Monday, April 20, 2015

Raleigh Saturday - Country and Town

Parking in the Meadow

Race Start

Saturday morning promised a sunny, warm, wonderful day. Ron Raxter, a member of the Local Organizing Committee for IBMA's World of Bluegrass and Treasurer of Pine Cone, The Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, inc., promoter of traditional and roots music in the region and a partner of IBMA in presenting World of Bluegrass, had told us about two events on Saturday, both of which we might enjoy and find interesting. He was right! The Umstead Coalition is a non-profit that supports the Umstead State Park nearby, a park developed on land once too degraded by overuse to support any worthwhile enterprise, and now restored. The Coalition supports a number of activities to raise funds and offer opportunities to maintain and develop the State Park. We went to the 21st Annual Walk-Run-Bike event where The Southern String Band, an old-time string band Ron belongs to, would be providing music. We drove into the nearly filled meadow parking lot just as the bikes were leaving and the runners were lining up to start. Meanwhile, there were displays and activities provided for the spouses and kids not participating.

Face Painting

Raptor Rescue - Horned Owl

Screech Owl

Ready to Feed the Participants

Ron Raxter Arrives

The Southern String

The Southern String Band is a group of nine friends, many professionals in other fields, who have come together to continue the tradition of string band music, an Appalachian offshoot of British dance music which took its own form in the hills and hollers of the mountains in western Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and further south. Popular at dances and on back porches for, perhaps, hundreds of years, the music is dominated by fiddles. String band music stands as one of the important precursers of bluegrass, where it is known as Old-Time.

Southern String Band

The Band - send me the names and I'll post them

We had a good time in a rural setting (with very comfortable, large houses across the street) only a few miles from our campground at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, and perhaps still within the boundaries of the City of Raleigh. From there, with a brief stop at our trailer, we headed down to The Pit, just two blocks away from the Red Hat Amphitheater and a block more from the Raleigh Convention Center and the two IBMA headquarters hotels, the Marriot & the Sheraton.

The North Carolina Cuegrass Festival
at The Pit

 The Pit

We've enjoyed dinner at The Pit a couple of times since we started coming to Raleigh for World of Bluegrass three years ago.It's the restaurant that has proven to us that gourmet and southern cooking are not an oxymoron. Take a look at the menu. For Saturday afternoon The Pit had closed a couple of blocks on Davie Street in front of the restaurant, put out vendor trucks with their own barbecue as well as beer and merchandise, and placed a stage at the foot of the area. We were sad to miss the first band, Hank Sinatra, for its name alone, let alone the music, and arrived just as the second band, the Moore Brothers, a young band who we have been watching for the past four or five years.

The Moore Brothers

We first saw the Moore Brothers in Nashville, participating in Kids on Bluegrass, the youth program associated with IBMA's World of Bluegrass national meeting, now moved to Raleigh. They were young, oh so young, and pretty much unformed, musically. Now, with Jacob, age 17, ready to start participating in the online portions of the Berklee College of Music, and younger brother Isaac (age 12), growing by leaps and bounds as a musician. The third member of the band is their friend, bassman Daniel Perry. They are a fully plugged in Americana band with deep roots in bluegrass. Like so many young bands, it's impossible to predict where they or their music might be heading. Suffice it to say that it's blazing fast, largely tasteful, and varied. Their voices are still in the becoming stage, so it's difficult to tell where that will go, but their musicianship is superb, belying any of that "for their age" stuff. While their parents, Patty and Jeff (both registered dietitians) are very much present, they are so unobtrusive that no-one who didn't know them would know they were attached to what's going on onstage. The kids are busy discovering what their own thing is and making exciting music while they're at it.

Jacob Moore

Isaac Moore

Daniel Perry

Kids Activities
Painting Piggy Banks

...and Faces

 The Hillbenders

The Hillbenders have been honing their bluegrass chops and extending their understanding of the genre to include songs they themselves have been writing for the past four or five years.Their latest album, is a bluegrass interpretation of the rock opera by the Who, Tommy. Formed in 2008, we first saw them (we think) as a showcase band, and later at both Strawberry Park and Gettysburg bluegrass festivals. We've been impressed since the very beginning by their fine singing, close harmonies, and dazzling instrumental work. The band is based in Springfield, Missouri, and several members studied under Alan Mundy at South Plains College in Texas. Their music is sharp, song-oriented, and cohesive. Their sound...always surprising and energetic. They've worked to find their uniqueness, and succeeded, but always seem to remain within the template of a bluegrass band. This band should be high on the list for Emerging Band of the Year at the IBMA Awards Show this year. 

Nolan Lawrence

Jimmy Rea

Mark Cassidy

Chad Graves

Gary Rea

The beer was flowing, the heat rising, and we were getting tired as the crowd grew increasingly large throughout the afternoon. We decided to head home. Meanwhile, people were having a wonderful time in downtown Raleigh, a town that has taken to bluegrass and its variations with real enthusiasm and gusto. If you haven't sampled the excitement generated here yet, it's time to join IBMA and register for the Business Conference, the Bluegrass Ramble, and Wide Open Bluegrass, coming in September. Hope to see you there. Keep and eye on the IBMA web site and this blog for further information.

