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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Youth Spotlight: High School Bluegrass Band

Another Musical Opportunity

By Jacob Strang | September 24, 2007

Being from a musically inclined family, I have found myself enjoying the wondrous depth music holds. I love to sing and have some talent with the guitar. I have lived most of my life in Florida, growing up as a youth pastor's child in a church where my father had me begin at a very young age to help lead worship services with him.

After we moved to Bristol in 2005, I joined the Madrigal Singers choral program at Tennessee High School (THS) and had a blast with all the people who sang in it. I later found out that THS had a bluegrass band called Slim Pickins consisting of Madrigal singers and other THS students with musical talents.

The choral instructor, Bandy Brownlee, organizes all the practices and performances that Slim Pickins attends. After hearing them play and seeing how talented the group was, I expressed to Mr. Brownlee my longing to join. He allowed me the privilege of taking part in the group, and we immediately started practice for the Rhythm and Roots Reunion music festival in Bristol.

Slim Pickins is an extracurricular activity, so all the members of the group go out of their way to get up for the 6:00 or 6:30 morning practices that are held before school. We had an astounding performance at the 2006 Rhythm and Roots Reunion, and Slim Pickins was invited to play in this year's Rhythm and Roots.

Mr. Brownlee told me that Slim Pickins originated in the fall of 1996 when the Freedom Train came through Bristol. Cities were encouraged to celebrate by having young people perform traditional music and dances unique to that particular region. That fall, the THS Choral Music Department was asked to produce a student bluegrass band for the Freedom Train, and the THS bluegrass program began.

The original group was called Awesome Possum, but eventually the members of a later group changed the name to Slim Pickins in honor of their guitar player, "Slim" Jonathan Davis. In addition to the Rhythm and Roots Festival, Slim Pickins has performed for the students and faculty at King College, a Tennessee Board of Education meeting, and a local benefit at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts.

Besides playing musical instruments, most of us also contribute vocally. It has taken a lot of hard work to participate in this band, but it definitely has been a rewarding experience to work with a group of such talented people. Slim Pickins has offered a musical opportunity beyond my church experiences to appreciate and participate in another layer of music, especially one unique to East Tennessee.

Editor's Note: Jacob, 16, is the son of Fred Foy and Cecily Strang. Jacob participates with his father in the contemporary worship service at First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Bristol, Tenn. Jacob also sings with the FPC Jubilate Youth Choir and Men's Ensemble, rings with the FPC Youth Handbell Choir, and is a member of the Tennessee High swim team.

The Slim Pickins bluegrass band includes, clockwise from bottom left: Jessie Minton (fiddle), Sydney Raines (accordion/upright bass), guitar players Zac Worley, Jacob Strang and Carlson Keller; and Alex Moore (upright bass).