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Bluegrass beyond all else

Remember the old woman who lived in the shoe?

She had so many children that she didn’t know what to do.

If she had been Bonnie Caron, she would have known exactly what to do.

She would have made a beeline to the nearest pawn shop, bought an acoustic insturment for each of the children, packed kids and all in the car and headed to a rural section of South Alabama, and there she would have kept them very well.

Well, maybe, that’s not exactly the way that it happened for Bonnie Caron and her kids, but it’s close.

Bonnie Caron and her children, eight of the nine, did beat a path to South Alabama – a 2,500-mile path from Washington State. And, yes, the cargo did include an acoustic instrument for each of the children. And, the really odd thing about that was that none of the children played an instrument. Bonnie played the piano and the accordion “enough to embarrass myself,” and she did have bluegrass running through her veins.

She grew up in Ohio, but her parents were from Tennessee and North Georgia and they were blue bloods – ah, bluegrass bloods.

“You either love bluegrass or you hate it,” Bonnie said. “I love it. It’s in my blood.”

In Washington State, a couple of the Caron boys were in Boy Scouts, and the scoutmaster owned a pawn shop. Mom thought it would be a good idea for the kids to learn to play an acoustic instrument so she bought out the shop.

“We knew the instruments were in the house, but we didn’t try to play them,” Joe, 19, said. “ But we really didn’t think anything about it when we packed them to bring to Alabama.”

In fact, the kids had lived in Washington for 14 years. For most of them, that was all of their lives. Packing up and moving to Alabama was going to be a big change for them. So what was packed and going was not a concern. Their thoughts were more on what they were leaving behind.

The move south all the way across the country four years ago was to keep the family close together. Bob Caron, a contractor for helicopter repairs, had to be near Fort Rucker, and that’s where his family wanted to be, too. So, they made the long trek and found a new home in Victoria.

Breaking new ground with a house full of kids, Bonnie decided it was time to blow the dust off the instruments and see what kind of joyful noise they could make.

At first the Caron house was filled with squeaks, squawks and plunks but, after a few lessons at Music Music in Enterprise, the noise started to sound a little more like music.

“We heard the Rivertown Girl and they were fantastic,” said Becki, 18. “We wanted to play like that. They were an inspiration.”

The Caron kids missed a chance to play with the Rivertown Girls because they didn’t have their instruments along but, when they went hear the Old Southern Gospel, they left nothing behind.

Wyman McWaters, guitar player and lead singer of Old Southern Gospel, heard the Carons play and, as inexperience as they were, he saw their potential and offered to work with them.

Fast forward to 2009 and to a group of seven siblings that call themselves Broken Strings.

“They broke so many strings at first that I told them if they ever formed a band, we would have to call it Broken Strings,” Bonnie said, laughing.

There are far less broken strings these days and, what was once unbridled noise, is now the high lonesome sound of bluegrass played uniquely by Broken Strings.

“Our sound is a little different because we have two fiddles,” Joe said. “Most bluegrass bands only have one fiddle so two is rather rare, but Carolyn and Becki both play the fiddle and that gives us a different sound.”

Carolyn, 15, is also the lead singer, and singing is a new “noise” for the band.

“For a while, we didn’t sing, but now we’re singing more, and we really like it,” Carolyn said.

For a while, Becki took a break from the band but now she’s back.

“I didn’t know if playing in the band was something I wanted to do,” she said. “My focus was away from the group, but I really missed it. Now, it’s what I want to do beyond anything else.”

There’s another new sound in the band. Peter, 17, is playing the dobro and he loves the slip-sliding sound that it makes. Doug, 13, plays the mandolin and the trebiloes and the chimes are what he likes most about his instrument.

Matthew, 12, plays guitar and, when the notion strikes him, that little fellow can sing. And so can the baby of the family.

Katie, 10, may be the youngest but she makes her presence known. Her quick fingers and sing-along voice along with her trademark pink guitar put her front and center in the band.

Broken Strings has quickly become “a band to get.” They play at churches all around the area and will be the featured music at the Tennille United Methodist Church revival on July 29.

But they are also being invited to play at festivals and other events, senior centers and even at restaurants.

Most bluegrass musicians don’t smile a lot and neither to do the Broken Strings.

“We don’t have time to smile. We’re concentrating so on what we do,” Joe said. “We want to play the best we can, but we are having a good time. We love to play for an audience, and the applause lets us know that people enjoy our music. And, we love to play together at home.”

Many afternoons, around dusk, anyone within earshot can hear the high lonesome sound of bluegrass coming from the Caron home. Bluegrass is now in the blood of the Caron kids. Their hope for the future of Broken Strings is “to be a blessing to others, to keeping playing bluegrass and to stay together – beyond anything else.”