About Tray Wellington

Banjo player Tray Wellington’s approach to the quintessential American instrument is all about looking forward. An International Bluegrass Music Association Award winner, Wellington is critically acclaimed not only for his technical prowess, but also for leveraging his unique point of view to craft a one-of-a-kind voice on the instrument. It’s a feat that’s all too rare in these roots genres that seem to value emulation and regurgitation over all else. Instead, Wellington has time and time again reasserted that his playing style, and all of the many varied and disparate parts that combine within it, is wholly his own – and it’s unconcerned with tradition.

Whether seen on CNN, discovered in reviews and features by The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, or heard on the main stage of roots music festivals across the country, Wellington combines forward-looking musical textures and influences with an athletic and trad right hand. There are numerous qualities here evoking so many five-string banjo legends, but there are just as many that are brand new – referencing or conjuring jazz, swing, bebop, hip-hop, rock and roll, and beyond. Wellington is carving a truly idiosyncratic pathway for himself in music and on the banjo. The stereotypical, often revisionist and white-washed cultural touchpoints of the instrument are decidedly in his rearview mirror.

 With roots in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, Wellington subverts those expectations and presuppositions of five-string banjo players artfully; his playing is constantly informed by a striking self awareness. Do not be confused, his bluegrass, old-time, and traditional expertise is well-honed, since he was a teenager, but at this stage in his solo career, they are merely a small handful of influences in the rich, diverse soil his music is rooted in. On top of this well of knowledge, Wellington knows how he is perceived in these roots music spaces, and he uses that awareness to his advantage. 

Tray Wellington Band sets include broad, through-composed new acoustic instrumentals that are cerebral and intentional, but accessible, too. Their concerts never stray into “show off” territory. They’ll often include entrancing covers – like a show-stopping rendition of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” – and plenty of bluegrass, Americana, and country, but the bulk of material here is original with a focus on composition and improvisation.

While Wellington and his band are a common sight at bluegrass festivals, this is a bluegrass ensemble in structure only. Yet another banjo expectation that he slyly reconfigures. It’s clear Wellington never feels hemmed in by his instrument, his background, or the vocabularies available to him from each. That freedom is more than attractive to audiences and listeners, it’s electric. When the band steps on stage, the audience sees a “bluegrass band,” but by the time they leave the stage, those audiences are shown a group and a sound that is anything but.

 At the end of the day, at the end of the concert, at the end of the tour, Tray Wellington synthesizes countless styles and inputs to craft an approach to the banjo where reinvention and innovation aren’t abstract concepts, but active, real time processes. Banjo players like Wellington are adept at sitting on fences, living in multiple, dissonant worlds simultaneously. 

 Tray Wellington accomplishes this type of duality with ease, even for his youth, demonstrating that if you treat the banjo as an instrument that transcends styles, techniques, and genres it will rise to that occasion and then some. And, he shows us all that there’s an entire undiscovered world of banjo out there waiting for us. With a guide like Wellington, that world is no longer hard to find.


Tray is proud to be an endorsing artist for a number of quality companies.