Interview with Johnny James Qualley from Oakhurst

Johnny James Qualley, oakhurst
Johnny James Qualley from Oakhurst

Interview and photos by Scott Preston

Oakhurst has had a reputation for torching bar and theater stages throughout the US with its unique sound and unbridled stage energy for years. But lately, the band has also created a stir on major festival stages, cruise ships and European tours. The band’s adept picking, sweet harmonies, and citybilly swagger have cleary come from playing 200+ shows a year in such varied environments. Oakhurst’s unpretentious, go-for-it interpretation of a genre that’s often handled too reverently, sparks interest in bluegrass by folks who don’t know Doc Watson from Doc Holliday.

Along the way Oakhurst has shared stages with very diverse national talent such as John Hiatt, Nickel Creek, The Flaming Lips, Emmylou Harris, Barenaked Ladies, Yard Dogs Roadshow, Bela Fleck, The Ditty Bops, The Radiators, Junior Brown, Lyle Lovett, Lynyrd Skynard, Johnny Lang & Guster.

Oakhurst has also shared the stage with future and current Colorado legends as well. The list includes Yonder Mountain String Band, Devotchka, Rose Hill Drive, the Motet, Pete Wernick, Drew Emmit, Billy Nershi and Vince Herman. (from

Cincy Groove: So do you handle the bands publicity?

Johnny James Qualley: Yes, I handle the bands publicity. Being a founding member its one of those things I have been doing since back in the beginning. We have everything else in place except a publicist, but since we have all the other stuff taken care of it gives me more time to do the publicity. We have a great booking agent here in Boulder, Co. Its great not to have to worry about booking our shows anymore.

Cincy Groove: How many shows does Oakhurst play in a year?

Johnny James Qualley: Anywhere from 200 – 250 shows a year. So far this year we have been to 9 countries and 25 different states, and the year is only half over. We are getting ready for our first run of the year through the east coast which is always a lot of fun.

Cincy Groove: I have seen Oakhurst perform at 4 hookahville’s, how did you end up hooking up with Trickle from Legend Valley?

Johnny James Qualley: Our manager Erin, is married to Hunter Shoemaker who is from Newark, OH. He and his older brother J.R. ended up growing up with Trickle. So 2 1/2 years ago when Hunter came into the picture, Erin was really trying to book tours for us. We went out there to Legend Valley and played our first hookahville. Trickle loved our music and the guys from ekoostik hookah are were good to us. We ended up doing four hookahville’s in a row. We missed this past spring’s hookahville because we were in Europe.

Cincy Groove: So how did the idea come about to ride around on the golf carts playing music at hookahville?

Johnny James Qualley: I think thats really how we got noticed out there. The first time we ever rode around on the golf cart playing was at that hookahville. Trickle came by with his crew and 5 or 6 golf carts. He loaded us up and we went around playing at people’s campsites until the sun came up.

Cincy Groove: Whats one of the more interesting places Oakhurst has played?

Johnny James Qualley: Back in January and February we were performing on Jam Cruise and one of the places that we repeatedly went to was the Grand Cayman Islands. A couple of our band members just went out to have a couple beers and check out he island. They met the owner of this club and he said the next time we were on the island we should go and play a show at his place. So the next time we went through we showed up at this place, they had fried caunch set out and all of this great food. They had this guy standing out on the curb with a sign. We ended up packing this little tiny bar.

Then just a short while late we were playing at this Chateau in the Champagne region of France. There was this professional sound guy Bernard, who was married into the family who has owned the chateau since the 1600’s. It had a moat around it and a cathedral built in the backyard. This place was so far out in the country GPS won’t even work.

Cincy Groove: What about the gig you played at a prison?

