The devil went down to Georgia, but luckily, he sent Barry Abernathy and the Appalachian Road Show back up to Minnesota with some authentic bluegrass and roots music.
After leading the fearless five out of Ellijay, Georgia, frontman Abernathy will take the stage Sunday at the Loy Show Barn in Oronoco.
Despite being born with no fingers on his left hand, Abernathy started playing banjo around age 15. He played an instrument his mom promised to buy him after he fell in love with its sound on a Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver record she bought him for Christmas.
“The first song was ‘On the Sea of Life,’ ” Abernathy said. “Right then, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Abernathy was a founding member of Mountain Heart in 1998, and he released the solo project “Barry Abernathy & Friends” earlier this year.
Along with Darrel Webb (tenor voice and mandolin), he launched his current band, the Appalachian Road Show, in 2018. The group is currently recording its third record. Their 2020 album, “Tribulation,” was nominated for five different International Bluegrass Music Awards, including new album of the year.
It’s hard to imagine a more fitting spot to hear the sincere and twangy music of the Appalachian Road Show played live than in the century-old Loy Show Barn.
Barry Abernathy took time to answer some questions for 507 Magazine readers.
How did you first get interested in bluegrass and roots music?
I grew up around people singing in church and playing in the community. My grandad on my mom’s side played guitar. He had a 1937 Gibson J-35 guitar he bought new. He gave $27 for it. My mom and dad, and my grandparents on my dad’s side, we all went to the same church, so I was around a lot of singing. My mom and dad, neither one of them sang or anything, but they had me around it a lot.
I always loved it. I started listening to different bluegrass and bluegrass-gospel groups. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver was my hero when I was a teenager. I always wanted to play with him — and did. Played a little over five years with Doyle. That’s kind of how I got started.
What attracted you to the banjo?
I was born with no fingers on my left hand. I just have a thumb and a stub of an index finger. The banjo was interesting to me because I had started watchin’ people and studying, and I realized you didn’t have to strum or brush strokes. You individually picked out the notes. Then I found out it was an open instrument. There are a lot of open strings on it.
What’s at the center of your most recent Appalachian Road Show record, “Tribulation?”
The whole project fits together. It takes one piece to understand the next piece. That project was based around the hard times, the trials and tribulations of the plight of the Appalachian people as they were coming over and settling this country.
The songs have different themes. We got songs about a man losing his fingers working in the logging industry, songs about the train industry, about the coal-mining industry, about love lost, and then mountaintop songs. … The whole idea is to bring to life some of the stories told through song.
You have two children of your own, and recently adopted two younger kids (now 6 and 7). How do you balance your family and touring?
I wasn’t touring a lot when we first got them. Now we’ve had them over two years. We went through COVID, and now we are starting to play often again. It’s not easy right now. We are having to adjust who picks them up from school, and who does this and who does that. Of course, there are four of us. Both of my girls are grown and drive well, so we have some help, but it’s not easy.
Why would you recommend people come see the Appalachian Road Show perform?
If you love authentic American music coming from its core, it’s going to be a very entertaining show. If I didn’t play in this band, I would go see it if it came through within 100 miles of me.
If you go
What: Appalachian Road Show
Where: Loy Show Barn, 6914 60th Ave. NW, Oronoco
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29. Doors open at 5.
Cost: $25 at the gate