Ross “Rooster” Holmes
The world’s most beloved stringed instrument is called a violin, or, a fiddle, depending on how and where it’s played. In the hands of Texas-raised, Nashville-based musician Ross Holmes, it can be one or the other, or a creative hybrid of the two.
Holmes, who has been transfixed by the instrument from the moment he first held one at eight years old, has translated omnivorous musical curiosity into a remarkable career that has taken him to over 40 countries and prestige destinations, including the Silk Road in China, Carnegie Hall, and the massive Glastonbury festival. Adaptable and authentically interested in a huge variety of music, he has lent his talents to country stars, pop icons and bluegrass standouts. He has also formed genre-shattering bands of his own, including the adventuresome instrumental trio ChessBoxer. Having accumulated an extensive list of credentials for such a young artist, Holmes is now applying his multi-instrumental skills and his belief in music itself to new media, new outlets and new concepts.
Growing up in Fort Worth, TX, Ross’s family roots are steeped in music, especially Texas contest fiddling. He combined lessons in that traditional school with classical training, studying under Dr. Kurt Sprenger, as well as contest fiddlers Jimmie Don Bates and Joey McKenzie. It was the eclectic environment of Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp in Nashville where he befriended a new generation of genre-fluid string players. In Fall 2002, he met singer/songwriter/mandolinist Bryan Simpson and banjo prodigy Matt Menefee, and together they started the progressive bluegrass band Cadillac Sky. The ensemble got a foothold touring regionally around the south. When their progress was interrupted in 2004, Holmes drove overnight to Nashville for an audition with fast-rising country traditionalist Josh Turner. Ross earned his first industry experience on the road with the baritone star. In early 2006, Cadillac Sky became active again with a string of albums on leading indie labels, earning them widespread respect in the bluegrass world as a band that appealed to both traditionalists and younger adherents of Nickel Creek and Old Crow Medicine Show.
In 2010, through an engagement at the Telluride Bluegrass festival, the members of Cadillac Sky met the members of an emerging British folk pop band, Mumford & Sons. They made music that weekend and wound up touring together, setting up a fateful turn of events for Holmes’s career. Just as Cadillac Sky went on hiatus again, Mumford & Sons invited Ross to be their fiddle player. He toured with them globally as the band blew up into one of the biggest pop sensations in the world, making headline appearances for 250,000 people at the Glastonbury Festival, Lollapalooza in Chicago, and Red Rocks Ampitheater. Holmes was on board the train tour featuring Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in 2011 that eventually became the Grammy-winning film The Big Easy Express. Ross became an even deeper contributor to Mumford & Sons when he arranged the string parts for the band’s anticipated second album Babel, which went on to win the Grammy Award for “Album of the Year”.
Ross’s musical explorations with Cadillac Sky banjo player Matt Menefee gelled into a duo, and then trio, called ChessBoxer, one of the most refined and exciting groups to pick up the Newgrass instrumental torch lit decades ago by Mike Marshall, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas and others. Indeed, Fleck gave ChessBoxer a vote of confidence by connecting them with roots rocker Warren Haynes, who made the trio his backing group and opening act for the three-continent Ashes & Dust tour. While ChessBoxer’s freedom to tour independently may have been limited by other commitments, the compositional and recorded output set a high bar for creativity in the chameleon space that Ross has cultivated.
The most pivotal recent opportunity has been Holmes’s current job on the road with pop rocker Bruce Hornsby. This highly skilled and flexible ensemble has provided Holmes with something he’s not had before: a gig that’s both high profile and high freedom. Other projects have taken Holmes to surprising, fulfilling places. He embarked on a six-week Silk Road tour in Western China with folk standout Abigail Washburn, has performed original music on Davey Crockett’s original fiddle at The Alamo alongside rock star Phil Collins, and has started development on a television series spotlighting music as it is actually played and lived with around the world.