Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Danby Olde Country & Bluegrass Festival - Review

Vermont is one of the most rural states in America. Since 1968 billboards have been banned there. Only two Interstate Highways exist in the state, and only one crosses from east to west, it's the only four lane highway crossing the state. Vermont is reckoned to be the second most rural state in America, guarding that designation diligently, despite also being a second home-owners paradise and eastern center for the ski industry. Bluegrass and old country music as well as county fairs still stand as a major focus in the state. The Strolling of the Heifers is a major parade through Brattleboro, the seventh largest town in a state where Burlington, home of the University of Vermont is the biggest, with a population of just short of 39,000. As New York's next door neighbor, few people in the country see Vermont as a leader of rural America.

We drove over to Danby, Vermont on an overcast, but warm and humid, Saturday, through the small town of Wallingford and down U.S. Route 7 along the edge of the Vermont National Forest, which offers a rugged spine running through the middle of the state. The Green Mountains of Vermont, unlike the White Mountains in New Hampshire to the east or New York's Adirondacks to the west, are considered gentle and aged, providing the beautiful background for the many farms and hamlets that dot the state. Our GPS took us to the turn for Tifft Road, which we followed up a long, winding dirt road while Irene white-knuckled it declaring plaintively that "this couldn't be the road," as she continued upward. After a couple of miles of winding, woodsy road the vista suddenly opened up to a  hillside with RV's neatly parked along a terraced hillside. We had arrived! We met promoter Tary Jesmonth, who kindly welcomed us to the 11th Annual Danby Olde Time Country & Bluegrass Festival.

Tary Jesmonth

The Danby festival is sponsored by the Green Mountain Climbers, a snowmobile club, and located on a lovely  piece of land generously made available by the Powers family, who owns it. It's a near perfect location for a small, family oriented, festival featuring a number of local bands along with popular headliners whose music and personality fits the simple pleasures of this event. Most of the license plates were from Vermont, New York, and New Hamphire, but one attendee traveled from South Carolina to attend. It's a warm, welcoming, informal festival with children running around happily.

The Dairy-heirs

The Dairy-heirs can all trace their ancestry back to dairy farming, a claim many native Vermonters can make. Their music is traditional, and they have lots of fun making it. This sort of band lies at the heart of one element that makes bluegrass so attractive. They can't be found online, at least I couldn't find them, but they are players who love to get together to play bluegrass, attend festivals, jam in the evenings, and, sometimes, play on the main stage as an early-in-the-day band. They're not pretentious,  but they know the standards and love to share their enthusiasm with others. 

Rob Robtoy

Freeman Corey

Pete Langdell

Brenda Vitek

Smokey Greene

Smokey Greene, born in 1930, has been performing in New York and New England, as well as Florida in the winter, since the 1950's at his own festival and many others. He says he's now on his final tour. He sings humorous songs as well as old country and heart rending songs from all over. A musical icon beloved by many.

Smokey Greene

Scott Greene

The Cook Shack

Just Passin' Through

Just Passin' Through is the host band of the festival. They love picking together and also appear at a couple of other festivals each season as well as private and local events. Festival promoter Tary Jesmonth (TJ) sings lead for this enthusiastic and skilled group.

Tary Jesmonth

Brenda Brill Vicker & Jim Blevins

Albert Queen

Freeman Corey

 Josh Grigsby & County Line

Josh Grigsby & County Line come from near Richmond in Virginia where they have been experiencing significant success. They were recognized by the Virginia Folk Music Association as the top bluegrass band in the state in 2015. During their two days at Danby, they made lots of friends and one hopes this will not be their last trip to New England. 

Josh Grigsby

Crystal Grigsby

Whitney Perkins

Judge Parker

Robert Kidd

Josh Grigby & Mark Mills

Cora & Pete Bolster - The Sound Team

The Atkinson Family

We first saw the Atkinson Family at Pickin' in the Pasture on Lake Cayuga in central New York a dozen or more years ago. They were a solid band then, and they remain entertaining with strong musical values. Their tight family harmonies, varied and interesting choice of songs, and pleasant stage presence combine to make them a band people enjoy.

