How did violinist Jason Mowery go from fiddling in small town shows in Indiana to performing nightly in Las Vegas with Shania Twain, one of the top-selling female country artists of all time?
Well, he had to pull a few strings.
Before the former Fort Wayne resident performed for thousands in 18 countries on five continents, before playing the Grand Ole Opry, and even before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Mowery was working on graduating with a music engineering technology degree from Ball State University in 2000 with a passion for live performance and no idea of what to do next – except email anybody in the country music industry within a 20-mile radius of Nashville.
I got really lucky, Mowery says by phone from his home in Nashville. I was working in the computer lab at Ball State and had some down time so I taught myself how to design a website probably a year and half before graduation. I started sending out my website like a business card.
From one fateful email, Mowery, 36, has established himself as a touring country musician for 13 years. He is currently performing with Shania Twain during her Caesar’s Palace residency.
I still live in Nashville, but we go out to Las Vegas about four times a year and we’re there for about three weeks, he says. We play shows almost every day.
In April, Mowery was awarded Ball State’s prestigious Outstanding Alumni Award for his long list of accomplishments.
Mowery says that it wasn’t until he had to write his biography for the award program that he took the time to reflect on where his career has taken him.
It really caught me by surprise. I didn’t think about what I do as major accomplishments, he says. You just lose track of everything you’ve been doing. It just made me really proud to step back and look at what I’ve done from the outside looking in.
By some divine force – or forwarding by a co-worker – Mowery’s career began straight out of college when a mass email landed in the inbox of a manager looking for a temporary fiddler to play in the band of a new country singer, Keith Urban. Mowery says the band’s original fiddler had decided to take a New Zealand vacation.
I was brought in to audition and to rehearse, and I instantly moved to Nashville, Mowery says. When that girl came back from New Zealand, I had kind of stolen her job. It turned into touring for four and a half years.
Mowery first began playing the fiddle at the age of 9, growing up surrounded by his grandmother, great-aunts and great-uncles who played in the Decatur-based Geels Bluegrass Band. The band is a well-known fixture on Indiana’s bluegrass circuit. Mowery said he picked up fiddling from his great-uncle, Master Fiddler Francis Geels. Born in 1925, Geels performed on the same fiddle for most of his adult life. Before he died in 2011, Geels made a home recording of more than 100 songs just in case he ever forgot how to play them. The recordings now serve as an archive for bluegrass musicians.
I sort of idolized him, Mowery says. I always wanted to do what he was doing.
By the age of 11, Mowery was performing as a fiddler in the band. As a teenager at North Side High School, Mowery competed in fiddling competitions, winning several state fiddling championships and placing as a top 10 finalist in the Grand Masters National Fiddling Championship. However, as a high school senior, Mowery decided to go to Ball State to pursue architecture.
I had drafting classes when I was at North Side, and they were college-level courses. It was really cool, and Ball State had a really great program, he says.
Over the one year that he studied architecture, Mowery continued to play fiddle in a number of bands for extra money. He realized that he wanted to pursue music professionally; he transferred to the college’s School of Music the next year.
Mowery began to study recording technology, sound synthesis, composition, computer music and performance.
There are all sorts of different jobs in the music business, but the one that is the most unstable is live performance, which is what I do as a touring musician, he says. You might be really busy for a while and then nothing. You have to be good at planning and managing your money.
Over the years, Mowery has expanded his repertoire to include classic violin, mandolin, lap steel, banjo, guitar and Dobro, a resonator guitar. He says that working with artists in other genres, like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Fogerty, gives him a chance to grow as a musician. He says that he would like to work with bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss and rock guitarist Derek Trucks.
I want to play with AC/DC, but I don’t think they’re going to hire a fiddle player anytime soon, Mowery says.
Since working as a touring musician isn’t usually a long-lived career, Mowery has begun to think of other ways he can stay involved in music. He has already written songs with some of Nashville’s most prominent songwriters for Canadian Idol Jaydee Bixby and Jessica Harp, one-half of former country duo The Wreckers. Mowery married Harp in 2008. The couple has one daughter, Stella.
He says that once he gets older, he would like to stay in Nashville with his family and become a songwriter full-time.
It’s physically hard to be a touring musician. There’s only so much sleeping on planes and buses a person can take, Mowery says. With already having two back surgeries, retirement might come a little quicker for me.
Whatever the future, he knows that his place will always be behind the music.
I love being the side guy. I never wanted to be the guy standing in the center, Mowery says. I’ve always loved being in the context of a band.