LEWISVILLE, N.C. — The Williams family loves its vacations. But the destination of choice doesn’t involve roller coasters, beaches, mountains, museums or a famous cartoon mouse, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Rather, the seven Williamses prefer to head an hour west on U.S. 421 in late April, pitch their tents and listen to bluegrass at MerleFest, a four-day celebration of roots music, notably bluegrass.
“It’s our favorite vacation,” Margaret Williams, the mom of the bunch, said recently, standing on the front porch of their house in rural Lewisville. “We are there from morning to midnight.”
When their oldest boys, Walt and Noah, were still in diapers, Margaret and her husband, Dan, took them to MerleFest simply to introduce them to the joys of stringed music. But those early musical experiences planted seeds in the boys, who are now teenagers and fine pickers in their own right.
Walt, 17, and Noah, 15, will play at Shallowford Square on Aug. 16 as part of the town’s summer music series. The Williams Brothers, as their act is known, will perform from 7-9 p.m., with a break in the middle. The concert is free and open to the public.
Walt said he has vivid memories of being 2 years old and watching the fiddler with the Canadian band Leahy at MerleFest.
“The energy that band had got me interested in music,” Walt recalled. “I begged my mom and dad to let me learn violin.”
After some checking, Margaret and Dan Williams enrolled Walt in a violin class taught under the Suzuki method. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to start until he was 3, but the teacher, after some convincing, made an exception.
Noah was right behind, showing an interest in guitar after seeing flatpick guitar virtuoso Tony Rice at numerous MerleFests.
Their parents were happy to nurture the boys’ interest in music. Margaret and Dan had learned to play instruments as adults and knew how challenging that can be. They hoped that giving the boys lessons on fretless stringed instruments would improve their ear for music, dexterity and muscle memory, Margaret Williams said.
The lessons and continued exposure to music lit a fire under the brothers, who fill the house with music.
“It’s incessant,” Margaret said. “It’s not a question of how often they play. It’s when don’t they play?”
The music room is filled with black instrument cases holding guitars, mandolins, banjos and fiddles, neatly lined side by side.
Lately, the brothers have learned to sing harmony, something they practice each year at “Jam Camp” run by banjo legend Pete Wernick. Wernick emails the boys frequently, giving them tips on performing.
“He’s like our musical uncle,” Walt said.
“He told us, ‘You’re not the best in the world yet, but you could take this somewhere,’” Noah said with a laugh.
The boys, who have two younger sisters and a younger brother, enjoy harmonizing, with their voices easily blending together. The history of popular music is peppered with siblings singing close harmony, including the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers and the Stanley Brothers. Asked about that fraternity, Noah and Walt agreed that singing with a brother comes more naturally than with others.
“We’re always hearing each other’s voice,” said Noah, adding that he and his brothers are almost like twins in their interests and mannerisms.
Added Margaret: “They’re like an old married couple.”
The brothers perform around Lewisville occasionally, sometimes playing at Pig-N-Out and their church, Lewisville Methodist. At last spring’s MerleFest, they got the chance to perform for several thousand people at the popular Cabin Stage as part of the Acoustic Kids program. And this fall, they will perform at International Bluegrass Musical Association’s big awards program in Raleigh, an event that draws the biggest names in the genre.
Their repertoire includes such contemporary favorites as “Wagon Wheel” and such traditional tunes as “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”
Both want to write original songs.
When they’re not picking and plucking, the brothers stay busy with their home-school lessons, soccer, carpentry and Boy Scouts. Both are Eagle Scouts. Noah recently played the lead role in Lewisville’s production of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and Walt is a volunteer firefighter with the Lewisville Fire Department.
As for music, Noah and Walt just plan to keep playing and see what comes next.
“As long as they’re having fun,” their mother said, “that’s what we want.”