Garrett Newton: From Teen Bluegrass Sensation to Country Music Tribute Star
By: Shelby C. Berry
From a small community in Eastern North Carolina, 22-year-old Garrett Newton reflects how original bluegrass artists start. Growing up in a small Mayberry-like community where rural living is the focus, and bluegrass and country music tell the stories, it was a no-brainer when ten-year-old Garrett Newton first picked up the banjo. His grandmother gave him a banjo for his birthday that year, and he played at any chance—before and after school, teaching himself on YouTube and at local bluegrass picking sessions he found.
"McGee's Crossroads epitomizes country living. Country and bluegrass music plays from the speakers in every house, and it hasn't changed much since I first started playing," Newton said.
Finding himself drawn to this traditional bluegrass sound because of his hometown and upbringing, Newton dedicated time to learning the history of the music and listening to and absorbing the styles of the earliest generations of bluegrass artists. That, in turn, reflected in the way he played.
This talent and drive for traditional bluegrass allowed Newton to find himself as Lorraine Jordan's protege, touring the country with her only a few years after picking up the banjo.
"I saw her at a festival and asked if I could play the banjo for her," Newton said.
Impressed with how Newton played, Lorraine took him under her wing and invited him to play with her on stage during her tour.
"I ended up going with her on every cruise and just about every time they performed. Touring with Lorraine Jordan became a home away from home for me. I enjoyed playing a few songs with her and running the sound. It was so much fun, and I created memories that will last a lifetime." Lorraine showed him the business side of music, and "she taught me to get out there, shake hands, and talk to people. I took a lot from working with her," Newton said.
Later, he realized his time with Lorraine Jordan had run its course and, with Lorraine's help, pursued his music with The Garrett Newton Band while touring with her. Like Jordan, Newton kept it traditional with his music, recording two albums and performing at festivals and concerts throughout the southeastern US during their time together.
From 2020 to early 2022, Newton took a break from performing and, in turn, found a new passion for music, but this time, he focused on a traditional country sound.
"In the almost 13 years since I first started playing music, I never really looked at it as a career,"Newton continued. "I just really enjoyed playing. It was always something that helped me to get away from what I was going through at the time."
During his time away from performing, Newton worked on a farm instead—finding inspiration from none other than one of country music's founders, Hank Williams. After countless research on Hank Williams as a performer and musician, Newton gathered a Hank Williams tribute band and 40-45 of Hank's songs for a show unlike any other, with Newton as the lead.
"We sing Hank Williams songs no one else is singing, even unreleased songs from old family records. Very few other Hank Williams tribute bands do as many songs as we do," Newton said.
Newton feels like he has found his place in music with this new adventure. Even Lorraine Jordan used to say that he was a young artist with an old soul, and this music allows him to embody that.
"I always wanted to capture a vintage sound, getting as close to that 1950s sound as possible," Newton said, “and the honky-tonks in rural Alabama. I like to do away with the modernness of the music and make it as raw as possible, back when country music was gold.Other than the steel guitar, I want to keep everything as raw as I can get it. I relate to this music more than any other music I've ever played," Newton said.
Although he is now primarily a traditional country artist, Newton still belongs to Tomorrow's Bluegrass Stars (TBS). He meets John Colburn and TBS members at IBMA in Raleigh, North Carolina, every year. Newton appreciates how the TBS and the bluegrass family makeeveryone feel welcome.
Garrett Newton has two goals moving forward with his musical career—to have fun and keep the music of Hank Williams alive. Reflecting on his journey today inspired him to offer this advice: "With music constantly changing, play the music you feel led to play. If you want to play more traditional music, play that. You can only play what's really in your heart and what you have a drive for."