• Bluegrass Pride Month Celebration - an Interview with C.J. Lewandowski of The Po' Ramblin' Boys

    Bluegrass Pride

    For the second year in a row the Mandolin Cafe is proud to be a sponsor of Porch Pride, a month-long series of virtual, live streaming weekend performances in celebration and support of the LGBTQ+ community. As part of the festivities we snagged a feature interview with C.J. Lewandowski of the Po' Ramblin Boys put together by Nashville-based writer Abby Lee Hood. We're also proud to sponsor Maddie Witler's appearance June 27 at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

    Happy Pride Month, bluegrass lovers! June brings an annual celebration of the LGBTQ+
    community and with it, Bluegrass Pride is over the moon to bring back our second annual Porch
    Pride festival.

    It goes without saying that it’s been a hard year for all musicians: endlessly adapting, evolving,
    and trying to keep our heads above water while all of our plans go up in smoke.

    That’s what makes Porch Pride so important. It makes sponsors like Mandolin Cafe, who we’re
    so grateful to have on our team, incredibly crucial to our success! Bluegrass Pride hosts the
    virtual event to raise money that goes directly to performing artists and to fund future

    One of those excellent performers we know you'll love hearing from is C.J. Lewandowski, the
    mandolin powerhouse of the Po Ramblin' Boys.

    The Po Ramblin’ Boys perform live Saturday, June 26 at 5:00 pm PT, and we sat down with him
    to talk mandolins, Pride, and more before the show.

    About the author: Abby Lee Hood is a queer Nashville-based writer covering justice, LGBTQ issues and more. They are an amateur roller-skater and live with their hedgehog, Noodle, three-legged cat, Tom, and Sadie the hound. They are writing a debut novel and have published poetry and sci-fi/fantasy short stories.

    Po' Ramblin' Boys

    CJ Lewandowski
    C.J. Lewandowski. Photo credit: Skye Tichenor

    Why is Bluegrass Pride important to you and why are you performing at Porch Pride?

    I believe Bluegrass Pride is something that should have happened a long time ago. It's an organization that supports Bluegrass in incredible ways. Going against the grain sometimes, Bluegrass Pride is putting our music where it may have never been before. That is groundbreaking and exactly what The Po' Ramblin' Boys aim to do as well. We want to take Traditional Bluegrass music outside of the box of the stereotypical bluegrass venue and put what we do smack dab in the middle of a jazz festival or an eclectic event such as Bourbon & Beyond, which we shared the bill with John Forgerty and The Foo Fighters.

    Bluegrass IS for EVERYONE. Bluegrass Pride backs that idea and so does The Po' Ramblin' Boys. If someone may not particularly like our style of the music, we may still be a starting point for someone to discover a different style under the Bluegrass umbrella and we are all for that. The more people loving Bluegrass Music, the more we have the opportunity to do what we love for a career.

    What do you most look forward to about Porch Pride?

    Showcasing what we have and what we bring to the table as a band. Even though we are considered a Traditional Bluegrass band, we still reach out from other genres for ideas and material. I love having Laura Orshaw in the band as well.

    Laura Orshaw
    Laura Orshaw. Photo credit: Skye Tichenor

    With the pandemic in 2019, we didn't get many opportunities to showcase her in her first year of touring as a full time member of PRB. That's a highlight for me. She brings sass and attitude with her fiddle and vocals and it's the perfect addition to the original all male four-piece. What she brings to the table is priceless and we couldn't be more happy to have her in the band.

    Have you been playing live events since the pandemic began?

    I haven't. And no one really has in the band either. I let my vocals and mandolin playing slide when I should have been really hunkering down and learning new things. I, instead, worked construction during the COVID period to keep the lights on in Hopeless Holler.

    Is there anything different about playing a mandolin on live stream than other instruments? Is it harder to mic up, or what will the live setup be like?

    Most of the mandolins I have seem to record well on a live stream type situation. Compared to a guitar, I feel the mandolin cuts a mic for live streams a little cleaner and it's easier to sing with a mandolin being that it's not too awful loud and it has a higher frequency range. The guitar sometimes drowns out vocal lines for me.

    How has being from the Smoky Mountains affected your playing style and song repertoire? Anything regional specific that you or the Boys do?

    All of us aren't actually from the Smoky Mtns. Josh and Jereme from Kentucky, Jasper from North Dakota, Laura from Pennsylvania and myself Missouri.

    That being said, we have a lot of diversity when it comes to material. We have influences from our specific regions, along with the mainstream artists of the entire industry. I look at it as an advantage really. The songwriters from our regions, and the Smoky Mountain area, as well. The acquaintances we've made throughout our lives in the music industry have helped us create a unique combination that isn't quite like any other band.

    Po' Ramblin' Boys
    Po' Ramblin' Boys. Photo credit: Skye Tichenor

    Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

    We are in the studio as we speak and tracking some singles with quite a few special guests going to be involved. We also have in the works with a major label. We release that news as soon as everything is buttoned up.

