Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Upper Hudson Bluegrass Festival, North Creek, NY - August 17, 2014: Review

The Upper Hudson Bluegrass Festival in North Creek, NY is probably the kind of primarily local event that keeps bluegrass alive at the grass roots. A quick look at the license plates remaining in the campground on Sunday morning revealed primarily New York and Vermont origins with a few from New Hampshire and even one from Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, the audience and the bands were local and regional. The music was good and the interaction between the audience and the stage filled with banter and good humor. The venue for the Annual Upper Hudson festival is at the base of a small ski hill subsidiary to the much larger adjacent Gore Mountain ski area. It contains several permanent buildings and sufficient space to provide a cozy and partly sheltered performance area with lots of room for rough camping behind the stage. Readers should remember that we arrived on Sunday morning, just as Mike and Mary Robinson's Gospel Sing & Jam was concluding. Sunday, as I often remark, is getaway day. Many people who had been present on Friday and Saturday had left already or were in the process getting home, when we arrived. Nevertheless, a good crowd stayed for the day, enjoying abbreviated sets from the remaining scheduled bands.

Mike & Mary Robinson: Gospel Sing & Jam

Dave Nichols & Spare Change

Dave Nichols is best known as a luthier living in Malone, NY in the 1000 Islands region near the Canadian border.  His beautiful inlay work in abalone and artificial ivory is well known throughout the country among people who know such things. It can be seen on many Martin presentation guitars and high end collectors instruments.

Dave Nichols

Brian Legerre

Gary Greenland

Nadine Nichols

Vendors Row

Washington County Line

Washington County Line is an upstate New York band that plays lots of second and third generation covers of bands from the seventies and eighties as well as some earlier material and more recent selections. Their singing is strong and their instrumental ensemble continues to improve as playing frequently at regional festivals has helped build them into a more cohesive whole. Like many local and regional bands, they can also be seen, heard, and joined jamming around the campground in the evenings. 

Daryl Smith

Andy Bing

Ken Meyer

Sean Quinn

Steve Wood

Smokey Greene

A bluegrass and country legend in New York, New England, and Florida, Smokey Greene is older than almost all of his audience. He once headlined many festivals with his band, which had an emotional reunion at Pemi Valley last year, and hosted his own festival in the Champlain Valley bordering New York and Vermont. Today he tours as a solo or accompanied by his son Scott, an able bassist and guitar player whose pleasant baritone voice blends well, as one might expect, with his father's. Smokey is best known for his nostalgic country songs and the amusing novelty songs he both resurrects (I'm My Own Grandpa, I Don't Look Good Naked Any More) and writes. Many of these are known to his loyal audience, which loves to sing along.

Scott Greene

Scott & Smokey Greene

Remington Ryde

Remington Ryde, originating in central Pennsylvania, has widened its national penetration playing at mostly smaller festivals along the east coast and into the midwest. They've also extended their visibility through hosting their own increasingly large bluegrass festival in Centre Hall, PA (near State College) and a budget bluegrass cruise in late fall, touting itself as "The Traditional Bluegrass Music Cruise." At Upper Hudson, we found their music uncomfortably loud, though competently delivered, and much of what passes for humor to be on the crude side, perhaps reflecting the influence of GoldWing Express, a regular at their festival and on the cruise.

Ryan Frankhouser

 Billy Lee Cox

Richard Egolf

Rich Kratzer

Greg Moore

Mountain Setting

Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters

Amy Gallatin is widely travelled performer who lived in a number of different parts of the country before landing in Connecticut. Her voice is perfect for the musical choices she makes which include songs carefully selected and often defying classification by genre...always tuneful and frequently uplifting. Joining her as a partner in music and in life is Roger Williams, known throughout the country as a Dobro player's Dobro player. His play is subtle and effective, not usually prone to the showiness the instrument encourages, but always tasteful and thought provoking. They are frequently joined on stage by Roger's son J.D., now entering his senior year at Berkeley School of Music, where he has distinguished himself, while becoming an increasingly self-assured mandolin player and singer. John Urbanek is always solid on bass. This band is entertaining and effective. They regularly tour in Europe as well as in this country and Canada.

Amy Gallatin

Roger Williams

J.D. Williams

John Urbanek


Beartracks, coming from the northenmost city in New York, Plattsburgh, has been a popular country band playing in clubs, bars, and local festivals around the region, originally with Junior Barber on Dobro and pedal steel. Lately brother/sister duo Tom Venne and Julie Hogan have broadened their reach and divided the band into a country band, featuring sometime electric guitarist Eric Gibson and known as the Clem Hawkins Revival Band and Beartracks, an increasingly effective bluegrass band playing traditional bluegrass and classic country. The addition of Harry Ralph on fiddle and Scott Hopkins on banjo has vastly improved the band. A recent appearance at Ron Thomason's High Mountain Hay Fever in Colorado has widened their exposure. This is an entertaining and highly enjoyable band, filled with energy and good humor.

