Home Grown Bluegrass

A North Country band goes from local act to bluegrass staple without really leaving

Story by Adam Patterson
Photos courtesy of Dick's Country Music Store & Oasis and Compass Records Group

The Gibson Brothers

Eric stands behind his brother Leigh.

Eric and Leigh Gibson were born to play music. Since the early '90s, they’ve gone from being a small-town act to being nominated for some of blue grass music’s most prestigious awards. Neither of them are complaining, and they haven’t changed a bit.

The Gibson Brothers started out young. “Eric’s father said, ‘One of you is going to play guitar, and one of you is going to play banjo,’” says Dick Decosse of Dick's County Store & Music Oasis. When an employee of Decosse’s store began offering music lessons around 1983, the brothers signed up immediately. Eric, then 12, started taking banjo lessons while his brother Leigh, then 11, took guitar. “Some people are born to be musicians,” Decosse says. “You can tell Eric and Leigh were intent on learning their instruments and then learning about music in general.”

The Gibson Brothers started performing in the late '80s to feed their musical hunger, but both took up careers outside of music. Eric became a High School English teacher in Ausable Valley, and his brother remained home on the farm to help their father after gaining “a few degrees” from SUNY Plattsburgh, Eric says.

Dick's Country Store & Music Oasis

A view of the selection at Dick's.
After playing for several years, their lives gradually became more music centric. Eventually touring became a bigger part of their lives. By 1996 they toured to states as far away as California and Texas.

“Some people are born to be musicians.”

Admitting to loved ones that you wish to pursue an unlikely dream can be difficult, and Eric recalls talking to the people in his life about taking the uneasy road that is being a full-time musician. “I remember telling my father-in-law with my tail between my legs, and he said, ‘I think you should’ve tried it four years ago,’” he remembers. “My wife has been through all the ups and downs. If she said ‘You need to quit this,’ I’d quit it. I’d have to. She’s never said that. It takes a special kind of mate to put up with what we do.”

Like most careers, being a musician has its perks and downfalls. Eric has no difficulty in distinguishing the two. “Going on stage and playing isn’t work. It’s fun... I tell people the work in what we do is travel,” Eric says.

For the brothers, there is no such thing as a typical day on the road. Sometimes they’ll drive through the night, but try not to go more than six hours between shows. They’ll play a show that starts at eight, go to bed, wake up, and start it all over again. “I’ve driven 18 hours straight … We’ve driven home from Missouri,” Eric says, but “Missing your family is the number one thing I hate.”

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson brothers show off their instruments.

The Eric’s wife and children have sometimes accompanied the band to shows in places like Maine, but he explains that bringing more people means making less money. Nothing is supplied for them on the road. More people means more gas, more hotel rooms, and a smaller bottom line. All of that touring eventually led them to Compass Records, the label responsible for the brothers’ most recent record “Ring The Bell,” which was nominated for album and vocal group of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

The discovery of the Gibson Brothers was not like finding a diamond in the rough. Emilee Warner, Director of Publicity and Promotions for the Compass Records Group, says, “They already had a very busy touring schedule. They were no secret… They built up a reputation.”

That reputation hinges on their conventional bluegrass sound. “I mean, they’re by far one of the most solid traditional bluegrass bands out there,” Warner says. “Most folks try to add drums … but they keep it traditional. (They stand) around one microphone, they wear suits, and the crowds love them.”

“Going on stage and playing isn’t work. It’s fun”

As their growing reputation in the bluegrass community pulled them farther and farther away on tour, the Gibsons began carrying reminders of the support they have back home. “When they were trying to get started, there were a few times when things weren’t looking as good as they were now, and he (Eric) and I used to talk about it,” Decosse said. “I’m hoping I gave him some good advice.”

Dick's Country Store & Music Oasis

Dick's Country Store & Music Oasis boasts a large variety of guitars.

Decosse acted in a mentor-like role for the brothers, occasionally taking the role one step further into the realm of creativity. “As far as the songs themselves, I co-wrote a couple with Eric…I’ll sometimes be the first guy to hear a new song.”  When he’s home, Eric still stops by the shop to buy new strings, equipment, or just to talk, sometimes even bouncing songs off of Decosse for creative input.

After leaving his small town, his teaching position, and his family behind for portions of his year, Eric remains self-confident in chasing a bluegrass dream. “I can do something else, I know I can,” Eric says.  “I’m not afraid of trying new things… But I do believe in chasing after something that feels a part of you.”



Have you ever heard a Gibson Brothers record?

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