Meet Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper

“One of my first conversations with John Hartford was at Merle Fest sometime in the late 90s. He invited me to eat lunch with him in the backstage area and he told me that Benny Martin had my version of Grey Eagle as the outgoing message on his answering machine”. Michael Cleveland
We are tickled to introduce you to Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper. Ernie’s latest blog. Get your tickets now, while you still can!

Michael Cleveland is a bluegrass fiddling icon and songwriter. We are excited that Michael is performing at the 7th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival. This young man is one of the most talented fiddlers on the planet having been awarded the International Bluegrass Music Association Fiddle Performer of the Year ten times! Instrumental group of the year from 2007-2010, four consecutive times! Michael also wrote much of the material on his latest album, Fiddler’s Dream. Michael is no stranger to Bean Blossom or the music of John Hartford. I was able to ask Michael some key questions leading up to his first trip to the John Hartford Memorial Festival, but first here’s a little background info on Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper . Just a little…
 Michael picked up a fiddle at age four, and his talent was recognized early. In 1993 he was chosen to be part of the Bluegrass Youth All Stars at the IBMA's award show. Later that year Mike made his Grand Ole Opry debut as a guest of Alison Krauss. His list of guest appearances over the years is a who's who of bluegrass legends including Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, Ralph Stanley, Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson, and J.D. Crowe. After high school Mike briefly toured with then-named Dale Ann Bradley and Coon Creek before joining Rhonda Vincent and The Rage in 2000. At the 2001 IBMA awards, Mike took his first Fiddle Player of the Year award, and shared the title of Entertainer of the Year with Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. In 2002 Mike rejoined The Dale Ann Bradley Band. That year he won the Fiddle Player of the Year award and again in 2004. Mike's first project as a Rounder recording artist, "Flame Keeper," was released in February 2002 and was chosen the IBMA's Instrumental Album of the Year. In 2004, Mike shared the Instrumental Album of the Year award with Tom Adams for "Tom Adams and Michael Cleveland Live at the Ragged Edge," an album of fiddle and banjo duets. In September 2006 Mike took home his fourth Fiddle Player of the Year Award from the IBMA, and his second solo album on Rounder Records, "Let 'Er Go, Boys!," won Instrumental Album of the Year. A year later, in 2007, Mike won his fifth fiddle player award and has won it every year since for a total of ten, making him the most awarded in that category. Today Mike is a sought-after guest and has performed with Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, The Mark Newton Band, J.D. Crowe and the New South, Audie Blaylock and Redline, Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain and The Wildwood Valley Boys. He is also an active studio musician, and his credits include the 2005 GRAMMY-nominated "A Tribute to Jimmy Martin: The King of Bluegrass" and a 2003 GRAMMY winner, Jimmy Sturr's "Let's Polka 'Round." 
Mike lives in Charlestown, Indiana.
Meet the Flamekeepers.

Nathan Livers-vocals and mandolin. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Nathan Livers has been engulfed in music his entire life. From his grandpa's claw-hammer banjo playing to the sounds of Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers on the turntable, bluegrass music is in his blood. Inspired by Bill Monroe’s mandolin style, Nathan picked up the instrument at the age of ten and learned a few chords and melodies from his father, Bill Livers, whom he credits as being the driving force behind his learning to play. Now making his home in Charlestown, Indiana, Nathan has played in such bands as The 'Get Down' Bluegrass Boys with Michael Cleveland, Charlie Lawson & Oak Hill, Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers, Tony Holt & the Wildwood Valley Boys, and a Louisville-based bluegrass band, Storefront Congregation, that featured Nathan's songwriting on its 2011 release "Kaleidoscope."
Tyler Griffith-vocals and bass. Tyler comes  from a musical family -- his mother and uncle were part of a family bluegrass band that his grandfather ran in the 1970s, and his father is an accomplished pianist. Although he sticks to the upright bass with Flamekeeper, he also plays guitar, mandolin, trumpet and piano. Tyler's influences from the bass world include Barry Bales and Edgar Meyer. He’s a former member of several regional bands playing in Indiana and Illinois including Vicki & Crew, Penn Central, and Grand Central. Tyler was raised in Avon, Indiana, where he lives today.
Joshua Richards- vocals and guitar. Joshua grew up in the small rural community of Leota, Indiana. His earliest influences were his father Steve and brother Jason who taught him how to play and sing bluegrass music. While completing his degree in corporate and organizational communication at Western Kentucky University, Joshua played upright bass with the Farewell Drifters. After graduation he joined Old Louisville Express on guitar and played primarily around the Louisville, Kentucky area. Joshua was most recently a member of Blue River, the 2008 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America band contest winners. Blue River produced two albums -- "Kentucky Girl and Me" and "Outside of Nowhere." He played guitar, sang lead and tenor vocals, and contributed several original songs to the albums. When Joshua isn’t playing music he watches movies, plays golf, goes sailing, and spends time with his friends and family.
Cody Looper- vocals and banjo. Raised in a musical family in Anderson, Indiana, Cody Looper started playing guitar when he was 9 years old and eventually joined his first band alongside his father. Soon after, Looper began playing mandolin and eventually banjo, cutting his teeth on the musical genius of Earl Scruggs. Looper spent the subsequent years playing in various groups and most recently with Blue Mafia. Looper credits his time with Blue Mafia as an opportunity to grow as a professional musician and says he owes his banjo technique to the influences of many talented musicians such as Tony Wray, Avery Perry, Ron Stewart, Jim Mills, Ron Block, J.D. Crowe.

EH-What do you look for in a song to perform and record? 
MC-In order for me to want to record or perform a song, the song has to connect with me and the band I'm playing in. Most of the time when you get a demo, it's usually only vocal and guitar, so it's really important for you to be able to envision how you would make it your own.  

