The Smoky Mountain Jamboree – 12/1 – Cruz Contreras / Wyatt Ellis
December 1 @ 7:00 pm
East Tennessee’s Own WDVX and ORNL Federal Credit Union present the Smoky Mountain Jamboree at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the campus of Maryville College Friday night December First at seven with your host Jay Clark.
The Smoky Mountain Jamboree will feature two, nationally recognized artists that just happen to call Blount County home. Wyatt Ellis, acclaimed bluegrass prodigy, will co-headline the Jamboree with the debut release party for Wyatt Ellis and his All Star Band along with Americana front man and singer-songwriter, Cruz Contreras. The show will be broadcast live on “East Tennessee’s Own” WDVX.
Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer Cruz Contreras has roots in Tennessee and Michigan, but has impacted Americana music worldwide.
The frontman, founder, and driving force behind The Black Lillies’ raw and rootsy sound also co-founded Robinella and the CCstringband, and has collaborated with musicians ranging from John Oates and Jim Lauderdale to Langhorne Slim and The Turnpike Troubadours. His projects have topped both the Billboard and Americana radio charts, won Independent Music Awards, and been nominated for the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year award. After over a decade touring under the name The Black Lillies, Contreras wrapped up the band in 2019 and is performing under his own name.
Over the years, Cruz has appeared on nationally broadcasted television including Late Night with Conan O’Brien, CMT, VH-1, GAC, Bluegrass Underground and PBS Television’s Sun Studio Sessions. His music has been lauded by outlets as diverse as American Songwriter Magazine, Rolling Stone, NPR’s Morning Edition and Vanity Fair, among others. As an independent artist, Cruz has played Nashville’s lauded Grand Ole Opry 40 times over the years. Contreras is currently at work on his debut solo album, ‘Cosmico’.
Born not far from the Great Smoky Mountains, Wyatt Ellis‘ first recollection of hearing the mandolin was Bobby Osborne’s iconic solo on the Osborne Brothers’ bluegrass classic “Rocky Top.” Hearing the Tennessee bluegrass anthem echo throughout the early years of his childhood is what led Wyatt to set his sights on learning to play mandolin. With his schedule packed with school, Boy Scouts and team sports, it was hard to find time for music.
When he was almost 10 years old, Wyatt talked his dad into buying him a used mandolin so he could learn to play it just like Bobby. Soon, he began weekly mandolin lessons in his hometown and quickly developed a strong desire to attend local bluegrass jams. He told his non-musical parents that he wanted to play his new mandolin alongside other bluegrass pickers.
The COVID lockdown began just as he was forging those real-life musical friendships. Team sports, local lessons and bluegrass jams came to an abrupt end. At the same time, festivals and in-person recording sessions suddenly stopped, parking the most in-demand bluegrass musicians at home. Many of his favorite mandolin players started teaching or simply spending more time connecting within the community online.
In the fall of 2020, Wyatt was chosen by his hero Sierra Hull, herself a former mandolin prodigy, for a Tennessee Folklife apprenticeship. Eager to improve under the watch of a true virtuoso, Wyatt describes those one-on-one tutorials as “working on exactly what I needed to work on at the time. Details. Timing. Tone. Getting all the little things right by slowing down was a really big deal in that situation. Sierra has taken bluegrass mandolin to another dimension and I was excited to start my journey with her. I’ve played my mandolin every day since then.”
Having never been a fan of watching television or playing video games, playing mandolin became Wyatt’s preferred pastime. With no close neighbors and the music world suddenly at his fingertips, his passion for the instrument grew. As word circulated in the bluegrass community about his accelerated abilities, Wyatt befriended many of the genre’s top mandolin players through camps, workshops, and individual lessons.
In October 2022, Wyatt performed alongside former Bluegrass Boy Peter Rowan and Grammy winner Molly Tuttle at Rowan’s induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Wyatt was invited by his ultimate mandolin hero, Marty Stuart, to help kick off the Grand-Reopening of the Ellis Theater in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In February 2023, at 13 years old, he made his Grand Ole Opry debut appearance with bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent. Moments after his debut appearance he was jamming backstage with acoustic icons Vince Gill and Mark O’Connor. In March 2023, Wyatt joined the genre’s newest superstar, Billy Strings, to honor Doc Watson at his 100th birthday celebration. The now fourteen-year-old was recently invited to play the iconic Merlefest event Mandolin Mania with five of his mandolin heroes.
As a young musician just starting out on his musical journey, Wyatt has found that the bluegrass community is full of supporters, kind words, and encouragement. He has accrued more than 90,000 followers on combined social media before ever releasing a single.