Meet Barbaro, Our 2018 Band Contest Winner!

Here are our 2018 winners. Congratulation to our winner, Barbaro from Winoma MN! They are officially the first band booked for 2019.

1: Barbaro: Winona, MN.
2: Mama Said String Band: Louisville, KY.
3: The Wayfarers: Zanesville, OH.
4: The Squarshers: Fayetteville, AR.

Meet Barbaro, our 1st place winner at the 2018 8th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival Band Contest. Read more about Barbaro and keep up with these mighty fine folks at, facebook, and cd baby. 


Barbaro, from Winona, MN, is an award-winning progressive bluegrass band “playing music for films about cooking.” Spicy instrumentals, savory harmonies, and to-the-point songwriting creates a dynamic and captivating set for audiences of all ages and musical tastes. Barbaro began crafting it's sound in the fall of 2016 and has been evolving ever since.

Kyle Shelstad - Guitar and Vocals

Isaac Sammis - Banjo

Julian Davis - Mandolin and Vocals

Rachel Calvert - Fiddle and Vocals

Jason Wells – Bass


Our staff writer, Ernie Hill, had a chance to catch up with these busy folks and garner some info so you can get familiar with them.  Barbaro is our 1st officially booked band for JHMF9!


Where does your band name come from?

Kyle:  I used to date a woman that is really into horses. She turned me onto the equestrian “scene,” how that whole industry works, and especially the famous American racehorse Barbaro. I found Barbaro’s story uplifting yet especially depressing, so i figured that could be used as some quality content for a song which you can find on our self-titled EP.  When we were tossing around names for the band we didn’t want it to necessarily define the music we are playing or put us in a box.  A big goal of this band is to make music that is accessible to everyone whether they are bluegrass lovers or not so bluegrass lovers.  We figured our name could help with that.  But ultimately, for lack of great ideas, we settled on Barbaro.


How long have you been together and how did you come together?

 Isaac (banjo) and Kyle (guitar) started the band about a year and a half ago.  Since then we have been working on assembling musicians that fit well with the sound and musical goals.  We played a lot of gigs originally as a duo in order to start getting our name out there and attract some attention from local bluegrass players. This worked pretty well for us as we are lucky to have some really strong musicians and really great humans to play with.  Rachel Calvert plays fiddle and sings full time with us.  Chris Anderson, who played bass with us for the competition, is moving to China this August. So, we have recently picked up a new bass player Jason Wells.  We had young gun Julian Davis play mandolin with us.  We met him up in Minneapolis when he was playing with the mandolin player we have on recordings, Max Graham.  With a little convincing we got Julian on board. He joins us occasionally for gigs when we are down south or if he is up here.  He has become the go to mandolin player for a lot of Minneapolis bands.


Have any of you attended JHMF before?

Isaac: We have not, but heard about the magic the weekend brings from friends that have been and wanted to get out here to see for ourselves. Definitely an uplifting experience.


Have any of you, or the band, entered contests before?

Kyle: “A couple of us have done competitions before. I’ve competed at Northwest String Summit and placed runner up in the 2014 Telluride Band Competition with the “Kitchen Dwellers.” Julian Davis, who occasionally joins us on mandolin, has won 1st place flat picking Kansas state, 1st place mandolin Kansas state, 2nd place fingerstyle Kansas state, 1st place Arkansas flatpicking, and 1st place mandolin Arkansas.”


Why enter contests?

Kyle: “Contests are a great way to put your band to the test. There is a different type of energy when you are trying to showcase the best of your band within 15 minutes. Song selection is huge and it ultimately comes down to nerves. It is a great test of a bands ability to stay calm, composed, and still bring energy to the music. Contests are also a great way to help get your name out there.  Not to mention, now we can put ‘award-winning’ in our bio!”


Are you all songwriters?

Kyle Shelstad (guitar) writes most of the songs. Isaac Sammis (banjo) has written a few instrumental tunes for the band.


Do you collaborate?

Isaac: “Definitely. We see our band as a homemade amalgamation of individual ingredients coming together to make something beyond what could be created on our own. Kyle will typically bring a song to the band with an idea for direction and the band will throw their ideas into the mix and we flesh it out from there. We all want to put our mark on the music, and we do our best to respect and enable our fellow collaborators tastes and styles.”


Was this your first JHMF?

Yup!  And we have been looking forward to next year since we left the campground.


How did it feel to play on the stage that Bill Monroe built?

Isaac: “It was great! Just before playing, one of the judges said “if you feel nervous, just remember Bill Monroe and countless others stood right where you are now”. Didn’t help calm the nerves, but it was cool nonetheless!”


What was your contest setlist?   

Kyle:  We played mostly original tunes.  For the first round we led with the well-known tune “June Apple” followed by original tunes “Pancake and a Bad Idea” and “Rita Cline.”  In the final round we played all originals, “Cold Stack,” “Squirrel Blood” and “Two for Tea.”


What lies ahead for this band?

Kyle: “Onward and upward!  This summer has brought us some really positive momentum.  For a new band, winning the comp was huge.  After that we got an email, a couple weeks following and locked in a set at Blue Ox Music Festival.  We also play the family friendly, local favorite Boats and Bluegrass this summer as well.  We have been very busy in the Midwest gigging every week.  Things are already starting to fall into place for next summer, which by the looks of it could have us on the road nearly full time.  Including a couple trips down to your neck of the woods.  We are releasing a live in-studio video series this fall and working on a full-length album to release next Spring.”


Tell us about your JHMF fest experience. 

Kyle: “Love!  So much love! Even the competition was full of love!  By the end we felt like we knew everyone at the festival.  It is truly the most laidback festival I’ve ever been to.  It is a weekend that I will hold very dear to my heart for the rest of my life.  Not just because of the band’s success, but because of the new friends and lifelong relationships that were made over that short weekend.”


What would you do to improve our festival?

Isaac: “Can you have Del McCoury build a stage too?” We feel great! It's such an honor to win something like this and we're grateful for all the support we've been given on the road and back home. You can find our music on our webpage at or anywhere you stream music. Check us out on Facebook and Instagram too! We have an EP recorded now, some live video sessions coming out this fall, and a full length in the works!


by Ernie





Barbaro - Winner's Showcase on the Hartford Stage!