GLASGOW — Kentucky Just Us took first-place last weekend in the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest during Silver Dollar City's Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival in Branson, Missouri.
This marked the 18th year for the radio station to host the competition.
Kentucky Just Us, which is composed of members of the O'Neal family from Glasgow, was one among 18 bluegrass bands from 14 different states that took part in the competition.
The band features Terry and Shelane O'Neal and their four children — John, 19; Kacey, 18; Jesse, 16; and Caleb, 9.
Kentucky Just Us performed in two rounds of the competition. Each round lasted six minutes each.
“Usually that means about two songs and you have a different set of judges for each round. They are looking for professionalism. They are looking for vocal ability (and) instrumentation,” said Terry O'Neal, who plays keyboards for the band. “It's a single mic competition, so in bluegrass it means you have one microphone so you have to work around that microphone. The whole band has to get into that microphone, so it's a lot of moving, changing places and switching around as different things happen to the songs.”
The songs the band performed were: performed – “Molly and Tenbrooks;” “Stand By Me;” “Poor Boy Working Blues;” and “The Bluebirds Are Singing For Me.”
Kentucky Just Us took part in the competition in 2018 and tied for second-place.
“The winner only won it by one point, so we were knocking at the door last year but we finally made it happen this year so we were excited about that,” he said.
In addition to receiving first-place in the competition, the band also received a $1,500 cash prize. The band will also get to perform at Silver Dollar City's Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival in 2020.
Kentucky Just Us has been performing for about four and-a-half years.
“During that time, everybody has basically learned their instruments,” he said. “We started out with a guitar and that was it.”
Now, the children have learned to play guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo. Their mother plays upright bass.
“The kids were singing and found out they could do harmony. They asked me if I would help them and I said, 'I will sure try,'” Terry O'Neal said.
There was one stipulation to their father helping them and that was they had to agree to play or sing any time or any place he asks them to.
“Of course they jumped all over it. They said, 'Yes, no problem. Glad to do that,'” he said.
After two weeks of practice, he took his family to a restaurant in Campbellsville and urged them to perform after they got close to finishing their meal.
Although they were nervous, the restaurant's manager heard them perform and invited them to come back and do a concert.
“That's how we kind of got our start. Since then, a lot has happened,” he said. “We got a chance to do some real neat things and have a lot of influences.”
Kasey O'Neal studies fiddle under the direction of Buddy Spicher, who is the world's most recorded fiddle player and performs on country icon George Strait's “Amarillo By Morning.” He has also played with other country greats like George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Ray Price, among others.
The goal of the group, specifically the children in the group, is to have a career in music.
“We are still in the process of working out of the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music so they got scholarships to go there while they are still in high school, so we are doing college work, high school work and being on the road. A lot is happening for us,” Terry O'Neal said. “We go there and Bobby Osborne is one of the teachers there. We've got several other teachers who played with Larry Sparks and then Dean Osborne, who had his own group for years. They have been a big help for us.”
Kentucky Just Us was chosen by the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Renfro Valley to be the 2018 Artist in Residence.
“That was quite an honor to get to do that. About once a month we would go and get to put on a show there at the hall of fame,” he said. “We also got to be a part of their induction ceremony.”
The band has yet to play the Grand Ole Opry, but he says that is something they are hoping to get to do.
“That's on our bucket list of things to do,” he said.
Kentucky Just Us performs nationally.
“We play all over. We have played in Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Missouri. We're scheduled this year for Indiana, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina,” he said. “We did 101 gigs last year.”
For more information about the band, go to its website at http://www.kentuckyjustus.com.