Sleepy Man brothers Tommy, Robbie, and Jonny have quickly made a name for themselves as one of the quickest rising acts in Roots music. That is no small accomplishment when you take into consideration the trio hails from Lebanon Township, New Jersey – not exactly a hotbed for instruments like banjos and fiddles. “New Jersey is not what you would call a 'bluegrass state.' That’s one of the interesting parts about our story,” said Tommy. “There are definitely bluegrass fans here, but maybe we’re making a few new ones, which is kind of cool.”
When asked why the brothers became so enamored with that style of the music, Tommy says, “Probably because it’s so unique. There’s really not any other kind of music that is similar to it. We also like the pureness of the acoustic sound – there’s no way to hide behind effects or distortion pedals so you have to be proficient on your instrument to play this music well.”
The Mizzone brothers were influenced by the masters, including J.D. Crowe, Ralph Stanley and Tony Rice. They also – just like countless others before them – became influenced by the revolutionary five-string banjo playing of Earl Scruggs. However, they weren’t listening to Grandpa’s 78 RPM collection. They picked up the music of Scruggs the way that many others their age are discovering the classics - YouTube. It's also been instrumental in getting the name of Sleepy Man out to the public. Their videos have been viewed over 20 million times on their YouTube channel. “We have had several of our bedroom practice jam videos go viral and that’s what really kind of took off and helped get us out there," said Robbie.
Younger brother Jonny is rapidly making a name for himself as a proficient 5-string banjo player. When Jonny was just nine, banjo legend J.D. Crowe was so impressed with his talent that he called him “An old midget,” saying there was no way a kid could play the instrument with such prowess. His skill on the banjo ultimately led to the group's Grand Ole Opry debut, followed shortly after by a second appearance which earned them two standing ovations and an encore performance.
The band's first album, America's Music, charted at No. 8 on the Billboard Bluegrass Album chart, and their sophomore album, The Farthest Horizon, climbed even higher to No. 3. The music world has taken note of just how strong their sound is. They have appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, Huckabee and the Today show, played Carnegie Hall, performed at the prominent Newport Folk Festival and have shared the stage with one of entertainment’s top celebrities. “We were able to play with Steve Martin at the Ryman for an Earl Scruggs tribute,” recalls Tommy. “That was one our favorite things we have ever done – to be backstage with him and jam with him.”
Additionally, they have had the blessing of partnering with several charities raising money for orphans and widows through merchandise and touring sales. “Our faith in Jesus Christ is very important to us and we wanted to have a ministry, or something we could support as a band," says Robbie.
Signing with William Morris Endeavor and Jim Mazza at Dreamcatcher Entertainment, the band is looking forward to their future. Where would the band like the future to take them? “We continue to grow as a band and are settling in to our own sound,” says Tommy. "As we add vocals, we want to continue to grow our fan base and hopefully attract more young people to this type of music.”
“We love the pureness of the acoustic sound.”