Willow Branch returns to Carysbrook

By Page H. Gifford

After leaving the U.S. Navy in 1982, Robert Noble was playing with two bluegrass bands in Florida. He decided to form a band and made a few phone calls, asking around about available musicians in the area. He contacted three musicians, one of them being his future wife Gayle.

“Things clicked musically among the musicians at that initial practice, as well as personally for Robert and myself, and the band was officially born in 1983,” said Gayle Noble.

Robert and Gayle have been married almost as long as Willow Branch has been together. Both are graduates of Fluvanna County High School, but the irony is they never knew each other during their school years. His first encounter with Gayle was when he was seven and she was in her teens. He saw her play the banjo at a church revival and later told his father he wanted to “play the banjo like that girl at church.” Fate brought them together at the formation of Willow Branch, and they have been together ever since.

Gayle admits her love of Bluegrass goes way back and is influenced by growing up on the family farm that had been around since the 1830s. The rural countryside and farming are steeped in the early culture and tradition of American music, and Bluegrass. It is incorporated into Gayle’s soul and it is her inspiration for Bluegrass and her passion for music.

Gayle used to perform with her sisters, known as The Griffin Sisters. Like all budding musicians, most begin by learning piano. She then played clarinet in the Fork Union Elementary School Band and has played a variety of instruments, including saxophone, guitar, harmonica, banjo, and fiddle.

She says that first-generation music artists like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley, and the Stanley Brothers have inspired members of Willow Branch.

“How they sang it, how they played it, and the stories their songs conveyed. There were also many artists to follow in the founder’s footsteps that came before us. We admire their music as well and they too have served as an inspiration to us.” Willow Branch does compose some original music. Their mandolin player Doug McDonald, a songwriter, has composed some songs they have performed over the years.

COVID was a sledgehammer to performers, shutting everyone down but it did not deter Willow Branch.

“We informed followers via our Facebook page and website that we weren’t going to let COVID stop us and that we would be accepting bookings and performing in public again as soon as possible,” said Gayle. “We did our best to constantly stay in touch with the public. We were fortunate to secure a couple of outdoor gigs in both 2020 and 2021. At these functions, we were isolated and kept a safe distance from others in attendance.”

She added that “judging by our busy fall schedule, it’s clear that people are ready to celebrate. It’s great to see folks having a good time together, and enjoying music and each other’s company. We’ve had good attendance at recent performances, so it seems that things are on the right track.”

Willow Branch has performed at Carysbrook Performing Arts Center on many occasions, mostly in the theater on stage. Yet, when the Fluvanna County Arts Council was in the process of raising funds for the renovation of the Arts Center, Willow Branch donated their time and talent on at least three occasions to help raise money for this effort. All three occasions were Bluegrass music concerts that included other bands as well, two of which were indoors at the Central Elementary School Auditorium in 1995 and 1996. The other concert was held outdoors on the Carysbrook softball outfield in 1997.

They will return to Carysbrook on Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. for the 2022-23 season; the first planned season of shows since COVID shut the doors.

“God has blessed us with almost 40 years of traveling the highways with some wonderful musicians to perform our music across the country. We hope he will allow us to continue for many more,” she said.

For more information about Willow Branch, visit www.willowbranchbluegrass.com. For tickets for their upcoming performance at Carysbrook Performing Arts Center, visit carysbrook.org.

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