When North Central Texas Academy student Ridge Roberts won the 2019 Grand Master Fiddler Championship last September, one of the rewards was to be invited to perform on one of the most famous stages of all — at the Grand Ole Opry.
Unfortunately Roberts recently learned that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his appearance in Nashville’s storied Grand Ole Opry spotlight will have to wait. Although he and his parents, John and Cindy Roberts, have not heard anything official, they are hoping he will be able to take the Grand Ole Opry stage in September of 2021.
Roberts said he was naturally disappointed with the delay, but "then I remembered God is in control, so there is no reason to be disappointed."
Although he said they don’t know for sure that it will happen, Roberts said, "That’s going to be awesome. It will probably be on my mind. I haven’t been to the Opry."
When Roberts won the 2019 Grand Masters open division title at the Ford Theater in Nashville, one of the prizes in addition to $500 in prize money and being invited to be a judge at the Country Music Hall of Fame event is an expense-paid trip to perform on the Opry stage the following year.
In addition to his God-given talent, Roberts is also known for his humility.
"I don’t think of myself as somebody on that level — as a big thing," he said. "To put myself in that place just doesn’t seem right. It’s kind of weird. And so, nonetheless, I’m really, really excited to do it. And that is a huge opportunity. It’s a huge blessing from God, for sure."
Roberts, a resident of Hood County and a former homeschooler along with his brothers Aedan and Rio, was only about nine years old when he first began attracting attention as a sensational fiddler in this area. Now he is 17 and will soon be starting his junior year at NCTA, a private school three miles north of Glen Rose in Somervell County.
That 2019 Grand Master Fiddler title was the latest in a string of multiple major championships Roberts has earned, competing in open adult divisions. They include a World Champion title in 2018, plus winning the open division state title in Oklahoma (2018) and the National Twin Fiddle Championship (2018). He also had earned junior division state championships in Texas (2017) and Colorado (2015), and also won national junior titles in 2018 and 2015, and was Junior World Champion in 2017 and 2016.
IN AWE AT THE RYMAN
Roberts’ interest in and love for the history of Texas style fiddle music, Western swing music and vintage country music led him to research the greats of the past, and the history of those genres.
But he was not quite expecting the emotional feeling he got when he visited another historic country music performance venue in Nashville known as the Ryman Auditorium. Roberts and his family visited the city, where his older brother, Aedan, is attending Vanderbilt University.
"I was stricken with something that I’ve never felt before," Roberts said. "It’s really hard to describe. It was awe. And I just really couldn’t believe that I was actually there. And just thinking about all of the history that had happened and all the things in the music that I love.
"It was like I almost just wanted to be left alone and just kind of sit and be by myself. I just wanted to sit down in one of those seats and just sit there for a while and just take it in."
The names of all-time great country legends like Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, Faron Young, Ray Price, Buck Owens and George Strait enter the conversation when Roberts is asked about his passion for the music.
"The biggest thing goes back to the history and all of the people who have played there in the past, who are my heroes," Roberts said. "So to actually go and play on the stage that they all, I mean many of them, that’s where they made it big. That’s where they became known. And so for me to get that opportunity is really incredible. It’s a huge blessing."
IN THE WORKS
Roberts has been working to also improve his guitar playing, along with a relatively new wrinkle on stage — singing — which could potentially propel him to even more notoriety. He sang in three public performances so far.
He also unveiled his plan to release his first album, on CD. So far it’s untitled, and is still in the mixing stage. He plans to have 17 songs on it once it’s sent to be mastered, possibly in August or September.
"I recorded an album in late February in Nashville with my mentor — he was playing guitar — Joey McKenzie (of Burleson), and a bass player named Dennis Crouch. He’s one of the A List session musicians in Nashville. That’s pretty cool, and he’s really a nice guy. He’s done everything from Aerosmith the Elton John, Diana Krall. He’s an amazing musician," Roberts said.
Roberts and his family plan to handle the release of the CD themselves, on their own Branded Man Records label, online through his website (www.ridgeroberts.com).
"I think it’s a much better way of doing it, especially for someone like me," Roberts said. "As it is, I don’t think a fiddle player can get signed to a record company to do a fiddle CD. Because if you’re going to sign with a record company, they have to make money off of it too. And they’re probably not going to make much money off of it."
Despite his progress in the music world, Roberts said he is "not too concerned" with becoming famous.
"In fact I kind of want to stay away from that a little bit," he said. "I guess, based on everything that’s happened to me over the years of fiddling playing, I’ve got a good enough understanding of music that I can kind of tell about how good of a singer I am and I know I’ll be able to work on it and get to a point I think where I can maybe go out and actually sing for people and sing well."
As for continuing on a possible path to a full-time professional career after his high school graduation, Roberts said, "It’s pretty set. It’s not that I’m opposed to anything else, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I want to be a musician. And I’m learning really to sing, learning to sing well, learning how to sing like Marty Robbins and how to sing like Merle Haggard and all my favorites.
"I think that part of it is going to have to be one step at a time. It’s really amazing the doors that have been opened. We do have a few connections. I have some opportunities."