That High and Lonesome Sound


The Sedona Bluegrass Festival returns this month for its fifth year with a lineup that includes a Grammy nominee, a swing band, a self-proclaimed drinking club and a group that truly understands family ties.
by Erika Ayn Finch


What’s that old saying about the family that plays together stays together? Connie Burnett will tell you there is some truth to the cliche. In 1986, when Connie’s oldest child, Lyndsay, was 3, Connie realized Lyndsay could sing. An idea started to form. Fast-forward to 1993, and the Burnett Family band, who would later become known as Burnett Family Bluegrass, were playing their first paying gigs for weekend cow-boys at the Hitching Post Stables in their hometown of Flagstaff. Today, there are five members in the band. Brian, the dad, plays guitar and mandolin and sings. Connie, a Northern Arizona University graduate who home· schooled all four of her children, plays stand-up bass, writes songs and sings. Lyndsay left the band to pursue nursing; however, Rachel, 25, plays fiddle and sings. Jessie, 22, contributes mandolin, mandola, fiddle, banjo, guitar and vocals. The Burnett’s only son, Ryan, 21, has been playing the fiddle since he was 3. He also plays banjo, mandolin, and acoustic and electric guitar.

Burnett Family Bluegrass has played the Sedona Bluegrass Festival every year since it began in 2007. They have also been a part of Pickin’ in the Pines Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival in Flagstaff since its inception:that festival celebrates its sixth anniversary in September.” The audience around here really lean into us -they are so kind”, says Connie. “They’ve watched the kids since they were little: they remember when the banjo was too heavy for Ryan to carry.” -But they’ve been touring long before they started playing creek-side at Los Abrigados Resort & Spa. The five-piece band played the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for the first time in 2000. In 2004, they won the Band Contest at that festival and became the first family band to win the coveted award. (Ryan was 14 when the family won, making him the youngest contestant to win the Band Contest.) After winning, the Burnett family was chosen by the International Bluegrass Music Association to perform at the association’s convention in Nashville, Tenn., in 2005.

The band has released four CDs, including its latest, Canyon Rose, in 2007. During the group’s set in Sedona, audience members should expect more cover tunes than original songs. Look for songs from artists like Elvis Presley and Alison Krauss to Dolly Parton and Earl Scruggs. Burnett Family Bluegrass is working on its fifth CD, which will include originals as well as the songs most frequently requested by audiences. But after talking to Connie, it’s clear the band is focused on touring right now. This summer, they will travel to the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. “The goal is to spend more time on the road,” says Connie. “My ultimate aspiration is to play the Grand Ole Opry.”

Rachel, Jessie and Ryan still live at home with their parents in Flagstaff (Lyndsay is in Phoenix), which led us to ask Connie what it’s like living and working with her husband and kids. “It involves a lot of compromise from everybody,” she says. “We’ve always given the kids the option to do what they want, but there’s an energy captured when we all play together, an electricity that makes us smile. That’s what draws us back. And we all really do get along.”

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