Belfast Telegraph

Q&A: Cedar Hill

The acclaimed US band will be playing at the Bluegrass Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park next weekend

By Matthew McCreary

This will be Cedar Hill's second time playing in Northern Ireland. Do you always get a warm reception here?

(Jim Bunch, banjo) Absolutely. When we came last time it was like being at home!

Of course there is a long historical connection between bluegrass music and this part of the world, isn't there?

Yes, there are several songs we sing, including one about a dog that saved a child in a cabin, and we found out the roots of the song came out of the area we were in when we were here. It was great to know that, we just thought it was a story.

How did Cedar Hill first come together?

About 40 years ago, Frank Ray, our mandolin player, started the group. He fell in love with bluegrass and formed the group. In the early 1970s, I met Frank and he wanted me to come and play banjo with him. Then, as time went on, band members changed but what was important to us was that the sound didn't change.

We wanted to keep the Ozark flavour and when we talked to new members we wanted them to understand that we don't change our music. If you listen to a recording of Cedar Hill from the 1970s it still has that same flavour.

You got into music from a young age. Did you always want to play bluegrass?

I did, yes. My parents, especially on my mom's side, were Ozark hill people. They were raised in an area that was very rural and their weekend enjoyment was playing music.

I had a guitar in my hand when I was a baby and by the time I was an early teen I knew all the chords.

A lot of bluegrass music is based on traditional tunes, but do you invest much in songwriting as well?

Frank has, but I'm not a songwriter. I love being able to arrange the melodies, but Frank is really our lean-on songwriter. Probably 70-80% of our songs he has either written himself or had a hand in writing.

Bluegrass may have its origins in a remote region but it's become a lot better known outside the US in recent years. What has helped it catch on, do you think?

It's just the stories, the music and the emotions. The music itself is always uplifting, but then some of the songs are not so joyful too.

You get that mix of happy and party and then you have the 'misery' part of the song, too.

Do you have any younger members of your family set to follow you?

I have a nephew who I'm so proud of who plays in a band, so the talent is certainly within the family for sure!


The Bluegrass Festival runs at the Ulster American Folk Park, near Omagh, from Friday to Sunday, August 30 to September 1. For details, visit

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