The 2023 FreshGrass Awards winners are announced! See below and thank you to all of our amazing finalists for their incredible performances.
There’s nothing like some serious, emerging talent and a friendly competition to heat up a festival. That’s why we love the FreshGrass Awards — a cornerstone of our weekend celebrating the freshest talent on the festival scene, with 12 finalists competing for prizes totaling more than $20,000 cash and prizes!
With festival guests, family, and friends looking on, three finalists in four categories go head-to-head (and banjo-on-banjo!) performing one standard or traditional tune and one original composition. The grand prize winner in each category — selected by a jury of festival musicians and industry experts — takes home an array of prizes, recording sessions at Compass Records, and the band winners get to perform at the next festival.
The Cahaba Roots (WINNER)
The Cahaba Roots is a Bluegrass group consisting of Drury Anderson (Mandolin and Vocals), Luke Black (Guitar), and Teddy Kent (Upright Bass). All three attend The Berklee College of Music and regularly pair up with players from the school to breathe new life into the already diverse, intense, and virtuosic chemistry found in just the trio. Although bluegrass music is what they do most often, they are most certainly not limited to songs found in this genre. Whether it’s making people dance to covers of bands such as the Grateful Dead, or covering works of jamgrass pioneers such as Billy Strings, the Cahaba Roots work to provide their own touch to songs through heavy instrumentation and arrangements. No matter the energy of the event, they consistently impress with their youthful passion and life on stage.
The Wildwoods are an enchanting Folk/Americana trio whose flowing songwriting tandem has been praised by Paste magazine as “focused and charmingly human”. The Wildwoods’ delicate melodies and descriptive lyrics come from nature, love, experiences from the road, and growing up in Nebraska.
The Ruta Beggars
Appealing to traditional and progressive acoustic music fans alike, The Ruta Beggars combine bluegrass and early swing to create a timeless act filled with intricate vocal harmonies, fiery instrumentals, and plenty of fun. They have been praised for their creative yet tasteful arrangements and charming performances, winning Thomas Point’s band competition in 2019. Since 2018 they have brought the joy of their live show to audiences across the US and Canada from festival stages to storied folk listening rooms and as support for legacy acts Lyle Lovett and Ricky Skaggs.
Best-of-friends since their inception, The Ruta Beggars are Micah Nicol (guitar), Sofia Chiarandini (fiddle), Ariel Wyner (mandolin), Trevin Nelson (banjo), and Noah Harrington (bass) who met while studying in Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Program.
Nikolai Margulis (WINNER)
Fifteen-year-old Nikolai Margulis was first captivated by the banjo at the age of five. Starting as a classic player under the guidance of Clarke Buehling, he was converted to the 3-finger style just four years ago. Since then, he’s made a name for himself in the bluegrass and progressive banjo world, performing publicly as a duo with renowned artists like Tony Trischka, Tray Wellington, and—in a concert with over 2000 people in attendance—Béla Fleck.
An award-winning folk singer and songwriter, Emily Johnson-Erday was raised in North Carolina’s old-time music community. She performs her music in her current home of Brooklyn and is a member of the touring neo-folk band The Starlight Darlins.
An innovative clawhammer banjo player, performer and teacher, Maggie Shar’s syncopated, expressive style has earned her placements in the 2018 Northeast Fiddler’s Convention Banjo Contest (1st), the 2018 Oldtone Roots Festival Banjo Contest (1st), and the 2022 Online Old-time banjo contest (3rd). She performs regularly with The Ephemeral Stringband and The Moon Shells.
Ella Jordan (WINNER)
A fiddler and singer who grew up homeschooled on a farm outside of Austin, Texas, Ella Jordan got her start playing twin fiddles with her sister Minnie at country music oprys all across the state, and is now forging a sound all her own within C&W, bluegrass, and contemporary stringband music.
This innovative musician’s dual identity as a fiddler and violinist has led her to create distinct and original, genre-defying music. Raised on Colorado bluegrass and trained in classical, more recently she has fallen head over heels into old time music, embodying the sound of old time fiddling and ballads into her musical fingerprint.
Catherine (Cat) McDonald
Originally from the Lazy S Ranch in the rural mountains of Southern New Mexico, Cat takes great pride in the farming and fiddling family traditions that have been passed down for generations. Studying both Classical and Contemporary fiddle in the years since, she has honed in on her own unique sound, paying homage to the musicians she admires most.
Nick Weitzenfeld (WINNER)
Johnson City, TN
Nick Weitzenfeld is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter hailing from the small town of Floyd, VA. Now living in Johnson City, TN, Nick is the guitar player and lead singer for the Tray Wellington Band.
Luke Black is a flapicker from Birmingham, Alabama. Currently attending Berklee College of Music, Luke is studying professional music with studies in business and American roots.
Micah Nicol grew up with a mandolin in one hand and a banjo in the other playing bluegrass and classic country music with his father. Micah has had stints as a semi-professional actor, competitive ballet, tap, jazz and ballroom dancer, and was awarded Best Performer and Best Male Soloist a record six times as part of Singsation, a show choir from Wapakoneta, Ohio.