Facebook Tracking Pixel
Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Mobile Logo
Nick McMillian
Photos courtesy of Mark Freed

Nick McMillian

Oldtime musician Mount Airy, NC (Surry County)

Nick McMillian carries on a long-standing family tradition, playing the old-time music of his home community in Surry County. “I’m happy to play and pass on the real Round Peak style and tunes,” Nick says. He plays fiddle with the group Backstep, along with his father Chester McMillian on guitar and Kelley Breiding on banjo. Nick also plays guitar with the Surry-based oldtime group the Red Hots, bass with country band Kelley and the Cowboys, and he has been known to fill in with various other regional groups.

“I was always around the music,” he says. Nick’s father plays guitar and mandolin, and he took Nick to many old-time music gatherings, jam sessions, dances, festivals, and events. Nick has fond memories of visiting Tommy Jarrell‘s house, meeting with Kyle Creed, and, most importantly, of living with his grandfather, Dix Freeman. “Most of my fiddle music came directly from my grandfather,” Nick says. “He was playing the banjo slow at that point, so it made a good opportunity for me to learn tunes.”

Nick started playing mandolin when he was seven years old, and soon he was learning to play fiddle, banjo, guitar, and bass. Nick started playing, along with his father, in the Shady Mountain Ramblers, and when he was eight years old joined Backstep. He has performed with many groups and old-time musicians from Surry County, including Benton Flippen, Ernest East, Mac Snow, Scotty East, and the earlier version of Backstep with fiddler Greg Hooven. “They have all been influences on my playing,” he says.

Nick has performed at various events, festivals, and concerts around the region. He has done some school programs and taught lessons and led workshops on Round Peak-style old-time music. At the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington, he represented the Surry County Round Peak style. Nick has participated on several recordings with Backstep, Kelley and the Cowboys, the New Pilot Mountaineers, and others.

Backstep, an old-time trio, has won several awards, including first prize in the old-time band contest at Fiddlers Grove in 2004, and first place in the old-time band competition at the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention in 2004 and 2006.


Nick McMillian is available for performances with various groups in old-time or country styles. He is also available for lessons, workshops, and classroom programs.