KNAU and Arizona News
Fri September 12, 2008
Burnett family grows up
By Laurel Morales
Flagstaff, AZ – The five blonds sit in their log cabin living room in Doney Park on a recent stormy evening.
BURNETT FAMILY: I'm Jessie. I'm 20 years old and I play mandolin. I'm Connie. I'm mom. I play stand up bass. I'm Rachel. I'm 22 and I play violin. I'm Ryan. I'm 18 years old and I've been playing banjo for eight years. And I'm Brian. I'm the dad and I play guitar sometimes mandolin and sing too.
Their four large dogs, three cats and cockatoo don't like to feel left out.
(Panting)RACHEL: C'mon out out out! Go.
Connie Burnett says as part of her home schooling curriculum she had the kids take Suzuki violin lessons each starting at age three. When the youngest was four they started playing gigs at the Hitch-n-Post Stables.
CONNIE: They had covered wagons all around. We would play while they ate supper.
They performed at churches and county fairs throughout the state. As they grew so did their sound and abilities. All of the kids play multiple instruments and they're willing to share the stage.
RACHEL: It's not as much of a fight or struggle it was a struggle to keep everything together because we were still trying to figure out how to play music together. So it's a lot more fun a lot more relaxed than five or so years ago.
And they do have fun. It's evident when they play.
They started touring with other bands beyond the state at venues big and small. Connie says they're often asked how they keep the family performing together.
CONNIE: We tell them if there is something you'd rather do, go. At this point what's really awesome we don't have to make them. It's just turned into something they love as much as we do.
At large bluegrass festivals, the kids have had opportunities to meet their heroes. Jessie stood in line with her mandolin to meet Nickel Creek's Chris Thile (THEE-lee) after a concert. She played one of his tunes for him and he gave her a few pointers.
JESSIE: I was so nervous I couldn't get my leg to stop twitching it was like bouncing off the ground. Once I got over it it was just the most amazing experience I've ever been through.
Rachel, who sings and plays the fiddle met Allison Krause. And Ryan, who plays banjo, collects jam sessions like baseball cards.
RYAN: I got to meet Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck
Their dad Brian says he never really planned the family band. It just sort of happened with a bit of encouragement.
BRIAN: We built this big living room we built it on purpose to play music in everything has fallen together. We didn't really have a grand plan but we had aspirations and hopes that it might happen that way thru sticking to it and
persevering it just keeps getting better and better to now we can't pull away from music because it's part of us it's part of our lives.
BRIAN: Do you think there's such a thing as a music gene? I don't think so at all. My mother and father never played at all. CONNIE: I think the tendency is stronger because it's also nurtured. BRIAN: I do have to say with the kids. When the kids are young they can learn different languages. It's the same thing with music. It's a language. With them starting so young it's inherent in them.
Gene or no gene, the music is in their blood now. And the kids are recognized for their talent. Just last weekend an agent wanted to take Rachel to sing in Nashville.
BRIAN: It happens a lot. People come up. You don't know who they are. The guy probably was a pretty big agent. He knew what he wanted. He promoted country music. He was looking at her voice. CONNIE: He also said without us. And she said this is my band.
CONNIE: They're good kids theyre really good kids. They fight amongst themselves but that's the way it is in most families. BRIAN: When does that happen? CONNIE: They're making faces at each other. BRIAN: That's not fightin that's just good humor. CONNIE: Well they have a lot of good humor then (laughs).
The family has been chosen to play the International Bluegrass Music Association Convention held in Nashville later this month. (Bring in Grisman tune) Many agents and record label representatives will be there. It's not the first time the Burnetts have been selected to play the convention. But they were a bit green last time. This time they say they're ready.
For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.