A clan of two parents, three daughters, a son-in-law, six dogs, and two cats are set to rock the Island Saturday night.
Meet the Bankesters of Carbondale, Illinois, arriving at the Shelter Island School auditorium with another important number — three Top 20 Bluegrass albums of the year. Daughter Emily won the first International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Momentum Award for Vocalist of the Year in 2012, and their latest release, “Love Has Wheels” won the Independent Music Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2014.
Before they packed the van, Phil Bankester (“Daddy” to his band mates), arranged for daughters Melissa Triplett and Emily Bankester to talk to the Reporter about their family and their music. Phil and Dorene Bankester, and daughters Melissa, Emily and Alysha have been performing for about a decade, but they’ve been singing together since before there was a family.
“My dad sang to my mom when he was trying to get her to fall in love with him,” Melissa said. “It started everything off.”
Eight years apart, Melissa is the oldest at 27, Emily next, and Alysha is 19. “I can’t remember a time when we didn’t sing,” Melissa said, “We grew up hearing harmony, singing together.”
Those harmonies will be on full display Saturday night. In what has become a tradition, 2015 will be the 20th year a bluegrass concert has graced the Island. The moving spirit behind bringing Appalachia east has been Tom Hashagen.
Concerts were held every year beginning in 2004, but with no fixed date or season. It wasn’t until 2007 that the concert found its place on the Saturday of Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend, where it has remained ever since. Garth Griffin, the town’s Recreation Committee coordinator, was helpful in getting the town involved for several years, especially with ticket production and sales, Mr. Hashagen said. And Sylvester Manor has helped recently with getting the word out for one of the great events of the Island’s winter.
Mr. Hashagen will be kicking off the concert Saturday night, fronting the band Large Print Edition, opening for the Bankesters, playing pop songs with emphasis on the American Songbook. Large Print Edition is a “new, old band” said Mr. Hashagen, who will play guitar, along with Dan Skabeikis on fiddle, Doug Broder on bass and Lisa Shaw, vocals and piano.
The Bankester’s first recorded in 2005, a family act with adorable vocalists, the youngest of whom was 9 years old. To grow as a band, they had to “get past the cute family factor,” Melissa said.
In 2007, Melissa met Kyle Triplett at a music festival, and soon the family had a son as well as a banjo.
“Kyle brought true bluegrass into what we were doing,” said daddy Phil. “He’s just a phenomenal banjo player.”
As for the cute family factor, Melissa said, “I think we are past it. We’re not really all that cute anymore.”
On that point, there may be dissent.
Melissa and Emily described how they chose material for their new album; a process similar to the way some families decide what to put in the cart at the grocery store. “Each of us girls brings two songs that we’ll be able to sing lead on,” Emily said. “Then we bring it all to the table and everyone gets a say.”
Melissa and Kyle wrote two songs on the new album, “Love Has Wheels.” Melissa said of her song writing, “I like to hear emotion coming across in a song and it’s easier to write that if you are coming from a place of real feeling.”
The inspiration for “Time and Love” came when Melissa was up in the middle of the night comforting the couples’ 19-month-old baby in the wee hours. Unable to fall back to sleep herself, she wrote some beautiful lyrics about holding back time. The next morning, Kyle read them and heard a great bluegrass song.
A local organization in Illinois called This Able Veteran, which pairs service dogs with veterans struggling with physical disabilities such as PTSD, asked the Bankesters to write a song about their organization. Melissa and Kyle responded with the song, “Found.” The chorus of that song, “You’ve taken what was lost and now I’m found,” described the way a good dog can help a veteran negotiate daily life.
Emily and Melissa agree that performing and traveling together has been rewarding. “We have been blessed to actually like our family,” Emily said. “The three of us girls are just best friends. We can be on the road for 10 days and come home and still want to hang out together.”
They’ve heard tell that such harmony does not abide in all families. “That’s what we have been told,” said Emily. “No, we did not know that.”
On Friday, January 16, the Bankesters will conduct a bluegrass workshop at the Shelter Island School for grades 8 through 12. The workshop is made possible by grants obtained by Keith Brace and Jessica Bosak from the Shelter Island Educational Foundation and the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA.)