For more than five decades, Bryan Bowers has been to the autoharp what Earl Scruggs was to the five-string banjo. He presents instrumental virtuosity combined with warmth, eloquence, expression, and professionalism. From his rather unglamorous beginning as a street singer, Bryan has become a major artist on the traditional music circuit. He has redefined the autoharp and is also well known as a singer-songwriter with a dynamic and outgoing personality as well as an uncanny ability to enchant a crowd.
Born in Yorktown, Virginia, Bryan was raised in New Bohemia, near Petersburg. As a child, he would tag along with the field workers and railroad track liners known as “gandy dancers,” and learned to sing old call-and-answer songs. He recalls, "The music I heard while working in the fields was mesmerizing. And, I'd see the gandy dancers coming down the tracks, setting the rails and getting their ties straight. You've heard that song that goes ‘Whup Boys, Can't you line 'em? Chack a lack. Whup Boys, can't you line 'em?’ Well ‘Whup Boys’ was the call the leader would sing. ‘Chack a lack’ was the bounce back of the hammer after falling on the pin. I just thought that music was something that everyone did. It was years later that I realized what I'd been raised around."
Bryan attended Randolph Macon College in Ashland. While there, he attended a jug band party in Richmond, where he saw a fellow student playing “Shady Grove” on the autoharp. That student handed the instrument over to Bryan and instructed him to place his hand on the bar, close his eyes, and strum with the other hand. The very next day, Bryan went out and purchased his own autoharp.
His creativity and skill on the autoharp have earned him inductions into Frets Magazine’s “First Gallery of the Greats,” as well as the honor of being the first living musician inducted into the Autoharp Hall of Fame (after Maybelle Carter, Kilby Snow, and Sara Carter). With the Bryan Bowers Band, he has teamed up with two multi-talented musicians—Virginia’s world class multi-instrumentalist, Danny Knicely, and New England-based singer and multi-instrumentalist, Geoff Goodhue. The trio recently released the critically-acclaimed album, Woodland Dream, which bluegrass legend Sam Bush gushed over: “While mainly a vocal group, their instrumental blend features Bryan in a new light we haven’t heard before. He is playing mandocello, guitar, and of course autoharp, blending with Danny on mandolin, mandocello and guitar and Geoff joining on guitar and mandolin, both being masterful musicians themselves. Be it instrumentals, song, or a cappella vocal trios, this music is from the heart, done for all the right reasons… simply put, it’s obvious these guys love playing and singing together.”