Chris Jones is literally the voice of bluegrass music.
As host of "Bluegrass Junction" on Sirius/FM Radio, he can be heard nearly every day from coast to coast by millions of the genre's loyal fans. His enormous popularity in that role earned him Broadcast Personality of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2015.
Award-winning disc jockey is just one bloom in his vast bouquet of talent. He co-wrote the reigning IBMA Song of the Year “Fork In The Road” for the Infamous Stringdusters. In 2014, he won the IBMA Print/Media Person of the Year Award as a columnist for Bluegrass Today.
Despite a resume full of impressive credentials, his most satisfying role may be as front man for Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, an air-tight unit that has cranked out a dozen albums, including multiple hits from current project "Run Away Tonight."
Jones and his band will be playing at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Old Feed Store in Cobden. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door. Concessions are available at the venue. Patrons are allowed to bring their own alcohol.
“We always like coming to the Old Feed Store. It is a nice listening environment,” says Night Driver mandolin player Mark Stoffel of Carbondale. “We are thrilled to be riding into town with the No. 1 song on the charts and a brand new banjo player. After nine years, I'm no longer the newbie in the band.”
Chris Jones and the Night Drivers topped the Bluegrass Today singles chart for the week ending Feb. 12 with the tune “One Night In Paducah.”
Besides Jones and Stoffel, other members of the Night Drivers are bass guitarist Jon Weisberger, who has been in the band 13 years, and Gina Clowes on banjo. She will play her first gig with the band Friday at The Station Inn in Nashville. A Virginia native, she comes to the band after a long stint with Bud's Collective.
Top bluegrass bands normally feature high nasal tone lead vocals. Jones is the polar opposite. He possesses one of today's most recognizable bluegrass voices, a soothing, low, lonesome sound that has a creamy golden honey hue. His unique style has received accolades from the lofty Wall Street Journal and comedian/banjo picker Steve Martin.
Jones is a huge fan of the perfect acoustics offered by the ancient brick walls of the intimate Old Feed Store.
In 2013, he recorded a live album at the venue. One of the tunes from the project, “Then I Close My Eyes,” featured guest vocals from Emily Bankester of The Bankesters family band from Carbondale. Ironically, Stoffel was a musical mentor to the three Bankester sisters.
Shazam is free app and a mandatory tool for any serious country music fan. Hold your cellpho…
“I gave them pointers and they took it from there. They are so talented, they didn't need lessons,” Stoffel said.
Jones was born in Brooklyn, far from the mountain roots of bluegrass. He split time being raised by his mother in upper New York and his father in New Mexico, where he learned to play guitar. He formed his first band, Horse Country, when he was 18. While attending the University of Vermont, he made the decision to become a full-time musician.
Through the years, Jones has been a member of The Special Consensus, Weary Hearts, The Lynn Morris Band and The Vassar Clements Band. He also worked for the country band The McCarters.
Weary Hearts was a virtual super group, mainly because of Ron Block, the banjo picker that would later earn 14 Grammy Awards for his work with Alison Krauss & Union Station. Jones joined the band in 1986; however, it broke up in 1989, soon after moving to Nashville.
Jones would work on various projects during the next six years before forming the Night Drivers in 1995. Stoffel, a native of Munich, said he first met Jones when the band was touring Europe. The group even stayed a couple nights at his house.
Stoffel ventured from his native Germany to pursue higher education at Southern Illinois University. He is currently employed by the university as a digital media systems specialist and instructor.
“I played locally for a few years and when that all fell apart, Chris scooped me up and took me out on the road,” Stoffel said. “Music is my passion and it's thrilling to play at this level. Everybody in the band has other irons in the fire, so this is just a part-time job for us. The stakes are always high because we play at festivals with so many other great bands. It's great fun, but it also can be intimidating.”
Jones and his Night Drivers will play a major event virtually every month this year, including the Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Festival in June, the Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association Bluegrass Festival in August and the Parade of Stars Bluegrass Festival in September.