Bennett Sullivan's musical path has never been straight and narrow, but rather a winding track through the wilderness of space and time. Tracing his steps from peak to peak, a continuous pattern emerges; one of accepting challenges, taking big leaps, and ultimately rising to new heights, only to find another mountain and begin again.
In Greensboro, North Carolina, he was introduced to the native sounds of bluegrass music by his father, a guitarist, who first encouraged Bennett to learn banjo and then guitar. After taking an immediate interest in the instrument, Bennett's dreams were quickly quashed by a round of uninspiring music store banjo lessons with a chain- smoking teacher and a crummy beginner's banjo. He promptly quit the instrument altogether. After bringing home an autobiography written for a middle school project, his father saw that his son's biggest regret was quitting the banjo. "He went straight out and bought a nicer instrument, and I was hooked," says Bennett.
With Bela Fleck and Tony Rice as his two biggest influences, Bennett immersed himself in music and surrounded himself with talented teachers, collaborators and companions. He soaked up sound like a sponge, and pushed himself to learn as much as he could, eventually enrolling in music school at UNC-Wilmington. After a semester of study, he was again unfulfilled and uninspired, and knew the music inside was pulling him away from formal academia. After encouragement from friends and family, Bennett did what any aspiring Bluegrass banjist would do, and sought out a gig playing electric guitar in a cruise ship show band. After totally blowing the sight-reading portion on an over-the- phone audition, he was cast a lifeline and hired after playing a blazing bluegrass standard. "I feel like I got my education on the ships," says Bennett, "I was living and working with some amazing, seasoned professional musicians, and practicing as much as I possibly could. It was immersive."
Fresh off the boat, Bennett made tracks to the Mt. Everest of music towns, and moved to New York City. After stumbling through the requisite lousy retail/pizza truck/barely pay-the-rent jobs, he was quick to enter the local bluegrass scene. With a positive attitude and professional discipline, he was soon performing alongside legends such as Judy Collins, Maria Muldaur, John Sebastian, Jim Kweskin and Willie Nelson on stage and in the studio. Not to be pigeonholed as a sideman, he wrote, recorded and released his first solo instrumental record "Lady Nora" in 2013. Already on an upward trajectory, an unprecedented boost came in the unsuspecting form of an unanswered call from an unknown number during a wedding on Long Island. Picking his phone up to check the message afterwards, Bennett heard a familiar voice say "Hey, this is Steve Martin..."
The next two years were a fantastic whirlwind, as Bennett was featured in the company of "Bright Star," a musical theatre phenomenon written by Martin and Edie Brickell. Soon he was appearing in eight shows a week at the Kennedy Center, and on Broadway. After two successful years, hundreds of shows, and a cast recording, the show came to an end in 2016, as all shows must. Undaunted and undeterred, Bennett would continue to shine in the big city for two more years, performing with stars ranging form Elle King to Weird Al Yankovic on marquee network shows such as 'The Late Night Show with Jimmy Fallon', 'Good Morning America', and 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver'. After six years in the Big Apple, the Fates would again set a new path alight, and in 2017, Bennett's trail took its brightest turn yet, when his son, Milo, was born.
Eager to start a new and exciting musical chapter, and escape Brooklyn rent, Bennett moved his family to the enchanted Pisgah Forest of North Carolina. He dove headlong into a groundbreaking music-education technology business which he co-founded and built tirelessly. He worked overtime, shooting tutorial videos during gas-stops while touring the country with the likes of Zoe & Cloyd, Balsam Range, and the highly acclaimed genre-bending collective of Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native, all while raising a child and keeping his ever-present positive spirit behind the rolling of his fingers and his hands on the wheel. 2020 had other plans for all of us, and Bennett, facing a new and challenging musical and career landscape, bravely picked up his instruments, turned his backyard shed into a recording studio, lit a candle, and took his biggest musical and personal plunge.
With "Eager To Break," the new solo album of original songs to be released November 5th, 2021, Bennett launches headlong into a new dimension of emotion, feeling and passion that only poetry and that most precious of instruments, one's own voice, can inspire. He has laid down the burdens of modern technology, fondly embracing a vintage Tascam 424 cassette recorder in the peaceful silence of the mountain morning. He explains, "I deleted my Instagram, got rid of my iPhone, and started waking up at 5am to write music by candlelight. Just writing whatever wanted to come out. No more judgement, no more doubt, just let it go. These songs came from that freedom and time."
With a new path ahead, Bennett Sullivan, rises once again to stretch boundaries, redefining himself and his undeniable talent in the process, and shines a bright golden light into the darkness.
-Sam Howard, 2021