    I've also teamed up with Calton Cases to present a mini series on The Po' Ramblin' Boys YouTube channel. The series is called “Hopeless Holler History” and will feature Bluegrass memorabilia and items I've collected over the past 20 years.

    I see you have some upcoming tour dates. Are you looking forward to this year's tour?

    We have slowly eased back into touring and it feels great. If we jumped in head first to what our regular schedule was Pre-Covid, I'm not sure if we would be prepared. Our touring was very heavy. And it's coming back at a steady rate.

    Every show we have played this far has been so much fun and it's really been good for the mind and soul.

    This will be the Po' Ramblin' Boys first Porch Pride performance, right? Any special ties planned? Because y'all always have great outfits.

    All of our ties are pretty special really. I guess folks will just have to tune and see what we have on.

    Maddie Witler

    For more information on how to see The Po' Ramblin' Boys at this year's Porch Pride, visit the Bluegrass Pride website. Please consider donating to the cause, so we can keep supporting awesome musicians like C.J and The Po' Ramblin' Boys. Together, we'll keep promoting excellent musicians and make this genre more inclusive than ever. Bluegrass Pride is a Section 501(c)(3) charitable organization. All donations are deemed tax-deductible absent any limitations on deductibility applicable to a particular taxpayer.

    Please note: All Porch Pride events are FREE to attend. No one should miss out on the Porch Pride experience because of financial circumstances, so they're making the whole month-long festival completely free to attend. That means they're counting on donations from fans, friends, and family like you to help support musicians in need.

    Additional Information

    Comments 25 Comments
    1. trodgers's Avatar
      trodgers -
      Thank you for highlighting this important topic. I've always believed music, whether making it or hearing it, should be as inclusive as possible. A big tip of the hat to the Cafe for sponsoring this grassroots event!
    1. lukmanohnz's Avatar
      lukmanohnz -
      Great profile, and an important conversation. Thank you for this feature article!
    1. Don Grieser's Avatar
      Don Grieser -
      Thanks for the article and thanks for supporting this event and all people who love bluegrass music.
    1. Jill McAuley's Avatar
      Jill McAuley -
      Ginormous and huge kudos to the Cafe for sponsoring this event and fostering an inclusive environment here.
    1. Simon DS's Avatar
      Simon DS -
      Well done!
    1. grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
      grassrootphilosopher -
      Thumbs up!

      I allways think of the great Sir Peter Ustinov when it comes to resist injustice. This is an anecdote about when he flew to the US (probably in the 60ies). Back then you had to state your skin color on the imigration slip that you had to fill out before entering the US. Ustinov put "pink" on his slip.

      PRB and MC you do well.
    1. BrianWilliam's Avatar
      BrianWilliam -
      Kudos to the Cate for its inclusive mindset!
    1. Cary Fagan's Avatar
      Cary Fagan -
      Very glad to see this here.
    1. TheMandoKit's Avatar
      TheMandoKit -
      Glad to see this article and the Cafe sponsorship of this event. We need more welcoming and wider involvement, including in music.
    1. Barry Platnick's Avatar
      Barry Platnick -
      Really great to see this community in support and inclusive!!!
      Music Rules!!
    1. Nathan Kellstadt's Avatar
      Nathan Kellstadt -
      The Cafe continues to be one of the friendliest forums and communities on the internet.
    1. keith.rogers's Avatar
      keith.rogers -
      Very cool article and hat's off to The Po' Ramblin' Boys.
    1. MediumMando5722's Avatar
      MediumMando5722 -
      Glad to see such power and support behind this movement.
    1. Gene Summers's Avatar
      Gene Summers -
      <post removed.>

      ...for the purpose of antagonizing or calling into question a moderator's control of this forum or the site owner's right to enforce forum policy is forbidden and may result in immediate and permanent loss of membership and posting privileges. If you have concerns regarding forum policy contact a moderator or the site owner privately.
    1. Gene Summers's Avatar
      Gene Summers -
      My apologies. Great article.
    1. Simon DS's Avatar
      Simon DS -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gene Summers View Post
      My apologies. Great article.
      Good on you, Gene!
      Let’s hear some tunes. Anything you like!
    1. Gene Summers's Avatar
      Gene Summers -
      Thanks Simon DS :-) They are very talented musicians! Stay Cool!
    1. Jason Stein's Avatar
      Jason Stein -
      Kudos to C.J. Lewandowski, Abby Lee Hood, and the Cafe for bringing us this informative and inspiring article! I'm excited to check out these bands! Thank you!
    1. scotta's Avatar
      scotta -
      I'll add my thanks to and support for the Cafe, Porch Pride and CJ - great article, important conversation, and nice to see the welcoming environment here!
    1. goose 2's Avatar
      goose 2 -
      Thank you Mandolin Cafe for putting this out. Makes me proud to be part of this community! Thanks a lot CJ! I love your picking!