January 2011 Volunteer Spotlight - Brad Martin
“One of the best things about MerleFest is that the artists are accessible. I’ve had opportunities to sit and play with some great professional players like Jimmy Gaudreau, Mike Marshall, Josh Pinkham, Ronnie McCoury, the Kruger Brothers and others.” Those words come from MerleFest Stage Crew volunteer Brad Martin of Burlington, North Carolina. He voices the thoughts of many who come to MerleFest to not only listen to great music, but to learn from some of the most talented musicians in the country.
Brad continues, “Mike Marshall let me play his Loar (a 1924 Gibson F-5 mandolin) one time—a great thrill for me in and of itself—and after hearing a bit, he asked what band I was playing with at MerleFest. I told him I wasn’t in a band but was only a lowly volunteer. I’m sure he doesn’t remember the comment, and I’m not sure he was entirely sincere, but his comment really encouraged me.” Brad relates another memory of playing with the greats. “One time I was sitting in a circle in the instrument tent with some guys playing mando. We were playing a Grisman tune called “Waiting on Vassar,” a hard tune. I was playing away when I heard a guy beside me playing the tune note-for-note. I looked up and there was Ronnie McCoury, who sat down without me seeing him. Man, that guy can play anything. I have a picture to prove it was him!”
MerleFest is often a family affair for the Martins. Brad was there for that first festival 24 years ago. But his wife and two kids don’t always make it. “We did all convene at MerleFest last year on Sunday afternoon to catch the Avett Brothers. Another great show!” He remembers the year his son, who was young then, got to meet Tim O’Brien and get a hat signed by him. “Tim was so gracious, stooped beside my son, signed his cap, hugged him and allowed us to get a picture of the two of them together. A testament to what MerleFest is all about and to the guy Tim is. My son still has that signed cap in his room and now plays bass on his own. Thanks, Tim.”
Brad is a chemist whose hobbies include—you guessed it music! He plays and has taught mandolin, guitar and banjo. He is active in three bluegrass bands and plays guitar in the worship band at this church. Besides music he enjoys golf, cycling and Clemson Tiger athletics.
“MerleFest is my favorite weekend of the year. My element. Some are comfortable in the woods. Others on a trail or a lake. My place is MerleFest in and around the music.”