Culturephile: Meet the Wimberley Bluegrass Band from Orange

Four close-knit siblings make up the Orange-based Wimberley Bluegrass Band and spread the music of Kentucky to O.C. and beyond.
Wimberley Bluegrass Band Orange California
Wimberley Bluegrass Band.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

Wimberley Bluegrass Band Orange California
Wimberley Bluegrass Band.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

The Wimberleys trace their love of the genre to hearing “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” as kids in 2006 and getting traditional bluegrass instruments for Christmas that year. They debuted as a band two years later and haven’t stopped since, performing about 50 shows a year, including appearances at the farmers market and street fair in Orange and at bluegrass festivals. Here are excerpts from a freewheeling chat with the band—Danielle, 28, who plays mandolin; 26-year-old twins Mark, guitar, and James, banjo; and Michael, 23, fiddle.

What appealed to you about bluegrass music?

Michael: I think it was the liveliness of the music. The joyousness piqued our interest back then to hear such happy, lively, energetic music.

Mark: I think the spontaneity of the individual musicians’ improv. You don’t hear musicians taking their own solos like that in a lot of genres. We really appreciated that creativity.

Are you self-taught musicians?

Michael: Yes, we are. Why, does it sound like it? When we were young, we had some classical violin, classical piano lessons. The bluegrass and bluegrass instruments, we’re all self-taught.

Danielle: We get asked all the time how it happened that we grew up in Southern California and yet we love bluegrass music. We grew up listening to it.

How did the new album, “Where the West Begins,” come together?

Michael: With bluegrass being music from Appalachia, from Kentucky, and us being
in Southern California, I think we bring a unique perspective. We’re out West, so to speak,
as a bluegrass band. So this album took that and meshed it together. We did songs about the West, we did cowboy songs, we did Texas songs, songs about California, but we did it in the bluegrass style. We had a lot of California songwriters on there, and Bill Monroe had a good Western cowboy song that we put on there.

James: We definitely love Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. We take a lot of inspiration from him.

Can you describe how you write songs?

Mark: A lot of old country came from real-life true stories, and for us, the easiest songs
to write come from our own experiences. Sometimes you pad a song a little with some fiction, but if it comes from real experience, it comes across a lot more authentic. That’s been the hallmark of country and bluegrass music since it started.

How do you put together your set list for performances?

Michael: At a general fair, we might do “Rocky Top,” but we’ll try to steer clear of it at a bluegrass festival because it’s such a classic that people might get tired of it. There are a couple of songs—like Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind,” and a Jim Croce tune that we made bluegrass, “I Got a Name”—that we do most every place because most everyone recognizes those songs, and it’s a little different doing it in a bluegrass style.

Do you have any advice for parents who want their kids to get into music?

Michael: Start ’em young. There’s no such thing as too young to start learning an instrument.

Upcoming show dates at wimberleybluegrassband.com.

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