BlueBilly Grit brings unique sound to festival

BlueBilly Grit will play two shows on Friday.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 5:49 pm


An acclaimed band from northeast Georgia that was founded just five years ago on family heritage and harmonies will kick off Friday’s portion of the North Carolina State Bluegrass Festival.

BlueBilly Grit will play two shows Friday, one at noon and the other at 4:45 p.m. The group will make its first appearance at a festival promoted by Adams Bluegrass, LLC. BlueBilly Grit is based in Maysville, Ga., which is about an hour from Dahlonega Ga. where Adams Bluegrass is based. It will also be the band’s first performance in Marion.

“We are looking forward to bringing our music to the people of North Carolina and we hope they enjoy listening to us just as much as we enjoy performing for them,” said founding member Mark Garrison to The McDowell News. “I have been to Marion several times. It is beautiful country.”

BlueBilly Grit, also called BBG, has six members who provide both male and female vocals. Garrison plays banjo, mandolin and guitar while his daughter Amber Starr Hollis provides lead vocals, Shawn Hart provides vocals and plays guitar. They are from Maysville, Ga,, which is roughly the same size as Old Fort.

Adam Rambin is on upright bass while Roman Gaddis plays the mandolin. Patrick Chisolm is on the fiddle and sings vocals too. They are from Dahlonega, Ga.

BlueBilly Grit was formed in 2008. The band got its start at an old historic gristmill at a park in Maysville. Garrison’s father Bobby “Pee Wee” Garrison used to run that gristmill and every year, an arts festival would be held there. Garrison said he and his brother Adam would jam on the side porch of the old gristmill during the festival.

“My daughter was singing at the time,” said Garrison. We talked her into joining.”

The original group consisted of his daughter Amber, his son Matt, his brother Adam and mandolin player Tony Ianuario.

“I had played bluegrass off and on my whole life,” said Garrison.

He had previously lived in Nashville for 10 years trying to get into the music business. During that time, he worked for country star Reba McEntire. He worked on her estate and its grounds and her horse farms.

McEntire published three gospel songs Garrison had written and offered to set up a record deal for him. But Garrison turned her offer down and decided to return to Georgia. He pretty much got out of the music business and spent the next several years raising a family, according to BlueBilly Grit’s website.

However, playing music at that old gristmill rekindled a passion that he always held close to his heart. His family members thought about starting a bluegrass band.

“I had thought of the name BlueBilly Grit several years before,” he said.

Garrison explained that “Blue” is for bluegrass while “Billy” is for rockabilly. The “Grit” comes from the legendary Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In 1972, that band released the classic album “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” which introduced classic country and bluegrass to new generations.

In addition, Garrison wrote a song called “Mill Grinder’s Blues.” It was about the old gristmill that his dad operated. He and the new band recorded this song, which was put on a compilation CD with other tracks by Rhonda Vincent and Steve Martin.

“That was the start of us getting a little bit of a name going,” said Garrison. “We got a little bit of airplay.”

Since forming in 2008, the lineup of BBG has changed somewhat but the tradition from Garrison’s family remains. The band has released the albums, “Mill Grinder’s Blues” and “Ready For A Change.” The band also released "BlueBilly Grit: Live at The Melting Point,” which was recorded in Athens, Ga. A live video performance has just been released.

Every year, BlueBilly Grit hosts the annual Tony and Ann Ianuario Festival. This event honors the founding member and his wife who were killed in an automobile accident in early 2009.

Garrison will never forget when he learned that both his mandolin player and his wife were dead in that tragic accident.

“We had not been long into this and I was down in Florida,” he said to The McDowell News. “My brother calls and tells me about it and I just went ‘Wow.’”

A devastated Garrison quickly came back home. Garrison, his son Matt and his brother Adam all performed at the funeral for the Ianuarios. A show had also been booked for the band a few nights later and the members of BBG talked about whether or not they should cancel. They realized that their late bandmate would want them to push ahead.

