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Newton & Thomas: Bringing bluegrass back to Loudoun

Steve Thomas and Mark Newton. Photo Courtesy/Newton & Thomas
Mark Newton and Steve Thomas grew up in Virginia in the late ‘60s, raised on the rich bluegrass and county music heritage passed along by their parents and grandparents. The music of Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, George Jones and Buck Owens, were staples in their homes.

That music took.

Newton and Thomas both started playing instruments young, often playing alongside family members at home, churches and picnics. Newton says most everyone around them were blue collar workers: plumbers, mechanics, farmers, fishermen. They’d work to the bone all week, but on weekends would gather around to play traditional music, both bluegrass and country.

“All those folks in that generation could play something,” Newton says. “They were used to passing the torch from generation to generation.”
After high school, both tried college, but music was too deeply embedded in their DNA.

“Playing music was something I just couldn’t shake, and Steve wasn’t any different,” says Newton.

Influenced by the bluegrass masters, they were also heavily impacted by ‘60s musical legends The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, whose songs they made their own, re-interpreting and re-arranging into a distinct bluegrass sound – not always to the delight of more traditional listeners.

“But traditional fans took to us, too. They knew we had the roots,” says Newton. “The thing about bluegrass music is you’re on a learning curve that never stops.”

Both went on to establish and play in several prominent bluegrass/country bands, working their way up through the industry, ultimately forging long, successful careers in the bluegrass and country music genres.

Newton, who plays guitar, mandolin and sings, founded the Virginia Squires, one of the first bands to be known for playing contemporary bluegrass. He also played with the legendary Tony Rice and the Seldom Scene. Thomas, who plays mandolin and fiddle, also shares an illustrious past, including playing with the Lonesome River Band, Brooks & Dunn, Del McCoury, Kenny Chesney and many others.

Although both are native Virginians, for the past 10 years they’ve worked, recorded and played their music in Nashville, the closest thing this country has to an Americana/roots mecca.

After a life-long friendship, and several years playing with bluegrass legends both live and in the recording studio, Newton and Thomas decided two years ago to form their own band.

“We’re really kindred spirits,” says Newton. “We’re from the same generation and influenced by the same musicians.”

Their new song, “Old McDonald Sold the Farm,” off their new album “Reborn,” is currently one of the hottest tunes in bluegrass (and the video is a hoot as well). Both the song and album have been nominated for several awards, including song of the year, from the International bluegrass Music Association.

Newton & Thomas will be playing a much-anticipated set as part of the Bluemont Summer Concert Series on the Loudoun County Courthouse lawn in Leesburg on July 20 at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re really looking forward to sharing our music and fun chemistry with the community, our friends and family,” says Newton. “We’re excited to be coming home.”

For more information, visit http://www.bluemont.org.


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