The Bulla family is the Jackson 5 of fiddling.
Without all the tabloid newspaper coverage.
Led by parents Brad and Carol, the Bulla kids are among the nation’s top fiddlers.
The oldest son, Luke, 16, is the youngest fiddler in history to win the championship division of the National Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest in Weiser, Idaho.
Jenny Anne, his 15-year-old sister, missed first place in the junior division by one point, competing against more than 80 fiddlers.
And 8-year-old Jed took first in the Small Fry division at the contest in late June.
Luke and Jenny Anne started when they were 6 and 7 years old. Jed first picked up a fiddle at age 4.
“Mom and Dad offered us the chance to play so we decided what instruments we wanted to play and they made us promise we wouldn’t quit,” Luke said.
Both Luke and Jenny Anne also play the guitar and mandolin.
Their father doesn’t fiddle, but Brad Bulla has been a fan of the music since growing up in North Carolina, tapping his toes to Ricky Skaggs’ bluegrass while his friends were listening to Ted Nugent.
With his bluegrass roots and Carol Bulla’s bass playing skills, it’s almost as if the Bulla kids were born with fiddles under their chins.
Luke and Jenny Anne started competing half a year after they learned to play.
In their first contest, they both finished somewhere in the middle.
“I just wanted to be good,” Luke said. “The contests were inspiring. I saw a lot of kids better than us. The next year, that gave us something to shoot for.”
One year later, Luke took first place in the Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest.
Since then he has collected six national titles in the junior division before his latest victory in the all-ages championship division.
Jenny Anne, usually Luke’s runner-up, has two national titles.
The family has been touring the nation playing at carnivals and festivals and competing in contests for several years.
They have their own Greyhound-style bus for cross-country trips.
Luke enjoys the trips for the most part, but he admits after being on the road for too long, family members have to make an extra effort to get along.
“That only happens about a day before we get home - after traveling for three months,” Luke said.
Being on the road so much takes its toll, of course. But their parents encourage them to focus on the positives.
“There were things like sports we couldn’t be involved in, but my mother always told me to look at what we can do because of music,” Luke said.
He seemed to speak for the family when he noted solidarity as the main reward for their music.
“I see a lot of families where everyone is off doing their own thing. It’s great to have something we all enjoy together,” he said.
In between touring in the family bus, ski trips and being home-schooled, the Bulla children polish their fiddling prowess with assistance from tapes, books and lessons from music professionals.
They record albums in their parents’ half bedroom, half music studio.
Their current release, “Common Ground,” is dedicated to gospel, with original music written by family members.
The Bullas have recorded four albums, including one 14-track project they recorded in two days in Nashville.
Jenny Anne said some albums are tougher to find than others.
“Some of them we don’t sell because it’s too embarrassing,” she said, hinting their sound has matured since their early work.
Luke and Jenny Anne also have an instructional video available for kids wanting to learn to fiddle.
They both are sure they want to make a career of their music.
“It’s nice that at a young age I have an idea of what I’m going to be doing,” Luke said.
Jenny Anne has her eyes set on becoming the first woman to win the national fiddling title.
The Bullas have a tendency to draw a crowd whenever they have fiddles in their hands.
“Sometimes when my mom goes in the grocery store and we’re in the parking lot practicing, 20 or 30 people will gather around,” Jenny Anne said.
Brad is grateful his children are so talented and that they have been able to accomplish so much as a family.
“After a month I realized they had incredible ears. They just took off like bottle rockets,” he said. “I’m really happy to see them go as far as they have and being able to get along.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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