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Washington Voices

Accomplished teen musicians feel at home in the spotlight

If Justin Sherfey, 14, had known how to tie a necktie, a gifted musical duo might never have been born.

As Sherfey, the reigning Northwest Fiddle champion, waited to take the stage for a local talent competition, he realized he had a wardrobe malfunction. Colby Acuff, 16, had just performed and saw the younger teen fumbling with his necktie. “I didn’t know how to tie it, so he tied it for me,” said Sherfey.

Acuff’s skills extend beyond tying neckties. Since age 7, he’s been delighting audiences with his powerhouse vocals. When his band broke up a year and a half ago, he gave Sherfey a call and together they created a dynamic musical partnership.

The fact that Acuff lives in Coeur d’Alene and Sherfey in south Spokane wasn’t an issue thanks to the support of what they refer to as their “momagers.”

Heidi Acuff and Lori Sherfey take turns driving the teens to gigs and between houses for rehearsals. Last week the Sherfey living room rang with music as the boys performed “Wagon Wheel.”

“This is the first song we learned to play together,” Acuff said.

While he crooned the lead vocals, Sherfey chimed in with smooth harmonies, ably complementing Acuff’s guitar with his fiddle. Between the two of them they play a host of instruments including mandolin, harmonica, drums and bass guitar.

The duo is unabashed about what kind of music they favor. “We play country,” Acuff said.

Sherfey interjected. “Well, country, rock and pop.”

However it’s described, their music garners attention. They’ve played First Night and the Spokane Interstate Fair, and at venues as varied as the Davenport Hotel and Arbor Crest Winery.

Recently they performed for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter at the Governor’s Ball at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

A producer at “America’s Got Talent” saw a video of the duo on YouTube and left a message inviting them to audition for the show. Unfortunately, no one checked for messages on YouTube, and by the time it was discovered, the auditions had come and gone.

“We’re going to audition next year,” Acuff said.

In the meantime, between school and music gigs the pair maintain a busy schedule. Acuff attends Lake City High School and Sherfey is a student at Chase Middle School. They’re both honor roll students, and for now music is their only extracurricular activity.

When asked their favorite venue, Sherfey grinned. “I like the bars. The people start dancing and the audience gets into it.”

Acuff agreed. “People feel more comfortable to get up and dance.”

Singing and playing onstage feels like home to them. “My background is contest fiddling,” Sherfey said. “I like winning.”

As for Acuff, he said, “I’ve been singing on stage since first grade.”

In addition to performing, the two have a new project in the works. Sherfey said, “What we’re doing right now is writing our own songs.”

Their goal is to have enough original music to record a CD. “We write together and separately,” Acuff said.

“I’m a perfectionist,” Sherfey admitted.

He picked up his fiddle and they launched into a song they’d recently composed. The melody was pure country, and the lyrics featured summer vacation and “a girl I knew who broke my heart.”

Though passionate about music, the young men have their feet firmly planted in reality. “I realize I can’t do music for a living ’cause there’s a one-in-a-million chance,” Sherfey said. He plans to attend the University of Washington. “I’ll play music on the side.”

Acuff, too, is university bound and interested in a business major with a minor in accounting. However, college is still in the distance, and their calendars burgeon with gigs.

And even realists like to dream a little. When they let their imaginations go, Sherfey said, “We’d like a CD – maybe a record deal.”

Acuff added, “Performing at the Arena.”

Sherfey grinned. “Opening for Kenny Chesney!”

And their laughter filled the room.

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