Julie Hogan

Tom Venne

Harry Ralph

Scott Hopkins

Emcee - Donny Sprague

The Upper Hudson is an enjoyable, small bluegrass festival in the heart of the Adirondacks, which by mid-August is usually crisp and clear, lending a hint of autumn to the air while the black flies and mosquitoes are mostly gone. Promoter Rusty Leigh has carefully built his brand, which is mostly pretty traditional, and attracted a loyal audience. We were sorry to miss seeing the Atkinson Family, Zink & Company, The Seth Sawyer Band, the Katahadin Mountain Boys, and Higher Mountain who appeared earlier in the week, but found the day to be an unusually effective and enjoyable Sunday of bluegrass while we enjoyed steadily improving weather. If you're in northern New York, or nearby New England, the Upper Hudson Festival is an attractive choice for a day or a weekend of Adirondack flavored bluegrass music. Next year's festival will be held on August 14 - 16, 2015.

Smokey Green Joins Beartracks to Close the Show

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Herbie's Game by Timothy Hallinan - Book Review

Herbie's Game (Junior Bender #4) by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime, July 2014, 400 pages, $25.00/12.99) jumped up and grabbed me in the first two or three pages and kept me with the story and the character all the way through, leaving me hungering for more. I will surely read back in Hallinan's absorbing series, as I eagerly anticipate #5, and have already ordered his newest release in the Poke Rafferty series, with which I'm also unfamiliar. Hallinan has come up with an engaging character based on a unique premise that delivers strong situations, weird and attractive subsidiary characters, and situations usually encountered from the “other” side. How so? Well, Junior Bender is a burglar. His clients all live on the edges of society participating in their own criminal activities with enthusiasm and professional elan.

Herbie's Game opens with Bender in the midst of a burglary as he carefully enters, assesses, and, just as he's about to quit, finds a box containing two mysterious pieces of jewelry, one a Cartier broach familiar to him, and the other a small construction of strange beauty that he can't quite identify. This seems strange as we learn that his greatest asset is his fine eye for quality. “Ever since my mentor Herbie Mott taught me the rules of burglary, I've practically salivated at the sound of something rattling in a small box” thinks Bender, as he hear's a car returning, pockets the box, and quietly leaves by the rear door just as the homeowner returns.

Soon the reader is led into Bender's strange world of killers, fences, fortune tellers, thieves, and other underworld characters, many of whom have figured in his life and share a bond with him. He discovers that his friend and mentor, Herbie Mott, has died under extreme stress while being tortured to reveal...something. Coping with a deep sense of loss at the demise of a man he considers to be a surrogate father, the man who taught him all he knows about his “business,” Bender begins to trace a chain of messages leading to a contract murder through a series of “disconnections.” Each disconnect is carefully designed to build a wall of intermediary steps between the person who initiated the contract and the killer who carried it out. Along the way the reader meets a variety of people living on the “other” side of the law. We quickly come to see them as complex, lively, scary, and even likable people who transcend the cardboard cutout villains populating much crime fiction. They're articulate and funny as well as dangerous. Bender is a sharp judge of the human condition, making many trenchant observations that stop the reader in mid-paragraph to consider the idea and the language used to describe it. This is a sign of really good writing.

We soon meet Bender's ex-wife Kathy and his teenage daughter, the precocious Rina. Kathy describes Bender's appeal as lying in his “decency,” a quality the reader sees quite easily, too. He operates within a moral compass guiding his approach to his outlaw profession. He's an acute observer of the human condition while not making conventional moral judgments about his professional colleagues. The fact that they rob, kill, and deceive doesn't bother Bender if they adhere to the rules of the game as taught by Herbie, even if Herbie didn't quite adhere to them himself.

Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinann lives about half of each year in Southeast Asia and the other half in California. He wrote songs and sang in a rock band while in college, and many of his songs were recorded by by well-known artists who included the platinum-selling group Bread. He began writing books while enjoying a successful career in the television industry. Over the past fourteen years he has been responsible for a number of well-reviewed novels and a nonfiction book on Charles Dickens. For years he has taught a course on “Finishing the Novel” with remarkable results – more than half his students complete their first novel and go on to a second, and several have been, or are about to be, published. Tim currently maintains a house in Santa Monica, California, and apartments in Bangkok, Thailand; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy-Hallinan. (profile from Hallinan's web site). Hallinan has developed three successful series arcs. They seem to run their course after six books. Keep an eye out for the concurrent Poke Rafferty series set in Bangkok and, I hope, some more Junior Bender novels.

Herbie's Game (Junior Bender #4) by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime, July 2014, 400 pages, $25.00/12.99) allows the reader inside a crime novel through the eyes and mind of a criminal who views himself as a professional making a living rather than seeking to present the criminal as a socio-path devoid of human concerns and sensibilities. He sees his world with a high degree of clarity while being emotionally and professionally attached to it. Junior Bennet, the protagonist of this series of novels, is humane, accessible, and enjoyable. Highly recommended. I read Herbie's Game as an electronic galley supplied to me by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle

Follow Me on FaceBook