With a name like Mile Twelve and a debut album titled “Onwards,” you might think the young bluegrass band is going places. And you’d be right.
In September, the youthful quintet, ages 23 to 28, won the prestigious Momentum Award at the IBMA World of Bluegrass convention in Raleigh. The award recognizes artists in the early stages of their career who are already having a significant impact on bluegrass.
Mile Twelve, named for a mile marker at the city limit of Boston, where the band is based, already had gained the attention of the bluegrass community with its musicianship and bluegrass savvy before it received the award in September.
But the Momentum Award will help propel their careers to the next level.
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“It’s been a great asset for the band,” says mandolin player David Benedict, who grew up in Clemson, S.C., but lives in Boston near his bandmates.
“It’s stirring up interest from the promoters and shakers and movers in bluegrass who were at the conference,” Benedict says. “We also played a short set at the Momentum Award luncheon – we played before we knew we had won. I think that also helped stir up some noise about the band.”
It didn’t take long for Mile Twelve to advance its momentum. Within a month after leaving Raleigh, the band flew to Australia and New Zealand for a month of concerts. The tour was a homecoming for banjoist Catherine “BB” Bowness, a native of New Zealand.
While on tour, Mile Twelve officially released “Onwards,” its first full-length CD.
“It was cool getting to release the record officially in Australia,” Benedict says. “We were at the Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival in the Dorrigo Mountains in New South Wales along the east coast. There was a lot of excitement getting to release our CD there.”
Ten of the album’s 12 tracks were written by the band, a talented ensemble possessed of songwriting and arranging instincts beyond the grasp of most 20-something musicians. “Onwards,” a diverse collection of songs and tunes, ranges from Monroe-style traditionalism (“Settle Down Blues”) through lyrical story songs (“The Margaret Keene”), Hazel and Alice-influenced swingers (“You Don’t Even Know it Yet”) and banjo-fueled instrumentals (“Wickwire”).
They’ll play those songs when they return to the Triangle Saturday at the Arts Center in Carrboro.
The band’s success didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s the cumulative result of years of training in some of our nation’s most prestigious music schools. Lead guitarist and vocalist Evan Murphy earned his degree in theater and music from Boston College. Bassist Nate Sabat graduated from Boston’s Berkelee College of Music as an upright bass principal.
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, also a Berkelee graduate, earned her diploma in violin performance. In 2014, she won first place in the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship in Winfield, Kan., the same contest that sparked Mark O’Connor’s career in the 1970s.
Benedict earned a degree in mandolin music performance from Bryan College in Tennessee and studied with Grammy-nominated mandolinist Matt Flinner. Before joining Mile Twelve a year ago, he played mandolin with the legendary Missy Raines and the New Hip.
Bowness, a native of New Zealand’s North Island, began playing banjo as a pre-teen. A few years later, she was recognized with an award that enabled her to travel to the United States to study under banjo masters Tony Trischka and the Punch Brothers’ Noam Pikelny.
Nurturing their talents in formal programs is a far cry from the self-taught musicianship of Bill Monroe and other first- and second-generation bluegrass pioneers.
But to the members of IBMA, who select the Momentum Award winner, it’s the music that matters, and not the path to it.
“It’s an exciting time to be playing music, particularly bluegrass,” Benedict says. “I love the familial and generational aspect, and to have support from the older generation means so much to us all.”
Who: Mile Twelve
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18
Where: The Arts Center, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro
Info: artscenterlive.org or 919-929-2787