Courtesy of Missouri Boatride Bluegrass Band
By Danny R. Phillips
Bassist and vocalist Larry Sifford grew up in a home filled with a love for this music. His mother, Helen, and his uncle, Ralph Cook, both sang at the same radio station where the legendary Porter Waggoner got his start. Missouri Boatride began a decade ago playing nightly dinner cruises aboard the American Star on Table Rock Lake.
Currently, the band’s lineup is as tight and professional as you can find in the genre. Mandolin player and vocalist Dean Webb was a member of The Dillards (The Darlings on The Andy Griffith Show) and was inducted into The Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2009. Lead vocalist, guitarist, and funny man Justin Sifford performed for five years with The Sons of the Pioneers at Shepherd of The Hills Homestead before joining Missouri Boatride. Bob Gideon is an excellent banjo player, and Dennis Pritchard is a fiddler extraordinaire, well-versed in the mountain style. The players combine their powers to create one of the best traditional bluegrass bands running.
Missouri Boatride has released several well-received albums, including its debut in 2003, a traditional gospel offering in 2004, and the superb Ghost of Carney Branch in 2007. In 2011, Boatride recorded Band of Brothers as a tribute to the Civil War’s sesquicentennial.
What makes that album special and, in my mind, quite impressive, is that every song on the album was written before the end of the war in 1865, a time when the spirit of bluegrass was alive and well.
That bluegrass way of life—a strong sense of tradition, family, and a deeply rooted love of the past—still lives strong in rural Missouri. Festivals showcasing bluegrass include the Starvy Creek Festival in Conway, Back Forty Bluegrass Festival in Curryville, and the Big Muddy Folk Festival in Boonville. And of course, Missouri Boatride is at the forefront, pushing young ones into its light. The band has performed at countless festivals, including the Silver Dollar City Bluegrass and BBQ Festival and The John Hartford Memorial Festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana.
The future of bluegrass is bright. Many nationally known bands, such as The Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons, and Springfield’s own Hillbenders, are forging into the uncharted territory of mainstream music.
But for truly traditional bluegrass, look no further than our own home state. The Missouri Boatride Bluegrass Band is here to lead the way.