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Local musicians to perform Christmas concerts

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One is a bluegrass guitar picker; the other is a classically trained jazz pianist and graduate of a renowned music conservatory. Theirs is an odd pairing, but the combination works. And thanks to a worldwide pandemic, Casey Lewis and Albert Newberry are making beautiful music together.

“I’m not sure anybody saw it coming,” Lewis said of their collaboration.

The duo’s music is a combination of bluegrass, gospel and jazz, and they’ve lined up a series of Christmas concerts in Wythe and Bland counties, starting Sunday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., at Wytheville Presbyterian Church.

Monday morning, Lewis and Newberry met to perform a few songs and talk about their friendship.

The two young men have known of each other their entire lives, but were not friends and didn’t start playing music together until Covid arrived.

“I bet I spoke to him every year at the county fair since I was five years old,” Lewis, 24, said.

When the pandemic hit, Rocky Gap native Lewis had just quit touring with bluegrass band Cane Mill Road and Newberry returned home to Bland to take online classes from The Mannes School of Music in New York City.

“It cleared our schedules up enough to practice,” Lewis said.

They started jamming with local musicians, and then decided to perform together. Since mid-2020, the two musicians have been practicing and playing at various venues, include local churches and the Festival of Leaves.

With such different musical backgrounds, there’s been a learning curve for both musicians.

“We learn from each other,” Newberry, 22, said, adding that piano is not played in bluegrass, so he had to learn how and where to fit himself in. Lewis has also taught him a lot about gospel music, Newberry said.

Lewis said Newberry has taught him about jazz, which commands “a high level of thinking.” He added that playing bluegrass with a pianist requires learning where the piano can fill in. For example, a piano can fill up areas that a bass would be used in bluegrass, he said.

When they are not practicing music, the two young me enjoy hanging out with each other.

“A lot of our practices turn into philosophical discussions, and even politics,” Lewis said.

“We usually see eye-to-eye,” said Newberry, the son Randy Newberry and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry. He has studied classical piano since 2007 and jazz piano since 2011. An award-winning musician, he graduated from The Mannes School this past spring, where he majored in piano performance.

Lewis is a graduate of Bland County High School and Wytheville Community College. For several years, he toured across the country and wrote songs for Cane Mill Road, including in 2019 when the band won the Momentum Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. Lewis is the son of Joey and Nancy Lewis.

Here is information on their Christmas concerts:

Wytheville - Wytheville Presbyterian on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

Crandon - Walker’s Creek Baptist Church on Dec. 12 at 11 a.m.

Bland - Central Methodist Church on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m.

Radford - Belview United Methodist Church on Dec. 19 at 10:30 a.m.

Bastian - Bastian Union Church on Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.

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