EH-What goes through your mind when you are playing a fiddle tune on stage? 
MC-When I am playing a fiddle tune, I associate each variation with the player I learned it from or was influenced by.  Every fiddler has their own sound and I try to capture each person's sound while playing licks I learned from them.  I also find that I change things gradually over time, so what started out to be a note for note interpretation, ends up becoming more my way of playing it.  

EH-Tell me about your favorite fiddle and bow, and your choice of rosin?
MC- I play a five string fiddle made by John Silakowski of Scottsberg, Indiana and I usually use carbon fiber bows.  For rosin, I use Belmore Dark.  

EH-I've read that you were a Suzuki student, do you come from a bluegrass background?
MC- I did start out by learning the Suzuki method, but you could probably say that I was born into bluegrass.  None of my family played, but my grandparents were big Bluegrass fans and they started a bluegrass association in Henryville, Indiana shortly before I was born, so from the time I was around six months old, I would go to all the shows every Saturday night.  When I was around four years old, I heard a local fiddler play Orange Blossom Special and from then on, I knew I had to learn how to play.  I started school later on that year and there was a strings program where they taught The Suzuki method. So I would learn classical during the week and Bluegrass on weekends.  

EH-What do you think about the up and coming string bands? We're seeing the bluegrass and old time styles now with gas can basses and drums, all kinds of innovations.
MC-I think that you can find something good in any style of music and I listen to a variety of different things.  

EH-Do you cross tune in the old time way.
MC-There are quite a few songs that I play that I use alternate tunings for, most common for me is what is considered the black mountain rag tuning...  A E A CC.  

EH-Do you teach? 
MC-I do! If anyone is interested in lessons, I do teach one on one lessons on Skype.  People wanting to know more can visit, 

EH-What advice do you have for young folks who want to play fiddle for a living?
MC-My advice to young fiddlers who want to play music professionally is try to be around professional musicians any chance you can get. Start a Facebook page and make sure there are videos of your playing online.  Go to festivals and jam as much as possible, because so much of this business is being in the right place at the right time and you never know who could walk up and hear you playing.  

EH-Michael, growing up in Indiana, did you often go to Bean Blossom? Did you perform there?
MC-My grandparents took me to Beanblossom for the first time when I was really little, so I barely remember it. I do know that I met Bill Monroe and that he gave me a quarter because I have it in a scrapbook somewhere.  When I was around nine, we went back and I got to play with Bill on the sunset jam that year and the following. I met Kenny Baker for the first time there in 1996 and I have been going as often as possible to the bluegrass festivals there ever since.  This will be my first time coming to the John Hartford festival and I'm really looking forward to it. 

EH-Did you ever see John Hartford live? 
MC-I did get to see John play live quite a bit. I guess the first time I saw him was sometime in the early 90s and he was doing the solo thing- playing all the instruments and using the dancing board. Later when I started touring with Rhonda Vincent, we played a lot of the same festivals with John and the Hartford String Band. One of my first conversations with Hartford was at Merle Fest sometime in the late 90s. He invited me to eat lunch with him in the backstage area and he told me that Benny Martin had my version of Grey Eagle as the outgoing message on his answering machine. John was always interested in a lot of the old time fiddlers and I got to Play an Opry spot with him and Bob Douglas, who I think had just turned 100 years old and had never played the Grand Ol' Opry. I'm pretty sure that John was the one responsible for making that happen and it was a cool thing to be a part of. 
Here's more from Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper.
"Steamboat Whistle Blues" - The Story Behind The Recording!
"Steamboat Whistle Blues" is a song from John Hartford's newgrass classic, AEREO-PLAIN, originally recorded in Nashville at Hillbilly Central, now home to Compass Records Group where we did a lot of the recording for my new album, FIDDLER'S DREAM. Here's a little more of the story of how we decided to do a version of the song with Sam Bush on vocals. Hope you enjoy!”-Michael Cleveland

Michael Cleveland Releases Instructional Video
The International Bluegrass Music Association's most awarded fiddler, Michael Cleveland, is embarking on a new venture with his first ever instructional video. Known as one of bluegrass music's premier musicians, Cleveland has been offering lessons via Skype for several years, but it was his good friend, Gil Benson, who suggested an instructional video would be helpful to aspiring musicians and fans of Cleveland's alike. With Benson's guidance, and the accompaniment of Brian Allen on guitar and Tyler Griffith on bass, Michael has now released his first instructional video.
"I've had a lot of people ask me over the years if I had any sheet music or tablature for the fiddle tunes I have recorded on my albums," explains Cleveland. "Now, we have something even better! Whether you're a beginner or an advanced player, I think everyone will be able to learn from this lesson video. Thanks to my friend Gil Benson for all of his hard work on this project. This wouldn't have been possible without him."
"Michael is an amazing fiddler with a style all of his own," says Benson. "In his first instructional video, Michael teaches how to play 'Fiddler's Dream,' the title cut from his new solo CD. He incorporates many of the past great fiddler's licks into his playing and still you know it's Michael by his clear, powerful tone and attack. The video is a fantastic resource to learn Michael's style as well as some of the classic fiddle licks of Scotty Stoneman, Benny Martin, Bobby Hicks and others. Along with the performance, the video includes all four solos played slowly and then broken down to teach each lick. All solos are accurately transcribed complete with bowings, fingerings and chords. Two jam tracks are also included to allow practice accompaniment. I highly recommend this instructional video to all fiddlers who have an interest in improving their fiddle playing."
Michael Cleveland's instructional video is being offered as an on-line purchase and is available by visiting For more information on Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, please visit,, and