Bluegrass is a genre of music that is as often as puzzling as it is entertaining. To many folks, the simple twang of a banjo invokes confusion or bewilderment, but to many others, the genre is one that hits home in a special place. To know bluegrass is not only to know nostalgia, but to know the value of wholesome tradition and to give it a new voice; and that’s exactly what Sophie and the Breakfield Boys do.
Sophie and the Breakfield Boys, one of Sewanee’s newest and brightest student bands, consists of one Sophie Harnew-Spradley (C’22) on the mandolin, Angus Pritchard (C’22) on banjo and harmonica, Apollo Dailey (C’22) on guitar, and Gabe Rice (C’24) on the upright bass. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Sophie and Gabe to find out more about their personal musical origins, and their formation and goals as a band.
When asked about how the group met up, Harnew-Spradley said, “I knew Angus and Apollo for a long time. I think about two weeks after school started Angus and I began jamming together along with others who lived in Smith [Hall] with us. Angus and I met because he wanted to play banjo and since I play mandolin it only made sense that we would try to play some bluegrass! Then of course Apollo came into the picture on guitar and then Gabe.”
Rice recalls his involvement in the band saying, “I got into the student music scene initially playing guitar and singing with the Growing in Grace band. I was able to pick up those songs pretty quickly adding guitar and vocal harmony, and so Sophie asked me if I was willing to pick up the bass.” Rice initially practiced with the group on an electric bass, but in keeping with the bluegrass tradition shifted to the acoustic upright bass.
The band comes together with a shared love for bluegrass and folk, but their respective musical influences go beyond that, giving their interpretation of the genre a unique voice. Sophie recalls her musical background as being thoroughly grounded in bluegrass and folk music, with an early introduction to the mandolin and piano at age 7. She gained experience performing in a bluegrass band in high school while teaching music lessons and performing in festivals during the summers.
Rice however, describes his time singing in the Anglican choral ensemble at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville as one of his major influences, in addition to citing his father’s guitar playing as a reason to pick up the instrument himself five years ago. Rice even recalls sharing an early friendship with neighbor and Old Crow Medicine Show frontman, Ketch Secor who recently spent time in Sewanee as the Artist in Residence.
With Harnew-Spradley and Rice holding down the rhythm section, combined with Pritchard’s traditional fast-picking banjo, Dailey’s bluesy Southern rock guitar, and a shared rotating role as lead singer with accompanying harmonies, the pieces all come together to create a sound that truly embodies Sewanee. It is impossible not to listen to the group playing one of their steady gigs at Shenanigans on weekend mornings with a smile under your mask as you drink your legally purchased and responsibly enjoyed beverage.
The group doesn’t plan on stopping there. Following in the footsteps of the group that is synonymous with Sewanee folk music, Boy Named Banjo, the group plans to begin writing and performing original music in the near future while continuing to fill up their calendar with plenty of opportunities to catch the group live. They can be found performing at Shenanigans every other Saturday and Sunday during brunch, in addition to Greek events and wherever there is music to be found.