Pick and smile: Tyler Hughes plays at the Opry |


BIG STONE GAP — Tyler Hughes keeps busy as a state parks education specialist, Big Stone Gap City Council member, and musician.

Oh, and as a Grand Old Opry performer.

Hughes joined bluegrass duo Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent on stage on Tuesday for their Opry debut – the latest leg of a 17-year musical journey.

“It was great to be able to stand in the same circle where the Carter family and so many others have stood,” Hughes said of the oak and maple section of the Ryman Auditorium stage grafted onto the Opryland stage. current. “Dailey and Vincent called me late on a Saturday night and asked if I could play the regular Opry show on Tuesday. I didn’t even look at my calendar and said yes.

“I’ve been playing since I was 12,” Hughes said. “I’ve always been interested in local and regional music, and my mother took me to all the local museums, where I learned about the culture of the region.”

Hughes said his parents encouraged his musical interests.

“By the time I was 12, I had gotten this corny ‘learn to play banjo’ kit,” Hughes said with a laugh. “I loved playing Johnny Cash, and my parents were happy to see me take an interest in music.”

Hushes said he started taking music seriously when he got the chance to play with local musicians David and Benita Jervis.

“They became like a second set of parents to me,” Hughes said of the Jervises. “We played every weekend while I was in high school from spring to fall, at weddings and parties.”

Hughes also credited Mountain Empire Community College’s annual Mountain Music School with honing his playing and performing skills and exposing him to bass, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and in the dulcimer.

“I even took ukulele lessons,” Hughes said.

Hughes’ musical career continued at East Tennessee State University, where he studied in the Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music program and became classmates with American performer Amythyst Kiah, Hasee Ciaccio and manager and Radio Bristol performer Kris Truelsen.

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“I felt like I grew the most at ETSU,” Hughes said.

A live performance with friends at an area farmers market led to the formation of the Empty Bottle String Band, Hughes said.

Hughes also became involved in the community with his election to Big Stone Gap City Council, and in 2019 Dailey and Vincent tapped Hughes for an appearance on their cable show Circle TV.

Hughes was about to release an album of old-time, bluegrass songs when COVID-19 brought so many live events and performances to a halt.

Hughes said the pandemic has marked a shift in the number of local musicians who have continued to perform and things are just starting to get back to normal. During this time, he was committed to the Southwest Virginia Museum State Park at Big Stone Gap as an education specialist.

“It’s all been before and after the pandemic,” Hughes said of the past three years.

Hughes said his performance on Tuesday marked some highlights.

“We paid tribute to Grandpa Jones and played his ‘Mountain Dew’. Then we played The Carter Family’s ‘Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow’. Maybelle played in that same circle on stage so many years ago, it was so inspiring and energizing, and it felt good to play with friends again.

As public events and performances return to some semblance of normalcy, Hughes said he looks forward to returning to stages in the area.

“I’m also a square dance caller so I’ll be doing that and performing at dances and events all over the area,” Hughes said. “I’m also looking forward to playing more with my friends.”

Hughes is also ready to get to work as a member of the Mountain Music School staff to help get the event back in shape.

“I was mentored by Sue Ella Boatwright Wells and Ron Short when I was a student at MMS, and it means so much to be able to give back to the school now,” Hughes said.

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