Cane Mill Road features a group of young musicians from northwest North Carolina who play bluegrass music with a foundation in tradition mixed with the youthful spirit of the rising generation of pickers. As the band’s website states, they “honor the past, while looking towards the future.” Cane Mill Road features Liam Purcell on vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and clawhammer banjo, Trajan Wellington on bluegrass banjo and guitar, and Casey Lewis on guitar and vocals.
Founding member Liam Purcell grew up in Watauga County and got his start playing music in the Watauga Junior Appalachian Musicians Program. Liam spent six years in the program, learning guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo. He studied with Amanda Wright, Erika Testerman, Cecil Gurganus, Jeff Moretz, and others. Before leaving the program, Liam had worked as an assistant and lead teacher for several classes, and he started playing in Strictly Strings, a band with friends from the program. Today, he is an instructor in the Boone JAM program.
Outside of the JAM program, Liam spent considerable time traveling around the region attending camps, workshops, festivals, and fiddlers conventions. Along the way, Liam attended camps with Pete Wernick and Cathy Fink, both of whom he considers to be big influences. “Pete has always been very encouraging and supportive,” Liam says. “And Cathy produced the first Cane Mill Road recording and taught us so much.” Liam also met Cane Mill Road banjo player Trajan Wellington at regional music events.
Trajan was born in Wilkes County and moved to Ashe County when he was in fourth grade. Growing up, Trajan spent a lot of time with his grandfather, who liked to listen to bluegrass and country music. When he was in eighth grade, Trajan joined the Mountain Music Club at school and started learning to play guitar and banjo with Josh Church and Mandy Lovell. “Joining that club was the first time I heard the banjo live, and I knew I wanted to learn to play it,” Trajan says. By the summer after eight grade, Trajan started taking banjo lessons with National Banjo Champion Eric Hardin, and he spent a lot of time listening to Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley play the banjo. “Vic Jordan is probably my number one influence now,” he says, “but I wouldn’t play anything but Scruggs and Stanley for a while.”
Casey, of Rocky Gap, Virginia, grew up hearing old time and bluegrass music from Virginia and West Virginia. He met Tray and Liam at fiddlers festivals around the region, where they jammed together, competed, and just had fun. Casey placed second in the Folk Song category at the notable Galax Old Fiddlers Convention. He loves to sing and contributes his songwriting to the group’s repertoire.
In September 2019, Cane Mill Road was honored by the International Bluegrass Music Association with a Momentum Award – for Band of the Year. Tray Wellington also received a Momentum Award – for Instrumentalist of the Year. The band has recorded two albums, both of which spent time on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums charts.
Cane Mill Road is available for performances and demonstrations. Some of the band members also do some teaching and instruction.