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Young traditionalists

Bluegrass band got started at Hiawatha

July 22, 2012
By JOHANNA BOYLE - Journal Ishpeming Bureau ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Just as the audience at the Hiawatha Music Festival isn't limited to one age group, neither are the musicians who are playing.

Troy Graham, 27, Emily Durkin, 25, Sam Graves, 21, and Gretchen McKenzie, 17, make up the young bluegrass band Sparrow Tree, based in Marquette. The quartet of performers brought some representation of local young musicians to the festival, which also boasts nationally-known performers.

"It's great," Graham, the group's guitarist, said of the festival. "There are a lot of people who are a lot older and that's a bit intimidating."

Article Photos

Young musicians make up the Marquette bluegrass group Sparrow Tree. From left are Gretchen McKenzie, 17, Sam Graves, 21, Emily Durkin, 25 and Troy Graham, 27. While the group’s members grew up attending the Hiawatha Music Festival, this year they joined the lineup as artists. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)

For Graham, Graves and McKenzie, who grew up in the Marquette area and have been attending for years, attending the festival as musicians is a bit like coming full circle in their musical lives.

"Everyone comes here for the music," McKenzie, who plays string bass, said.

"It's a lot of fun," mandolin player Graves said. "People come together for a weekend and forget about the problems outside of Tourist Park. I'm really grateful I can do this right now."

For Durkin, who plays violin for the group and who grew up in Madison, Wis., Hiawatha provides a unique venue from playing for a rock audience, for example.

"It's a completely different crowd of people," she said.

Sparrow Tree as a group actually began at Hiawatha five years ago when Durkin asked Graham to participate in a jam session. The duo then added McKenzie and Graves a few years later. The quartet has since released a CD called "Taproot" and plays locally at venues like Upfront and Company and the Ramada Inn.

Although the group does play everything from gospel songs to Bruce Springsteen covers with their own bluegrass twist, they also write their own music.

With Graham providing the lyrics and a general outline of the song, each individual member is responsible for coming up with their own part.

Saturday at the festival, Sparrow Tree played a workshop for teens attending the festival and later that night played a dance set.

For other young people who might be interested in becoming more involved, Sparrow Tree had one piece of advice - just play.

"Find other people to play with," Durkin said.

"Play as much as you can whenever you can with whoever you can," Graham said.

"If you really want to do it, there's nothing stopping you," Graves added. "If it's what you want to do, you should do it."

The Hiawatha Music Festival continues today from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., wrapping up its 34th year.

For a schedule of events and ticket prices, go to

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is



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