The two met while students at Tennessee Tech University, but were hesitant to declare their feelings for each other outright.
“I think we were both very excited to meet each other initially … but were afraid to tell each other that,” he remembers of their casual progression, first realizing they shared many of the same background characteristics and passions, and eventually started dating. “It just was a good match for us.”
Once Mark realized he’d found the one, he sold his rarely used banjo to pay for an engagement ring.
“I had wanted to learn to play for a long time growing as a kid, but never really got a good opportunity,” he says of getting rid of his Gibson, which “wound up staying in the case and under my bed” once he got to college.
The investment has served him well, as the two have just celebrated their silver anniversary, and will play with their family at Dugger Mountan Music Hall in Piedmont on Saturday.
After the two wed in March 1987, moves from Tennessee to Texas and back filled their early years together. They took root in Normandy, Tenn., where they raised their two children, 18-year-old Andrew and 15-year-old Grant. While forming a band was an idea that had yet to matriculate, it was an interest in a guitar from a then-10-year-old Andrew that began the family’s formal entry into professional music.
Their son began taking lessons, and around the same time, Matt began to desire giving the banjo another try. His interest made shopping for Christmas presents that much easier for Melissa, who gifted him with another banjo in 2003.
“I thought that was just the greatest gift,” said Matt. Meanwhile, Grant began lessons on the mandolin, and the three started to hold regular jam sessions.
“They really took off like ducks in the water,” Matt said of his sons’ developing interest in bluegrass, in which they play a mix of traditional and gospel music. “It’s a genre that allows you to tell stories about life and about experiences and about your faith. It’s not just strumming chords.”
Melissa, on the other hand, chose to bide her time and listen in for the first few years, and eventually chose to pick up her own instrument.
“Somebody told me bass would be the easiest instrument to learn,” she said, which gave Matt the opportunity to return the favor and purchase one as an anniversary gift for her in 2007.
It wasn’t long before the family was asked to play local events, and before they knew it, the Rigneys became a full-fledged quartet.
“We never really intended to start a band, it just kind of happened,” Melissa remembers of their natural progression. “We’ve had a really fun time doing it.”
The family decided to test the musical waters in 2008 when they released their first album, “Stone County.” Their talent has since led to two additional albums and has taken them across the world, where they have played international festivals in France and Spain. And while the band has gained momentum in past years, pursuing it full time is something that remains in the hands of a higher power.
“I’m never going to say never … for the most part, we have really put this in God’s hands,” Mark said. “We have pursued many opportunities, but really we give God the credit and the glory for the success that we’ve had.”
The experience has allowed for their children to see the world and learn how to run a business. Mark primarily handles the booking, Melissa works on advertising and web maintenance, and Grant stocks their CDs and keeps an eye on the money when they perform. Andrew has been able to develop his talent for writing and arranging, and coined three songs on their September release, “Familiar Paths.”
“We’ve tried to spread it out a little bit between us, and that way our sons are getting a lot of experience as well, and it’s not too much for any one person to take care of,” Melissa said.
The family has no plans to stop performing together, even when Andrew begins his freshman year of college at nearby Lipscomb University in the fall.
“The band has been very important to them, and they take it very seriously, and they work very hard at it,” Melissa said of her children’s unchanged interest in performing. “They’re the ones who really want the band to succeed and strive and grow.”
Whatever the future holds, the relationship that Mark maintains with his wife seems solid at its core — attributed in no small part to Melissa and the banjo. “I’m just thankful she’s put up with me for 25 years.”
The Rigney Family Bluegrass Band
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: Mountain Music Hall, 15081 Highway 9, Piedmont
Cost: Free, donation suggested