The story of Pinecastle Records is about people passionate about bluegrass music. The label started in 1989 in Florida. Tom Riggs owned several Pizza Hut restaurants. He was also passionate about the music business, and he loved bluegrass. He and his son did the largest syndicated bluegrass show in the United States, American Acoustic Country, on 250 radio stations. He loved introducing new bluegrass artists to a large audience. That morphed into the Pinecastle record label when Tom wanted to help a musician friend with his recording career.
One day Tom was in South Carolina, where he went to see a wound doctor, Lonnie Lassiter. Lonnie used to play music in his clinic. “The day Tom came in. I was playing bluegrass music,” recalls Lonnie. That connection was a deep one, and Tom invited Lonnie to join him at IBMA. “I sat with Tom at the Ryman Theatre in Nashville,” says Lonnie. “Tom was on my right, and Ricky Skaggs was sitting on my left. I had to pinch myself!”
Ethan Burkhart, now president of Pinecastle Records, worked for Tom. “I went to the company’s Christmas parties as a fan and got to know Ethan,” says Lonnie. A few years later, Lonnie was riding through North Carolina, where Tom had moved the business in 2005. “I decided I’d stop in and see Tom. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. When I got to the building, the sign had been taken down, and the doors were locked. I called Ethan, and he told me Tom had suffered a stroke.”
Lonnie couldn’t bear to see Pinecastle close. He called Tom’s son but learned he wasn’t interested in taking over the business. “That was in 2010. They had lost most of their artists. I took over the label’s catalog and inventory. I moved it all to a building next to my clinic.” Lonnie says everything Tom did was old-school, including keeping records on paper. “I changed the phone system and CRM system to bring the label up to date.”
It’s Lonnie’s mission to keep bluegrass alive. “I love it. It’s my culture. I don’t want to see it go the way of the shag culture that existed on the beaches of South Carolina and Virginia. That has long disappeared. We are very business-oriented, making sure our artists are taken care of so they can continue making music.”
Owning a record label isn’t too far-fetched for a wound doctor like Lonnie. “I got my MBA to be competent to run the label. I want to be an advocate for our artists. My only rule is no vulgarity or profanity – otherwise, I encourage them to do what they want to do.” On Lonnie’s end, he works to be organized and careful not to under promise when writing contracts.
In addition to the sound recording end of the business, Lonnie says Pinecastle has gotten video heavy.
“Ethan, who is also a professional bassist, has gotten really good at shooting video. We were able to bring the video production in-house, which in turn dropped the price of production. We also have Brian Smith, who is an amazing cameraman. It’s a whole new focus for us. We always had the audio recording down. But now that we have gotten into a new studio space in Greenville, South Carolina, we are a full-service company.”
Lonnie says Pinecastle is as much an investment company as it is a production company. “We invest in our artists through marketing and promotion. We have hired Tony Wray as our creative director. Tony can do all in-house production, and he helps with the flow of content.”
While Lonnie’s musical tastes are ensconced in traditional bluegrass, he understands you must have an audience. “It doesn’t get too old school for me, but the music has to be relevant to today’s audiences. I have learned to love the intersection between different genres.” Pinecastle has a sister label featuring non-bluegrass artists. “We feature Southern rock, country, and more progressive bluegrass on the Bonfire label.”
Dale Ann Bradley, five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and GRAMMY nominee, recorded her first album with Pinecastle. To this day, she still has a strong relationship with the label. Other bands, including Special Consensus and Nothin’ Fancy, became household names during their time with Pinecastle.
The current list of artists continues the bluegrass traditions: Williamson Branch, Sister Sadie, The Blue Hess Band, Blue Mafia, and Garrett Newton are some of the artists Pinecastle has worked with, along with established artists, including Lorraine Jordan, Carolina Road, Edgar Loudermilk, and The Farm Hands.
“We work hard to promote and help our artists and to treat them fairly,” says Lonnie. “I love the concept of family, and I love when we all get together. We want each of our artists to know they are loved and supported and that we will always advocate for them. I love this label, and I love our artists.”