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Breakin' Strings: Maine Roots Running Deep

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Most people don’t associate the state of Maine with bluegrass music. For Cliff Gelina of Breakin’ Strings, however, New England seems the perfect home for the pluckin’ and strummin’ his band is known for in that region. The roots of Maine’s bluegrass scene run deeply through generations of his family.

“Maine bluegrass is strong in my eyes,” Gelina explained, “but that's because I grew up in the Maine bluegrass community ever since I was born. I am a three-generation bluegrass musician from both sides of my family. My mother, Lois Gelina, was in a band with Dan Tyminski when they were kids,” he said. “Dan and his brother, Stan Tyminski. David Bevins also played dobro.”

He said Maine is also the home of Al Hawkes, who he called a “bluegrass legend” of New England. He said the performer was “like family to most of us.”

Gelina – a guitarist, mandolin player, lead vocalist and songwriter – said his career started with a family band: The Gelina Family. That’s no surprise since he attended his first big music event when he was only a babe. It was the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival.

“I was ten months old,” he said. “Thirty-two years later, in 2022, I was playing on that main stage for the first time with Breakin' Strings. Throughout my whole life, I had watched my music heroes on that stage. It all came full circle when we were one of the main acts.”

He said Maine has a lot of great bluegrass history and connections. “It has all become one big giant New England bluegrass family…a family I have been so proud to be a part of for all these years. I don't know if I know a better community of people,” Gelina said. “Also, The Bluegrass Music Association of Maine is an incredible association; they are set up at most every bluegrass festival or bluegrass event.”

But…Maine? How could that compare to the scene in Virginia, Tennessee, or other places more closely connected to the Appalachian culture that initially gave rise to these sounds?

“It's all perspective,” Gelina said. “Someone from down south may come up to Maine and not think our bluegrass is as blue as their grass. But we play our hearts out either way.”

He said Breakin' Strings wants to represent Maine bluegrass in the best way they can.

“Last year, we did it in a big way,” he explained. “We went to IBMA last year for the first time ever as an IBMA showcase band, part of the IBMA Ramble. It was incredible. Such an awesome experience.”

The band is putting the finishing touches on its second album, Homegrown, which features all new songs. It will follow the band’s 2022 release, Hangovers & Heartaches, recorded at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios in Studio A.

“This time,” Gelina said, “it's all recorded here in Maine, at Dawg-House Studio. We are thrilled to bring this new album to life. We have so many great new songs we are looking forward to sharing with the world.”

In addition to the change of studio to something closer to home, Gelina said the makeup of the band is different for this record. Cody Howe is the new lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist, and the newest member, Steve Peterson, performs on banjo.

“We also have Shawna Bell playing bass now,” he said. She takes on the deep underbelly of the music and offers up vocals. “Shawna was one of the original founding members of Breakin' Strings when we started the band all those years ago. The new music that will be on this album has been played at all the shows this year, and we have received so much love for the tunes. It has been a great year,” Gelina said.

Bluegrass fans in New England can take in a show happening at one of the band’s “favorite spots,” One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine, where they’ll be appearing on December 2.

“It is such an awesome location for music,” Gelina said. “A true music lover’s venue.” While most of their appearances happen up north, he said they “would love to play down south more.

This band has an itch to travel. We want to break some strings in a field near you!”

Gelina has many positive comments to share; he expresses gratitude for all the good things that have come to the band. He said they are thankful for “our fans, our family, and our friends. They have been so supportive,” he added. “It has been an amazing journey, and we couldn't have done it without everyone's support, love and friendship.”

He said this included “the people no longer here in this world who supported us 20 years ago” and the “new friends and fans we make at every show. We are also very thankful to the musicians who have paved the way through the years and have inspired us to do what we do. Inspiration feeds inspiration.”

Lastly and most importantly, he said in closing, “We are thankful to God, the creator, for giving us a world full of music, for giving us the ability to sing, play and write music. Who gives us the strength to go out and play our music and keeps us safe on the road. We are truly blessed.”

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