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Wake Forest sisters go from plastic guitars to Bluegrass Stars

Chloe, left, and Jessie Lang perform at the First Night Raleigh Children’s Celebrationat the N.C. Museum of History Dec. 31. The pair recently has been invited to become members of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars.
Chloe, left, and Jessie Lang perform at the First Night Raleigh Children’s Celebrationat the N.C. Museum of History Dec. 31. The pair recently has been invited to become members of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars. COURTESY OF LINDA LANG

From being inspired by Taylor Swift, to performing at events across the state, the Lang sisters have come a long way in less than four years.

About four years ago, sisters Chloe and Jessie Lang of Wake Forest were just learning to play guitar on borrowed and plastic instruments.

Now, Chloe, 16, and Jessie,12, have their own Taylor acoustic guitars, which in 2014 they used at about 30 gigs, including the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and the First Night Raleigh Children’s Celebration.

The girls were also recently invited to become members of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars.

John Colburn founded the Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars program, which seeks to nurture about 70 talented and friendly youths, from across the U.S. and Canada.

“They have a God-given gift to sing beautifully and to play their instrument beautifully, and we are just trying to keep that going,” Colburn said.

Over the years, the sisters have leveraged their talent, practice and the bluegrass community to fuel their passion for music and rapidly improve their playing and singing.

Chloe and Jessie grew up attending bluegrass jams and concerts across the state with their parents Linda and Dean.

The sisters started playing in spring 2011 after singer-songwriter Taylor Swift’s music inspired them to learn how to play the guitar and sing, they said.

Jessie initially took private lessons for about two months, practicing singing and playing a plastic guitar.

“We didn’t focus on bluegrass,” she said. “We focused on basic chords” and singing.

About a month into the lessons, the girls’ parents learned about an opportunity at Youngsville Elementary, in which bluegrass musicians were using the school facility to jam on Monday nights and offering to mentor young musicians.

“Frankly, there weren’t that many youth that showed up,” Linda Lang said. “It worked out great for our girls because they got a lot of one on one instruction.”

In January 2012, the girls joined the Chatham County Junior Appalachian Musicians, an education program in Pittsboro that introduces third- to eighth-graders to small group instruction with instruments common to the state’s Appalachian and Piedmont regions.

The program offers free or subsidized instrument, dance and vocal instruction, string and band classes and access to affordable instruments.

“You could tell right away that they were very driven and into the music, and they had a natural talent,” said Timothy Tron, the program’s director.

The sisters continue to spend Thursday nights at Chatham County JAM, meeting artists and absorbing a curriculum that includes the history of music from local communities.

“We learned a lot,” Jessie said, “ to flat pick by ear and play more melodies on guitar.”

The Chatham County JAM students also perform as a group at festivals, nursing homes and church events, but Jessie and Chloe started branching out and performing as The Lang Sisters at bluegrass events, folk festivals and fiddlers conventions.

“It is just great because they both gravitated to their strengths, and they complement each other,” Linda Lang said.

The sisters have written one song, “Frost on the Ground,” which is about the joys of coming home. They hope to write more in 2015, they said.

Mainly they play covers, the sisters said, as they try to make bluegrass and Americana songs their own.

So far, the girls said, their biggest break was playing at the First Night Children’s Celebration in the Daniels Auditorium at the N.C. Museum of History.

“That went really well,” Chloe said. “We had a lots of fun playing for the kids.”

Meanwhile, both girls are honor students at Franklin Academy in Wake Forest.

The biggest challenge for Chloe, a junior, is balancing playing and studying for school, where she is also studying piano, she said.

“That has been a big obstacle for me,” Chloe said.

For Jessie, who is in seventh grade, it’s just hard for her to put down the guitar and mandolin.

“Jessie would prefer to do nothing but play guitar,” Linda Lang said.

“I would play until my fingers fell off,” Jessie added.

Over the years, the family has transformed into a bluegrass team.

Dean Lang is the driver, roadie and manager, or “Dad-anger.” Linda Lang manages everyone’s schedule.

“School is a priority,” Linda Lang said, “And music is a very close second.”

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