Russ Barenberg (born October 8, 1950) is considered to be one of the most melodic instrumentalists in contemporary acoustic and bluegrass music. He is well known for his flatpicking technique, his session work for various artists, for being an exceptional guitar teacher, and he was even nominated for a Grammy in 2008.
At the age of 13, while living in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Barenberg began playing guitar, and he began taking lessons from Alan Miller, the older brother of future band mate, John Miller. Early on, he was inspired by blues, bluegrass, and folk artists, particularly Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Clarence White.
In 1968, while attending Cornell University, Barenberg met a banjo player by the name of Pete Wernick, and two years later, they formed the bluegrass group Country Cooking with Kenny Kosek, Tony Trischka, and John Miller. Before disbanding in 1975, the group recorded two albums that were influential within the genre.
For a brief period, Barenberg played electric guitar in the jazz-rock group Carried Away, but he soon moved to New York City and returned to his roots, joining another bluegrass group, Heartlands. The band never recorded an album of their own, but Heartlands appeared on Bahrenberg’s first solo album, Cowboy Calypso.
Barenberg soon moved again, this time to Boston, playing with several bands and teaching guitar and mandolin at the Music Emporium in Cambridge. Fiddle Fever and Laughing Hands were two notable groups he played with during this time, and Fiddle Fever’s song “Ashokan Farewell” was used in Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War. Barenberg also later contributed music to other Ken Burns films such as The Brooklyn Bridge, The Shakers, and Huey Long.
In 1986, Barenberg relocated once again to Nashville, where he resides to this day, and since then, he’s contributed to numerous artists’ recordings, including Hazel Dickens, Mel Tillis, Randy Travis, and many others. He also continues to teach guitar through instructional materials and contributing to workshops and music camps around the country. In 2008, his song “Little Monk”, from the album “When at Last”, was nominated for a Grammy in Best Country Instrumental Performance.