With an early exposure to the music of Western North Carolina and a natural knack for the banjo, it’s no wonder that bluegrass artist Tray Wellington has already garnered a lifetime’s worth of accolades before graduating college.
Aside from some school sanctioned trombone, Wellington didn’t pick up a stringed instrument until he received his first electric guitar at age 13. Since then, he’s soldiered his way through the world of flat picking to meet his true love: the banjo.
Raised on his grandpa’s diverse taste in music, Wellington has a deep knowledge of all things jazz, blues, rock, and more. By 21, he had already received two awards from the IBMA: one for 2019 Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year, and the other for 2019 Momentum Band of the Year, with the talented Cane Mill Road.
The first release since that of his acclaimed album, Black Banjo, Wellington has assembled a tight knit quartet of young players to assist in his boundary-breaking pursuit of progressive bluegrass.
With the help of Katelynn Bohn (bass), Josiah Nelson (mandolin, fiddle), and Nick Weitzenfeld (guitar), the band offers an acoustic transformation of the epic 2009 hip hop banger. The electronic elements are traded in for earthy, organic tones. Wellington’s approach to the verses is a charming mix of melody leaning towards spoken word, honoring the essence of the original rap song with a sprinkle of Americana incantations.
Nelson and Weitzenfeld join in for some memorable chorus harmonies, and the group brings forth a foot stomping outro that subsides into a melancholic, subtly somber ending that captures the song’s messages of reality dosed with optimism.
“In the past couple years, the importance of appreciating hip hop for the poetic art form it is has been very developmental in my musical progress,” Wellington notes. “One artist I instantly felt drawn towards when starting that journey was Kid Cudi; with his unique sense of harmony and touching lyrical style, it really spoke to me. When I heard ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’ I fell in love.”
The Tray Wellington Band has already appeared at several renowned festivals and venues across the country, including the Pagosa Folk n’ Bluegrass Festival, Wintergrass, and Winter Wondergrass, among others, and the future looks promising for Wellington and crew.