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Scott Slay: A Lifetime of Slay-ing Bluegrass

Scott Slay was raised in a musical family. Growing up in Walnut Hill, Florida (a small farm town about 35 miles from Pensacola), he played in a bluegrass band with his dad. “When I was four or five, I told my dad I wanted a guitar. Instead, he bought me a mandolin.” By the time he was eight years old, Scott was playing in his dad’s band. “They needed a mandolin player, and I played the mandolin, so they threw me in. If I knew a song, I played it. If I didn’t know the song, I just chopped.” Scott recalls seeing Newgrass Revival at a private festival the Guthrie Trapp family put on. “I was blown away. I loved everything about it.”

Music was still important enough to Scott when he went to college, where he majored in jazz performance. But in his senior year of college, he changed his major to music education. It was the right move for Scott, who has taught music for the past eighteen years.

“I moved to Virginia right out of college and taught there for four years, then to D.C. for another three years before moving to Colorado to teach six years ago."

Throughout his adult life, Scott has continued to enjoy playing bluegrass music. In Virginia, he started a band called Scott Slay and The Rail. But it was during a spring break visit to Colorado six years ago that he found his current band members, now called Slay. “During my vacation to Colorado six years ago, I was hoping to find a bluegrass jam where I could play. I Googled ‘Bluegrass near me,’ and easily twenty to twenty-five distilleries near me popped up with bluegrass jams that night. I learned that there are local bluegrass gigs in the Denver area every day of the week.”

Scott went to a jam hosted by Jordan Ramsey, who has won multiple awards for his mandolin playing, including the 2008 RockyGrass Mandolin Competition and the 2016 National Mandolin Contest in Winfield, Kansas. “Other than Jordan, everyone there was younger than me,” says Scott. “That really energized me because I saw a new generation of folks interested in bluegrass.”

Deciding that Colorado might be the right place to plant roots, Scott researched and found a school in the area that needed a music teacher.

“I went to tour the school and interview for the job. After the interview, I was asked if I would accept the position.” Scott now teaches kindergarten through fifth grade in Arvada, Colorado. “I love it. When the bell rings at 3:00 pm, I’m finished for the day. That gives me time to work on my own music projects.”

Scott had already developed a substantial career in music. He started Scott Slay and The Rail in Virginia, and the band was featured at RockyGrass and Telluride Bluegrass Festivals in 2018. He was an artist-in-residence as part of Big Virginia Sky with Sammy Shelor, the frontman for the Lonesome River Band. They were invited to perform at the 2015 IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in North Carolina. Scott is accomplished on the guitar and mandolin, winning second place for each instrument in the 2018 RockyGrass Instrument competition and IBMA Guitar Player of the Year in 2021. While The Rail has released an album on the Bonfire label, Scott recently released a single, Mine All Mine, independently. “I wrote the song and played guitar and mandolin on the recording,” says Scott. He was joined on piano and vocals by Josh Shilling, frontman for Mountain Heart, along with Jeremy Garrett (Infamous Stringdusters) on fiddle and vocals and Aaron Ramsey (Volume Five) on bass. Fred Donovan produced the single.

Scott’s current band includes lead singer and guitarist Travis Stinson, Pete Weber on mandolin, Nick Einterz on banjo, Evan Gohring on bass, and Andy Reiner, known as “the skiing fiddler.” Scott says every band member is fully invested and committed to being their best. “We gather to rehearse every Monday. We also write together. I love to write, but no one can do it like Nick. He writes a song every day.”

When choosing a name for the band, the natural inclination was to revisit Scott Slay and The Rail. But Scott wanted a fresh approach to the music they were playing and a band name to reflect that.

“Then, twice in one day, different people suggested that we call the band SLAY. I figured that was a sign, so we went with it.”

With influences such as The Punch Brothers, The Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart, Nickel Creek, Dead & Company, Leftover Salmon, and Scott’s bluegrass hero, progressive pioneer Sam Bush, Slay offers a fusion of bluegrass, folk, traditional compositions and country with songs that reflect both real and imagined life experiences. “We are trying to create a real original product.”

Scott says the band is working on recording now. “We are looking forward to playing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in September. It’s such a great festival and a wonderful opportunity to get the attention of other festival promoters, especially in Colorado.”

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