Bankesters keep it all in the family

Bankesters keep it all in the family

By Eli Mileur

Some things run in the family. For the Bankesters, it’s music.

And though the six-piece family band has made a name for itself in the bluegrass scene, that wasn’t necessarily the music the family always had in mind.

“We didn’t even know what it was,” said Dorene Bankester, who fills the role of both guitarist and mom.


Guitarist and dad Phil Bankester said what he did know of bluegrass, he didn’t like.

After getting to know some local bluegrass musicians, though, he decided that the family should learn a couple of songs to perform at its church’s annual fall festival in 2003.

Their daughters — Melissa, Lindsey, Emily and Alysha — were all singers and pianists, but they didn’t know any bluegrass.

Nevertheless, they learned two songs for the festival, and that would have been that, Phil said.

The next summer though, he took the girls to a bluegrass festival in Du Quoin. While Phil was playing guitar in the parking lot, a man approached them and asked if the girls sang. Next, he wanted to hear them do a song, and after they sang him one, he said he was going to invite them on stage that night during his set.

He did, and afterward, he asked if they’d be interested in performing at the Rail Splitter Festival in Lincoln.

From there, one thing led to another, Phil said.


Now, the girls play bass, fiddle, mandolin and banjo, and the family has three albums to its name. Melissa is now a Triplett, and her husband Kyle also joined the band.

The latest album, “Looking Forward,” will be released May 12 and hits the radio in June.

The Bankesters will play at Rustle Hill Winery Saturday and will perform at a CD release party at the Liberty Theater in Murphysboro May 12.

The family tours regularly now, and with the departure of Lindsey, Alysha has had to pick up the mandolin in her place.

Melissa teaches piano, Emily gives fiddle lessons, Alysha is a home-schooled high school junior, and Kyle is a full-time student at SIU.

Also, Melissa and Kyle have two sons, Jude and Joel, 2-and-a-half years and 6 months old, respectively.

And then there’s the five dogs.

Needless to say, the Bankester home is a busy one.

“It gets to be a lot of work … it kind of takes over sometimes,” Dorene said.

Everyone still lives at the family’s Carbondale house, with Melissa and Kyle in a separate apartment that Phil built for them.

Finding time to rehearse can be a bit of a juggling act sometimes, though it helps their practice space is the living room.

“Usually we just look at the calendar and go, ‘We’ve got two available nights this week; let’s make one of them happen,'” Kyle Triplett said.

They make it work though, and Emily said although she sometimes gets tired from playing music, she never gets tired of music.

“Looking Forward” is their first album where they’ve worked with a producer on all the songs. Stephen Mougin came up from Nashville to work with them, and they set up the control room right in the living room, Phil said.

Everyone spread out in separate rooms throughout the house to record their parts, he said.

And whereas their last album took six months to record, this one took six days, he said.

Melissa said it was nice having Mougin take over, as he was able to push them a lot further than they would themselves.

The latest addition to the band, Kyle, has also been a major influence and has raised their musical level much higher than it was before, Phil said.

He came into the band by marriage first, after he and Melissa met five years ago when the Bankesters were playing at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.

Kyle said it was love at first sight, though after realizing Melissa played bass, he had to audition her musical talent first. Luckily, she was good, and Kyle said he’d always wanted someone with whom he could share his love of music.

A year later, they married, Kyle moved to Carbondale, and the Bankesters now have a couple of Tripletts.

Kyle’s musical talent, and his knowledge of bluegrass, are a major asset, though he may not join the rest of the family in the vocals, Phil said.

“I try not to sing, for fear of losing our fan base,” he said.

The Bankesters don’t only meet future spouses on the road.

Alysha said one of the great things about touring is meeting other kids their age who have things in common with them such as music, life on the road and being home-schooled.

Dorene said they’ve met many people while on tour and now have a network of friends across the country.

However, for her, it’s spending time with the Bankesters that makes it special.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said.

Eli Mileur can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 265.