Backstep with Tammy Sawyer on bass.
Photo courtesy of Mark Freed.
Types of Artistry
Mount Airy, NC (Surry County)
Backstep performs old-time stringband music in the "Round Peak Style" native to Mount Airy, North Carolina. Known for its driving rhythms and prominent melodies, Round Peak music is just the thing to make you kick up your heels and dance. The band is excited to have just won first place old-time band at the Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention in 2006. In 2004, Backstep won first prize at both the Fiddler's Grove fiddler's convention and the Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention. The band was featured on Mike Seeger's Old-time Banjo Styles instructional video featuring Kirk Sutphin on banjo.
Chester McMillian, one of the founders of the band, was born in Carroll County, Virginia, into a musical family and community. He has played traditional oldtime Round Peak style music since childhood. By the time he was eleven or twelve years old, he was living in Surry County and taking an active part in the Round Peak music community. In 1962, Chester married into Dix Freeman's family, and the two began playing a lot of music together. Chester played guitar with Tommy Jarrell for fifteen years, and he developed his guitar style specifically to play with Tommy. He has also played and recorded with Dix Freeman, Kirk Sutphin, and Greg Hooven, with whom he founded Backstep.
Nick McMillian was raised in the Round Peak community surrounded by music. He is truly of the tradition, bringing a whole family history into his banjo, fiddle and bass playing. He first learned to play banjo from his grandfather, Dix Freeman, whose style he can closely imitate. He also plays Round Peak fiddle style. Steeped in music from an early age, Nick made his first recording, "Back Step," at age eleven, and has performed in public since the age of eight. He also recorded with the New Pilot Mountaineers on fiddle and banjo. Nick's musical mentors include Fred Cockerham, his grandfather Dix Freeman, and father Chester McMillian.
Kelley Breiding, a North Carolina native as well, joined the band in 2000 when Nick and Chester discovered she played banjo in the style of Dix Freeman, Nick's late grandfather and Chester's late father-in-law, who was a notable Roundpeak-style banjo player. In addition to Dix Freeman, Kelly's music is inspired by Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell, and B.F. Jarrell, all from Surry County.
Backstep is currently on hiatus and is not taking bookings at this time.