Bluegrass music is rooted in the American family, and that couldn't be any truer for Santa Ana's The Wimberley Bluegrass Band. For seven years now, siblings Danielle, 20, twins Mark and James, 18, and Michael Wimberley, 15, have been playing a style common to the founders of bluegrass from the '30s and '40s. The sister and three brothers are committed to a future that they hope leads them to touring together on the road. “We hope this is going to be our career,” said Mark Wimberley, who plays guitar. “As soon as we get our bachelor's degree, we're hitting the road.” The Wimberleys have played shows across Orange County including at the Olde Town Orange Farmers and Artisans market, Silverado Days in Buena Park and at the Orange International Street Fair. They've played outside the area at the Huck Finn Jubilee in Victorville last year, and as far away as Arkansas and Missouri. Aside from taking formal piano/violin lessons for a few years, each learned how to play through repetition and emulation. The Wimberleys practiced at home with CD recordings, and picked up tips from live shows that their parents took them to see. They could play four to five gigs a week in 2008, before any of them started college, said Danielle, who plays the mandolin. The Wimberleys have an encyclopedic knowledge of bluegrass history. When the siblings told the fiddle player Bobby Hicks of Masters of Bluegrass how they liked the way he played the banjo, Hicks said he never played the banjo. But the Wimberleys knew that on the 1985 “Ricky Skaggs live in London” album, he did. Since they live together, on their days off and during many nights they practice, said James, who plays the banjo. But their practices are more fun than work, Michael said, because they are mainly jamming. The closest genre to bluegrass the Wimberley parents exposed their children to was country music. But when the Wimberley children found a CD copy of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in their home, they couldn't stop listening to it. They asked and received bluegrass instruments for Christmas. “We just wanted to play ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown,'” Mark said. The Wimberleys draw influence from bluegrass greats including the father of bluegrass Bill Monroe, Del McCoury and Skaggs. They have been able to meet some of their heroes, and play with them. When the Wimberleys couldn't get into a Skaggs show in El Cajon in April 2012, Skaggs invited them to an after-party where they jammed with him. The band is in high demand, with shows booked through October and playing weekly around the area. The band played more than 50 shows last year, according to its website. But as the band is hoping for a fruitful music career, the siblings first have to finish college, which includes plans to transfer to Chapman University this spring for most of them. The music had to work around their studies at Santiago Canyon College, and they have declined invitations for shows because they didn't know if the show would interfere with a class, Danielle said. The band knows how to play more than 100 songs, Michael said, and they've adapted versions of folk and classic rock for specific gigs, including trying to learn the Beach Boys' “Sloop John B.” Outside their top priorities of school and music, the Wimberleys enjoy hiking, fishing and visiting historical sites and museums. The Wimberleys have taught karate after they received their black belts, mother Tina Wimberley said. The siblings also collect bluegrass on vinyl records. All the Wimberleys have worked toward getting ahead in school. While homeschooled, they also took community college classes. All but Michael have earned associate degrees, but he is on track to have his in May and then join his siblings at Chapman this fall. Their mother said that even though they are close as brothers and sister, bluegrass music has brought them even closer. “If one goes, they all go,” Tina Wimberley said. The Wimberley siblings manage the band like a business, handling the sales of CDs, finding out how to make merchandise, and managing the social media accounts. When they recorded tracks, the siblings paid for the studio time from the money they made from shows. Here's each member's role in the band: Danielle, 20, plays the mandolin and is studying business management. She booked shows with her mom's help before, but has since taken over that responsibility. Michael, 15, is the lead vocalist and plays the fiddle. Michael is studying marketing. James, 18, plays the banjo and has the strongest ear, usually correcting his siblings on mistakes. James is studying mathematics. Mark, 18, plays the guitar and is studying computer information systems. He says he's the ad-libber on stage.” - Kris Fortin

Orange County Register

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