Gena Britt of Clinton plays banjo in several ensembles, including three collaborations that have won IBMA awards. She’s now with Sister Sadie, an all-female band of bluegrass veterans that has played in Nashville and beyond and is planning an album in the near future.
But by day, Britt has a job far removed from the spotlight. She’s a loan assistant at a bank, where she processes paperwork and occasionally is recognized by customers who happen to be bluegrass fans. Her boss and coworkers know about her other career and are flexible with her work schedule, she said, which is key.
“My main career now, at this particular time in my life, is the bank,” said Britt, who also has two elementary school-age children. “That’s what pays my bills, that’s what helps me support my family. I’m more or less doing music now because I love it. I think a lot of bluegrass musicians would say the same thing.”
Julie Elkins, a banjo player in Raleigh, also plays bluegrass for the love of it – and she tries to nurture that love in others by teaching music lessons. The lessons also provide a more reliable way to keep money coming in.
Even Lorraine Jordan, whose band, Carolina Road, has become a household name to many bluegrass fans, still owns and runs Jordan Driving School in Wake County, a business she calls “my bread and butter.” (She also has plans to open a coffee shop and bluegrass music venue in Garner in the near future.)
There’s money to be made in bluegrass, the women say, but it isn’t easy.
“Every dollar that you make in this business, you have to work hard for it,” Elkins said. “It’s not like people are just throwing money at you because you’re talented.”
She advises people who want to make a career of bluegrass to “keep an open mind, but probably keep a day job, too.”