Faces of Swallow Hill: Aaron McCloskey

Aaron McCloskey
“Music is the ultimate teacher and pursuing a greater understanding of an instrument requires you to be a student for life.” Photo by Emily Sierra Photography

Aaron McCloskey will always be part of the Swallow Hill family. A longtime instructor, these days Aaron devotes his time to his bluegrass band Wood Belly and his hand-built amplifier company, McClostone Amplifiers. He is still in touch with us quite often, and as Wood Belly is preparing to release a new album, we figured it was a perfect time to catch up with him in this installment of Faces of Swallow Hill.

Read on to learn what Aaron’s been up to over the last year, what he’s looking forward to in 2021 and beyond, and how you can help Wood Belly get their new album out into the world.

What has music taught you since things shut down due to COVID-19 that you will carry with you as you move forward?

Being a music student is all about embracing patience, diligence, passion, and dedication. Music is the ultimate teacher and pursuing a greater understanding of an instrument requires you to be a student for life. During 2020 I recommitted myself to learning and studying. It became clear last spring that I was going to have a lot of free time and not a lot of gigs. Because of that, I could deconstruct my own playing a bit and focus on being more creative rather than playing the things I already know. Channeling creativity has always been a challenge for me on the banjo but I’ve made progress this last year. I took lessons with Bill Evans and Jayme Stone, two masters of the instrument, and participated in the online Banjo Summit, which had a host of phenomenal players and teachers including Bela Fleck. I’ve really slowed down my practicing so the ideas can flow more and my hands can keep up with my ears. That is something I’ll continue to do forever.

I know things are busy with your band Wood Belly, can you fill us in on what’s been going on? You are preparing to release an album, how can folks support that?

Things ground to a halt last March for Wood Belly, like they did for the rest of the music industry. We took about a month off and then decided our COVID bubbles had to include the band. We had a lot of outdoor rehearsals but it became clear early on that we needed to be rehearsing and writing. Despite the lack of gigs, we’ve had a very eventful year. We wrote a ton of new material, signed on with Midwood Entertainment for our booking, welcomed a fantastic new guitar player and singer in Tom Knowlton, and just recently traveled to Arden, NC to record a new album. For obvious reasons it’s been very difficult for the band to save money for the project so we’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds we need. There are some great rewards including CDs, vinyl albums, exclusive merch, and even a day of fishing with yours truly. We hope to make a big splash with the album and any contributions are incredibly appreciated. This is the best music I’ve ever made and I’m very excited to share it with the world.

KICKSTARTER: Support Wood Belly’s new record

Aaron McCloskey
“…I’m very fortunate to do what I do for a living and even a small taste of it feels amazing.” Photo by Backstage Flash

What has it been like to perform in front of live audiences again? Is there any advice you’d like to pass along to folks who are about to start attending concerts again?

We’ve just had a couple shows so far this year and even though the venues were at a greatly reduced capacity it was an absolute blast. I’ve never been more excited for a sound check and so grateful people came to hear me play. It’s a reminder that I’m very fortunate to do what I do for a living and even a small taste of it feels amazing. It’s a very difficult time in that “normal” things feel strange. My advice is to do what you’re comfortable with, be safe, and support the musicians and venues when you’re ready. The venues are taking the proper precautions, and if you are as well I think you’ll have a great time. Our next performance is in Denver at the Oriental Theater on Saturday, April 24. We’ll be playing an early show and a late show with two completely different sets of music so if you’re up for it, come on out for one or both.

Outside of music, what are you looking forward to in 2021?

This one is easy…everything. I am a total foodie and I love a good cocktail. I can’t wait to go to my favorite restaurants again. I’m now fully vaccinated and the relief is real. I’m looking forward to not being afraid and to see my friends and neighbors smile back at me. I want to travel and see my family and friends. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen my parents, brothers, and their families and I miss them terribly. I could go on and on, but in short, I am so excited to have my community back.

Thanks Aaron!