“We had a show to do but we went ahead,” said Garrison. “We played the show on Saturday night after his funeral on Thursday. That was tough. We decided to keep going with it.”

In 2012, BlueBilly Grit’s hard work and determination paid off. The band won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition in Telluride, Colo.

“We were part of 12 bands that went out to Telluride,” said Garrison. “We were glad we were out there. We really didn’t care if we placed or not. We made it to the finals and got on stage Saturday and performed. That just blew us all away.”

BBG returned to this year to the 40th anniversary of the Telluride festival where they had a slot on the main stage. They performed alongside such big names as Jackson Browne, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, J.D. Crowe and Emmylou Harris.

The band has performed on numerous radio and TV shows including “Nuts and Bolts of Fishing” on Turner South and “Moby in the Morning Show,” a nationally syndicated radio show based in Atlanta.

For many, what makes BlueBilly Grit an exciting band is the musical harmony between Garrison, his daughter Amber and guitarist Shawn Hart.

“She’s got a wonderful voice,” said Garrison of his daughter. I think she’s what sets us apart and our three-part harmony. You know how that family harmony is, you can’t touch it.”

His son Matt left the group to continue his education and Hart then took Matt’s place in the vocal harmonies.

“He is good songwriter,” said Garrison of Hart. “He’s contributed four or five songs to the group.”

After performing at Telluride and other festivals, the members of BlueBilly Grit got to meet with Norman Adams of Adams Bluegrass, LLC. Today at noon, BlueBilly Grit will make its debut with Adams Bluegrass LLC, which holds bluegrass festivals all over the Southeast.

“We are hoping we will be working more with (Adams’) festivals,” said Garrison. “That is where our audience is.”

The band’s sound is a combination of traditional bluegrass and more Americana-type music.

“We are a little bit edgy,” said Garrison. “We have a little bit different sound. Traditional bluegrass people love us and people who don’t like bluegrass like us. We have had people come up to us and say ‘I never really liked bluegrass but I like it.’”

The band has also performed in western North Carolina including the Feed and Seed in Fletcher and the Back Room in Flat Rock. The members of BBG would also like to do a “Live in Studio B” show on public radio station WNCW in Spindale.

“We would like to get into the Orange Peel, the Purple Onion and the Grey Eagle,” said Garrison. “We want to break into that market.”

The Saint

Local Band Takes Home Honor from Telluride Bluegrass Fest
Posted on August 30, 2012 by Josh Sharpe

After months of wanting, forgetting and being busy, I finally caught Dahlonega (and Commerce), Georgia’s BlueBilly Grit at The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega on Friday, July 6.

I am on “the list,” or so the band’s bassist, Adam Rambin tells me. But I turn up at the venue just before show time to find the “list,” which doesn’t include my name, is pretty well stacked and the show is beyond sold out. The venue has started an extensive waiting list and even tried to coerce the band to do a matinée show the following day to oblige the waiters.

But, despite my lack of credentials, the girl at the door lets me in, on the condition that I can’t sit, as all seats have long been reserved.

It seems like a strange thing for this tiny venue in this tiny mountain town to be sold out for a local bluegrass group, given that Dahlonega has never had a shortage of bluegrass (and Old Time) pickers.

There’s always bluegrass going if you’re interested. On the weekends, many long-bearded, tobacco-spitting old timers can be found lining the grass and street corners of the city’s ancient square. So, bluegrass doesn’t exactly hold the same level of novelty and that it does in most parts of the state. But, this is somewhat of a homecoming for BlueBilly Grit.

A few weeks earlier, the band made the long, arduous trek (nearly on a whim) to take part in the 39th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Music Festival’s “bluegrass band competition.” They were among nine groups to end up in the little nook in the southwestern Colorado mountains that is Telluride, for the weekend.

And, after two rounds against what they tell me was a very worthy set of competitors, they found themselves, standing on the festival’s main stage, in front of something like 1,500 onlookers as the stunned victors.