Downtown Raleigh
The Sheraton, the Marriott. the Convention Center
and the Red Hat Amphitheater

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

HoustonFest 2015 in Galax, VA - May 1 & 2

Houston Caldwell was eighteen years old, but already well known in the bluegrass world, a young,enthusiastic, talented man, just barely out of boyhood. He had just returned from basic training in the Army, was a valued member of the Galax Fire Department, when he rode his motorcycle to Wilkesboro to attend the 2010 Merlefest banjo contest. On the way home, he was killed in an accident. We didn't know Houston, but we met his family at IBMA Fan Fest that September, where Kids on Bluegrass and many of his performer friends presented a moving tribute to him on Saturday morning. The first HoustonFest was held the following spring, on the weekend after Merlefest, and has grown each year since, becoming a major celebration dedicated to young people in bluegrass. It's one of the most exciting festivals we attend, filled with an upbeat celebration of Houston Caldwell's life through encouraging young bluegrass and old-time musicians, presenting  some of the most popular and exciting bands in bluegrass, many of whose members were Houston's friends. It's an event that's not only enjoyable, but inspiring, truly a "Celebration of Song & Service."

Kenneth, Hayden & Tess Caldwell

This year, in addition to the strongest lineup that HoustonFest has had since its inception, the event will be theme-based, celebrating the famed Bristol sessions of 1927, where Johnny Cash said, "The single-most important event in the history of country music," took place. During a ground breaking series of recording sessions held in July 1927 in Bristol, seventeen performers including Earnest Stoneman, the Carter Family, and Jimmie Rodgers recorded seventy-six songs, which became recognized as crucial to the development of country music as a commercial enterprise. Grammy winner and well-known record producer Carl Jackson has put together a tribute of the Bristol sessions including eighteen of the original songs in a CD called Orthophonic Joy performed by many of today's top bluegrass and country musicians. Many of those musicians will appear at HoustonFest this year, with two hour-long sets being devoted to this new recording. Many of these artists will present their own sets, too. It's an exciting concept generating the strongest lineup ever seen at HoustonFest.

Carl Jackson

The fields of Felts Park in Galax provide plenty of space for several stages offering special opportunities during the two days of HoustonFest. Camp Houston includes several areas dedicated to young people's picking and jamming.  Kids can come to try out instruments at the Petting Zoo and get a little very early instruction as an enticement to learn to play an instrument. The Banjo Stage, the Firehouse Stage, and the Camp Houston Youth Stage all feature young people's bands, workshops, and opportunities to jam during both days. Look at the performance schedule here for more detailed information. Space limits my opportunity to feature all the young bands and performers making presentations on these stages, but I can promise they'll keep attendees busy.

On the Main Stage
Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives

Marty Stuart has had a long and important career in country music, but his roots and heart are still deep in bluegrass. His stage show is one of the most entertaining there is, and it will be a treat to have him do a set of his own as well as a song in the Orthophonic Joy set on Friday.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

Bluegrass Hall of Famer and member of key bands (the Country Gentlemen, The New South, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver), Doyle Lawson remains a top performer as well as an iconic figure.

The Steep Canyon Rangers

Larry Cordle

"Cord" has been a standout as a singer/songwriter in both country and bluegrass music. He's a prime person to bring to this venue to celebrate the commercial advent of country music from before a time when it was broken into narrow segments.

Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull, longtime friend of Houston Caldwell and a regular performer, workshop participant, and jammer (below) at HoustonFest is a favorite here. 

Sierra (on fiddle) jamming in the field

for a more clear view, click the link above

There are a few hidden gems lying within this schedule, particularly two Workshops hosted by Virginia State Historian John Lohman on Saturday afternoon. "Saturday Night and Sunday Morn" features Doyle Lawson, Jesse McReynolds and the Chuck Wagon Gang discussing and (I suspect) demonstrating the importance of gospel music in traditional country and bluegrass music. The other workshop is one that's held each year as a few of Houston's friends who are now professional musicians get together on the Camp Houston Stage to reminisce about the Houston Caldwell they knew and remember, and to pick a little. 

The Jeff Little Trio

It's rare these days to find bluegrass, old-time, and country music at the same festival. The tendency to segment music into small, discreet genres has marginalized old-time and traditional country music, placing progressive bluegrass out of bounds, too. At HoustonFest you'll find all of these as well as jazz and swing.  Look for the Jeff Little Trio and The Harris Brothers for changes of pace.

The Harris Brothers

The HoustonFest Scene
The Church Sisters Sing
The National Anthem

Along Vendors Row

The Camp Houston Youth Stage

Audience at the Youth Stage

 The Main Stage

The Details

Tickets for this two day festival are $30.00. They may be ordered online here. There are limited camping available on site as well as plenty of campgrounds and motels in the Galax area. 

How to Get to Felts Park in Galax
place your locaction in the o space and hit return for a personalized map

Felts Park in Galax has a long and storied history as the home of the Old Fiddler's Convention, held annually in August, for the past 80 years. Now, HoustonFest has enlarged and expanded that reputation, combining history with youth, innovation with tradition. This event packs more into a two day period than any other festival we attend. It's impossible to highlight the wonderful things that happen here, to capture the inspiration that Houston Caldwell's short life and tragic passing has engendered. For aspiring young musicians, it has become a mecca in their efforts. For fans who wish to be on the inside of recognizing up-and-comers, HoustonFest is a must attend weekend. 

Houston Caldwell

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