From the bright lights of the Grand Ole Opry, to the new stage at Elkin’s historic Reeves Theater, young guitarist Presley Barker is sharing his musical talent with many audiences within a few week’s time.
Barker, a 13-year-old from Traphill who is a seventh-grader at East Wilkes Middle School, has won a number of awards for his guitar skills at fiddlers conventions since he began taking lessons about six years ago. Those honors include two adult-division first-place wins at the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia, in 2015 and 2017.
“I’ve won a little bit of ‘em,” Barker said humbly as he shared some of the awards he’s received. “I’m real honored to do that and compete with those other great guys.”
On March 23, Barker got to check off one of his two main goals when he took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, to perform a couple of songs with 2018 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and 15-time Grammy Award winner Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder.
The invitation to play at the Opry came through Barker’s friendship with musician, Wayne Henderson. Barker got to know Henderson through competing in the Wayne Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition at Grayson Highlands State Park in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.
Barker won second place in 2016 in the guitar competition and then was named the Henderson Guitar winner by placing first in 2017. He said that was one of the highlights of his awards.
He has performed a number of times with Henderson, and Henderson introduced him to Skaggs.
“I first met Mr. Skaggs at HoustonFest in Galax. My friend, Wayne Henderson, a great guitar builder, one of my mentors and best friends, he introduced me to Mr. Skaggs [at HoustonFest],” said Barker this week as he reflected on his Opry performance.
In late January, Barker went to see Skaggs perform in Hickory, and at that concert, he said, “I was so fortunate that he asked me to come and be a guest on the Opry with him. That was such a blessing.
“It was humbling and a blessing for me to get to do that, and for Mr. Skaggs asking me to do it,” he said of the Opry performance. “It’s been one of my dreams ever since I started.”
Barker began guitar lessons when he was 7 with local instructor Larry Skipper, and now takes lessons from Steve Lewis in Ashe County.
“My first inspiration was Doc Watson. He really got me started. I listened him on the radio playing ‘Black Mountain Rag,’ and ever since then, I was just hooked on flatpicking guitar,” Barker said of the legendary Watauga County musician who was the father of Eddy Merle Watson, the namesake of MerleFest in North Wilkesboro.
In April 2017, Barker had the opportunity to perform on Steve Harvey’s “Little Big Shots” on NBC as a member of The Salty Dogs, a group of young bluegrass musicians put together by the International Bluegrass Music Association for the show.
“That was a lot of fun,” Barker said. “Getting to meet Steve Harvey was really fun.”
Barker said when he first started playing, he had two dreams — to play the Grand Ole Opry and to play on the Doc and Merle Watson Stage at MerleFest. With the March 23 performance with Skaggs, he has marked one of those dreams accomplished.
While he may not be scheduled for the Watson Stage this year, Barker will be performing at MerleFest the last weekend in April this year.
“I hope to play music as long as I live,” Barker said of his future plans, which include going to college to obtain a degree. “Just play music and honor the Lord is what I’m here to do.”
Barker said he’s “super excited” to have a chance to play on the stage at the Reeves Theater on April 14 as part of The Martha Bassett Show, which will feature Jim White as well. “I hope everybody comes out, and I’m going to try to play some bluegrass music for you.
“I’m just so excited and so blessed to be able to play music and to be able to play with all my heroes like Wayne and Mr. Skaggs. It’s just really a dream come true for me,” he said.
This summer he’ll be taking his musical talents to Missouri and Montana.
In addition to playing with Henderson and in solo performances, Barker is a member of Shadowgrass, a youth bluegrass band featuring musicians from Francisco and Troutdale and Galax, Virginia.
Barker is the son of Eric and Julie Barker, and he said his 7-year-old brother, Luke, loves to sing.
For ticket information for Barker’s April 14 appearance at the Reeves Theater, visit reevestheater.com. Tickets for MerleFest can be found at merlefest.org.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.