When we were new to Nashville in the mid-90’s, we revelled in the smorgasbord of live music and soon found the club that felt like home to us, the Station Inn. There we discovered a band having so much fun you couldn’t help but have a great time along with them. They were accomplished pickers, had chill-bump inducing harmonies, and a newgrassy-bluegrassy style. Even their name was fun! The Cluster Pluckers. The core of the band consisted of Margaret Archer, Mark Howard and Kris & Dale Ballinger. They played the Station Inn regularly back then and we did our best to never miss a night. 

Fast forward to 2008 and we are now hosting house concerts under the name Hillbilly Haiku. One night our sound man introduces us to a Canadian musician at a club in Nashville. Linda McRae steps into my life, shortly after a mutual friend in Vancouver BC had introduced me to her music. He had no idea she was anywhere near Nashville, it was just one of those fun timing coincidences where I heard an artist I really enjoyed and then there she was, standing right in front of me! We quickly became fast friends. 

Jump ahead again with me to 2013 and Linda is invited to join some other friends at a picking party in Cookeville, TN. She comes back from this gathering excited to tell me about the great pickers and kind folks who hosted the jam. Can you guess their names? Kris and Dale Ballinger! My Canadian friend had found my long lost Cluster Pluckers. Let me tell you, I bent her ear with Cluster Plucker memories for a long minute that day. 

A new circle of friendship had been established, and after enjoying several private picking parties I asked Linda, Kris and Dale if they’d want to share their magic with our house concert audience. They agreed it was a fun idea and Kris reached out to their Cluster Plucker friend Mark Howard who gladly jumped on board to add his picking prowess. What evolved was the finest night of acoustic music you could ask for! Enjoying each other’s company like the friends they are, they harmonized on country and bluegrass standards and some of Linda’s original songs and Mark’s playing sparkled on them all. They even included some fiddle tunes featuring Linda on accordion. Four great singers, four great pickers, four great friends whose love for music and sharing their fun with an audience provides a heartwarming, joy inducing, memorable evening of songs!

Denise Williams

Hillbilly Haiku