By Nancy Spitler

Ryan Wilson was a surveyor when the Great Recession brought the construction industry to a halt and took his job with it. A bluegrass musician, Wilson was offered a position working for a group called the Young Appalachian Musicians, which introduces children to Appalachian music. As part of that job, he was leading a youth band called the Sweet Potato Pie Kids.

Wilson discovered a love for teaching and decided to pursue that by going back to school at Clemson, majoring in performing arts with an emphasis in audio technology. That’s where he met Mark Hosler, a faculty member who teaches music history and has an interest in bluegrass. Wilson brought up the idea of having a bluegrass band at Clemson; Hosler suggested seeking approval for an ensemble for credit, which would recognize the group as an official Performing Arts ensemble.

With the department chair’s approval in hand, they moved ahead — with Hosler as the instructor of record (managing the class, giving grades) and Wilson as the student director. Word spread, and an article appeared on the popular Bluegrass Today website: “Clemson to offer bluegrass ensemble this fall.”

“To go from a student’s idea to the creation of a new class and then to a performance at bluegrass music’s biggest event in such a short amount of time is a remarkable achievement.”

Five students showed up for the first class in the fall of 2017; in the spring semester, the class had seven. Wilson brought in local bluegrass professionals to offer free lessons. The ensemble, which named itself Tigertown Roots, played at a few local events, giving its first Brooks Center concert in March 2018 to an enthusiastic audience of bluegrass fans, family members and friends.

Then, out of the blue came an invitation from the International Bluegrass Music Association to present a 30-minute college showcase performance Sept. 28 at the 2018 IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh. Billed as the largest urban bluegrass festival in the world, it featured Grammy Award winners, established bands and emerging acts on eight stages. Ten college groups, including Tigertown Roots, were invited to perform.

“To go from a student’s idea to the creation of a new class and then to a performance at bluegrass music’s biggest event in such a short amount of time is a remarkable achievement,” Hosler said. “For Ryan and the band members, the Brooks Center is a place where dreams come true.”

Wilson continues to lead the ensemble. A part-time job at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts has turned into a full-time position, and he’s working on his degree six credit hours at a time. But he’s determined. Teaching is still where he sees himself professionally when he finishes school, but in the meantime, he’s helping other students learn what it means to be a bluegrass band.

Members of Tigertown Roots are: Logan Redding, Pickens, S.C.; Thomas Carter, Huntersville, N.C., Mechanical Engineering; Isaiah Gardham, Columbia, Industrial Engineering; Margaret Haynie, Belton, SC, Communication; Jeremy Johnson, Columbia, Graphic Communications; Johnathan Lolar, Chapin, S.C., General Engineering; James Martzin, Fountain Inn, S.C., Chemical Engineering; Jacob McFadyen, Florence, S.C., Plant and Environmental Sciences; Daniel Stone, Florence, S.C., General Engineering; McCullough Tarner, Walhalla, S.C., General Engineering; and Ryan Wilson, Six Mile, S.C., Production Studies in Performing Arts.