finish lines

John and Wendy Mackin and their son, Jack, are the core of The Mackin Band, which plays bluegrass and country music. John, nephew of bluegrass legend Mac Martin, began playing professionally in 1969. Three years later he met Wendy, and they played together in the Willow Creek Ramblers.  Since going out on their own, John on guitar, Wendy on banjo and Jack on fiddle with Jack YIacovone on mandolin and various friends playing bass, they have become a well-known regional band. They are known for close harmony, hot picking, and a huge repertoire. Catch them at the Uptown Farmers Market on Second Saturdays. Wendy answered the questions.

Was music a part of your families’ lives when you and John were growing up? John’s family loved country and bluegrass music. His father played fiddle and his Uncle Jim played guitar, and Sunday evenings were set aside for jamming. Of course, Mac Martin has always been a big presence. John took up guitar at a very young age. During my childhood, there were all kinds of music in the home. My father played clarinet with a dance band. When folk music became popular, he began playing guitar, which inspired me to take up the guitar and banjo. Every once in a while, Dad will still play a few tunes with us at gigs. Extended family for both of us included several professional musicians, and family gatherings always took advantage of the live family talent.

Wendy Mackin, John Mackin and son Jack Mackin of The Mackin Band in Mt. Lebanon.
Wendy Mackin, John Mackin and son Jack Mackin of The Mackin Band in Mt. Lebanon.

What is your most memorable performance?  One show at the Wheeling Jamboree—one of the last performances of the legendary Bill Monroe, often called the founder or father of bluegrass music. Monroe was perhaps most responsible for defining the genre in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and he continued to be a driving force until his death in 1996. While we all waited to go on stage, Bill took out his mandolin and played several tunes for us as his private audience, trying to stump John with “Name That Tune.”  He handed around his very famous mandolin for us to try out. When it was time for Bill to go on stage, he took my arm, saying he could use a little help. It’s funny how the most memorable moments may not happen on stage.

What do you think is the current level of interest in bluegrass and old time music? Do you see a lot of young people at the festivals?
Interest seems to be on the rise right now (after a long period of decline!). There are some very talented young musicians picking now, both nationally and locally, and we are seeing many more young folks in the audiences where we play.

What musicians, local or national, do you enjoy and would recommend to listeners? More traditional artists: Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, Joe Newberry, the Kathy Kallick Band, the Del McCoury Band, Tim O’Brien, the Earls of Leicester, Tony Furtado. More contemporary artists: Dawes, Amos Lee, Brandi Carlisle, Brett Dennen, Jackson Browne, John Fogerty.

—Photo by Martha Rial

Hear some Mackin music here.