_optFollow Kitty on FaceBookKitty Amaral:  Fiddle, Vocals
Note: Kitty’s debut recording project: Fiddle Gems, was released in February, 2015 and received top reviews by Bluegrass Unlimited, Fiddler Magazine, CD Baby and County Sales.
Age: 13  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2014-2016
Mentor: Matt Combs
Shadowgrass - Barker-Presley_optFacebook iconPresley BarkerGuitar, Vocals
Note: Presley recently won the adult guitar divisions for Grayson County, Allegheny County and Galax Old Fiddlers Convention. His CD, Just Ten, was released in 2015.
Age: 11  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2012-2016
Mentor: Steve Lewis
ShadowGrass-George-Kyser_optKyser George:   Bass
Note: Kyser has received 1st place honors in the youth bass competitions at the Allegheny County, Grayson County and Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Conventions.
Age: 11  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016
Mentor: David George.
Shadowgrass - Morris-Luke_optLuke Morris:  Mandolin
Note:  Luke is a junior instructor with the Galax JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) program and works with mandolin and guitar students.
Age: 16  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016
Mentor: Scott Freeman
shadowgrass-Russell-Clay_optClay Russell:  Banjo
Note: Clay is a member of IBMA’s Kids On Bluegrass and Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Star’s.  In addition to participating in the local conventions, Clay also enjoys camping, hunting, and riding four-wheelers.
Age: 15  –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016
Mentor: Eric Hardin

Strictly Strings

Facebook iconOld-time and Bluegrass
Strictly Strings is an Appalachian Old-Time band born in Boone, North Carolina. The band was originally an old-time fiddle class in the Junior Appalachian Musicians (J.A.M.) Program, instructed by Cecil Gurganus. Strictly Strings has been together for three successful years and they are well on their way to many more. They perform locally, festivals, private gigs, contra dances, as well as radio shows. This band truly loves playing together as well as spending time as best friends. They spread joy, happiness, love and great music!

Member Bios

Years In Acoustic Kids at MerleFest: 2016
Mentor: Cecil Gurganus

Strictly Strings-Burnett-Anissa_optAnissa BurnettBass, Fiddle, Alto Harmony Vocals
Note:  Dedicated to learning and performing traditional old-time music, Anissa has also developed an interest in jazz, bluegrass, Celtic, gospel, and other genres of music rooted in the south and Appalachians.
Age: 16 –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016
Caleb Coatney  – Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar
Note:  Caleb has grown up playing traditional old-time, bluegrass, and Irish tunes, but he also plays rock music. Currently, he helps as a teaching assistant in community music classes for children and adults.
Age: 13 –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016

Willow DillonBanjo, Fiddle, Tenor Harmony Vocals
Note:  Willow enjoys listening to and playing all different genres of music from eclectic to old-time to Irish. She likes to incorporate a lot of different styles in her music and enjoys mashing her favorite musicians’ styles with one another.
Age: 15 –  In Acoustic Kids: 2016

Also:  Kathleen BurnettFiddle, Lead Vocals;  Cecil GurganusGuitar, Bass Vocals