The Blue Mountain Troublemakers keep their passion for bluegrass alive

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Blue Mountain Troublemakers gather in the Beasley Performing Arts Coloseum, Waitsburg Branch for a fireside practice. From left members are Austin Beasley, Mariah Barthlow, Zach Beasley and John Hockersmith.

WAITSBURG -- The Blue Mountain Troublemakers are growing up.

The last time I interviewed them, it was with all their parents in attendance.

They depended on their parents for transportation, and they looked forward to potlucks, which usually included practice.

Now, the potlucks are infrequent, they can drive themselves and there wasn't a parent in sight for the interview.

In the way of bands, during the past seven years some members have drifted away, and a new member has joined the three remaining original musicians.

Three members attend college, and the youngest, Austin Beasley, 16, is a student at Waitsburg High School.

Austin's brother, Zach, 19, is attending Washington State University, while John Hockersmith, 18, a senior at Waitsburg High School, attends classes at Walla Walla Community College. The newest member, Mariah Barthlow, 18, also attends WWCC.

This Sunday, the band is appearing at the Liberty Theater along with two other bluegrass bands in an event titled "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Bluegrass."

The band plans to release a new CD, "Troubled Times," during at the show. The CD will be available for a suggested donation of $10.

The show, which includes dinner for the $20 ticket price, is the brainchild of Hockersmith as his Senior Project at Waitsburg High.

With a little help with logistics from his mother, Kate Hockersmith, John has organized the entire event and managed to convince those participating to be generous with their time and talent.

"The biggest challenge is cost, because I want it as a fundraiser, and it's hard to convince people to do it for cheap," he said.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Touchet Valley Arts Council.

The other bands appearing Saturday are Wanigan, from Asotin, and The Ryegrass String Band, from Walla Walla.

The Blue Mountain Troublemakers got its start after John and his friends, Nick and Chris Carpenter, watched "O Brother Where Art Thou?" They were hooked by the music and decided they wanted to start a bluegrass band, convinced it was easy to learn.

The original band members were the Beasleys, the Carpenters, Hockersmith and Maya and Will Garcia.

In 2006 the band played every venue they could get, seeking to earn $10,000 to accompany the Walla Walla Sasayama Sister City group to Sasayama, Japan.

They made the trip, but shortly after their return, the group began to unravel.

"Two-thirds of the band quit and left us to fend for ourselves," Zach said.

John, originally a fiddle player, added guitar and banjo to his repertoire, and the now-trio began looking for a fourth member.

"We wanted to stick it out," John said of the band. They remain good friends with the former band members, he said.

Mariah Barthlow, a fiddle player from Dayton, joined the group about a year ago. Besides a fiddle, she brings a cello to the group, as well as mandolin, bass guitar and vocals.

So far, the band hasn't produced any original songs. "That would be cool if any of us were lyrically inclined," Zach said.

The group has added a couple of "new" traditional bluegrass songs to the playlist, including "Fox on the Run" and "Just a Lie."

The band members credit elementary music teacher Becky Wilson with getting them started and teaching them some simple songs.

And they do concede that their parents have passed on a few music genes.

Mariah said her mother is a good singer, and her father is a former songwriter. But "my mom thinks I got my music side from my great-uncle. He played guitar and harmonica."

John's mother is a guitarist.

Austin and Zach's mother "is a really good pianist and singer, but our dad's a (pause) flop, musically. There's other way to say it," Zach said.

The young adults will soon be facing the fate that befalls most "teen bands" -- life.

Mariah plans to attend WWCC for one more year, but she is thinking of pursing majors in biology and music.

Music, along with enology and viticulture, are John's future study plans, while Zach wants to be a mechanical engineer.

Austin plans to study math "somewhere."

Even with Zach away at WSU, the band plays frequently, but locally.

Zach often comes home for weekends.

"Since Japan the furthest we've gone to play is Milton-Freewater," Zach said.

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