Bryan won the Walnut Valley Mandolin Championship is 2009 and then, with the new National Mandolin Championship allowing Bryan to enter again in 2010, he has joined the elite group who can claim winning back to back Championships with the same instrument at Walnut Valley. In fact, not since the second Walnut Valley Festival in 1973 (Jimmy Gyles) has it been accomplished...and it is highly unlikely that it will ever be again.
A young 18-year old student and musician came to Winfield and the Walnut Valley Festival for the first time in 2009. Bryan McDowell and his parents came all the way from Canton, NC. He had received encouragement to come to the Festival from one of his fellow band members, Brandon Davis of Independence, VA. Not only did Bryan enter one contest he entered three of the eight contests at the Festival. The first contest was on Friday, September 18, the Walnut Valley Mandolin Championship. Bryan was sitting down when the final two places were announced backstage on Stage 4. When second place was announced, McDowell put his hands to his face and bent down. He knew he had placed first in this contest. This was the first of three times his name would be announced as the first place winner. Bryan started playing the mandolin just seven years ago. As a matter of fact for the first six years he borrowed his sister’s mandolin. But a year ago she got married and moved away so in 2008 Bryan had to buy his own mandolin.
Four hours later, Bryan was again backstage at Stage 4. He had made the cut to the final five in the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Contest. After playing two more songs, the winners were announced and again the name Bryan McDowell came out on top. Another instrument was won by this young man. Bryan actually plays the fiddle in the current band he plays with, “Second Circle.”
Now fast forward to Saturday morning at the Walnut Valley Festival. The list of thirty-seven contestants in the National Guitar Flat Pick Championship includes that of Bryan McDowell from Canton, NC. Out of these contestants, could it be possible that Bryan would end up on top again? Odds perhaps seemed against that as some former champions were included in that list. When the cut to the final five was made, there was Bryan McDowell again. Roy Curry who has placed many times in this contest and the oldest among the top five commented, “You just gotta slow these young guys down.” Two more songs were played and the name Bryan McDowell was announced as the winner in the prestigious National Guitar Flat Pick Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival. In sports, three-peats are often mentioned, but in the contests here at the Festival? There have been a few times when contestants have entered more than one contest at the Festival and have won two first places, but never has an individual won three of the contests. This was a Walnut Valley Festival first. Ironic as it may seem, second and third places in this contest were won by best friends of Bryan, Brandon Davis of Independence, VA (the person who urged Bryan to come and enter the contests) placed second, and Eric Hardin of Warrensville, NC placed third. Not only are they best of friends, they are members of the same band, “Second Circle.”
In an interview after this contest, it is noted that Bryan McDowell is really a humble young man. When accepting his last first place prize, Bryan acknowledged his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the one who provided him the talent to accomplish what he has done. When asking his two closest friends, Brandon and Eric, what kind of person Bryan is, they concurred that Bryan is a true genuine humble person. The one thing these two commented on was the fact that in the National Guitar Flat Pick Championship they won’t have to put up with Bryan next year since he won’t be eligible to compete again in the contests he won for five years. In this conversation with the three of them, it was noted that in the band, “Second Circle,” Bryan actually plays fiddle, Brandon plays guitar and Eric plays mandolin. Other members of their band include Melissa King, Chase Johner and Tracy Burchum. If you are ever in the area where this band is playing, check them out, they’re one of the few bands to have some of the top acoustic instrument players in the United States.
Bryan's first visit to Winfield, Kansas, was in 2009 when he came to compete in the Walnut Valley Competitions. Little did he realize that he would soon make Winfield history. He entered and won, not one, but three competitions....mandolin, fiddle, and flat pick guitar. This triple win was a feat that no one had ever accomplished in the history of the Festival. To make the win even sweeter, Bryan's buddies and fellow band members, Brandon Davis and Eric Hardin, placed 2nd and 3rd respectively, along side of Bryan in the flat pick guitar competition. For obvious reasons, these guys now perform as "The Winfield Three".
Bryan is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter who enjoys performing and recording numerous genres of music. Now age eighteen, his overall musicianship is exceptional and far exceeds his age. While most young folks tend to parrot a master, the music Bryan creates reveals a style and quality all his own. His polished playing is smooth, innovative, and inspiring. And his marked desire for excellence and attention to detail serves to affirm his passion for the music he loves.
A gifted and seasoned performer, Bryan appreciates all the opportunities, friends, fans, and mentors the Lord has brought his way. Bryan grew up pickin' in "The McDowell Family Band". The family recorded two cd's while performing across the southeast.
Bryan and his sister, Emma, later teamed up with their longtime mentor and friend, Master Fiddler Arvil Freeman, to record "The Triple Fiddle Album". Then, in 2008, Bryan and Emma were honored to be 1 of 10 songwriters selected to showcase two of their songs at the 2008 International Bluegrass Music Associations Songwriters Showcase held in Nashville, TN, during the annual IBMA World of Bluegrass event.
When Emma married and moved out-of-state, Bryan then concentrated his efforts on competitions. Bryan now performs with other folks, including the band "Second Circle", conducts workshops and private lessons, and enjoys session work.