Chris Boutwell has been playing traditional bluegrass music since the 1960s. He learned the music the old fashioned way – by spending time with and listening to other musicians. In his early 20s, he sang lead and played guitar in the band High Country, which soon became one of the most respected and sought after traditional bluegrass bands on the west coast. While with High Country, Boutwell recorded several albums on the Warner Brothers label. During this period, he also spent time with early bluegrass veterans Vern Williams and Ray Park, the first musicians to have a traditional bluegrass band in California.
In 1982, Boutwell and his family moved to South Carolina, where he continued playing bluegrass with musicians throughout the midlands. Over the years, Boutwell has played with a variety of groups, including the Palmetto String Band, Amick Junction, The Claude Lucas Band, High Lonesome, Anna and Shellie Davis and the Unnamed Bluegrass Band, and currently plays with Palmetto Blue. He always shares his knowledge of the music with other band members, and takes the time to teach them the correct way to play the tunes, regardless of their instrument of choice. Boutwell takes a special interest in the younger members of the band, coaching them on how to play their instruments and how to arrange their vocal parts.
During performances, Boutwell tries to raise the awareness of his audience by sharing the history of the music through telling stories about the songs he plays. To those that know him, he is considered a “walking encyclopedia” of bluegrass knowledge and is eager to share with those around him.
In addition to his vocal work, which includes yodeling, Boutwell is a master of the mandolin, rhythm guitar, and banjo. He especially enjoys playing banjo in the three-finger style popularized by Earl Scruggs in the 1940s. In addition to the band Palmetto Blue, he also plays with the Claude Lucas Band and can usually be found serving as emcee, sharing his knowledge with all who will listen. He plays regularly at venues throughout the midlands, including the Columbia Museum of Art, the University of South Carolina, and Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor. He plays every month at Lonestar BBQ and Mercantile in Santee, South Carolina and is a member of the Lone Star Bluegrass and Country Music Hall of Fame. Boutwell received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2014.