Last October, North Carolina musician Seth Taylor was happy just knowing he was going to be backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, thanks to Brian Smith, manager of the bluegrass band Mountain Heart.
Little did Taylor expect before the night was over he would be playing with the band on stage when it made its 128th Opry appearance.
“It came about so weird,” Taylor said by phone last week. “I got in touch with Brian and just wanted to go to the Opry, and he arranged me a backstage pass.
“Then (band member) Josh Shilling said, ‘Well, would you like to play with us?’ and I ended up performing Lee Highway Blues with them.”
His parents had come with Taylor and bought tickets to sit out front. So they were surprised to see their teenage son make his first Opry appearance.
And it gets even better. Just a few weeks ago, Mountain Heart announced that its new lead guitarist would be none other than 18-year-old Seth Taylor.
The phone conversation with Taylor last week was his first interview of the brand new year and his first as an official member of Mountain Heart.
Other members are Barry Abernathy (who founded the band in 1998 with Steve Gulley), Josh Shilling, Jason Moore, Aaron Ramsey and Jim Van Cleve.
That very night Taylor was to have his first rehearsal with Mountain Heart at 7:30 p.m. and board their tour bus at 11:30 p.m., bound for a concert in Old Saybrook, Conn., on Jan. 5.
“I can’t wait,” he said the morning of his first day with the band. “I’m really excited to start the year like this. It’ll be a Mountain Heart year for sure. I’ve been listening a lot to their CDS and watching their YouTube videos.”
Taylor will be making his first Augusta appearance with Mountain Heart at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, when the band returns to the Imperial Theatre for the Morris Museum of Art’s Southern Song and Soul series. Special guests will be guitarist Tony Rice and banjo player Terry Baucom.
Tickets are $37, $24, $19 and $13. Call the box office at (706) 722-8341 or buy online at imperialtheatre.com.
Taylor has won 14 major performance awards in just five years, including the Best Guitarist Award from the huge Merlefest bluegrass and country music festival in Wilkesboro, N.C.
Between Old Saybrook and Augusta, Taylor will get many chances to get in the groove with Mountain Heart. They have shows in between in Norfolk, Conn.; New York City; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boston Heights, Ohio; and Saginaw, Mich.
The day after Augusta, the band will be performing at The Melting Point nightclub in Athens, Ga.
From his very early years, Taylor has had a deep love of music.
“My family said when I was little I cried a lot from colic or something,” he said. “The only thing that apparently would shut me up was a radio being played or watching CMT (Country Music Television).
“When I was 2, I asked for a guitar and got a Harmony something, and I started learning chords at 3 and started taking lessons when I was 5.”
By 12, Taylor was playing with a band called Reel Tyme and at 15 was touring with Pine Mountain Railroad, which led to playing with the band Monroeville, named after an Alabama town.
Taylor first saw Mountain Heart perform when he was 8 years old.
“My family went to the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee, and they were playing there with, I think, IIIrd Tyme Out. I sat on the front row and enjoyed them so much I bought a Mountain Heart cap.”
As he became more involved with playing with bands, he began crossing paths with Mountain Heart at various places, including the annual International Bluegrass Music Association gatherings.
Monroeville opened for Mountain Heart at a show in Knoxville, Tenn., which eventually led to Mountain Heart member Van Cleeve producing Monroeville’s self-titled album.
Now, Taylor gets to step up to the big-time world of bluegrass music as he begins touring nationally with Mountain Heart. He already knows what to do.
“When people pay to come see you perform,” Taylor said, “then you need to entertain them.”