Steve Watt - Banjo and mandolin

Steve got his musical start in the folk music scene in New York in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Pete Seeger introduced him to the banjo, and the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, and others were his first influences. His father gave him his start on the mandolin. He saw Flatt & Scruggs, The New Lost City Ramblers, and many Appalachian musicians who came through New York. Picking in Washington Square and hearing the Greenbrier Boys exposed him to more bluegrass, which he eventually focused on in his own playing. In Boston, his musical efforts have included Lightning Express (with Eric), Bay State Bluegrass, Foxfire, Fire on the Mountain, and now True Life Bluegrass. Steve's connection to the song Cotton Mill Man (on our CD) is explained here.


Eric Levenson - Bass

Eric began playing bass with Steve Watt in 1970, in the earliest incarnation of the band that ultimately became True Life Bluegrass. Eric played bass with Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys from 1976 until Joe’s passing in 1985. Before joining Joe Val, he was the original bass player with Tasty Licks. He is also a former member of Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops. Eric currently plays with Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters and, since 1985, with Boston City Limits, of which he is a founding member. Eric also plays regularly with Deborah Silverstein, the Dixie Butterhounds, and irregularly with the Charles River Valley Boys.

At the Cantab Lounge in Central Square, Cambridge, Eric and Steve host the late night jam on Tuesday nights, where they hear and perform with the many talented musicians living in the area.

Ellen Hays - Guitar

Originally from Chicago, where she started playing and singing folk, bluegrass, and country songs in her teens, Ellen Hays is a founding member of True Life Bluegrass, and has played and sung with a number of groups both in the Boston area and in Geneva, where she lived for many years. During her time in Switzerland Ellen played with the string band Swiss Mountain Ramblers and performed in a duet with Tom Lochbrunner, and she continues to perform with a women's vocal quartet founded in Geneva, the Strapless Sisters.

Tony Watt - Mandolin and guitar

Award-winning guitarist Tony Watt has performed throughout the United States, Europe and on the Grand Ole Opry. He has toured with Rounder recording artist Alecia Nugent and with Jenni Lyn Gardner of Della Mae. He is a graduate of Leadership Bluegrass 2012, has served on the IBMA's Education and Board Selection Committees, and is currently a Board Member and Education Co-Director of the BBU. Tony is a visiting artist at the Berklee College of Music, and teaches courses in guitar, mandolin, harmony singing, bluegrass jamming and more. He is the director of The Bluegrass University, which offers classes at Grey Fox (NY), Jenny Brook (VT), Pemi Valley (NH), and Podunk (CT). Tony currently teaches throughout the Boston area (MA), and anywhere in the world via on-line Skype video-conferencing. Find out more at


Laura Orshaw - Fiddle

Laura Orshaw “has firmly established [herself] as a significant emerging artist in the arena of traditional American music,” according to Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. Laura grew up in a musical family in Northeastern Pennsylvania; at age 10 she learned to play and sing from paternal grandmother and regional Old Time musician, Betty Orshaw. Throughout her teens Laura performed across the Northeast with her father in The Lonesome Road Ramblers, performing classic bluegrass from the 1950’s around one mic. She recorded two fiddle projects in her early teens and in 2015 released her solo project, Songs of Lost Yesterdays.  Laura has 12 years of experience performing, teaching private lessons, and conducting educational programs and workshops throughout the Northeast and now makes her home in Cambridge, MA. Find Laura at

Michael Bean - Dobro

Originally a rock/funk/jazz electric bass player, Michael is now an in-demand dobro player in the Boston bluegrass scene.  He also performs regularly in the Americana/country scene, playing pedal steel, lap steel, and guitar with some of Boston's finest singer/songwriters. Michael's versatile playing can be heard on recording sessions and live shows in a variety of styles such as bluegrass, country, jazz, blues, folk, funk, rock, swing, and more.  He regularly teaches music theory and dobro workshops for the Boston Bluegrass Union.  Visit for more info.

Exciting news!

After a mere 32 years of playing together, one of the most venerable bluegrass bands in the Boston area has released our first CD, It's a True Life.

The CD Release Party, held at Passim in Harvard Square, was a blast and we appreciate everyone who came out for it.

It's a True Life will is available from CD Baby.

Who we are

True Life Bluegrass consists of:

  • Steve Watt, banjo and mandolin
  • Ellen Hays, guitar
  • Eric Levenson, bass
  • Tony Watt, mandolin and guitar
  • Laura Orshaw, fiddle
  • Michael Bean, dobr0