Bluegrass musical duo returns to Elizabethton March 30

Published 8:10 am Thursday, March 21, 2019

John Paul and Leona Mathes, as part of their returning tours in the U.S., are taking their combination of modern and classic bluegrass music to Elizabethton next Week, March 30.

“J.P.” Mathes said it has been roughly three or four years since they last performed in Elizabethton specifically.

“I am originally from here,” he said. “I went to ETSU.”

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He and his wife Leona have been performing for many years, often going back and forth from tours in both the U.S. and Tokyo, Japan. They recently returned from a year-and-a-half-long tour in Tokyo, where Leona is originally from.

“We went there for the music,” he said. “We wanted to spread the culture of this area to Japan.”

There, the couple developed a duo performance style they are bringing back to East Tennessee.

“Not many married musicians perform together,” she said. “They might not share the same roles, but they rarely actually perform on-stage together.”

She said their connection makes them uniquely suited for duo performances, despite their completely different backgrounds. She said she received professional training in classical violin, while he said he learned acoustic guitar by ear.

“He knows what I am feeling towards the songs,” she said.

They said there is a group of people there who know of and enjoy bluegrass music, but just as many people do not, and so they said they have worked to make their music as accessible as possible.

“We always make it a point to play at festivals with a broad audience,” he said.

The duo returned to East Tennessee in December of 2018, where they said they have been much more relaxed.

“Unlike here, musicians have to carry their stuff everywhere, so we had to bring a suitcase of all our equipment and merchandise everywhere,” he said.

This level of accessibility has carried over into their American performances, where he said they work to combine old classic songs with their own, original pieces.

“Our music sounds like bluegrass, but we try to update some of the lyrics,” he said.

The concert will take place at 8:30 on March 30, at the Elizabethton Elk’s Lodge on 1000 N Sycamore Street, behind Taco John’s. They said those interested can either purchase tickets at the doors or by going online at and/or

They will also have a concert at The Station at Roan Mountain on April 12, at 9367 US-19E.