Photo: Shannon Kelly/Recording Academy
Sierra Hull Takes Her Place In Bluegrass History, Talks Legacy & New Music At Wide Open Bluegrass
The International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) yearly convention and Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, NC, is a gathering of the biggest names in bluegrass, and one of the most impressive musicians in the genre is GRAMMY nominated phenom Sierra Hull.
Hull first performed at an IBMA Convention back when she was just 10 years old, playing on the Little Pickers Stage in Louisville, KY. Soon after, she was discovered by artists such as Alison Krauss and her band Union Station, who brought Hull onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry as a youngster.
However, Hull was always much more than a cute kid playing bluegrass. Now in her mid-20s, she has worked hard to master her instrument and to present her beautiful singing voice as well. Her unique combination of humbleness and confidence fuels her ability to play lead solos on the mandolin every bit as inventive and dynamic as any man or woman has ever done in bluegrass music.
Hull’s innate talent and solid work ethic combined with an open mind as to where the music can go has led to her breaking an important barrier in bluegrass music. In 2016, Hull became the first woman ever to win the IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year Award. She went on to win the award again in 2017 and 2018.
Those awards ensured Hull’s inclusion in the acclaimed group The First Ladies of Bluegrass, which includes other women who broke the glass ceiling by winning an IBMA Award with their respective instruments. Featuring Missy Raines on the bass (1998), Alison Brown on the banjo (1991), Becky Buller on the fiddle (2016), Molly Tuttle on guitar (2017) and Hull on the mandolin, the band headlined last year’s IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass show at the Red Hat Amphitheater.
At this year’s IBMA Convention, the First Ladies of Bluegrass made a surprise appearance with the Po’ Ramblin Boys band on Tuesday, September 24. Happening at the Pour House club in downtown Raleigh, the late night Bluegrass Ramble showcase was originally billed as “The Po’ Ramblin Boys with Special Guest Alison Brown.” But, Brown decided to bring all of her historic band mates to the show to join in an all out jam.
When the Recording Academy catches up with Hull, it is three days later. She has just finished a wonderful concert with her husband Justin Moses on the outdoor City Plaza Stage. The Wide Open Bluegrass Street Fest is officially underway and Hull has just played before tens of thousands of music fans on the blocked off streets of Raleigh.
Even though Hull is in her 20s, she is well-aware of the musical history that she is experiencing in her life. She has watched many first and second generation bluegrass artists pass away. In fact, the night before, Hull was asked to collaborate on a tribute to the late Mike Auldridge at the IBMA Awards Show. A master of the dobro and an original member of the ground-breaking group the Seldom Scene, Auldridge was being inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame.
As a part of Auldridge’s induction celebration, four living IBMA Dobro Player of the Year award winners perform the Seldom Scene’s classic song, “Wait A Minute.” Those players included Jerry Douglas, Rob Ickes, Phil Leadbetter and Justin Moses. Hull was asked to join them onstage, creating a truly special moment, especially when all four played the melody of the song together at the end. It was emotional and sonically mesmerizing.
Photo: Shannon Kelly/Recording Academy
“I feel like I was at the tail end of the lives of a lot of first generation bluegrass musicians,” said Hull. “I never got to meet Bill Monroe as I was five years old when he passed away and did not start playing the mandolin until three years later. But, early in my career I met folks like Ricky Skaggs, who was a direct connection to Bill Monroe and he had many stories to share. A lot of my heroes have taken me under their wings along the way and I think that is the beauty of this style of music. I met Chris Thile (The Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) when I was 10 years old and he took me backstage to meet my other hero Alison Krauss for the first time. Thanks to Alison later on, I did get to spend some time with Ralph Stanley as well.”
Mike Auldridge was known for his innovative talent on the dobro, his crisp and clean long sleeve shirts, his always creased pants and his ability to be kind to others. That is what made the tribute to him at the IBMA Awards show so special for Hull and the four dobro greats who performed in his memory.
“The cool thing about last night was that Jerry Douglas was playing Mike’s dobro,” said Hull. “Backstage, I was just thrilled that Jerry asked me to sing ‘Wait A Minute’ with Shawn Camp and play mandolin. I never got to meet Mike Auldridge, but I have heard the sound of his dobro for years on the Seldom Scene recordings. It is also special to be married to Justin and see his him onstage with the rest of those guys.”
The awards show collaboration turned out to be one of a string of events that proved emotional for Hull and her husband that day.
“Justin and I laughed because we had just been watching the Ken Burns ‘Country Music’ documentary, and Justin has also been a Cincinnati Reds fan since he was a kid and their long-time radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman [46 years on radio] was retiring and broadcasting his last game ever yesterday,” said Hull. “We were at the hotel and Justin was like, ‘We have to hear some of his last broadcast.’ So, we are getting choked up listening to Marty and this is happening after getting choked up while watching Ken Burns’ documentary. Then we go over to the rehearsal and Jerry Douglas is running through what he is going to say about Mike Auldridge for the Hall of Fame induction and that was moving as well.”
— Sierra Hull (@sierrahull) September 1, 2019
Douglas and Ickes made a final album with Auldridge in 2012 called Three Bells, and those sessions unfortunately included a final goodbye to Auldridge as he died from prostate cancer before the album was released.
“As Jerry practiced his lines, he was talking about when Mike walked over to Jerry’s campsite at the Berryville Festival when Jerry was just a teenager and how nice Mike was to him even back then,” said Hull. “He talked about Uncle Josh Graves being ‘Book One’ of the history of bluegrass dobro and Mike Auldridge being ‘Book Two,’ and that led to Jerry playing, which is why Justin is playing the instrument now. And once again, we get choked up. We just said, ‘Man, we have been hit with a lot of emotional things in regard to the history of the music lately,’ and it is a beautiful thing. I heard all four of them play the melody of ‘Wait A Minute” together in the dressing room while they were warning up, and they were passing around Mike’s dobro as well and Justin said later that even the instrument itself was just beautiful.”
On the following Saturday night, Hull is scheduled to participate in a special performance at the IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival. She is on the bill as a part of “Delebration – Celebrating Del McCoury’s 80th Birthday.” The jam is happening at the 5,000 seat Red Hat Amphitheater and will include the Del McCoury Band, Country star Dierks Bentley, Jon Fishman from Phish, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Sierra Hull.
As for Hull, she has a brand new album in the works that will be released at a later date. With each new Hull recording, music fans are able to hear the forward progress and direction that her musical muse is taking her.
“The older you get, the more that you learn about yourself,” said Hull. “Not that I have ever been uncomfortable in my own skin, but there is something about getting older where you become internally ok with where you are going. You say to yourself, ‘I am going to continue to grow and I am going to continue to work on things; but this is who I am as an artist in this moment and I’m going to try and give as much as I can of myself as an artist in the most genuine way. That will change as I grow older and my influences and surroundings change. And, I hope it all does change as I don’t want my music to be the exact same thing for the next 50 years.”