Nine-year-old bluegrass prodigy ready for the spotlight

Feb 16, 2015

Nik Carman (right) records "Wagon Wheel" at Studio Anatomy, accompanied by his brother, Andrew, on guitar.
Credit Aaron Selbig

An up-and-coming bluegrass musician from Traverse City is about to hit the big stage. Nik Carman will be joining the Accidentals Wednesday night to open up for Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

It’s a big step for nine-year-old Carman, who’s been performing in coffee shops for only a year or so.

Carman is one of those musicians who can pretty much do it all. He can strum a banjo, pick a mandolin, play a guitar and sing his heart out.

Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions is putting on the Ladysmith Black Mambazo show. He’s the one who decided to put Carman in the opening lineup.

“I mean, you know (it) when you hear it, right?” said Porter. “There’s that special spark that everyone has with the work they do. With musicians, I have so much fun just listening to them and saying, ‘Oh my gosh. This kid’s got something.’”

Nik Carman recorded his new album at Studio Anatomy in downtown Traverse City.
Credit Aaron Selbig

Carman is one of those kids who seems wise beyond his years. An “old soul,” you might say. He’s certainly not shy but he is a man of few words. You get the feeling he’s more comfortable letting his music do his talking.

He said he was inspired to pick up bluegrass music after attending a Billy Strings concert two years ago.

Carman’s new album was just finished a couple of weeks ago. It’s mostly a collection of classic bluegrass tunes. He says his favorite is “Shady Grove.”

Carman likes to make his own way in his young music career. He paid for the recording sessions for his album with money he’s earned busking and playing cafes – and he bought his mandolin and banjo.

But he also gets a lot of support. His parents are sending him to fiddle camp this summer. And more established musicians like the Accidentals and Billy Strings have taken him under their wings.

Sam Porter said there’s something about the power of the arts on northern Michigan that really fosters young prodigies like Nik Carman.

“We have Interlochen, we have all the vibrancy and the fabric of what we’re doing throughout the region,” said Porter. “We believe in music. We believe in arts (and) we believe in this community. There (are) thousands of volunteers driving these young artists forward.”

Nik Carman and the Accidentals will open for Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Lars Hockstad Auditorium in Traverse City.