At two-years-old, when most kids were busy trying to decide between their favorite action figures or dolls, Grayson Wickel, a junior cyclist and Business Administration major from Asheville, North Carolina, was establishing the passion for music that led him to become a fiddler in the bluegrass band known as Another Country.
Using the famed Suzuki Method, which refers to a way to teach children language skills through the use of music, Wickel was first introduced to the violin by using a cardboard box and paint stir that his mother made.
He later graduated to the fiddle upon hearing his older brother, a jazz musician at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, playing bluegrass music at the famous Shindig on the Green in downtown Asheville where he instantly fell in love with the music that was being played.
“My older brother influenced a lot of our family to play music,” said Wickel. “He came home playing bluegrass music and I was really intrigued by it. Having grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’ve always been surrounded by mountain music, so the idea of playing the fiddle was not foreign to me.”
After listening to his brother’s music and the other musicians who were a part of the Asheville bluegrass community, Wickel determined the next step in his music education would be to attend various camps across the country.
Starting at the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College and graduating to the Mount Shasta Music Summit in California by age 10, Wickel was able to learn an assortment of instruments, including the banjo and the guitar.
“I started learning a lot of instruments at these camps, along with the violin and fiddle, trying to immerse myself in all kinds of music and see what I liked to play the most.”
As his musical repertoire advanced well beyond the simple cardboard box, Wickel found another passion in the form of competitive cycling.
Growing up only 10 miles away from the Carrier Park Velodrome, a former derby car track, he was first introduced to the world of cycling at the annual Ring of Fire competition.
“I was just completely mesmerized with how the peloton worked together. The speed was a big part for me. I am always the kind of person to go fast in anything I do, so this really sparked my attention and I felt that this was the right timing with the right things going on.”
After talking to the organizer for the junior development team based in Asheville about how he could become involved, Wickel started taking part in the Ring of Fire races and ultimately landed a spot on the Mars Hill cycling team for his first two years of college, before transferring to Lees-McRae.
“I have always raced against Lees-McRae and was impressed by their performance. I thought that would be a good fit for me. Once I started learning more about LMC, and the small class sizes, I wanted to come and check it out. I’m extremely happy to be in Banner Elk and in the mountains.”
Once Wickel became interested in joining the Bobcats, he was instantly put on Head Cycling Coach Tim Hall’s radar as someone to continue to advance the Lees-McRae program.
“Grayson is a very grounded and focused individual. He pours 100% of his energy into whatever he is doing in the moment, always fully present and strives every day to improve as a person,” said Coach Hall. “Grayson has already impressed us on recent training rides and will certainly make an impact on both our cyclocross and road race teams. His experience and maturity will also help a lot of our freshmen cyclists. After getting to know him better, it is no surprise to learn he is an accomplished musician. I am looking forward to seeing him race for us soon, but I am more excited to see him performing on stage with Another Country.”
With Wickel’s passion of competitive cycling on a track for success at Lees-McRae, he focused on getting his start in the music industry.
His big break came at the Isis Music Hall in Asheville during a Tuesday Night Bluegrass Jam, when Wickel had the opportunity to play in a show with a man by the name of Ken Chapple, who turned out to be the founder of Another Country and was in need of a fiddle player.
“Once we started playing it kind of hooked together. After we played a few tunes we seemed to mesh really well together and he just said ‘How would you like to play fiddle in this band.’ I have never thought about playing as a profession, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.”
Being the youngest member of the band, Wickel was immersed in learning what it was like to be a part of a band.
“It’s been a good experience to learn a lot more about music from them. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes for a band and learning how to navigate that has been a cool experience.”
After playing regionally as a cover band at smaller venues, Another Country will be releasing their first album this October.
“We just finished wrapping up the recording session, which was a good way for us to use the quarantine time to full advantage.”
So what is the next step for Wickel?
In addition to completing his degree in Business Administration at Lees-McRae, he hopes to start his career in promoting solar technology and renewable energy in the Blue Ridge Mountains and continue to create bluegrass music with Another Country.
After joining the Lees-McRae cycling program and becoming a member of Another Country, Wickel has laid the groundwork for a successful career following both of his passions.
When asked whether or not he could beat the devil in a fiddle playing contest for his soul, Wickel answered unequivocally “oh absolutely!”
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