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Exclusive interview with bluegrass stars Josh Williams and Michael Cleveland

By Mark Welch

Murray, KY – The 7th annual Kentucky Lake Bluegrass Festival begins next Friday. The two-day festival is held at Kenlake State Resort Park in Aurora. Mark Welch spoke recently with two of the headliners - Michael Cleveland and Josh Williams. Josh Williams & Michael Cleveland perform at the Kentucky Lake Bluegrass Festival next weekend. See a full schedule at The music begins Friday September 25 at 5 pm at the Kenlake State Resort Park amphitheater.

Bluegrass Fiddler Michael Cleveland grew up in Southern Indiana not far from Louisville. Despite being born blind he picked up the fiddle for the first time at the age of 4,

Cleveland: From then on I wanted to get started learning how to play bluegrass - definitely learning how to play fiddle. I was exposed at a real young age to Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse and the Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin & I really love that style of Bluegrass the best - raw, traditional bluegrass - very energetic. And all of them were great in their own way & I think I've learned or tried to learn from quite a few of them.

At the age of 13 Cleveland appeared as Alison Krauss' guest at the Grand Ole Opry and shortly after that he performed on the public radio program A Prairie Home Companion. In May of 1999, after graduating from the Kentucky School for the Blind, Cleveland joined Dale Ann Bradley - who is also performing at this year's Kentucky Lake Bluegrass Festival. Although he's in demand as a session musician Cleveland particularly enjoys live performances.

Cleveland: You know it's really fun getting a crowd reaction & just being up there right in the middle of it all. I think I like that the best.

Williams: I'll tell you what - Michael Cleveland - I've known him since we were little kids.

That's Josh Williams a native of Marshal County Kentucky and an established bluegrass musician in his own right.

Williams: Back then I thought he's one of the best fiddle players I've ever heard and today there's no question about it, he's one of the greatest to have ever lived.

The Josh Williams band has been nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Williams has been nominated again for Guitarist of the Year - which he won last year.

Williams: Even to this day almost a year later still doesn't seem right or possible. But I love it and I'll take it, and to be nominated again in the company of such great players really is a dream come true for me. But this year having the Emerging Artist nomination is especially sweet for me because we don't have a record yet as a band and to get a nomination like that just seems unheard of.

Williams says he never expected this last year to be as busy as it has been. The band signed with a new booking agent and expected to have 30 or so dates for the year and ended up with almost 60.

Williams: It was mind-boggling that people were wanting us so much and I mean it was a great feeling. I love the fact of going to a show, especially when I'd never been there before, and people know my songs and sing along with the songs off of my records and the songs I used to perform when I was with Rhonda.

He's talking about Rhonda Vincent.

Williams: You know that's a really cool thing. You know in some sense I guess I set the bar too low not because I didn't think it wasn't going to be a good thing, but I just never expected it to be quite as good as it's turned out to be. In addition to leading his own Band Josh Williams occasionally joins the Tony Rice Unit on mandolin and singing lead vocals. He says Rice is his biggest influence and the main reason he ever wanted to pick up the guitar.

Williams: So getting to share the stage with him is - still I find myself trying to pinch myself to wake up - I'm there and I get to stand on his right side and watch his every move and he's a great man and a great friend and truly an amazing artist and musician.