PITTSFIELD -- Bluegrass musician and Lenox native Mason Zink looks every inch the country music star with his blue jeans, brown cowboy boots and tan sports jacket, accented by gold lapel clips.
What differentiates Zink from someone like the late, hard-living country great George Jones? For one, Zink is several feet shorter than the average Grand Ole Opry-ready superstar. Similarly, his cowboy boots resemble those sported by Woody, the cowboy from "Toy Story," more than what would be worn by the typical sad, song-loving drifter. They also light up.
While Zink might sing very adult standards about lost loves and deep regrets, at age 4, he hasn't even started kindergarden yet.
Yes, you read that right. Zink is a 4-year-old, currently enrolled at Elm Preschool in Pittsfield, who has been nurturing his love of bluegrass ever since he was 18 months old.
It is a love of country music that is rooted deep in his family tree -- his grandfather and great uncles were part of the popular October Mountain Boys, a bluegrass group that performed throughout the Berkshires, while his father, Corey, currently headlines the Corey Zink Band.
"My father and uncles played around the county for years, and as I got into music, I fell in love with country," Corey said. "Then I got to have my own band, and now Mason is following in the same footsteps."
Mason is a physically small talent with a very large stage presence, and he'll get the opportunity to perform in front of pretty sizable crowds this week, when he sings at the Third Thursday street festival in downtown Pittsfield.
Sitting down for an interview with his parents in his mother Melissa's new photography studio on North Street, Mason is very much a typical 4-year-old. The middle child between Cooper, 6, and Molly, 1, Mason's favorite things are Woody from "Toy Story," pizza and doughnuts. Also, like many children his age, he gets restless and doesn't always sit still -- whether it is before a performance, or during an interview with The Eagle.
"When this all started, we weren't sure if a 4-year-old boy would show up at a performance, or if it would be this little musician," Melissa said. "So far, the musician shows up every time. He'll throw a tantrum all the way down, but once he is there, boom, he puts on his blue jacket, puts his guitar over his shoulder, gets on stage and he's very serious about it."
Given his father's love of music, Mason has been growing up with music constantly playing around him. With no formal music lessons or training, he picked up the tricks of the trade almost instinctually, often taking his father's iPod away for himself, spending hours listening.
During a performance by Corey's band featuring Mason's grandfather at the Masonic Temple in Pittsfield, Corey said Mason, only 18 months old at the time, walked onstage. Once he got there, he stopped the show. He grabbed the mic and started to sing.
"It just blew us all away," Corey said. "We were shocked, and had no idea he was going to do it."
Melissa said Mason's commitment to music is unwavering. He gets up around 7:30 a.m., picks up his guitar and starts to play.
"That's how he starts his day," Mellissa said. "We would think, ‘is he really serious, or does he just think it's fun?' It just became an everyday part of our lives. Basically, I'd go, ‘Mason, we've got a new XBox game, and he'll just say ‘no thanks, Momma.' Or it'll be, ‘go outside and ride your bike.' And then it will be ‘no thanks, momma.' He just loves it."
When asked what his favorite song is, Mason gets a little shy. He looks to his dad before saying that it is "Roustabout," a song by bluegrass band Open Road.
Mason is also attracting quite the following. Since launching in March, his Facebook fan page has attracted more than 500 "likes," and Mason has been asked to perform at various gigs around the county.
Despite all of the attention, Mason's parents said it all goes back to their little boy's deep love of music and family.
When he performs, he is accompanied by multiple generations of Zinks, including his his father, grandfather and great uncles.
"Mason idolizes his grandfather, and even has the same kind of guitar strap with the little studs on it," Corey said.
"Mason loves his family and he loves his music," Melissa added. "So when they perform, it's just putting those things together."