By Kendal Groner
Troy Boone, a native to Unicoi County and mandolin player with the chart-topping bluegrass band Sideline, is returning to his hometown for a benefit concert with the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band on Friday, May 4.
Boone received his first instrument, a banjo, at the age of seven. Shortly after, he switched to electric guitar and played rock and punk rock until he discovered a love for bluegrass music in high school.
“I got bit by the bluegrass bug,” he said. “Both sides of my family are musically talented and we always used to have a family reunion every year where a jam session was really the highlight.”
During Boone’s senior year at Unicoi County High School in 2012, he and classmate Craig Shelton were instrumental in forming the school’s bluegrass band.
“I noticed Craig and Lincoln Hensley were playing bluegrass one day and I said ‘shoot y’all, I can bring my mandolin tomorrow’,” Boone said.
After running the idea by Lori Ann Wright, Unicoi County High School drama teacher and instructor to the high school bluegrass band, the group became a reality.
“It’s pretty cool it’s still a band and it’s great to see youth in my hometown still interested in bluegrass,” said Boone.
Boone described Wright as a patient and enthusiastic mentor and said he and his high school friends always knew they could be themselves while in her classroom.
“I’ll always remember the lessons she’s taught me,” he said. “I think the world of Lori Ann.”
Wright said Boone was always actively involved in the performing arts during his time at the high school. She said Boone performed in the high school’s production of Grease, Footloose, Charlotte’s Web, and the Jungle Book.
“Troy is one of those people that bring a vibrance to any production, whether it’s a drama show or playing mandolin and singing bluegrass like he does with Sideline,” Wright said. “Watching Troy perform really is a joy for the audience because you can see he absolutely loves what he’s doing.”
After high school Boone began pursuing a bachelor’s degree in bluegrass music at East Tennessee State University.
“I like my mama’s cooking too much and didn’t want to move away for college,” he laughed
He described the bluegrass program as an incredible experience with professors that connected with students as if they were friends.
“It’s a wonderful program for beginners or seasoned musicians,” Boone said.
While he was studying at ETSU, Boone recorded a solo album “First Impressions” with a group of his college friends. He said since recording that album, many of the featured musicians have gone on to become performers.
Before coming on board with Sideline, Boone started the bluegrass band Dreamcatcher and spent two years traveling with them.
“That kind of washed the green off of me a little bit, although the schedule was nowhere near as busy as Sideline’s schedule,” he said.
After discovering Sideline was in need of a Mandolin player, Boone contacted the band and impressed the band members at two auditions, which earned him a spot as an official band member in January 2017.
“When I found out Sideline needed a mandolin player I was so excited about picking with guys I had grown up with,” Boone said. “But it was very funny because my first audition I was getting over a very, very bad cold and I couldn’t sing at all.” He said despite his vocal limitations, the band members were very respectful and granted him a second audition once he was able to use his voice.
“I guess they liked me because they gave me the job and I’ve been very, very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve been having a blast ever since. It’s surreal to be on the road and in a band, especially with guys of this caliber. I definitely give the glory to God.”
Aside from Boone, the other member of the Sideline band include: banjo player Steve Dilling, bass player Jason Moore, guitar player Skip Cherryholmes, guitarist and vocalist Bailey Coe and fiddle player Daniel Greeson.
“The guys in Sideline have really taken him in and are showing him the ropes,” said David Boone, Troy’s father.
Since Boone began touring with Sideline, the band has traveled to Canada, Mexico, California, Maryland, Florida, Chicago and New York.
“We played right outside of New York City … a 45 foot Prevost tour bus can be pretty intimidating,” he said. “It’s definitely a wild experience traveling and I can’t say enough about how fortunate I am to travel with these guys … we’re all in it together.”
“It’s wonderful, me and his mother we try to follow him as much as we can,” his father said. “We went to Raleigh for the CD release party. We’ve gotten to meet so many people and he’s doing a really good job.”
A few singles have already been released from Sideline’s current album, “Front and Center,” which dropped on April 27. So far, “A Song For Winter’s Night” with Cherryholmes singing lead and “Thunderdan” with Boone singing lead, have become popular singles from the album.
“Everyone was saying they felt it (Thunderdan) would do good, but it was still a shock because I’ve never had a song go to number one on a bluegrass chart,” said Boone. “I remember waking up to my dad calling and telling me it had reached number one.”
With this being his first record with the band, Boone described the recording process as a lot of fun and said the other members of Sideline continue to offer him constructive criticism that helps him grow as a musician.
“Steve and the guys have really put me in a position to be a vocalist,” he said.
Even with his busy tour schedule, Boone still tries to make time for the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band and taught a workshop with some of the students a few months ago.
“It’s really important to me to see this band at the high school continue on,” he said. “I’m gone a lot and I don’t get to be as involved as I’d like.”
He said he still has high school bluegrass players contact him from time to time asking for helpful advice, which he says he is always eager to give.
“That comes from someone always being there to help me,” Boone said. “The bluegrass family is really close-knit.”
Wright said the UCHS Bluegrass Band is excited to be opening for Sideline, and she added that Boone has proven to be a valuable mentor with great leadership skills to offer youth that are interested in Bluegrass
“As one of his previous teachers, I am excited for his upcoming concert,” said Wright. “For an educator, there is nothing better than seeing a student living his passion and fulfilling his potential.”
The UCHS Bluegrass Band has had quite a bit of success as well, including two former students that now play professionally, four that are enrolled in the bluegrass program at ETSU and more headed that way, two ETSU Honors College recipients of performing arts scholarships in bluegrass, and an alum that recently played on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
On May 4 at 7 p.m., the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band will be the opening act for Sideline’s performance at the high school auditorium. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $15 and children’s tickets are $5. Tickets can be purchased at the UCHS main office.
Following their May 4 performance, Sideline will perform in Woodford, Virginia, at Mr. B’s Bluegrass Festival on May 5. For more information about Sideline and their upcoming tour dates or locations, visit http://www.sidelinebg.com/index.html.
“As long as I’m able, I hope to be playing music one way or another,” said Boone.