Hillbilly Thomists Bluegrass Band Performs for Knights on Opry Stage
By Katie Peterson. This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Register and is reprinted with permission.
As a boy growing up in the Nashville area, Chris Gautsch never expected to perform on the most well-known stage in the city— the Grand Ole Opry—especially after becoming a Dominican priest. But the unexpected came to fruition for him.
Today he is Fr. Peter Gautsch, O.P., and he and six of his fellow Dominican friars graced the Opry stage as the Hillbilly Thomists in August to perform the welcoming concert for the 140th annual Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention.
“It’s a dream, and growing up in Nashville, I never, ever imagined I’d be on that stage,” Fr. Gautsch said. “It was a total thrill.”
When he was young he liked serving as an altar boy and said he thought then that he would want to be a priest but he had “a pretty uninformed and naive view of what the priesthood was about at that time,” he told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper.
As a junior at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, he was given an opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Rome at the Dominican-run Angelicum, formally known as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and “the idea of the priesthood and religious life really came back in a big way,” he said.
“The more I learned about the Dominican Order, the more I came to love it and found that I really thought that I was made for that,” Fr. Gautsch said.
Following his graduation from Notre Dame, where he received a bachelor’s degree in theology and music, he entered the Dominican novitiate.
During his time at the Dominican House of Studies, he became close with several of his brothers and found that they enjoyed playing music, coming together once a week to play some of their favorite tunes.
As word spread about their jam sessions, they began to play for receptions at ordinations and other small events. Eventually, they adopted the name “the Hillbilly Thomists” to fit their bluegrass sound and their training in Thomism.
As CD sales went up, the group began receiving letters from people wanting them to come and perform for an event. So, they cleared their calendars for two weeks to tour the country fulfilling some of those requests, one of which was the invitation from the Knights of Columbus to perform for convention attendees.
“They said, ‘By the way, it’s going to be at the Grand Ole Opry’ and our jaws all dropped,” Fr. Gautsch recalled. “The exciting thing about it for me, aside from just being on that stage and playing, is this is my home, this is where I grew up, so to be able to have friends and family come join in that was amazing.”
Through their music, Fr. Gautsch said, he hopes the band is carrying out its mission as preachers.
“The origins of the way the band came about was from our fraternal life, our common life together, but it was directed towards preaching,” Father Gautsch said, adding that the songs have themes about hope in God, the reality of grace and the goodness of creation.
“What we hope for our music,” he added, “is that it helps people to think about God and to hope in Him and to see the goodness and joy that comes from living for Him and directing everything in one’s life toward Him.”