A Chat with the Grascals, Dolly Parton's Former Road Band

September 11, 2015, 8:33 PM by  Karolina Powalka

By Karolina Powalka

The nationally known Grascals, who early in their career played as Dolly Parton's road band, are among performers Saturday at the 19th annual Parade of Stars Bluegrass Festival in Auburn Hills. The six-member bluegrass band from Nashville will play sets at 1:05 and 4:35 p,m. 

The band -- Terry Eldredge, Jamie Johnson, and Terry Smith (vocals), along with Danny Roberts (mandolin), Jeremy Abshire (fiddler) and Kristin Scott Benson (banjo) -- formed in 2004. It has earned two Entertainer of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association and three Grammy nominations.

We spoke this week with mandolinist Roberts about the group’s history, success and direction. 

Deadline Detroit: How did the band start?  

Danny Roberts: We started The Grascals because at that time most of us didn’t have a full time band. We were all friends, it just made sense to try something. While we were in the studio doing our first CD our engineer happened to be the same one that Dolly Parton uses. He played her some of our stuff, she liked it and asked us to open her shows, be her backing band and record a CD with her. Obviously, we agreed.

Starting a new band is never an easy thing to do, but starting one and going directly on the road with Dolly sure helps put you on the map a lot quicker. The Grascals spent just over a year with Dolly before going out on our own. After leaving Dolly our first year we were fortunate to win the IBMA “Emerging Artist” and “Song of the Year” awards.

DD: Clearly, you’ve had quite a bit of success. What have been some of the coolest and most rewarding moments on a personal level and as a band?

DR: For me, one of the coolest things ever was getting to play on the Grand Ole Opry with Dolly and Porter the last time they sang together. This was before Porter passed away and sometimes it seems like it was just a dream, but I see the pictures and realize not only was I playing on the Grand Ole Opry but doing it with two legends. Playing Bluegrass on the Grand Old Opry was something I had only dreamed of as a kid!

For the band, I think one of the major things we are all proud of is, we have played The Grand Ole Opry over 175 times. Also, we are proud of the work we have done with St. Jude’s Children Hospital. The Grascals play a Bluegrass festival each year called the MACC, Musicians Against Childhood Cancer. It’s a festival where the bands are able to donate their time and money to St. Jude’s. We actually had the opportunity to go to St. Jude and present the festival check to the organization, two years in a row. It’s such an honor to be a small part of such a great thing!

DD: Music industry success is so different for so many different people. Some people want a Top 10 hit, and for others it’s just making music for themselves and their fans. What is success for you?

DR: I believe music is a personal thing that you do because you love it. Most musicians will tell you that if you are not doing the music you love and feel passionate about, you might as well quit. If you are doing what you love and huge success comes and you, then that’s just icing on the cake.

DD: Moving back to the music, the Grascals have a different take on bluegrass. Talk about the band’s approach to the genre.

DR: The Grascals have always played music that we like. We have never said  that we have to do a certain song because it’s Bluegrass. We do songs because we think they are good and we like them. We have cut traditional country songs, rock songs, bluegrass songs, and written a lot of what we play. For us it’s about the song and the feel. If we try a song and it works, it doesn’t matter to us where it came from.

DD: What’s next?

The Grascals have been in the studio this month working on our new CD. We are very excited about what we have recorded. I feel like this is some of the strongest material we have ever recorded and can’t wait for our fans to hear it.

Auburn Hills’ 19th annual Parade of Stars Bluegrass Festival is place Saturday, Sept. 12, from noon- 7 p.m. at Civic Center Park (1827 North Squirrel Road, Auburn Hills). The lineup includes The Grascals, Special Consensus, Detour and Feller and Hill. There will also be a playground for kids and refreshments available. General admission is $5 for over age 12. Parking is free.

For more information on the Grascals, see


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