Banding Together - Jul/Aug 17
Mark, Danielle, Michael and James Wimberley, from left, spent a lot of time in Old Towne’s Plaza Park growing up. “It was always a really cool place to hang out,” says Michael. “It was kind of like our Mayberry.”
The family that plays together stays together.
That saying certainly describes the Wimberley Bluegrass Band, made up of four siblings—Danielle, 23, James and Mark, 22, and Michael, 19. A rising talent on the music scene, they’re building a career that started with Christmas gifts.
“We begged our parents for instruments, and we ended up getting a banjo, mandolin and a guitar,” recalls Michael. “We already had a violin, so we started playing together.”
That was 2006.
Since then, they’ve recorded five albums, including “Traveling,” which was released about a year ago and describes much of what they’ve been up to since their first public performance at Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho in January 2008.
As if that wasn’t enough, they’re all self-taught musicians.
“We would watch and listen to whoever was the top performer playing our instruments, and once we learned everything we could, we started trying to do the fancy licks and tunes that would be impressive,” says James.
“We were encouraged by each other to keep growing musically and move up to the next level,” adds Michael. “As a band, we’re self-motivated; it’s something we enjoy doing.”
All home-schooled before moving on to Santiago Canyon College and then graduating from Chapman University, the Wimberleys were at first musically inspired by what their parents listened to, especially Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Later, they became fans of Ricky Skaggs, and bluegrass pioneers Bill Monroe, along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs of the Foggy Mountain Boys.
“You really can’t beat the old stuff,” James says. “We always loved listening to it and tried to glean as much as we could from it, because it’s so good.”
The band’s first two CDs featured exclusively covers, but as talents developed—including the songwriting abilities of Mark and Michael—they’ve included more originals in later releases. Of the 14 tracks on “Traveling,” the duo penned about half of the songs, including “This Chevy Truck and Me” and “From My Rearview Mirror.” The others are a mix of obscure and popular tunes the foursome likes and wanted to include.
A career highlight occurred in February 2015 when one of their songs, “Hard Working Man,” written by cousin Vince Sherrod, was featured in an episode of ABC’s “The Middle.” That came about after Atticus Shaffer, the actor who plays Brick Heck on the sitcom, and his family caught one of the band’s performances during a mountain music event in Pasadena.
Shaffer picked up a couple CDs, gave one to a show producer and it wasn’t too long until a call came from Warner Bros., the studio behind the series.
“The night it aired, everything stopped and we all sat down and had popcorn and watched the show,” James says. “When the song started playing, everything was super quiet in the house and afterwards we all freaked out because it was so cool.”
This summer, the siblings again will be traveling, with concerts in Texas and Mississippi in July before returning home for a five-night stand at the Orange County Fair, Jul. 31 - Aug. 4, 2019. They’ll be performing on the OC Promenade Stage, doing about three sets each night.
“The fair is always a cool place to play,” says Michael. “We see people we know and make some new friends.”
With thousands of fairgoers listening to their music, it’s certainly a different experience from the band’s early days when they would often spontaneously decide to go to the Orange Plaza, sit on a bench and start playing.
They still spend a lot of time in the area—each pursuing interests beyond music: Danielle does office management and public relations at Communications LAB, James teaches calculus at Chapman as he pursues a graduate degree there, Mark does marketing and program coordination for the Orange Public Library Foundation, and Michael helps with audience development at Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts and works part-time at Burris Law.
“We’re balancing our professional work with the band, and so far it’s working,” Michael says. “We’re looking for ways to intersect our music and professional lives. We still love playing together—it’s something we’re passionate about. We want to continue with our music as long as possible.”
Wimberley Bluegrass Band’s music is available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Amazon.com; www.wimberleybluegrassband.com.
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