by Jane Roser
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen an opening band that literally blew me away, and I’ve seen a lot of bands. I first encountered The Bankesters last month when they opened for Americana band Goodnight, Texas at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia. The venue was packed and when the Bankester family (dad Phil, mom Dorene, daughters Melissa, Emily and Alysha and Melissa’s husband, Kyle Triplett) took the stage with their banjos, mandolin, fiddle, guitars and lovely vocals, the audience was so enraptured by their perfect harmonies, stage presence and engaging performance that the venue turned into something you don’t see very often: a listening room. This was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was on the Crooked Road trail, hanging out at the iconic Carter Family Fold listening to bluegrass musicians rip it up. In other words, sheer bliss.
The Bankesters hail from Illinois and their discovery story could rival Lana Turner or Luther Vandross. “We were at a local festival in DuQuoin, Illinois,” says Melissa, “the first bluegrass festival we ever went to. Dad was jamming with some guys and we were listening, one of them asked if we sang. He sent his son to get the guy who ran the festival and he booked us for a show. It was the last thing on our minds!” Their love for music began with Phil and Dorene. Dorene’s mother and sisters sang on the radio as The Steverson Sisters, performing gospel tunes and songs like ‘That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine.”
“We play what we love and try to do a variety of styles,” Melissa says, “It keeps it fun and interesting on stage and keeps the audience engaged.” They especially love to play old time bluegrass and Americana, “It’s a very rootsy and organic genre. Music has been really full of technology and electronics for so long, this is a breath of fresh air.”
How, as a large family, are songs picked to be on the albums? “When we are picking songs, we already know that everyone will do some leads, everyone would present what they would bring to the table and we collaborate from there. We understand the need for balance and a variety of tempos, if they’re too many slow songs, we bring in faster ones, there’s a lot of synergy that occurs.”
The Bankesters have had quite a grand year, their song ‘Looking Forward To Looking Back’ was the 4th most played song on bluegrass radio for the month of December and took the #1 spot on Bluegrass Today’s chart in February. Emily won the first International Bluegrass Music Association Momentum award for vocalist of the year and the band has been nominated IBMA’s Momentum award for band of the year. “We’ve never gotten a big nomination as a band before, it was a surprise and last year, we had the huge honor of playing on the fan fest stage at the IBMAs,” says Phil.
Recently signing to Compass Records, their next album Love Has Wheels is produced by Alison Brown and will be released September 24th with an album release show on October 4th in Nashville at The Station Inn. “We have a couple of originals that Kyle and I wrote,” Melissa tells me, “‘Found’ is a song written to promote and benefit an organization started by a local dog trainer to pair rescue dogs with vets suffering from PTSD called This Able Vet.”
Another song on the new album that is sure to be a fan favorite is The Bankesters’ version of ‘The Cup Song’ originally written in 1928 by The Carter Family. Lulu and the Lampshades added the cup game to the folk song in 2009 and Anna Kendrick made it viral last year when she used it as her audition number in Pitch Perfect. Emily plays percussion on this tune, ” We were at a standstill with a song we were going to do on the album, we were talking to the producer about it and also brainstorming with friends. We came to them the next day and said how about ‘The Cup Song?”
The Bankesters are a rare and beautiful find, a band that is amazingly talented and respected by their musical peers. They give back to the community, they are humorous and have fun to boot. One of my favorite songs of theirs is ‘Something Worth Waiting For’ from their album Looking Forward. The song says it all- ‘Those dreams, I dream, will be something worth waiting for. When some day comes, someone will dance my heart across the floor to something worth waiting for.’ Fill up my dance card and give me a twirl, for this band has captured my heart and they will lasso yours, too.