James and Jen Goldsberry said the first song they wrote together, “No More Wine ’Til the Weekend,” was inspired by a quote from James Goldsberry’s mother.
“That’s kind of when we realized: Be careful what you say around us because we’ll probably write a song about it,” Jen Goldsberry said.
Narrative lyrics inspired by real moments are common for The Goldsberrys, a bluegrass-folk band consisting of married couple and founding members James and Jen Goldsberry on acoustic guitar and banjo, respectively, and their friends Chris Westra on fiddle and Eric Nassau on bass. The group’s songs blend instruments and four-part harmonies into a sound they said is all their own.
“We call it ‘folkgrass,’” Jen Goldsberry said. “We kind of came up with that term, because we did go through this, like, ‘Who are we?’ phase, and we would go to our fans and say, ‘What do you hear when you hear us? What comes to your mind?’”
The band started out as a husband-and-wife duo, Jen Goldsberry said.
James Goldsberry said he and Jen met for the first time in 2000 when they were in the same class at Bowling Green State University during his senior year.
“We really started talking through music, because we had run into each other at a live show in Bowling Green and we were like, ‘Hey, you’re in Economics 101!’ And that’s how we met. We were out seeing music,” James Goldsberry said.
After graduating, Jen Goldsberry said the pair moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where James Goldsberry got a second bachelor’s degree in geology at Florida State University. Jen said she did not play an instrument, but her growing exposure to folk and bluegrass bands and the extra time she had to herself while her husband studied prompted her to try something new.
“I said, ‘I need something to do,’ and I woke up one day and I was like, ‘I need a banjo, today. I need a banjo.’ So I went and got a banjo,” Jen Goldsberry said.
James Goldsberry, however, did have some experience with an instrument. Though he did not come from a musical family, he said he played guitar in a high school garage band.
“I was at a family reunion, and one of my uncles told me that I would — I was a heavy metal guy then, playing nothing but, like, heavy Metallica on guitar — and he’s like, ‘One of these days, you’re going to be a country music fan,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not, no way!’ And then, here I am,” he said.
Jen Goldsberry said the couple moved back to Ohio in 2007. Having been uprooted from the music base they’d formed in Florida, she said they played together often on the front porch of their Gahanna, Ohio, home and began trying to rebuild their music community.
Eventually, moving from the front porch to open mic settings led to more opportunities, she said, and in 2015, they received an invitation to perform at Duck Creek Log Jam, an annual summer music festival and campout held in Hocking Hills State Park.
“That’s when we got the formal band together, like, ‘All right, this is when we need a band; we’re gonna play, this is a festival, so we’re gonna do this,’” Jen Goldsberry said.
Jen Goldsberry said she and James met fiddler Westra, a classically trained violist who was starting to try his hand at bluegrass, at Duck Creek in 2014. The next year, they met Nassau through some mutual friends at a house concert.
After incorporating Nassau and Westra, Jen Goldsberry said they started writing and recording songs, releasing their first album “Hunker Me Down” in 2017. They put out their sophomore album “By The Window” in 2019 and are looking to complete a third this year, James Goldsberry said.
Songwriting was a new venture in some ways, but ultimately, it was simply a fresh channel for a longtime talent, Jen Goldsberry said.
“I wrote poems for a course of things over my life, but I never really understood that I could put that to songwriting — and then to music — until I was playing banjo and even then, it took many years before I put it all together,” she said. “So, we were kind of late bloomers. But when we found it, we’ve been cranking it out.”
Jen Goldsberry said the years of playing with her husband on their front porch helped them formulate their sound, and Westra and Nassau have only made it better.
“Eric is a singer-songwriter himself, and Chris has such an ear — he’s been in music for over 20 years that I’m aware of — so they have this ear and they hear stuff, and they’ll be like, ‘Why are you doing it like that?’ or ‘Why don’t we add this weird E minor chord here?’” she said.
Although the band enjoys songwriting, James Goldsberry said performing is even more special.
“We play a lot of music, and it sounds beautiful to us, but when it sounds beautiful to other people, it is so much better,” James Goldsberry said. “It makes it worth it.”
Jen Goldsberry said some of the most special moments are when fans share how The Goldsberrys’ music has impacted them.
“If we can come off a show and really connect with people, that’s the fireworks moment for me,” Jen Goldsberry said.
She said the group always writes uplifting music, and it wants those listening to walk away feeling uplifted, too.
“They had fun when they came to see us — they danced, they’ve met people, you know, that’s what we want,” Jen Goldsberry said. “I want good people to meet good people when they come to our shows, and we can just be the soundtrack to good relationships.”