7 siblings in area bluegrass band are making their mark

Echo Valley will perform next weekend at the annual Oil Country Bluegrass Festival in Oil City. The seven siblings in the band are, from left, David, Annamae, Emily, Isabelle, Olivia, Emmaline and Elizabeth "Lizzie" Anderson. (Submitted photo)

Echo Valley is a bluegrass band consisting of seven close-knit siblings from New Galilee who live on a farm, are homeschooled, raise some animals and play music so well they are gaining national attention.

They started out in 2009 when they played one song, “There Is Power in the Blood,” in a church basement, and now they are rising stars in the bluegrass scene, playing locally and nationally.

Cinnamon Evans, coordinator of the annual Oil Country Bluegrass Festival that will be held next weekend (Feb. 22 to 24) at the Days Inn in Oil City, said the band is “fantastic” and plays to standing-room only crowds at the Oil City festival and at the Butler Ice Jam.

Ron Shoup, another of the Oil Country festival’s organizers, “was the one who kind of took them under his wing,” said Evans. “He saw them playing and he told me, ‘I want to book them.'”

When the festival organizers did so in 2014, Evans said the family band was “a huge hit.

The band is returning to the festival again this year and is scheduled to perform from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.

The children of Dave and Elaine Anderson, this group of six skirt-wearing, flowing-haired young ladies and one stalwart young man (the youngest) play with beaming smiles and show obvious affection for each other. These things, coupled with their beautiful vocals and instrumentals, have made them crowd-pleasers at many bluegrass shows.

Their parents, who went to high school together in Erie, now own a farm called Echo Valley where they and their children raise beef cattle, chickens, donkeys, dogs and sheep. The band took its name from the farm.

One year the family arrived very late to the Oil Country Festival because they had to wait for a cow to birth her calf.

“They named her Cinnamon,” said Evans.

Starting out as The Anderson Family, the young marketing minds in the family decided that “the name was too hard to google.” So they changed it to the name of the family farm.

“We do everything as family,” said Elizabeth “Lizzie” Anderson, 24, the oldest child. “And everyone that we meet, we meet as a family.”

“And we do everything because of our Christianity,” Lizzie added. “That is why we do what we do. We want people to see the Lord in our faces and actions. It is our main motivation. And in spite of ourselves, our crankiness and such, we do hear from people that the Lord is working through us.”

Riding in a 16-passenger van, the Andersons recently drove to Nashville for the bluegrass convention of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, where their performance earned them an award.

“We got a small check,” said Lizzie. “But we also received a lot of publicity for being one of the winners of the competition. We got to play in front of a group of people who are pretty big in bluegrass, because it is an awards show for the society.”

A trip to Dollyland Parks and Resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, last May was the happy culmination of a “slow climb” that began when the group released a second album in January 2018. Echo Valley played nine shows in three days at the resort owned by Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment.

“The second album, ‘Rise and Shine,’ and the music videos, did make a difference. It had been two years since we had made our first album in 2016, ‘Echo Valley,'” said Lizzie. “But the second one was the one that got us the gig at Dollywood. We had grown up a lot. We no longer sounded like chipmunks.

“We released a couple of music videos over spring and summer,” Lizzie added. “And then Bluegrass Today wrote an article about us in April , June and November, corresponding with each release of the videos. That recognition was huge for us. We got a lot gigs out of that.”

Keeping with their family spirit of self-reliance, the Anderson children also filmed the music videos.

“It is kind of hard when all of us are in the video as well as filming it,” said Lizzie.

Echo Valley released a Christmas album in 2018, and a second issue had to be ordered after the first printing sold out.

Love songs are just beginning to make their way into the group’s repertoire.

“We are doing that a little at a time. I mean what does a 15-year-old know about love songs? But we just added an Andrews Sisters song, ‘Oh Johnny Oh,'” said Lizzie.

In addition to Lizzie, the group consists of Emily, 20, Isabelle, 17, Olivia, 15, Emmaline, 13, Annamae, 12 and David, 10. The children grew up listening to bluegrass music, which their dad played all the time.

Emily then took the next step and learned to play “Boil Them Cabbage Down” on her fiddle. The other older children added a few more instruments — Lizzie on guitar and Isabelle on mandolin — and everyone added their voices.

Then one day they were asked to play and sing in a church basement hall concert at Homewood United Methodist near Beaver Falls, where Howard “Hap” Wichryk runs a program of free stringed-instrument lessons. The Anderson Family was the opening act for the featured band.

“We still play there,” said Lizzie. “But now we are the featured act.”

All the children took instrumental lessons at various points in their lives, at Wichryk’s classes and others.

“But Emmaline was just born to play bass,” Lizzie said. “She never had a bass lesson. She is a natural at it, kind of a prodigy bass player. She had to stand on a milk crate when she started,” Lizzie added.

Annamae plays mandolin and fills in for Isabelle when she plays fiddle, Olivia has been their banjo player for about a year now, and David just joined the group this year on banjo.

They gained some inspiration from watching the children of a neighboring family play southern gospel music at shows.

“To see other kids playing had a big influence on us,” said Lizzie.

“We could not have formed this group if we had not been homeschooled,” said Lizzie. “It gave us the flexibility to fit music into our schedule. We did not do sports. We did our school work and then we could play music or help on the farm.”

“We would like to make a career out of this,” said Lizzie. “We are going to take it as far as we can. We are a family band, and we never know when a boyfriend might break it up. But we are enjoying all the the people and places.”