Johnny James Qualley: Oh yeah, we played at Antwerp Prison in Belgium. We saw that pop up on our calendar and were like “Sweet” (laughing). We were looking it up on the internet and found a blog from another band that had played there. The prison has a program that rewards prisoners who show good behavior with a concert. They had a little venue in the prison that the staff let the prisoners paint graffiti all over it. They separated the women prisoners from the men. They put the women prisoners in the back corner because apparently they were flashing their stuff at bands in the past. When the stage lights came on we could barely see past the first couple rows. Just really being in the prison and feeling the energy that was being put off by the prisoners, then having dinner with the warden , it was really crazy. Our booking agent in Europe has a contract with 4 or 5 prisons, so thats how we ended up playing there.

Cincy Groove: I see that your new album just came out in March. With Oakhurst on the road so much , how long did it take to record?

Johnny James Qualley: The first time we were in Europe we were working on the songs. We did so much pre production while we were in Europe that by the time we went into the studio we ended up tracking the whole thing in 3 days. We ended up having 11 tracks on the cd and most of them were done on the 1st or 2nd take. It was done pretty much live, the only overdubbing we did was a few spots where we had to separate some vocals and guitar for the mixing.

A.P. Hill – Lead Vocal, Acoustic Guitar
Zach Daniels – Banjo, Vocal
Adam Smith – Mandolin, Electric Guitar & Vocal
Johnny James Qualley – Double Bass, Electric Bass
Chris Budin – Drums, Vocal


Loose and Prosperous, independent release, 2001
Greenhorn, Big Bender Records, 2004
Dual Mono, Big Bender Records, 2005
Jump in the Get Down, Big Bender Records, 2008

Upcoming Oakhurst tour dates:
For complete show details visit
Jul 7 2008 The Beachland Ballroom Cleveland, Ohio
Jul 8 2008 The Mad Frog Cincinnati, Ohio
Jul 9 2008 The Purple Fiddle Thomas, West Virginia
Jul 10 2008 River Street Jazz Plains, Pennsylvania
Jul 11 2008 Cafe 939 Boston, Massachusetts
Jul 12 2008 The Abbey Bar Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Jul 13 2008 The Saint Park, New Jersey
Jul 14 2008 Parkside Lounge New York City, New York
Jul 16 2008 The Lincoln Theater Raleigh, North Carolina
Jul 17 2008 Neighborhood Theater Charlotte, North Carolina
Jul 22 2008 The Melting Point Athens, Georgia
Jul 23 2008 Smith’s Olde Bar Atlanta, Georgia
Jul 24 2008 Midtown Music Hall Chattanooga, Tennessee
Jul 25 2008 D-Fest Tulsa, Oklahoma
Jul 26 2008 The Bottleneck Lawrence, Kansas
Aug 1 2008 Snake River Saloon Post Dillon, Colorado
Aug 2 2008 Keystone Bluegrass & Brews Festival Keystone, Colorado
Aug 2 2008 Snake River Saloon Post Keystone, Colorado
Aug 3 2008 Crestone Music Festival Crestone, Colorado
Aug 8 2008 The Rock Inn Estes Park, Colorado
Aug 9 2008 BBQ at The Summit Dillon, Colorado
Aug 14 2008 Rock Bottom South on the Patio! Englewood, Colorado
Aug 17 2008 Bohemian Nights @ New West Fest 2008 Fort Collins, Colorado
Aug 22 2008 The Village at Copper Mountain Ski Resort Copper Mountain, Colorado
Aug 23 2008 NEDFEST Nederland, Colorado
Aug 29 2008 Half Moon Saloon w/ Greensky Bluegrass Big Sky, Montana
Aug 30 2008 Zebra Cocktail Lounge Bozeman, Montana
Sep 7 2008 Larimer Lounge BBQ Denver, Colorado
Sep 11 2008 The Blank Slate Tulsa, Oklahoma
Sep 11 2008 The Blank Slate Tulsa, Oklahoma
Sep 12 2008 Mulberry Mountain Harvest Festival Ozark, Arkansas
Jan 8 2009 The Simple Man Cruise Miami, Florida
Jan 9 2009 The Simple Man Cruise Miami, Florida
Jan 10 2009 The Simple Man Cruise Miami, Florida
Jan 11 2009 The Simple Man Cruise Miami, Florida
Jan 12 2009 The Simple Man Cruise Miami, Florida