Rockin' Acoustic Circus (#1611)

Four young performers with a unique acoustic/bluegrass fusion sound perform at the 3rd annual International Newgrass Festival in 2011. A KET production.

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The third annual International Newgrass Festival featured one of the final performances by a group that had been making big waves in the bluegrass/acoustic world. Rockin' Acoustic Circus brought together four talented young Oklahoma musicians and their mentor, Rick Morton.

Morton, a veteran instrumentalist and instructor on fiddle, guitar and mandolin, has had an impressive musical career. He won a national talent contest with Ronnie Dunn not long before Dunn hit the big time with partner Kix Brooks. Playing fiddle, Morton toured with Dunn, opening for well-known artists Ricky Skaggs, George Strait and Kathy Mattea. In 1994, Morton recorded with The Tractors on their debut CD, which was Grammy nominated and sold more than three million copies.

Morton returned to Oklahoma, where he established himself as a chief teacher for bluegrass and acoustic instruments. Among his students over the years was Eric Dysart and Sterling Abernathy, to whom he taught fiddle and mandolin, respectively. As they reached their teens, both young men began to collect instrumental championships.

The lineup was completed with the addition of two classically trained teens, cellist Emma Hardin and her brother, bass player Zachary Hardin. The group quickly caught the attention of musicians, critics, and fans alike.

The Newgrass festival performance demonstrated the fresh sound and instrumental virtuosity that is the group's hallmark, with a set that combined distinctive versions of standards such as "Money in the Bank" with unexpected choices such as Melanie's 1970s rock hit "Brand New Key."

The plan all along had been for Morton to step aside as the band matured, and he did so in September 2011, a month after the Newgrass performance was recorded. The group moved from Oklahoma to Nashville, but soon the young members parted ways as well. Abernathy has formed a new group, Belfry Fellows.