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Southern Illinoisan

Popular local band Shady Mix to appear at the Grand Ole Opry

August 19, 2004 by Vince Hoffard


Scan the tour schedule for local acoustic country and bluegrass band Shady Mix, and the engagement sticks out like a Rolls Royce on a used car lot.
Listed on the same page as Flamm's Orchard Fall Fest, the Golconda Shrimpfest and the Brown Bag Lunchtime Concert in Carbondale is a gig in Nashville, Tenn.

Last year, it was a pretty big deal when the band played the popular Station Inn in Nashville with Bill Monroe's former fiddle player sitting in with the group. Now the Murphysboro-based band is going to the mountain top.

On Aug. 28, Shady Mix will be appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. That's right, “the” Opry, on the same night as Martina McBride, the Osborne Brothers and a rejuvenated cast of The Notorious Cherry Bombs.

“Every musician dreams of getting to perform on the Opry stage,” says Wil Maring, the group's lead singer.

Shady Mix has been able to quickly cash in on the golden connections of new fiddler Robert Bowlin.

Bowlin is good friends with Opry member Mike Snider. On Aug. 28, Snider is hosting a portion of the Opry. He is allowed to invite a guest with star potential to perform on the show.

“Robert gave Mike a demo tape of ours, and I guess we made the cut,” Maring says.

Maring will sing the original composition “Bottomlands,” a tune rich on images and custom made for lengthy jams.

“It may be our only time at the Opry so I picked our longest song,” Maring says, joking. “It's one of our most requested songs. It gets you thinking about where you came from.”

Because they are guests, Maring, Bowlin and mandolin player Mark Stoffel will join Snider's band, who will already be on stage.

The nucleus of Shady Mix was formed many years ago when Makanda native Maring was in Europe and met Mark Stoffel in Germany. They eventually married and settled in Jackson County.

They started a bluegrass band and built a solid local fan base, but then moved to Germany, where they become even more popular. A few years ago, they came back to the United States and started visiting the old stomping grounds. The bookings have steadily increased.

Then, Maring made a New Year's resolution for 2004 to get out of her comfort zone.

“I vowed to get off the farm,” she says. “We're pretty isolated. We need to be heard by other people in the business. I knew I had to get down to Nashville once or twice a month. The goal was to reach out of the local area and find new places to play.”

On a recent jaunt to Music City, Maring developed a contact with songwriter Paul Craft. He is responsible for penning tunes for The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt before moving to Nashville and writing country hits, “Brother Jukebox” for Mark Chesnutt.

“He saw me sing at The Bluebird Cafe and invited us over to his house,” Maring says. “We talked for hours. He gave me a stack of songs and wanted me to make up a bunch of melodies for them. I look at it like its my homework assignment for the week.”

Maring isn't blinded by the prospect of musical success. She is simply inspired to make music with her extended family and will pursue every opportunity to see where it leads.

“Becoming a star in this industry is a long shot. It's like winning the lottery, but you can't win if you don't play,” she says. “Every gig we play, record we make or song we write is like buying another ticket. I know it's mostly luck, and I don't expect to win, but I keep on buying tickets.”

Members of Shady Mix include Maring on guitar, lead vocals and clawhammer banjo; her husband Mark Stoffel on mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals; her brother Geoff Maring on acoustic bass and Robert Bowlin on fiddle.

Bowlin recently made the commitment to join the group. His presence gives the band instant credibility. Bowlin is a popular session player in Nashville and is a former member of Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys.

“The addition of Robert is like a breath of fresh air in our beach ball,” Maring says. “I still can't quite understand why someone of his caliber would do it.”

It didn't take long to figure out. Bowlin spent years of his life covering the songs of other people. He was in the Osborne Brothers band for two years, then did a long stint with Bill Monroe. The creative process was stifled.

“He was an invisible sideman just making a living for two decades,” Maring says. “He needed something for his creative soul. I look at him as a musical genius. It's an inspiration to be on stage with him,”

Shady Mix started working on a new compact disc in the spring. All the rhythm tracks were recorded, but Maring has been inspired. She has written several new songs that she feels are better than the others.

She says her creative process lately has been a fusion of bluegrass, folk, country and pop influences. They will finish the new recording in November and December and have it available for the 2005 touring season.

Bluegrass has played a major role in the history of country music, from early stars like Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff to the more modern sound of Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss and the superstar Dixie Chicks. There is no reason Shady Mix can't be next.


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