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HENRYVILLE, In. (WDRB) --He knows how to bring in a crowd, get it moving, and leave everyone with a lasting impression.
"I mean listen to him. His playing is fantastic. He's clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack," fan, Chris Stewart said.
Michael Cleveland is world renowned on the Bluegrass scene.
"And, we're seeing him for free. Are you kidding me? Have we died and gone to heaven?" another fan asked.
Cleveland's picking cannot be duplicated. His tune is never off.
"I refer to him as the guy with the golden ear. He can hear and tell if you're off pitch just by a little bit," bandmate Glenn Gibson explained.
When it comes to awards, they've been piling up for more than a decade. He's won "Fiddle Player of the Year" from the International Bluegrass Music Association nine times in the past 12 years, and he's up for it yet again this year. His resume will tell you all of that. One thing it won't, Cleveland will never be able to see a crowd he plays for...
"I was born blind, so there's no other way. You know, everybody talks about sights and colors, and I have no conception of that," Cleveland explained.
His life as a musician started humbly in Henryville. He picked up a violin for the first time at the age of four, often playing at the local American Legion. The Kentucky School for the Blind was the next stop, where he began learning to play prim and proper classical music, only to realize it wasn't for him. He preferred the back road sounds of Bluegrass.
Before he knew it, Cleveland formed "Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper." It allowed him to be in front of thousands with his band. He's performed at huge venues like the Grand Ole' Opry, and even on Capitol Hill in front of Congress. That skill has inspired so many people like Chris Stewart. He is a blind fiddle player who has grown up on Cleveland's music.
"If it weren't for folks like him showing me that it's possible to do these kind of things, to overcome and fight back and to keep going, I don't think I ever would've ever been able to do it," Stewart said.
While not being able to see is part of who Cleveland is, it does not define him, or the friendships and brotherhoods he's formed.
"You don't think 'wow Mike can't see,' you just think wow, this guy is awesome," bandmate, Nathan Livers said.
To his bandmates, friends, family, and concert-goers, he's just "Mike." A man who's great at what he does, but never quick to take the spotlight when he's not on a stage.
"There are a lot of people who are responsible for what I've done, who have given me a lot of help in a lot of ways," Cleveland said.
Since he's modest, allow us to put things into perspective. Cleveland has refused to allow his disability to keep him from seeing his potential, and now also the difference he's making in this world through the sweet sounds of the music he loves.
Michael Cleveland's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/update_security_info.php?wizard=1#!/mcflamekeeper