Saunter in to someplace where Long Road Home is playing Bluegrass, and you can be forgiven for thinking you've stepped a half century back in time. The music and voices are so authentically kin to the golden era of the Monroes, Stanleys, and Flatt & Scruggs that it's apt to send a chill down your back.

Which is especially remarkable considering that most of the band members were, until recently, teenagers. Mix those sparks with the work of veteran banjoist Pete Wernick, and it's soon clear how Wernick's seminal Bluegrass band Hot Rize got its name.

Long Road Home won the nationally acclaimed Rockygrass band competition in Colorado in 2006 with a repertoire that includes original songs by guitarist Martin Gilmore. Some of the songs, such as “Keep Rolling,” sound as though they were written decades before he was born: “Times get good, and times get bad / These times are the worst I've had / Ain't no use in looking back, keep rolling...”

Pete Wernick, meanwhile, recently added a new honor to his long list: he's the first Bluegrass player to be heard on Mars. A music connoisseur at NASA woke the Mars Rover “Spirit” one morning with Wernick's instrumental “Big Rock in the Road”--an apt choice, since the Rover was about to approach its most imposing rock yet, a monster nicknamed “Humphrey.”

But Wernick also holds a much earlier distinction. He was one of a few hundred people who attended the first-ever Bluegrass festival-- held near Roanoke, Virginia in 1965. “It was a few benches in front of a makeshift stage in a horse-farmer's field. There weren't any tour buses; the acts arrived in cars and station wagons. I think tickets were something like six dollars. Bluegrass was on hard times back then, and it took the festival idea a while to catch on.

“Those of us who play Bluegrass know whose shoulders we're standing on,” he says. “Monroe seemed to start what he did out of nowhere, but there was precedence for it. Nowadays when you listen to Ricky Skaggs, for instance, you're hearing music that originated in the Southern Appalachians. Ricky was on TV with Flatt & Scruggs when he was six years old, and joined the Stanley Brothers full-time when he was 15.

“So many branches on this tree. It's not just a bunch of bands trying to make money in the industry. It's more like a family.”

Wernick's current musical family, Long Road Home, captures a snapshot of that experience in the last line of “Keep Rolling”: “Life don't always treat me right / But when I'm up here in these lights / I make it through another night / I keep rolling...”

--Dale Short, carrolldaleshort.com

Check out some videos of Long Road Home, and get ready to see them this August at Beartrap: