By Shelby C. Berry
When everything stopped in the spring of 2020, musicians found a way to play their music, write new songs, and learn new instruments during this time of uncertainty. Some, like John Martin, picked up an instrument for the first time.
"I hadn't really played music before COVID," Martin said. "But I enjoy playing music now and strive to play new things and experiment with new instruments."
First teaching himself to play the guitar with Wagon Wheel by country musician Darius Rucker, Martin quickly found himself drawn more to bluegrass music because of his hometown's rich history.
The 15-year-old bluegrass musician from Mount Airy, North Carolina, grew up in a musical family singing in church with his mother and sister. Mount Airy is not just like any other small town. It was home to one of America's most beloved television series, the Andy Griffith Show. Mayberry's Music Center on Main Street feels like it could have been featured in the famous tv show decades before. Bluegrass music is embedded into everyday life, encouraging everyone to pick up an instrument and jam. There is also a rich history of bluegrass musicians jamming on every corner.
"Mount Airy, North Carolina, is home to the Easter Brother's music store on Main Street and is home to many bluegrass jammers. This had a pretty great impact on my drive to play bluegrass music," Martin said. "My cousin also started dating a bass player for a bluegrass band, and my drive and interest in playing bluegrass became much more strong. He taught me some simple beginner bluegrass chords on the guitar, and I taught myself from there on."
As a new bluegrass artist, Martin is just getting his feet wet in the world of performing. Still, he has earned the opportunity to perform on Main Street in Mount Airy, and he plans to perform locally more as he continues pursuing music.
"I've only had the opportunity to perform live once so far, but I loved it and didn't have one nerve in my body. So, I'd say that it went fairly well!" Martin said.
In his two and a half years playing music, Martin has touched on playing multiple instruments,from guitar to bass and banjo. Influenced in his style of music by Tony Rice on guitar, Ben Marshall on bass, and Earl Scruggs, Sammy Shelor, and James McDowell on banjo, Martin feels that he takes styles he admires with each of these musicians to create a style of singing and to perform all his own.
"I sound a little different than other bluegrass musicians due to my singing runs. I tweak songs to fit my voice style, and I sing more modern," said Martin.
As a new bluegrass artist, Martin only recently joined the young bluegrass musician group Tomorrow's Bluegrass Stars after connecting with former member and new TBS leader Mary Parker.
While he hasn't had the opportunity to meet any of the TBS leaders or members, he is very passionate about what the organization stands for and its mission to create the leaders in the bluegrass music of tomorrow.
"It's important for upcoming bluegrass musicians to keep playing and carrying bluegrass on for the next generations to hear. We are a dying breed, but it is crucial that we introduce other young people to bluegrass!" Martin said.
As he works toward more local performances and bluegrass conventions, Martin shares his music with the world through singing at church and on his Tiktok, Instagram, and Facebook pages.
While only 15 years old, John Martin has the potential to be a truly great musician as he grows in both talent and passion in the days and years to come.
"I have such a deep passion for music," Martin said. "My love for music is everlasting."