MOUNT VERNON — For the band members of the gospel/bluegrass band Chestnut Ridge, their music is not a matter of a profession or a hobby — it is a mission.
“We just feel it’s important to spread the word about the Lord,” said Jeanelle Branstool, a founding member of the band. “We feel it’s a calling. It takes a lot of commitment, a lot of dedication and a lot of time. We feel it’s something we need to do. The Lord has put us on this path. He has definitely blessed us all the way in where we go and what we’re doing. Whenever we have a need, he helps us meet that need.”
Founding band members are Branstool, who performs vocals and plays mandolin; and Jim Dunfee, vocals and guitar. Other members are Mike Holvack, banjo; and Rex Hackley, dobro. Arlin Bradford, a bass player, often performs with the group.
As with many bands, Chestnut Ridge began with some musicians gathering together to play and sing for their own enjoyment.
“Jim (Dunfee) and I had been playing and singing together for about 10 years,” Branstool said. “Then about six years ago, we got together with other friends and Chestnut Ridge was born. We started out singing in my living room. We do all gospel. We just try to go wherever the phone calls take us.”
As the band decided to share their message, the work became more and more steady and they even have to turn down work these days.
“We perform at two nursing homes in Mount Vernon every month. We do The Laurels and Country Club Retirement Campus every month,” Branstool said.
The band has also performed at the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival and Sips. But their work takes them pretty far afield, too.
“We do churches, we do family events and weddings,” Branstool added. “We have gone as far south as West Virginia. But most of the time it’s in the Cambridge area and [recently] we were in Belleview.
“We don’t charge a fee. We go on a love offering. And we have a great support group. We call them our board of directors. They are John and Sharon Booth, Tom and Joyce Booth, Jack and Beulah Beatty, Helen Brady Devore and Terry Piatt. They do everything from cleaning our trailer to bringing us water, setting up and tearing down, helping with van rentals, getting us where we need to go. They are there for us and are awesome.”