The Moonlit Memories of Brannock McCartan

The Moonlit Memories of Brannock McCartan

Moving through life, people often get their noses stuck in the stresses of daily life and forget to look up and notice the interesting people all around them. Trinity is home to so many interesting people, it seems everyone has spectacular talents and accomplishments. Sometimes, these accomplishments go unsung because people don’t take the time to acknowledge each other’s successes as they set off to accomplish more. In advising, as people study for an upcoming test, or scramble to complete a nearly forgotten homework assignment, they will likely neglect to notice the state champion, award-winning artist, or club president sitting two desks away. By overcoming this unfortunate condition, we could begin to better appreciate the accomplishments of others and contextualize our own aspirations.  

Trinity is home to hundreds of remarkable people, and one of them is senior Brannock McCartan. Though he would never mention it himself, he has been called Louisville’s “banjo prodigy” by Louisville Public Media. Over the past year, he has been working to capture his love for music and share it with the world in his first album, “Moonlit Memories.”  

Hearing about the banjo or a high schooler’s new album, several readers may have begun thinking either “bluegrass isn’t exciting enough for me” or “high schoolers’ music is usually amateur.” These critics are misled by their prejudices, as McCartan weaves liveliness and excitement into every riff. Any negative preconceptions melt away listening to the single “Moonlit Memories,” the upcoming album’s title track, made in collaboration with the Grammy-nominated fiddler Michael Cleveland. The song is available almost anywhere music can be streamed: Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, etc.  

The album, coming to streaming in May, features 11 songs, including eight completely original ones. McCartan has brought some of the best talents in the bluegrass community together. McCartan and Steve Cooley play the banjo, Mike Schroeder and Paul Colon play mandolin, Mark Rosenthal and John Francisco play guitar, and Jeff Faith plays bass. Derek Harris, Brannock’s banjo teacher, is a “jack of all trades,” playing both fiddle and bass. 

McCartan has a long history with the banjo which has led to this project. “I started when I was seven. Truth be told, I don’t remember fully my motivation [for starting]. There were certainly banjo people who I knew in my life… doubtless that that played a role in me playing.” He was particularly inspired by Cooley and Schroeder, bluegrass musicians who played at his family gatherings and now appear on the upcoming album. In fact, most of the artists on the album are bluegrass friends of his who he have worked with him almost his entire life.  

Over the past decade, McCartan has honed his skills with the banjo. His talent has taken him all over the state of Kentucky and even to Blue Ridge Banjo Camp in North Carolina. Through it all, his family has “been extremely supportive, my mom and dad, but especially my mom has been incredibly supportive of my music, finding out about different places to play and organizing trips to festivals. She’s been the biggest person pushing me.” 

McCartan has “a really deep love of music: of the banjo, but music in general. It helps you see life in a different way, a more artistic way, especially in a more emotional way.” This musical outlook on life and dedication to his work is abundantly clear in the quality of his songs. Music is such a part of his life that practicing the banjo “doesn’t even feel like practice. It just feels like I’m just playing music, so I never have to find the motivation to do it.” 

The album is the culmination of a two-year process. After playing the banjo for years, McCartan decided to try his hand at composing. He started writing songs in April of 2022. That summer, when he had written several more songs, he looked around and thought, “Well, it’d be kind of fun to record some.” The first song was recorded in April of 2023, and the last one was recorded last month. “It’s been a year-long process, but we’re nearing the tail end of it.” 

Whenever possible, McCartan and his team have been in the La La Land recording studio. The process of setting up the album was long, but once in the studio, they worked with precision and speed. “Book studio time, go in recording, get it all done, and then you mix it and master it. Then you’ve got yourself a song: do that enough times and you’ve got yourself an album.” 

Many people who don’t usually listen to bluegrass music are waiting for “Moonlit Memories” with anticipation. McCartan says the album is an exploration of the “kind of music that speaks to what I’m interested in musically and what I want to pursue with people who have impacted my music and my life.” That’s what music should be: a peak into the life of the artist, born from the artist’s passion. The bluegrass community and the nation should peel their ears for Brannock McCartan; this won’t be the last we hear of him.

And, as we listen to hear the next part of McCartan’s story, we should make the effort to listen for other stories. By getting to know the guy two desks down in advising, maybe we can learn more about other people. In learning more about other people, one’s confidence in humanity and the future is strengthened. We need to look up from the homework and notice the state champions, club presidents, and banjo prodigies we live with.

    Full album out in May
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  • C

    Chad WaggonerMay 6, 2024 at 9:27 am

    Wow! I just listened to the track on YouTube and it is soooo good!

  • B

    billyApr 23, 2024 at 8:15 pm

    so good!!! love banjo!