I got some sad news last week when I learned that my friend and musical inspiration Pete Soukas passed away on Nov 13th after a long battle with cancer. Pete was a significant musician (born 8.19.1933), performing with the best regional bands in New England as well as a host of national acts including JD Crowe, Tony Rice, Vassar Clements and Opry Member Boxcar Willie. But more importantly to me, he was a significant person. I learned a ton in the short time that I was lucky enough to work with him–subtle lessons you don’t get in music school, things that are hard to articulate, things I will never forget.
I first met Pete in 1998, during my freshman year in college. I had just started playing banjo and was lucky enough to fall in with a local bluegrass scene in NH through my first banjo teacher, Chuck Honsinger. Pete was among a great group of folks I would occasionally jam with as I was just learning banjo. Four years later I got the call to join the New England Bluegrass Band. Soukas was a founding member. We played together for about 2 years along with Cecil Abels, Lincoln Meyers and Roger Williams, touring and recording one full length album, ‘Things in Life.’
It was an amazing time and I learned so much from them all, but Pete was definitely the elder statesman. I remember his subtle encouragement, always perched in back on his stool paying attention to the sounds around him, anchoring the music without ever overpowering. He had amazing tone/authority and I loved his music, but I was even more inspired by his presence. Pete never stole the attention. He was the quintessential team player, on and off the stage. I was young and totally inexperienced but he treated me with respect and kindness always, consistently reassuring me that he was listening to me at shows, encouraging me to do my own thing, most of the time with very few words, if any. They all treated me that way, and in retrospect that confidence was huge, a much needed element of any young music career. I remember looking forward to the 3 hour round trip drive for rehearsal just because I was so excited to be in band with them. It was a joyous and deeply educational experience, and Pete was a big part of that. It never felt like work, and the idea that great relationships lead to great music has always stayed with me.
I will miss you Pete. We will all miss you. Thanks for your time, your music and all the amazing things you showed us along the way.