Hillbilly Thomists to make music to the Lord in Park City

Friday, Jun. 21, 2024
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

PARK CITY — Utahns will have the opportunity to enjoy Bluegrass music in a unique location and from a unique source on July 26. The Hillbilly Thomists, a band of friars of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), will perform that evening at the St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church social hall.

The band was formed after several members began getting together to make music about nine years ago. In 2017 they released their first album, “The Hillbilly Thomists,” which reached #3 on the Billboard bluegrass chart. In 2021 they released their second album, “Living for the Other Side;” followed by a third “Holy Ghost Power,” which peaked at #5 on the Billboard bluegrass chart. Their fourth album, “Marigold,” will be out at the end of July.

Every other year the band members get together to record an album; on the off years they embark on a two-week tour in the summertime.

This arrangement evolved over time but was helped along by the talents of Father Justin Bolger, who with his sister Maggie had a successful recording career before he joined the order.

“So he brought all this skill set and started recording their music,” said Paul Padgett, Maggie’s husband and the band’s manager.

All of the band members have other primary responsibilities within their religious order: several are university chaplains; others have assignments in Rome.

Making music as “an extra part of their ministry is a lot of work, and they somehow fit it in, but it’s a lot of late nights and early mornings, and just trying to get it out,” Padgett said.

With such a limited schedule for performances, the band has to turn down the majority of the requests it receives to play, Padgett said. St. Mary Parish won one of these spots this year because of their perseverance.

“A lot of it is just tenacity of people reaching out,” Padgett said. “We’ve had a couple of people from there reach out several times.”

This is the first time the band will have played west of the Mississippi, he said.  

Of the band’s eight members, four will visit Utah for the Park City concert: Fr. Justin, Fr. Joseph Hagan, Fr. Simon Teller and Fr. Jonah Teller. Fr. Simon and Fr. Jonah are biological brothers.

Fr. Justin plays guitar, bass, piano and banjo and handles vocals with Fr. Simon, who also plays the fiddle and banjo. Fr. Jonah plays guitar and sings. Fr. Joseph rounds out the foursome with percussion.

Rather than being a formal ministry, the band and its music are a reflection of the joy through which the members live their lives, Padgett said. “Many of the orders are like this: They dedicate themselves to beauty, to the good, the true and the beautiful. In music, they have this combination of all of those things where they can pursue what they consider beautiful music and make high-quality music that they enjoy. That does have a deeper message but they’re not setting out to create new liturgy, or new praise-and-worship kind of music. They’re engaging with the tools of culture, this southern Appalachia, bluegrass, folk culture and using that skill set that several of them have honed over time.”

For St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, this concert is a way for parishioners and others to celebrate their faith, said Anthony Jewett, the parish’s director of evangelization. ‘We need to practice Catholicism in our lives beyond just prayer and liturgy. We should be joyful; we should have fun with it. And I don’t think there’s anybody who epitomizes that better than the Hillbilly Thomists, because they are men who have dedicated their lives in service to the Church and they also have a passion for music. And they want to combine those two to make something joyful for the community and for people to see Catholicism in more than just this austere or solemn light, but in a joyful light.”

Following the concert the Dominicans will lead parishioners in night prayer at the church, Jewett said.

WHAT: Hillbilly Thomists concert

WHEN: Friday, July 26, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: St. Mary of the Assumption Church social hall, 1505 West White Pine Canyon Rd., Park City

Free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted to help cover the cost of the tour and to support to the formation of friars at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. 

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