Appearing at the Grand Ole Opry is one of the most-prestigious milestones a musician can achieve; appearing in Nashville later this week will be a local father and son.
Eric and Ben Marshall of Mount Airy are members of the bluegrass group Carson Peters and Iron Mountain, which will make its Opry debut Friday night as part of an overall show headlined by Carrie Underwood and Marty Stuart.
Though Eric Marshall is well known to area bluegrass fans from his involvement with The Marshall Brothers and Highroad, a group he’s been with since the late 1990s which also includes brother Steve, this week’s appearance in Nashville represents his career high to date.
“By far,” he said Tuesday.
That opportunity arose through Eric and Ben Marshall’s association with Carson Peters, a 12-year-old fiddling sensation from Piney Flats, Tennessee, who has performed in Surry County on multiple occasions.
It stems from Peters and Ben Marshall meeting about five years ago at the Galax fiddlers convention, where Peters was trying to piece together musicians to perform in the youth band competition there.
“And they’ve played every year since then and it kind of grew out of that,” Eric Marshall added of the involvement with the prolific young fiddler.
This led to the formation of Carson Peters and Iron Mountain, a five-member band that features two father-and-son duos — the Marshalls and Carson and his dad Jamie, who plays guitar — along with Austin Tate, 17, of Marion, Virginia, on the mandolin.
Eric Marshall, 42, plays the five-string banjo and Ben Marshall, 15, the stand-up bass.
“I’ve played for almost 20 years,” the elder Marshall said.
After his son Ben came along, he eventually became part of the family musical ensemble at around 9 years old, although the instrument he sought to tackle towered over him.
“We just needed a bass player,” Eric recalled, “so we stood him up on a picnic table and he started playing, and it’s worked out well for him.”
The Marshalls, Carson and Jamie Peters and Tate have been performing select shows as Carson Peters and Iron Mountain, including the recent Nunn Brothers Bluegrass Festival near Mount Airy, where it was billed as a special guest. The group’s repertoire includes straight bluegrass and bluegrass gospel.
Meanwhile, the Marshalls found out about the chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry about a month ago, Eric said.
“Jamie, Carson’s dad, just called and asked if we were interested in doing that, and of course we said, ‘Yeah!’”
Carson Peters and Iron Mountain will perform during the two shows scheduled for Friday at the Grand Ole Opry, one to begin at 7 p.m. at the legendary venue and the other at 9:30 p.m.
“We’re supposed to play two songs on each show,” Eric Marshall said.
While the local father and son will venture to Nashville with other family members, folks back home can listen to their performance through a live stream on the Opry’s Internet site at http://www.opry.com/.
According to the website, the band will perform between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., sandwiched between Connie Smith and Lauren Alaina. Then at 8:30 p.m. comes Marty Stuart, Lee Greenwood, Charles Esten and Carrie Underwood.
For the later segment, the Carson Peters group is scheduled to perform between 10:30 and 11 p.m.
Carson Peters has appeared before at the Grand Ole Opry, which regularly seeks to offer a lineup of new stars, superstars and legends of country music for its shows.
But it will be a first for the Iron Mountain quintet, and Eric Marshall is profoundly aware of what this means.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” he said Tuesday.
It’s gratifying to have the opportunity, Marshall added. “And it’s nerve-wracking at the same time, and it’s humbling.”
Many gifted musicians never receive the opportunity to appear at the Grand Ole Opry, Marshall explained.
“You think of how many really great musicians there are, in this area especially,” he said of music-rich Surry County.
“As good as people are out there, out of that pool you get a chance to play. It kind of humbles you.”
The younger Marshall also is elated about the trip to the Grand Ole Opry.
“He’s excited about it,” his dad said.
“I don’t think he realizes how big it is.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.