With legend Earl Scruggs and contemporary acts like Steep Canyon Rangers, Western North Carolina has long been home to top bluegrass artists. Darin and Brooke Aldridge are the latest to take the national stage.
The couple calls Cherryville home – just 11 miles from Scruggs’ old pickin’ grounds in Shelby and the town where Darin Aldridge was raised.
Established in 2006 after Darin Aldridge’s stint with the Country Gentlemen, the band’s reach extends well outside North Carolina. It has received nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Awards and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music. Two albums – 2010’s self-titled collection and 2011’s “So Much In Between” – charted in the Top 5.
But despite growing popularity and a busy touring schedule that has the married couple and their band booking festivals from Minnesota to Alabama through November 2013, the Aldridges are deeply rooted in North Carolina.
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Saturday, the couple and its band play a holiday concert at Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain. Copies of its first live album, which was recorded at The Red, White and Bluegrass Festival in Morganton over Independence Day, will be available at the concert, as will a DVD of the six episodes of the “Bluegrass Road” variety show that the duo hosted for RFD-TV.
“We’ve done well living here. We want to make it work as long as we can,” says Darin Aldridge, who travels to Nashville once or twice a month. “Our band is from a three-hour radius between Bristol, Johnson City (Tenn.), the edge of South Carolina and Albemarle. North Carolina is actually a good location. We can get to the Northeast pretty quick. Florida pretty quick. The Charlotte airport is helpful.”
Aside from the anchor of family in Cherryville and Brooke Aldridge’s hometown of Newland, both teach when they aren’t on the road. Darin Aldridge is an instructor at Gaston School of the Arts in Gastonia and teaches lessons at his Cherryville studio. Brooke Aldridge, who studied early childhood education at Appalachian State, is an assistant at a preschool. She credits a bluegrass-loving principal for her flexible schedule.
“That’s typical in a bluegrass artist’s life,” she says. “If you talk to most any bluegrass artist, they do have a job through the week.”
Darin Aldridge began singing and performing in church as a kid. He joined Western North Carolina’s Acoustic Syndicate in the late 1990s and later played with the Country Gentlemen until singer/guitarist Charlie Waller’s death in 2004. He met Brooke in 2006.
“She was singing with a couple guys in her church. I went up to sit in with them one day,” remembers Darin Aldridge.
It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but the couple – now known on the scene as The Sweethearts of Bluegrass – was officially dating a year later.