Carson Peters, 9, of Piney Flats played his first song on the fiddle at the age of 3. He currently leads his own band.
Carson Peters’ dad describes him as a typical rock-throwing, stick-breaking, baseball-playing, wild 9-year-old boy.
Like most boys, the Piney Flats third-grader enjoys hunting, riding his four-wheeler and playing baseball.
But there’s one activity Carson enjoys more than anything else.
"I really want to be a professional fiddle player," Carson told the Times-News last week. "That’s the goal."
Carson can’t really remember a time when the fiddle wasn’t a part of his life. He sawed off his first tune at the age of 3, played his first concert at the age of 4, and currently leads his own band.
Next month Carson will be competing for his fourth consecutive championship in the East Tennessee Young Musicians Bluegrass Contest, which is held every February in Rogersville.
Winning championships is great, but Carson said that’s not what he’s all about. The contest is just another show to him, and whether he’s playing to a crowd of 500 at Dollywood or a crowd of 50 at a fire station benefit concert, he’s going to play his heart out every time.
"It’s just knowing that when I play I can make people smile, and that God gave me the talent to play the fiddle and I can use that to make people smile," Carson said. "(Hearing applause) is not what I set out to do when I play. I just want to make them happy. I don’t really care about the fame."
Carson added, "I still don’t know if I’m going to be good at it or not."
Carson’s parents, Jamie and Robin Peters of Piney Flats, noticed that Carson had musical tendencies at an early age .
If they were in church and the choir was singing, little Carson was tapping his foot keeping time.
"Going down the road we’d here him clapping or rattling his rattle or whatever he had in his hand, and he would be in time," Jamie said. "His grandmother bought him a little ukulele and I didn’t even know how to tune a ukulele. It was just here and he would beat on it. One day Carson came through the house and he said ‘listen momma,’ and he picked out the lead to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ on his ukulele that wasn’t even in tune. We knew then we needed to get an instrument in his hand."
Carson was 3 when he got his first fiddle. The family was on vacation in Pennsylvania and Jamie found a 1/8th size fiddle at an Amish flea market. At the time it was too big for him.
His first fiddle teacher was Sarah Fletcher-Collins who worked with him for three years.
"My first lesson my fiddle teacher just wanted me to know the basics on how to play the fiddle, and she taught me ‘Old Mc-Donald,’ " Carson said. "As soon as I learned that my fiddle teacher said, ‘You better bring him back.’ "
Jamie added, "After a couple of lessons she said he’s really catching on, so you need to bring him back. Carson would come home and get his fiddle out and play. I had played the guitar growing up, I finally went and found mine and got the dust off of it, and tuned it up, and I would play the songs with him. It was really fun to watch him learn because I have to try really hard to play and it was really easy for him to start picking up. Even at age 4 he was playing three for four years above his age."
Less than a year after picking up the fiddle for the first time Carson was playing in public. His first live performance was a benefit concert at a fire department — The Fiddlin’ Carson Peters Band — which plays about 50 shows per year including local festivals, benefits, and the regular "pickin’ parlors" across the region.
Aside from Jamie on guitar and Carson on fiddle, the group consists of a husband and wife team from Greeneville — Tom Dier on bass and Bobbie Dier on mandolin.
Tom and Bobbie met Carson two years ago at the Mount Airy, near South Holston Lake when he was 4 years old. "Carson went up there and I N.C., Fiddlers Convention held think he played ‘Old Joe Clark’ and ‘Boil Them Cabbage Down,’ and it was really something to see him play on stage at such a young age," Jamie said. "Carson had just turned 4. He started taking lessons in August and this was the next April."
Less than five years later, Carson is now leader of his own band every June. It was Carson who approached the Diers at the convention and asked them to join his band.
"As far as him being a kid, it’s not like we’re playing with a kid," Tom said. "I mean that seriously. He’s a professional, and he’s a very skilled fiddle player. We don’t think of him as a kid."
Carson describes his style as mainly bluegrass with some "old time" and gospel songs thrown in. He said he likes to play at least two or three gospel numbers in each show and let the audience know his group are Christians.
To say that Carson is a blessed musician is an understatement. He’s able to play by ear and learn new songs just by listening to them.
"Most of the songs we play we just listen to CDs and that’s how we learn them," Carson said. "If I listen to it for about an hour or two I can maybe play it if I really try. "
Jamie is quick to point out that Carson puts together the set list and despite his tender age is the leader of the band.
"We’re really blessed to have adults playing in the band besides his father that are really there to help him grow as a musician," Jamie said. "We’re really blessed to have Tom and Bobbie in the band because you don’t find many adults who would let a 9-year-old come and be the boss."
Jamie added, "We’re truly blessed. Even if Carson couldn’t whistle, much less play the fiddle, Carson is a good boy. He’s a good son, and I’m very proud of him. He loves the Lord and he treats others nicely, and he’s just a good kid."
And if Carson decided one day he didn’t want to play fiddle any longer, that would be fine with mom and dad.
Jamie said, "He enjoys it, and the day he quits enjoying it we’ll find something else to do, won’t we son."
"Which will not be a day (any time soon)," Carson replied.