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Catch rare Sleepy Man Banjo Boys show at Philadelphia Folk Festival

Three kids from New Jersey are taking over bluegrass music

The bluegrass trio members, age 11, 14 and 16, will play the Folk Festival this weekend.  Credit: Sleepy Man Banjo Boys The bluegrass trio members, ages 11, 14 and 16, will play the Folk Festival this weekend.
Credit: Sleepy Man Banjo Boys

The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys are one of the hottest acts in bluegrass, but they don’t play shows that often.

After all, there’s homework and bedtime to worry about.

“We’re still kids, obviously,” says Tommy Mizzone, 16, one of the trio’s members, along with two of his brothers. “As we get older, we’ll add more dates. It’ll be fun for us to be playing everywhere.”

Until then, appearances are rare so catch them on the main stage Saturday of this year’s Philadelphia Folk Festival at the Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville.

“We’re really excited — it should be an awesome place to play,” Tommy says.

From whence do they come? The boys got into bluegrass music by watching YouTube videos of the greats, including Earl Scruggs, at their Lebanon Township, N.J., home. They practiced and became good enough to post their own video on YouTube.

A producer for “Late Show with David Letterman” spotted it after it went viral and invited them to appear on the program in 2011, where they delivered a stellar rendition of Flatt and Scruggs’ classic “Flint Hill Special.”

“I’m from New Jersey and my wife is from New Jersey, and we knew nothing about bluegrass music,” says dad Tom Mizzone. “We had to figure out how to find a banjo teacher in New Jersey and they progressed very, very quickly.”

Tommy plays the acoustic guitar; Robbie, 14, plays the fiddle and Jonny, 11, is on the banjo. They get their name from Jonny’s playing: He leans back when pickin’ and it sort of looks like he’s sleeping.

They’ve released two albums so far, “America’s Music” and “The Farthest Horizon,” and a third is in the works.

And yep, there are more Mizzones — four more.

“We have two more brothers and two more sisters,” Tommy says. “They’ll have to start a new band.”

Philadelphia Folk Festival
Main stage performers include Richard Thompson Electric Trio, Jake Shimabukuro, The Mavericks, Todd Rundgren, Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, In the Pocket, Black Prairie, David Bromberg, Asleep at the Wheel and Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Thursday through Sunday
Old Pool Farm, 1323 Salford Station Road, Schwenksville
610-287-7818, Pricing varies
www.pfs.org/folk-festival

 
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