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Our Conversation with The Mountain Grass Unit

We recently caught up with Mountain Grass Unit for a quick interview in advance of their set at Mason Music Fest 2024.

Mountain Grass Unit is an up and coming bluegrass band with Birmingham roots consisting of Drury Anderson (mandolin and vocals), Luke Black (acoustic guitar and banjo), and Sam Wilson (upright bass). Click here to learn more.

Will Mason: I love bluegrass- but statistically speaking, it isn’t the most popular genre these days, especially for younger people – how did y’all get interested in this genre? 

MGU (Luke): Although it wasn’t too popular among young people, we found the genre through a local music store: Fretted Instruments. Both Drury and I took lessons there when we were in elementary school. From there, we were introduced to a welcoming community of bluegrass lovers and musicians.

WM: No way! I took lessons there from Alan Barlow for years, and then worked for Herb there in high school and met a lot of pickers who would come through for Saturday morning bluegrass jams. Back then, I was certainly the young guy trying to catch up to the old timers. You couldn’t help falling in love with bluegrass if you hung out at Fretted for any amount of time. How has the bluegrass community responded to y’all? Have you felt embraced, or have you gotten the ‘side eye’ from anyone?

MGU: Herb Trotman and Jason Bailey were both great teachers over at Fretted Instruments early on. Being young, most of the older folks were always supportive and proud to see their music being taken into a generation by people like us and many more. Allen Tolbert was a very big mentor later on, and took us to a lot of local bluegrass events where we could put our foot in the door. Steve Masterson was also a catalyst for introducing us to that crowd. Being the founder of the Acoustic Cafe bluegrass festival for 20 years, he knew many faces that would enjoy the music we were playing.

WM: I’ve seen on social media that y’all have had some opportunities to meet and jam with some of your musical heroes – what’s been the coolest jam you’ve gotten to play?

MGU: I think it has to be playing with Billy Strings at Terminal West in Atlanta. That was 2019, and we were just picking in the parking lot after seeing him tear it up that night. Billy is a very collaborative type of musician, and he made our night walking out to the parking lot after the show and pickin a few. We are super excited to now be doing a headline show of our own at Terminal West this summer.

WM: Is there anyone you haven’t gotten to meet yet that would change your life if you were to jam with them? 

MGU: There’s too many to choose from! We’re always stoked to be jamming with someone we look up to, and are thankful to come across a lot of cool folks along the way.

WM: What does the songwriting process look like for y’all? Is there a principle writer, or is it a more collaborative approach? 

MGU: Everything is very collaborative for the most part. Certain songs might be brought to the band by someone, but before it is played we fine tune it with each other and all add our own individual twist. 

WM: Y’alls harmonies are great – did everyone sing on their own before joining the band, or is that something y’all had to work on after forming the group?

MGU (Luke): Drury started singing lead when he and I were trying to get some duo gigs at a local restaurant. We found out quickly that we weren’t going to get the gig if we didn’t have vocals. Later on when we formed the band with Sam, we focused on getting tight bluegrass harmonies. Me and Sam really worked on finding the different ways we could approach a bluegrass harmony. Over time, we’ve learned a lot about how to go about that. 

MGU (Luke): I was in an acoustic group with Drury and a separate rock band with Sam. This was the first group where we had all combined forces, and it was super neat to see these projects come together. We love sharing the fact that Drury also plays drums. The Mason Music experience really shaped who we are as a band jam wise despite maybe being on different instruments than we are today.

WM: That’s awesome – love to hear it! We’ve been streaming your records at my house for the past few months getting pumped for Mason Music Fest – what can folks expect at your live shows? 

MGU: You can expect a handful of originals, traditional bluegrass tunes, and straight-up improvisation over jammier tunes. Maybe a Sam joke or two…

WM: Ha – can’t wait! So what’s next for MGU? 

MGU: We are super pumped to be on the road all summer playing shows. We are also in the works of new music. Stay tuned on Instagram, Facebook, and!

WM: What advice would you give to up and coming music students who want to pursue music as a career? 

MGU (Luke): As far as music education goes, we are all passionate about learning. Drury and I are at Berklee College of Music, and really love exploring how theory can help your playing. One important lesson with all this is remembering theory should only be a tool. It’s helpful in playing, but it is also important to follow what drives you individually.

Mason Music Fest is back again, bringing the Birmingham community together for a one-day music festival on Friday, May 31st, 2024, starting at 5:00 PM at Avondale Brewing Company (201 41st St S, Birmingham, AL 35222). This year, Mason Music Fest will feature an incredible lineup, including Mountain Grass Unit, Kashus Culpepper, and Taylor Wilson. In addition, two of Mason Music’s Rock Band League student bands Close Proximity and Static will be opening the show.

Tickets are on sale NOW! You do not want to miss this.