By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN Jessie Munson’s bluegrass band, Sorghum Hill, first played in Howard Lake two years ago, and it struck a chord with both the audience and the performers.
“It was almost surreal to bring my band to my hometown and receive such a great response,” said Munson, a 1998 graduate of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School. “They were so impressed with Howard Lake and the friendly atmosphere that they have been asking me when they could come back ever since.”
Munson’s western Tennessee group will soon have its chance, when it returns to Minnesota for a special concert Friday, July 16 at 8 p.m. at the HLWW High School auditorium, at 8700 County Road 6 SW.
The event is free and open to the public, although a free-will offering will be taken to help defray expenses. Refreshments will be served following the performance.
Munson’s fiddle playing will be featured during the concert, as well as the musical expertise of her band members: Phil Cox of Kentucky on lead and tenor vocals and guitar, Andrea Nash of Tennesee on lead and tenor vocals, Larry Windham of Missouri on upright bass/lead and baritone vocals, and Sam Davis of Tennessee on banjo.
Sorghum Hill’s members have a broad musical background, with experience not only in bluegrass, but also in country and classical music.
The well-known group sings and plays traditional bluegrass songs, gospel favorites, and original tunes in a high-energy style, consistently pleasing crowds wherever they perform.
The band appears regularly in Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri, and also at bluegrass festivals around the country.
Munson lives in Memphis and has been a full-time professional violinist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra since 2002.
“I love the versatility of the violin,” Munson said. “I’ve played Celtic, Mariachi, jazz, country, rock, soul, bluegrass, and, of course, classical music.”
Her favorite style, however, is bluegrass.
“Because what I play is improvised and not written down anywhere, I can’t make any mistakes,” she explained.
Munson began taking violin lessons at age four.
“I just remember my mom asking me if I wanted to learn to play the violin, and I said yes,” she said.
Her first teacher was Naomi Nyquist, who lived outside of Howard Lake.
“I’ve had a lot of different teachers,” Munson said.
Munson’s parents, Patty and Ray Munson, are both musical, but they didn’t know that their daughter would one day be a professional violinist.
Throughout the years, Munson’s passion for music continued to grow, and after high school graduation, she earned a degree in violin performance from Texas Tech University.
Her involvement with Sorghum Hill began about six years ago, when she was playing an onstage fiddle part with the local opera company in Memphis.
“One of the chorus members played with Sorghum Hill at the time, and he asked me if I wanted to play in the band,” Munson said. “That’s where it all started, and I haven’t looked back since.”
In addition to live performances, Munson also does many recording sessions for various albums.
When she’s not practicing, performing, or recording, Munson keeps busy with volunteer work. She especially loves helping at animal shelters and veterinary clinics.
“I’m really into wildlife and nature,” she said.
Hiking, camping, kayaking, and bird watching are a few of her favorite hobbies.
“Playing music for a living was one of the many dreams I’ve had in my life,” Munson said. “I’ll never be a millionaire, but it allows me the freedom and time to pursue some of my other passions and dreams, which is priceless.”