Ramblin' Rhodes: Mountain Heart is not your average bluegrass band

The popular bluegrass band Mountain Heart returns to Augusta to kick off the 2013-14 Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music Southern Soul & Song series at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at the Imperial Theatre.


Tickets are $15, $22 or $27 available at the Imperial’s box office, 745 Broad St., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, by calling (706) 722-8341 or through imperialtheatre.com. The series tickets offer all five shows for the price of four.

Opening for the band will be Lera Lynn, of Athens, Ga., who has performed a couple of times at Sky City in Augusta.

Interestingly enough, even though this is basically a bluegrass music series, Mountain Heart fiddler Jim Van Cleve contends that Mountain Heart is far more than your average bluegrass music group.

“This band never has been content to sit back and become stale,” he said in a call last week. “We’ve kind of reinvented ourselves different times. When Josh (lead vocalist and keyboardist Josh Shilling) joined us, we took on a whole new persona.

“Last night, Josh and I were playing with members of the Doobie Brothers, the Steve Miller Band and the Kentucky Headhunters. We’ve even been on a leg of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tour.
No true artist gets to where they are by being in a bubble.”

Other members of the band include co-founder and banjo player Barry Abernathy, mandolin player Aaron Ramsey, upright bass player Jason Moore and phenomenal 19-year-old guitarist and vocalist Seth Taylor.

“The original band was myself, Barry, Steve Gulley and Adam Steffey about 1,000 years ago,” Van Cleve said of the band’s formation in 1998.

In 1997, North Carolina native Van Cleve had left college at UNC Greensboro to join Doyle Lawson’s acclaimed Quicksilver band.

Besides his involvement with Mountain Heart, Van Cleve and other band members frequently record on other projects. Van Cleve earned a 2004 Grammy Award for Best Country Album Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers.

He also played fiddle on Carrie Underwood’s 2005 debut album Some Hearts and her No. 1 hit single Don’t Forget to Remember Me.

“We like tackling an expanded genre base and having a blast doing it,” he said. “All of these guys in our band are world-class session players. We like putting new materials in front of us that are challenging and fun.

“Logistically, we live a long ways from each other, and we get together for shows,” Van Cleve noted. “We are a family and our own brotherhood as a group, but we also have our own families to spend time with when we are not on the road.”

Mountain Heart has not released a new album since its 2010 CD That Just Happened, but Van Cleve said a new album is in the works.

“We’re collecting material, and we plan to record this winter,” he added. “We play the music we want to play, and we are fortunate that people like it.”

Last month, several major bluegrass artists, including Dailey & Vincent, the Del McCoury Band, Sam Bush and others, came together at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley nightclub for a benefit performance to help Van Cleve.

According to a news release on the band’s Web site mountainheart.com, he suffered a “near fatal bout of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever contracted from mosquito bites he received while performing in St. Croix in late March.”

The posting said that Van Cleve had been hospitalized for more than six weeks and had amassed considerable financial expenses with no health insurance that had “forced him back to work earlier than doctors wanted and impacted his family in numerous ways.”

Van Cleve never mentioned any of that during our phone conversation last week.

That says a lot about performers who get out there on stages and give their all to entertain others when they themselves have problems off stage.

Kevin Grogan and the Morris Museum of Art staff and the Imperial Theatre crew over the past few years have been offering some great and memorable artists in the Budweiser True Music Southern Soul & Song series.

This season is no exception. Other shows will feature:

• Oct. 18, The Grascals with guest Audie Blaylock and Redline;

• Nov. 15, Blue Highway and Sierra Hull;

• Jan. 17, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott; and

• Feb. 14, Rodney Crowell and Ray Wylie Hubbard.