The Grascals didn't have to dwell long over the offer to record a set of songs popularized in, and inspired by, The Andy Griffith Show.
Like many Americans of successive generations, the band members grew up with the sitcom set in the small town of Mayberry. Even today, when the award-winning contemporary bluegrass troupe is on the tour bus or performing overseas, they invariably find themselves watching reruns of the iconic program.
"When we toured Japan, we had the show on," said founding Grascals guitarist/vocalist Terry Eldredge. "So we got to hear Andy in Japanese. He sounds a little bit different that way."
But there was a bigger hurdle to clear before the band could commence on the EP, which was being designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Andy Griffith Show. They had to get the blessing of one key person.
"Everything that has to do with the show, even today, has to go through Andy," Eldredge said. "So he was sent some of our CDs, but I guess Andy already knew about us. When he was told about the idea of this tribute record, he said, 'I'd love it. But I want The Grascals to do the music.'
"And so the man himself gave us the clear."
With that, recording began on a seven-song EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin', which was released in June (The first Andy Griffith Show episode aired in October 1960.)
Bluegrass music goes hand in hand with The Andy Griffith Show's lasting appeal. Featured regularly were the acclaimed bluegrass roots troupe The Dillards, which played the rural mountain music ensemble The Darling Boys on the program.
"The Dillards were on there a lot," Eldridge said. "So were the players that became The Kentucky Colonels (which included celebrated bluegrass siblings Roland and Clarence White). Pretty much every episode had music on it."
For The Grascals, the figurative trip to Mayberry began what has become one of the band's most creatively and commercially fruitful years to date. Energized by a now- stabilized lineup that teams recent recruits (banjoist Kristin Scott Benson and fiddler Jeremy Abshire) with founding members (Eldredge, guitarist/vocalist Jamie Johnson, mandolinist Danny Roberts and bassist Terry Smith), The Grascals recently picked up four major nominations for this fall's International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.
Among the trophies the band will compete for: entertainer of the year (the IBMA's top prize, which it won in 2006 and 2007); instrumental performer of the year (for Benson); song of the year; and recorded event of the year for I Am Strong, a song from 2010's The Grascals and Friends: Country Classics With a Bluegrass Spin. The song offers a reunion with the artist who largely introduced bluegrass and country audiences to The Grascals: Dolly Parton.
The band toured extensively with the country legend in 2004, when her music took a detour into bluegrass. The Grascals did double duty as Parton's opening act and as her backup band.
"The way it all started was we went into the recording studio to cut three songs," Eldredge said. "We didn't even have a record contract at the time. But as it turned out we were working at the same studio as Dolly.
"So we were in there one day doing some mixing, and in comes Dolly. 'I hear you guys are making an album,' she said. 'Let me hear it.' So we only had those three songs. We played them for her and she said, 'That's exactly what I want.'
Determined to have The Grascals establish their own career, Parton, as Eldridge terms it today, eventually "cut strings" with the band. The Grascals' self-titled debut album was released in 2005. Since then, there has been no looking back — except, of course, for the opportunity to record again with Parton on I Am Strong.
So what were those initial performances like once The Grascals emerged from Parton's wing?
"Well, money-wise, it kind of hurt," Eldredge said with a laugh. "But we just kept working at it. We knew we had the rocket all along. We just couldn't get it off the ground. Thanks to Dolly, we found the fuel."