UNION — Those who attend this year’s Upcountry Literary Festival will be treated to two musical performances that will reflect the local region.
The Upcountry Literary Festival will take place on Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23, in the USC Union Auditorium. Admission is free for all events.
In addition to numerous presentations from authors and poets of various genres, the festival will also include musical performances by Kristen Scott Benson and Mill Billy Blues, beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 22.
Kristin Scott Benson
Union native Kristin Scott Benson is most certainly a master banjo player. She has played on stage at The Grand Ole Opry more times than she can remember; she was named Banjo Performer of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) four years in a row; and she is currently a member of cutting-edge bluegrass band The Grascals, which was nominated this year for a Grammy Award in the Best Bluegrass Album category for its recent album, “Life Finds a Way.”
In an interview last year, Benson said she vividly remembers the first time she played on stage at The Grand Ole Opry.
“I was 19 years old and my parents came,” she said. “It was around Christmas and the Opryland Hotel re-routes traffic for their massive lights display, which takes a very long time to see. I got caught in that and what I remember is nearly missing it! It may have worked for the best because I didn’t have as much time to stand around and get nervous.”
When Benson first performed in public at age 5 — at Midway BBQ — she had no idea it would lead to a musical career which would take her all over the U.S. as well as Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Sweden, Greece, The Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Canada.
Benson’s talent has come from years of dedication, but genetics may have also played a part. Her maternal grandfather — Arval Hogan — was a professional mandolin player from North Carolina. He was one half of Whitey and Hogan — which was part of a larger group known as The Briarhoppers — and was a radio hit during the heyday of radio in the 1940s.
Benson is the daughter of Fred and Carolyn Scott of Buffalo. Fred is also a mandolin player, so when he and Carolyn met, one thing they had in common was a love of the mandolin.
Benson’s husband, Wayne, is also a mandolin player, and they have a six-year-old son, Hogan.
For more information about Benson or The Grascals, visit www.grascals.com.
Mill Billy Blues
The band Mill Billy Blues was formed this year and produced a self-titled album full of Piedmont blues — a genre of soulful music which is indigenous to this region.
Band members include Freddie Vanderford, Shane Pruitt, Brandon Turner and Matthew Knights. The name of the group came from the fact that each band member comes from a South Carolina mill village — Buffalo (Vanderford), Spartanburg (Pruitt), Pacolet (Turner) and Cowpens (Knights).
Each of the band members already had a lifetime of experience performing, and they decided to come together as friends and musicians to create a new old sound to identify the mill villages and the back roads of the Piedmont region.
Vanderford, who studied under Piedmont blues founding father Peg Leg Sam and is known for his work in preserving the Piedmont blues, discussed the origin of the band’s name.
“Growing up in the small textile communities, we all heard these older guys sitting around playing with family and friends,” Vanderford said. “It was blues, but it was pretty much mill village, mill-hill blues, so Shane came up with the name ‘Mill Billy.’”
The group recently played at a special CD release show — which was sold out — at The Showroom in Spartanburg, and as a surprise for the audience, they were joined by legendary Spartanburg group, The Sparkletones. Members of both bands enjoyed the evening so much, they decided to play another show together at Chapman Cultural Center’s David Reid Theatre on Saturday, April 6.
“We played together most recently at The Showroom and had such a wonderful time that we wanted to do it again,” Knights said. “For this show we want to come together as two Spartanburg bands from different eras and different genres to create something special.”
Vanderford, Knights and Turner will perform at 3 p.m. Friday, March 22 in the USC Union Auditorium as part of the Upcountry Literary Festival. They will have Mill Billy Blues CDs available at the performance, and those who are unable to attend can find the CDs at www.cdbaby.com.
For more information about the group’s upcoming performance at Chapman Cultural Center, visit www.chapmanculturalcenter.org.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.