A 21-year-old Mayville native has the distinction of being one of the finest banjo players in the country.
Earlier this month, Gregg Welty took third place in the Eastern USA Banjo Championships in Lawndale, N.C.
The competition featured the best of the best in the realm of banjo playing, featuring 17 of the top banjo players in the nation and eight previous national champions. Welty's third-place finish earned him a Nechville banjo, valued at $3,500, and an unexpected sense of accomplishment.
Earlier this month, Gregg Welty, pictured above, took third place in the Eastern USA Banjo Championships in Lawndale, N.C.
"I have never been so surprised in my life," he said. "I showed up and watched the entire contest, and I know how good all those guys are. The guys I was competing against are my heroes. I sit at home and watch their YouTube videos and try to learn all their songs, so I look up to them; and I didn't go in there very confident at all. So, for one, to compete against them is an honor, and to place higher than them is awesome, too."
As the son of Eric Welty, who was named champion of the 1993 National Bluegrass Banjo Competition, Welty said he was initially turned off by the banjo because of its ubiquitous presence in the household when he was younger. As a musician, he began playing guitar to back up his father in a bluegrass group, often participating together in the Lakewood Legion's weekly "Bluegrass Jam" held every Thursday.
At the age of 18, Welty began taking his banjo playing seriously - performing at the Bluegrass Jam, and practicing in between his studies at Mercyhurst University, from which he received his bachelor's degree on Sunday.
"I majored in biochemistry for undergrad, and (playing banjo) was my stress relief and my escape from the math, science and the hard schedule I had to maintain," Welty said. "I definitely play every day, but it's not like I feel that I have to sit down and practice for a certain amount of time or I won't do well in the contests; I just really like to play."
It wasn't long before he decided to try his hand at the competition circuit. In a few short years, Welty has performed in various competitions throughout the country, and he has done well as of late.
Prior to his third-place finish May 3, he has also placed: fourth - in a tie with his father - at the 2013 National Bluegrass Banjo Competition held in Winfield, Kan.; second in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships; and first in three state championships, earning him titles in Arizona, Maryland and Indiana.
"I've been doing this for a while, but I really haven't been successful at all until the past year or so," he said. "I've made it in the top five in every contest I've entered in the last year."
Despite the numerous competitions he has participated in, Welty said the Eastern USA Banjo Championship presented the stiffest competition he had faced up to that point. He said this was due to the fact that it was a first-time competition, meaning anybody who received an invitation could participate. In the banjo competition circuit, annual contests traditionally have a rule that champions from previous years have to sit out for a certain amount of time in order to make it fair, but that was not the case for the event.
"This contest was the hardest contest in the entire country because every national champion, it seems, was there," he said.
Welty performed his own arrangements of four traditional songs for the competition: "Little Rock Getaway," "Shenandoah," "Lady Be Good," and "Hallelujah." Videos of his performance at the Eastern USA Banjo Championships can be viewed by searching "Gregg Welty" on Facebook.