Bluegrass Family Strums Awards In National Contests

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When the Payson bluegrass band, Mazatzal, belts out its authentic American Folk tunes, listeners are treated to music from a bygone era in which family and friends shared hardships, sorrows, pains, joys and affairs of the heart.

Mazatzal's stirring lyrics and heartfelt melodies are genuine because they express the trials, tribulations and challenges of everyday life in song.

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Members of the family band Mazatzal include Ben Sandoval, Jennifer Sandoval, Sylvia Sandoval, Trevor Smith, Rebecca Sandoval and Roy Sandoval. The group recently returned from the Four Corners Bluegrass Festival in Wickenburng where it finished second in the family band competition.

Five members of Roy Sandoval's family and 16-year-old Trevor Smith, who joined Mazatzal about two years ago, make up the band. The Sandovals hooked up with Smith after meeting him at a festival two years ago.

Although Smith lives in Tucson, the Sandovals consider him family. Every other Saturday, the Sandovals drive to Casa Grande where they meet Smith's parents, pick the teen up, and bring him back to Payson for practice.

Smith also travels with the family when they tour the country to play in musical festivals.

Last summer, Mazatzal performed in Idaho, Montana and in several bluegrass competitions in Arizona.

The combined talents of the Sandovals and Smith earn the band top honors.

With Smith on the banjo, Roy -- the principal of Payson Elementary School -- strums the guitar while Sylvia plays the base. Ben -- a seventh-grader at Rim Country Middle School -- is an accomplished fiddler when not playing football for the Mavericks. Jennifer and Rebecca, both Payson High School students, play the mandolin and the fiddle respectively.

Their award-winning instrumental talents and soothing vocal melodies make the band an audience favorite.

In the band's most recent competition, the Four Corner's Bluegrass Festival in Wickenburg, Mazatzal played its way to a second-place finish in the family band division. Ben took third in the junior fiddle competition and Rebecca was third in the specialty vocals. Jennifer and Rebecca teamed up to earn a third place among the duet vocal entrants.

In addition to competing in festivals, the band has performed around the state, including last year's Pinetop-Lakeside Independence Day ceremonies and at a Rim Golf Club open house last spring.

Mazatzal's next performance is at the Pioneer Bluegrass Festival in February at the Pioneer Living History Museum north of Phoenix.

The demands of practice and travel can be trying, but patriarch Roy contends it's time well spent.

"It kind of draws us closer together as a family and we get to experience a lot of other lifestyles," he said.

Band members have no plans for the immediate future other than to continue to hone their skills in the weekly practice sessions.

Following a day of performing, Roy deadpanned, "I'm just an old country boy, I want to go home, hang out, and put on my Wal-Mart jeans."

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