Young Mountain Magic inspires and delights audiences
By JENNIFER MCKEE
Children and music are an unpredictable and often amusing combination – ask any music teacher. Sometimes, youngsters fall flat and seek other pursuits. Occasionally, however, they strike a perfect chord, and young prodigies are born. So it is with three 14-year-old Cashiers-area boys who have learned to wow audiences with their dynamic performances. They call themselves “Young Mountain Magic,” and their band has been delighting local crowds for the past two seasons. The boys’ names are Rainier Finley, Maddox Wilson, and Ayden Chappell. This is their story.
Rainier (fiddle) and Maddox (guitar) started playing music together during their elementary years at Summit Charter School. Rainier says he became enthralled with the fiddle at about age five after attending music festivals with his parents. He remembers especially loving Earl Scruggs, and although Scruggs was a banjo player, Rainier keyed in on the fiddles in his band. His parents set him up with a Suzuki-method teacher, and he was off and running, initially learning classical violin techniques. It wasn’t long before Rainier picked up bluegrass fiddle and grew to the point where he could perform solo, starting with the Summit’s Got Talent show as his first gig. With an enormously supportive audience, he quickly became comfortable with onstage playing. But he confesses that he found playing alone to be boring and ungratifying. He was delighted to discover a fellow young music pioneer, Maddox Wilson.
Maddox grew up with music and comes from a long line of musical ancestors. Some of his earliest memories are of his grandmother, mother, and aunt playing and singing gospel and folk music. His great grandfather, Lethal Lavaughn Brown, was a renowned mandolin player, and Maddox’s first instrument was his grandfather’s banjo. His “career” began when Maddox started playing the guitar and singing in church, where like Rainier, he had a warm and receptive audience. As a third grader, he joined Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) at Blue Ridge School, playing his grandmother’s full-sized Gibson guitar. He could barely reach over the top of the guitar to the strings, but he was determined! (JAM quickly provided him with an appropriately sized “Baby Taylor.”) It wasn’t long before Maddox grew proficient on the guitar and became curious about the mandolin. He now plays both instruments well.
The two boys became fast friends and consummate budding musicians, performing as “A Picker and a Fiddler.” By now they were both active in Blue Ridge JAM, which provided them with opportunities to perform for a variety of audiences as part of a larger band. Although JAM’s emphasis is on old-time music, the boys expanded their horizons and experimented with folk, jazz, rock, country, and classical music, adding vocal harmonies, occasional harmonica, and even writing some of their own songs. Rainier is quick to add that they hope to write songs with meaning – not just fluff.
Ayden Chappell rounds out the trio. He hails from Pickens, SC. Unlike the other two boys, he didn’t become interested in playing music until the ripe old age of nine, but he quickly made up for lost time. An old-time instruments workshop at the Pickens County Library captured his imagination, and it wasn’t long before he was taking banjo lessons and participating in Young Appalachian Musicians (YAM), a South Carolina sister organization to JAM. Ayden’s interest in music rekindled his parents’ enthusiasm from when they were younger, and his mother confesses that they now have instruments all over their walls. Both Maddox and Rainier agree that finding Ayden was one of the best things that ever happened for their band. They are both quick to say, “He’s amazing!” In fact, Ayden has won several awards, including first place in the Galax Fiddler’s Convention Youth (bluegrass banjo) Division. Although banjo is Ayden’s instrument of choice, he also plays guitar, mandolin, dobro, and upright bass.
When asked who their strongest musical influences are, the boys all credited their instructors first, but also named several well-known musicians. Among them are Darren Nicholson and Buddy Melton of Balsam Range, Earl Scruggs, Dan Reno, Billy Strings, Larry Sparks, the Osborne Brothers, and Neil Young. In addition, they all have unwavering support from their families. Robin Tanner, Rainier’s mother, does much of the boys’ booking and managing. She loves the fact that bluegrass is a nurturing genre, with adults who are eager to mentor and a strong gospel/Christian element.
Over the past two years, the Young Mountain Magic musicians have played for weddings, music festivals, local restaurants, private parties, and even political events: either separately, together, or participating in other bands. Ayden has played for SC senators and the governor. All three boys have spent time instructing younger students through the JAM and YAM programs. For them, music is a calling, a drive, and a universal language.