Lincoln Highway Bluegrass Band continues onward

Marshalltown’s Lincoln HIghway Bluegrass Band has been a model of stability – in a business renown for instability – since forming in 1998.

The one-time sextet of Terry Augspurger, Mike Bergman, Jonathan Hull, Mike Luttrell, Ken Lyons and Chris Thiessen, all of Marshalltown, have been like family to a generation of central Iowans.

They’ve regularly appeared at farmers markets, festivals, fundraisers and more.

Until recently, only one personnel change had taken place in its 15-year history.

That was in late 2009, when Thiessen joined as rhythm guitarist.

On June 27, a second occurred.

Luttrell, the band’s mandolin player and lead and harmony vocalist, made his final appearance.

It was at Colo’s historic Nieland Corners, where the old Lincoln Highway – the band’s name sake and now a county road – intersects with Highway 65, also known as the Jefferson Highway.

Nieland Corners oozes nostalgia – it was a bustling place years ago, when the Lincoln Highway – the nation’s first transcontinental roadway – carried thousands of vehicles daily, and many stopped at the 24/7 business to eat, purchase gasoline, and in some cases, get a good night’s rest.

The old gas station with its vintage gas pumps means a lot to the band – it served as cover of the group’s second CD.

The event celebrated Lincoln Highway’s 100th birthday to boot.

Augspurger and Bergman said the setting – and the day – was ideal for Luttrell’s final performance

The departure was a friendly one, said Luttrell and Bergman, the band’s cofounders.

Luttrell’s desire to do other things was his motivation to leave, he said.

A weekly Tuesday night practice, evening and weekend gigs were significant time commitments.

The band’s performances typically ran 90 minutes to two hours, but there was a good deal of additional time spent traveling, loading and unloading equipment, sound checks and packing up when done.

“I wanted to be involved in a few more things, like the theater,” Luttrell said. “Plus, our daugther-in-law is expecting a child soon, I just felt now was a good time to open up my schedule a little bit.”

“I was slightly disappointed when Mike first told me,” Bergman said. “But not surprised, considering the length of time we’ve been together … and knowing nothing lasts forever. I liked having MIke in the band and I’m going to miss his mandolin play.”

Augspurger knew Luttrell before the two became band mates.

“Mike is kind of the restless type,” he said. “We sang together as members of the First United Methodist Church choir before we formed the band. He’s always looking for new challenges.”

Luttrell’s newest challenge is playing Franklin D. Roosevelt in “Annie,” a Marshalltown Community Theater production, which opens July 26 at the Martha Ellen Tye Playhouse.

Luttrell is returning to old roots – he and family were active in Spencer’s community theater prior to moving to Marshalltown in 1990.

The Peoria, Ill. native who grew up in Morton, Ill., has worked here as a psychologist at Center Associates (with CEO Bergman) and for the past six years at the Iowa Veterans Home.

He looked back on his years in the band fondly, emphasizing the band’s contributions at countless civic events and by entertaining nursing home residents.

“I felt we contributed to the community, by appearing at fundraisers,” he said. “We performed at area nursing homes many times, with Marshalltown’s Bickford Cottage and others favorites. I always felt it was one way we could help.”

State Center’s annual Rose Festival and the Iowa BBQ Championship in Marshalltown were favorite gigs, he said.

Luttrell cited the group’s appearance as the “Stoney Lonesome Band” in “Foxfire,” a play performed at Marshalltown’s Orpheum Theater in 2011, as another favorite.

But the number one career highlight was when Lincoln Highway appeared with bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and his “Kentucky Thunder” band at Marshalltown High School’s Roundhouse several years ago.

“Skaggs was a guy we would listen to,” Luttrell said. “We would get ideas for songs. It was like playing for one of our idols.”

The band has not replaced Luttrell.

Members have made adjustments in song selections at practice sessions as two performances draw near.

Augspurger and Bergman said making those changes is not a negative, but rather, is part of a growing process.

Bergman will take over Luttrell’s mandolin play.

“I’ll set the fiddle down during a performance when it is time, play the mandolin and pick up the fiddle again,” he said.

More instrumentals will be added to make up the loss of Luttrell’s lead vocals.

Band members, though, will have to assume Luttrell’s role of bantering with the audience and band mates.

“Mike was our ” ‘front door man’ ” with the audience, and we’ll have to make that adjustment,” Bergman said. “The bottom line is, that for all of the changes due to Mike’s departure, it is our job to make it work, we owe it to the audience.”