A family that performs together stays together
After moving to New Richmond five years ago, the Roller family has been learning the ins and outs of being a family band that performs bluegrass and gospel songs. On May 25, the family took a big step forward as a band by performing in the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass contest at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.
"The contest was really fun. It was unlike any other competition or any place we have played. That is mostly because there were a lot of families like us and we were all encouraging each other. We made a lot of friends and made a lot of connections," said daughter Lindsey. "We learned a lot about costumes, playing and stage presence. It was really fun."
The Roller family — which includes father Dan, mother Sharon, daughters Abby (16), Lindsey (14), Maddie (11) and son James (7 ½) — was one of 18 bands to perform at the Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest, which is the premiere bluegrass competition for young musicians in the country. Contestants were chosen through a preliminary round of submissions for a chance to go head-to-head during the big, month-long Bluegrass & BBQ festival at the park.
"Before the competition, they had a party and campout where all the groups got together to socialize. We made a lot of friends there. We each sang two songs for each other," Abby said. "We got a lot of help from these other groups and learned a lot from them. It also gave us a chance to perform with a single microphone — since the competition is a single microphone contest — which we haven't done a lot before. It helped us get used to it and wear off some of our nerves."
Taking part in the competition were Abby, who plays guitar, piano and is learning the violin; Lindsey, who plays banjo and fiddle; Maddie, who plays the mandolin; James, who plays guitar; and their father, Dan, who plays bass. Sharon and the other two children cheered on the rest of the family during the competition.
According to Lindsey, the competition lasted about four hours and consisted of two rounds, with each band performing two songs per set. The bluegrass competition is the largest event at which the family has performed, with nearly 800 people in the crowd.
"It was a really cool experience. We were a little nervous during the first round, but the second round we had already been up there so we were a lot less nervous," Abby said. "The first round was more nerve wracking since we were the fourth group to go up and perform out of all the 18 groups. I think for our first year we did pretty good. We were only a few points away from fifth place, so we didn't do that bad. We can't wait to go back next year."
The family got its love of music from their father, who used to be a radio DJ for a country music station. He shared his love of music with his family and that led to the whole family singing and performing. Sharon's love of gospel and bluegrass music steered the family toward that genre.
"We hope that when people hear our family sing it might help them if they are going through something, and maybe uplift and encourage them. That is the main reason why we are doing this. In the world we live in today, we want to show people our family unity," Abby said.
The family has been taking lessons from another family of performers for about three years. This is the first year the whole family has performed together after getting their dad into the group, who plays bass.
"I think having a family band knits your family closer together since you spend a lot of time together. We practice every single night after dinner. We practice our new songs during the day with mom after we are done with school and then after dad comes home we will practice our regular set of songs," Lindsey said. "I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. It is a great way to spend your childhood."
Before performing at the bluegrass competition in Branson, the family competed at the St. Croix County Fair Talent Show, where they took second place last year, and at the St. Paul fair.
"We will perform anywhere people let us sing. We perform at any open mics we can find. I think the farthest we go is about an hour away," Lindsey said. "We hope that we can start touring and performing at churches around here so that maybe one day we can head down south and perform."
To find out more about the Roller family and its music, visit rollerbluegrass.com, search for Roller Family Bluegrass on Facebook and YouTube.
"Even though we didn't place in the top five we had a blast, learned so much, made valuable connections, and received so much encouraging feedback and suggestions," Sharon said. "The whole experience was amazing! It was the experience of a lifetime for anyone who has a family bluegrass band."