Bluegrass bands perform for Mountain Music and Moonshine
CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Bluegrass band Nothin’ Fancy fiddle player Chris Sexton might owe his career to the “Star Wars” theme.
As a fourth-grader being introduced to string instruments by his elementary school music teacher, Sexton was smitten when the instructor played the theme from the science fiction epic.
“I said, ‘I wanna do that,’” Sexton recalled during a telephone interview from a coffee shop near his Manassas, Va., office.
Although Sexton was already a music lover, he said his mother was hesitant to the idea of renting a violin for her young son to take lessons. Sexton, though, never looked back.
“And over 30 years later here I am,” he said with a laugh.”I think I might’ve still come to the violin if she’d played a different tune ... but that was another thing about the violin that appealed to me.”
Sexton, who earned a Bachelor of Music in music performance with a minor in voice from the Shenandoah Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Winchester, Va., in 1997, and a Master of Music Pedagogy from the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, in 2010, will showcase his fiddle prowess Friday, Feb. 2, at The Capitol Theatre in downtown Chambersburg. The event, Mountain Music and Moonshine, features Nothin’ Fancy and Martinsburg, W.Va.-based Circa Blue.
For Nothin’ Fancy’s portion of the show, Sexton promises “a lot of strong harmonies, solid instrumentation, and good stage humor.”
The Virginia-based Nothin’ Fancy, which Sexton has been a part of since 1998, has its own sound.
“One of the things I can say about our group is we don’t fit neatly into any one box. We have a very unique, very distinct sound. We acknowledge that our sound comes a lot from the Country Gentleman, and the Seldom Scene, most certainly. Because those were heroes to most of us when were first getting acquainted with bluegrass music. But we don’t sound like the Country Gentleman or The Seldom Scene. We sound like Nothin’ Fancy,” Sexton said.
Sexton, who teaches violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano, said he tells aspiring musicians to stay true to themselves. “You can’t make a living being an artist copying someone else’s sound. You have to do it the way that you do it. You have to be you,” he said, noting that can be hard for new musicians to do.
“I think we all go through that phase when we start learning how to play. We all want to be that hero that we identified with. I wanted to be Bobby Hicks, he’s a great fiddle player. And Bobby’s playing has always inspired me. And I wanted to be Bobby, but I can’t because only Bobby can be Bobby. I can emulate, but I cannot replace him. I can only succeed him,” Sexton said.
Another aspect that the members of Nothin’ Fancy pride themselves on is their stage humor.
“We just sound so different and the stage humor. That’s just one of those things that we were naturally good at. If you throw five different personalities onto a stage, there’s bound to be some humor that happens,” he said. “And we always strive to keep that banter going. We always strive to have a good time. You’re going to find five guys on stage not just to do a job, but to have fun doing that job. And we will be having fun. And we hope that the audience has just as much fun right along with us.”
Their easy rapport has served them well, as Nothin’ Fancy has won the Entertaining Group of the Year award six times from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America.
“A lot of people have come up to us and asked us, or they’ve told us, ‘I love your act. How long does it take to prepare for your act?’ I’m like, ‘It’s not an act. That’s just us,’” Sexton said.
As for the SPBGMA awards, Sexton said he and his bandmates don’t entirely understand how they do what they do.
“We get on a stage and we just be ourselves and if people love it and if they laugh at us, and they clap along and they love what we do, it’s a win-win situation for everybody. And if people want to give us trophies for that, that’s great. We’ll take the trophies too,” he said with a laugh. “But if we don’t win the awards, the trophies don’t matter as much to us as what feedback we get from our fans. And when fans come to us and say, ‘That was the best show I’ve ever seen,’ ... it’s just us being us.”
Sexton said he thinks Nothin’ Fancy can appeal to new bluegrass listeners as well as hardcore fans.
“We get a compliment from people who are new to bluegrass or they hated it or they have no experience with bluegrass, or they flat out just don’t like it. But (they came because) somebody drags them to the show anyway. And while they’re there, they see, they hear what we’re able to do, they enjoy themselves, they laugh at some of the jokes and they like the songs. They come up to us and they say, ‘I did not like bluegrass. But I listened to what you guys do and I like it.’ We’ve heard that a lot,” he said.
Sexton also said potential listeners should not be put off by the band name.
“We’re not what they expect. Especially with a name like Nothin’ Fancy. We can go on stage ... looking kind of ragtag, but no, we dress appropriate. We’ll come on stage in jeans, we’ll wear button-down shirts. We don’t want to be highly fancy, we want to be Nothin’ Fancy. The name doesn’t necessarily tell the story.”
Top photo: Nothin’ Fancy will perform as part of Mountain Music and Moonshine Friday, Feb. 2, at The Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa. (Submitted photo)