Senior psychology major Seth Rhinehart isn’t your typical college student. When he’s not in class or doing homework, Rhinehart doubles as a topnotch banjoist, playing with local bands from all over Western North Carolina.
“You can trace back the mountain music in my family about 100 years,” says Rhinehart. “In fact, one of my grandpas played banjo back in the late 1900’s, so I guess it’s in my blood.” Rhinehart began taking lessons at 12 years old, and within four years, released his very own studio album entitled Come On In. The album, as Rhinehart describes it, is a mix of “instrumentals and singin’ tunes.”
“I’ve never sung any so it’s other people singing on the album,” he elaborates. “That’s my favorite thing to do, is to play behind singers. A lot of banjo players really like to play instrumentals but I like to listen to the singer and do the best that I can to make my playing complement the singer. That’s something lacking in bluegrass music nowadays so I’d really like to bring the focus back to that.”
Rhinehart’s roots in the Western North Carolina music scene began with that very album. “I’d been playing for several years at that point,” he explains, “and I wanted to get into the scene more. So, I thought an album was a good way to do that. Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range produced that album and he introduced me to a lot of these musicians that I know today. It was really just kind of a thing to get into the music and start up a professional career.”
Since then he’s played in a number of bands including WNC group Carolina Blue, and Asheville native Buncombe Turnpike.
Asheville has a special place in Rhinehart’s heart. “To me, Asheville is the center of bluegrass. If you play our music this is the place to be.”
After completing his associates degree at A-B Tech, Rhinehart transferred to UNC Asheville to simultaneously pursue his degree in psychology and continue his career in music.
“Being a student and a musician is incredibly challenging” according to Rhinehart. “You’re at school during the day and then the time you should spend working on homework, you’re playing music. So a lot of nights I’ll get home around 11 or 12 and there’s not much time left to do my work.”
In spite of his packed schedule, Rhinehart remains resilient. He says that “school has always been my top priority.” Though he’s received several offers to join touring bands, he’s had to turn them down. “School comes first,” he says. “Music is something that will have to wait until I finish my degree.”
Rhinehart already has a plethora of opportunities post-graduation. “Right now I'm looking at grad schools,” he says. “My main interest is in industrial-organization psychology, so a degree in that would be my first choice. However, I've got a job offer here in Asheville already, so I might take that and stay around here to focus on my music more.”
Rhinehart currently plays behind legendary bluegrass musicians Mark Kuykendall and Bobby Hicks. He played the banjo on their latest release entitled Down Memory Lane and has recently reunited with the group to play for their next studio album, which he says should be released in the next month or two. The album is being released under Rebel Records, a record company known for releasing some of the top bluegrass albums of the past couple of decades.
“Bobby’s got nine or 10 Grammys to his name actually,” Rhinehart says nonchalantly. “He’s regarded as the best fiddle player in bluegrass. He played for 20 some-odd years with [Grammy-award-winning country artist] Ricky Skaggs out on the road.”
Rhinehart is set to make an appearance alongside Mark and Bobby at Doyle Lawson’s bluegrass festival in Denton, NC on May 12.
To hear Come On In, visit: http://www.allmusic.com/album/come-on-in-mw0001337068
Story and photo by Matt Dershowitz '20