Just a few minutes into a performance by Mike Havens and Blue Mountain Grass the audiences know they are experiencing something special. Mike and company will headline the Cumberland Mountain Bluegrass Music Festival at the Little Shepherd Amphitheatre in Jenkins beginning at 9 p.m. on Friday, July 11. This will be their third performance at our site and they’re always among the crowd favorites.
You may hear a few traditional standards but most of their repertoire is built of original ballads about life’s experiences. Their sound is so different it may be difficult to describe or label.
“We get a lot of plays on country music radio, too,” says Mike. “We have recently learned that we have found a listening audience in the western United States and also in Europe. Some of our songs have made the country music charts there.”
Mike’s roots run deep in eastern Kentucky. He lives in Mize, near West Liberty. His rural upbringing and strong work ethic provide the background for his original music. He recalls some of the many influences that shaped him as a person and as an artist.
“As a youngster I traveled with my mother from church to church and watched her perform in a gospel quartet. However, it was the day my family got our first television that my life was forever touched and changed. When I watched Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on the “Martha White Show” I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a bluegrass musician. I dreamed of becoming a member of their band but of course that never happened. It was that dream, however, that has inspired me all these years to develop my own style and write my own songs. One of my biggest hit records was ‘A Tribute to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’; the lyrics go something like this ‘there was a man from Tennessee; his name was Lester Flatt. He played an old Martin guitar and he wore a crooked hat. His partner’s name was Earl Scruggs and he played an old five-string, when they played the ‘Salty Dog’ I’d join right in and sing’. A lot of folks called the radio station and requested that they play that song about Lester Flatt and his crooked hat.”
Mike attributes his success to the help of his friends, family and band members. He has not become complacent; he continues to work hard to achieve higher levels of skill and expression while retaining the honest voice of which his mother is proud.
“My songs are a gift to me from the Good Master,” says Mike. “I take great honor and pride in sharing my life’s experiences through my songs with my audiences.”
His songs speak for themselves as they take his audiences back to a happier, more carefree time when life’s simple pleasures were greatly appreciated.
Mike is always quick to praise his band members. “It is my band’s talents that bring my music to life with playful melodies and skillful musical runs. The driving banjo magic of Mike Wilson from Hazel Green makes it hard for the audience to stay in their seats as they often want to hit the floor dancing. My mom is usually the first one out there dancing and the last one to stop. Mike Wilson comes from a long line of family musicians and plays any instrument with strings on it.”
Debi Horton from Lee County, plays fiddle and sings melody. Her voice blends perfectly from many years of rehearsing with Mike Havens. Debi’s great sense of humor adds a nice touch to their great musical talents.
Keith Prater from Wolfe County, is a hard-driving mandolin player and a fine singer. The multi-talented musician has been playing since he was 14 years old. He also plays lead guitar.
Michelle Wallace from Sandy Hook, is a fine bass player and has won many musical awards. Michelle and Mike Havens performed together previously in the Hooten Hollow Band. She recently graduated from college and rejoined the band in 2008.
Shirley Siem from Washington, plays fiddle and performs with the band from time to time. Shirley has helped record on three of Mike Havens’s projects.=
Mark ‘Hobo’ Jackson from Georgetown, travels with the band and takes care of the sound equipment. He also does video of their performances so they can study them and improve their performances.
“My band members change from time to time,” says Mike, “but this present band is the best I’ve ever worked with.”
Mike Havens and Blue Mountain Grass are no strangers to this area. They have performed at the historic Sipp Theater in Paintsville, several shows at Meadow Green Park in Clay City (headquarters of Kentucky Friends of Bluegrass), The Hatfield and McCoy Festival in Pike County, several performances at the annual String Bean Memorial Festival in Tyner, Old Mill Bluegrass Music Festival in West Liberty, the annual Sorghum Festival in West Liberty, and at Breaks Interstate Park. They also do private shows for parties, nursing facilities and numerous fund raisers and benefits. They have performed live on WMMT radio in Whitesburg, and frequently do shows which require extensive travel to Florida, Ohio, Nashville, Virginia, Indiana and West Virginia.
“I always enjoy performing in Jenkins at the Little Shepherd Amphitheatre,” said Mike. “They always treat us like family and they have a wonderful venue in an intimate setting out in the woods. I used to work at road construction and spent a lot of time in the Jenkins area. I made a lot of friends there and I always enjoy going back.”
Mike Havens and Blue Mountain Grass have three CDs, all of which have original songs that Mike has written or co-written and arranged. The CDs are ‘Blue River’, ‘Windows of My Mind’, and ‘Down by the River’. The group will release another CD this fall.
Talking with Mike Havens a while you will find that he is a very humble, sincere and Godfearing man. He and his band have a shared passion and love for music. Mike says he is blessed to have been given these songs in his short stay here on earth. He vows that he will continue to sing and write songs regardless of fame or fortune until the Great Master calls him home. Mike believes that his songs were given to him to use as a documentation of his life experiences in hopes that they will touch the hearts of others. Most importantly, he is leaving his mark on earth for his family as a recorded testimony of what he believes in and as a musical painting for his children, grandchildren and many generations to come.