The song will continue

Jeff Tolbert, center, leads in the finale of Primitive Quartet’s concert with Gold City and The Inspirations at Ashland’s Paramount Arts Center on April 1.
Primitive Quartet’s Jeff Tolbert thankful for the past 27 years, excited about the future

By John Herndon,

ASHLAND, Ky. – Jeff Tolbert will be the first to admit he’s not looking forward to May 20.

That’s the night Primitive Quartet will be performing its final concert, a sold-out affair at Lakeway Performing Arts Center in White Pine, Tenn. The beloved group has said it will continue to sing some, as the Lord leads, but is retiring from the traveling ministry that night.

Primitive Quartet has been singing about the Jesus they love for 50 years, always delivering the gospel in that simple, yet powerful mountain music style. It’s a ministry that has only sought to uplift the name of Jesus since its beginning in 1973.

Jeff Tolbert is the new guy of the group, playing mandolin, fiddle and just about anything else with strings since 1995. While he’s easily recognized for his virtuoso mandolin and fiddle work and powerful vocals, Tolbert is the only member of the group to not have a family connection to the others.

Jeff Tolbert plays the fiddle as Primitive Quartet members, from left, Mike Riddle (facing away), Reagan Riddle and Randy Fox look on during Primitive’s concert on April 1. (All photos by John or Stephanie Herndon.)

And when the Primitive chapter of his life closes, he plans on having the next page turn rather quickly.

I caught up with Tolbert when Primitive’s Farewell Tour stopped in Ashland for a Paul Belcher Concert on April 1. He was simultaneously reflective and excited as he looked back on his time with Primitive Quartet and what lies ahead.

“It’s getting close,” he smiled. “(The Farewell Tour) has been enjoyable, but the closer it gets, the more it becomes reality. May 20 is going to be tough. I can understand their retirement – 50 years.”

I had talked with Tolbert when Primitive Quartet stopped at Sand Spring Baptist Church in my hometown of Lawrenceburg, Ky. At the time, he indicated that he didn’t know what his future would hold, but he was seeking God’s guidance.

A little over six months later, things seem to be coming together, even if some of the details are fuzzy. 

The first item of business, though, is giving everything to the Primitive Quartet. “I want to finish well with them and then go from there,” he said. “I am seeking some direction. I have been praying about it. I have some guys together right now and we are working on trying to make something happen and trying to get it together.”

Tolbert has no doubt why things are coming together. “I have just seen God open a lot of doors,” he said. “That’s what’s such a good feeling about it. It’s not about me, anyway. And for Him to open doors, I am just waiting on Him.”

The doors have begun to open as Tolbert’s new group already has some dates booked over the last half of 2023 and has already been booked for Singing At Sea, January 29-February 3, 2024. 

All of that has happened, even though the new group has not decided on a name. 

Jeff Tolbert, on mandolin, plays during Primitive Quartet’s concert in Ashland, Ky., on April 1.

“We are working on a name. We have so many names out there but it’s coming together,” he said. “What is it, ‘Be still and know that I am God?’ That’s the scripture (Psalm 46:10). I have been wandering and seeking. Then a few months ago, we got off the cruise and the spot was offered to me. They said, ‘It’s yours if you want it.’”

Tolbert and his wife, Shaytonya, reside in Candler, N.C., and will also be hosting the Mountain Homecoming at Fontana Resort in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains from August 17-20. “We will have preaching in the day and singing at night,” he said.

Tolbert is also hosting a Christmas event at the Great Smokies Resort Lodge in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., December 7-9. “The Primitives have been hosting that for a few years,” he said. “That’s the Christmas singing so we are going to be keeping that alive as well.”

The Inspirations will be joining Tolbert’s new group for that event.

While there might be a few changes, Tolbert says there will be no deviation from the desire to uplift Christ through music that most closely fits with the Bluegrass genre.

“We will be doing some Bluegrass festivals and things like that, but we will be doing basically what the group has been doing,” Tolbert said. “That’s one thing where we have been blessed with our music to be able to do a lot of different genres. We play churches. We play auditoriums and we play festivals and stuff like that. But the message is still the same and we don’t change.

Primitive Quartet sings at the Paramount Arts Center, Ashland, April 1, 2023. From left are Reagan Riddle, Randy Fox, Jeff Tolbert, Mike Riddle and Larry Riddle.

“I don’t want to change. That is the most important part to me.”

Since Primitive Quartet announced it would be coming off the road last spring, the group has been playing before large crowds wherever they have been. Ashland was no different as the Paramount Arts Center was packed. Following the concert, which was with The Inspirations and Gold City, well-wishers waited to tell members of Primitive Quartet things like, “I appreciate what you guys did tonight” and “You guys are real.”

The fact that Primitive Quartet’s ministry works two ways is not lost on Jeff Tolbert.

“It’s been a joy to do what we do and to get encouragement when we do it,” he said.

Chances are those things will continue with Tolbert’s yet-to-be-named group as well.

He smiled, “We are excited about the future and I will be able to continue doing what I am doing.”

**For information regarding the Mountain Homecoming at Fontana Resort or any other information about Jeff Tolbert’s ministry, connect with him on Facebook – “I am on there a lot,” he said – or call him at 828-712-3720.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the date and include additional information about Tolbert’s new group’s Christmas event in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Jeff Tolbert signs memorabilia for a young fan after Primitive Quartet sang at Ashland, Ky. on April 1.

4 thoughts on “The song will continue

  1. So glad Jeff will continue with a new group. It is exciting to see who makes up the new group
    Looking forward to the announcement.


  2. Jeff, I am glad you are continuing on and looking forward about hearing more. I wish you the Best of Luck.


  3. Jeff, you are a great singer and musician!! I know our Heavenly Father will continue to use you in a wonderful way, for HIS glory! Looking forward to seeing your group in concert!❤️


  4. We have loved the Primitives since they started way back with the Inspiration,Jeff is a great Blessing hope he continues on singing can’t wait to hear his new group.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s