This suddenly puts the virtually unknown group in the ranks of past winners like The Dixie Chicks and Nickel Creek and guarantees them a slot on the main stage of next year’s Telluride Bluegrass music festival. And, the crowd at The Crimson Moon on this night seems to know it.

The six-piece group takes the stage about 8 p.m. After a few well-penned originals and thoughtfully selected covers (one of which being The Dillards’ “There is a Time,” which is basically the easiest way for a bluegrass group to win my affection…), I understand what it was that likely caused the band to stand out at the Telluride competition: their taste and their humility, the two things that many bands in the bluegrass arena seem to be missing.

But, Bluebilly Grit seems to have struck a nice balance. They hold strong to their roots in bluegrass and old-time, with three-part harmony and a line-up that is true to the canon of what a bluegrass band should be: fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, upright bass and banjo. But, too, aren’t afraid of letting their other influences (which, reach as far from bluegrass as Elliot Smith and The Beatles) show.

BlueBilly Grit consists of Mark Garrison, Amber Starr Hollis, Shawn Hart, Patrick Chisolm, Adam Rambin and Roman Gaddis.

The Paper
Braselton, Ga

By staff on July 19, 2012

Maysville natives and other Georgia musicians comprising BlueBilly Grit, an up-and-coming band, won the coveted first place in the Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition in June.
The band includes Roman Gaddis on mandolin, Shawn Hart, fiddler Patrick Chislom, Adam Rambin on upright bass, singer Amber Hollis and banjo player and singer/songerwriter Mark Garrison.
“Winning Telluride has put us on the radar in the bluegrass world,” Hart said. “With this win, it has put credibility behind us and people are saying, ‘Hey, these people are for real.
Continue Reading
Gainesville Times

POSTED: July 5, 2012 1:00 a.m.
BlueBilly Grit gains national fame
Local group wins 39th annual Telluride Bluegrass contest

This past weekend local band BlueBilly Grit took first place in the nationally renowned Telluride Bluegrass Competition in southwest Colorado.
The band and their families drove more than 3,600 miles round trip to compete against eight other bands. In the final round of the competition, the band played on the main stage for several thousand festival attendees and emerged the winner.
Along with prize money, the band won a highly sought after spot to play in the lineup of next year’s festival.
Previous Telluride winners include Nickel Creek and the Dixie Chicks.
Band members include Mark Garrison of Maysville, Amber Starr Hollis and Shawn Hart of Commerce, and Patrick Chisolm, Adam Rambin and Roman Gaddis from Dahlonega.

BlueBilly Grit will play in Dahlonega Friday night. For more on the band visit

City of Sky Valley
We were especially impressed with the beautiful blending of voices these performers brought to our stage. Their musicality was superb and their musicianship second to none. Our audience brought them requests and they performed them to the delight of one and all. We enjoyed the performers' interaction and involvement with the audience. The band played for two hours without a break, even though an intermission was planned. We all got caught up in their passion for performing, and the time just flew by. It was nonstop Bluegrass at its best. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and give them our highest recommendation. Pam Martindale, City of Sky Valley -- Pamela M, Sky Valley, GA, 5/28/2011

Jenny L Gordon says,
BlueBilly Grit was a joy to work with. They sound so wonderful...We found them on Gigmasters website. I couldn't believe how good they were. We went to see them and were blown away. We immediately booked them...they have a bluegrass/folk/rockabilly sound. When our music fell through at the last minute, we asked if they could fill in...they did and at no extra charge. They were the highlight of the night. ...I was so happy to have worked with them and would recommend them to anyone.

Ronnie from says..
"I just downloaded your album from APD a few days ago and had planned to include a track or two on todays show on WWB . Have to say I was blown away by the sound...

Pickin' and Fiddlin' on WAPJ-FM
"...was impressed by the musicianship and tight vocal harmonizing"
Brian Lillie, Litchfield, CT

Country Harvest Radio Programs says...
"It’s a pleasure to add BlueBilly Grit to programs.
The group has a fresh sound approach to Bluegrass..."

Raymond Phillips
Country Harvest radio programs
Awards Music Director 2009-2013

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