Shelene Atkinson

Liza and Sarah Atkinson

Dick Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson

David Bevins

Ron Caster

Devon Jamieson - Guest Artist


Dreamcatcher began it's afternoon set with one banjo player and ended it with another as it transitioned to a new lineup. This is a young and talented band that grew from what was mostly the East Tennessee State University Pride Band a couple of years ago, to become a rapidly rising bluegrass presence at festivals and workshops across the country. The change represents a problem for young bands whose members are in demand to fill openings in better known and higher paying bands. Nevertheless, Dreamcatcher is impressive. Their musicianship is beyond reproach and their singing is improving as their voices continue to mature and they work regularly together. For Irene and me, who have been watching and appreciating Aaron Foster since he was an early teen, this was a happy day. Aaron, unlike many hot young pickers, began a little late and did not immediately impress. However, a decade later, he has developed as a fine guitarist and a true leader in his band.

Aaron Foster

Max Etling

Ben Wattlington

Jordon Roberson

Brady Wallen

Eli Gilbert



Beartracks, coming from Plattsburgh, NY, has established itself throughout New England with forays into Pennsylvania and Colorado, where they are popular for their good music and good-time vibe. With the addition of Harry Ralph on fiddle a few years ago, and banjoist Steve Light in the last year, they have found a combination flexible enough to play their genre expanding music. With their new CD, The Other Side of the Tracks, they have chosen to combine bluegrass with contemporary pop, a rock standard, and Texas swing into an interesting and enjoyable acoustic album. Perhaps not often enough noted or noticed, Julie Venne-Hogan is a fine bass player.

Julie Venne-Hogan

Tom Venne

Harry Ralph

Steve Light

Julie Venne Hogan & Tom Venne

We enjoyed our first visit to Danby Old Time Country & Bluegrass Festival in Danby, VT and look forward to coming back one of these days. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bluegrass: Funnier Than It Sounds by Rick Cornish - Book Review

Rick Cornish is bluegrass music's resident cartoonist. For years he has posted his cartoons on the California Bluegrass Association website and in Bluegrass Today, the go-to news source for bluegrass music. Now he has published a collection, which will become a treasured bathroom or tabletop piece for those of us who like a laugh with our bluegrass music.  Funnier Than It Sounds, illustrated by Donna Miklika and edited by Nanci Bolas, is written from the perspective of someone who loves bluegrass, knows its foibles and conflicts, and looks at it with gentle good humor. Much like Rick Cornish himself, who doesn't need to shout when he can speak quietly while keeping his pen sharp, the cartoons point in humor-filled ways to how bluegrass affects relationships, careers, and daily lives.

Often the bluegrass community may take itself and its music a bit too seriously. We worry about being seen as hillbilly music with hay bales sitting around the stage having adherents with a jug of moonshine sitting beside them. We long for serious consideration as serious music. And, of course, the stereotype and the scholarship are both elements of the music we love. So are the arguments about what constitutes bluegrass music. Nevertheless, what brings bluegrass people together, making them into a large, cohesive, and, sometime, argumentative community is their love of toe tapping music growing from Appalachia and reaching out to the world. Bluegrass continues as a music played by some of the best musicians in the world while it remains accessible enough to be played, sung, and enjoyed by those picking up their instruments for almost the first time.

Rick Cornish, before and after a career in educational planning and as a software entrepreneur, has always been a writer and humorist, as well as a bluegrass picker and volunteer for the California Bluegrass Association. He has written and published a collection of short stories and is working on another. He began cartooning when a friend challenged him to pen thirty cartoons in a month, and he realized that cartoons were simply extremely short short stories. He's been more than ably assisted by illustrator Donna Miklika and editor Nanci Bolas.

Rick Cornish

Many of these cartoons were first published in Bluegrass Today and on the California Bluegrass Association web site, for which I thank them, since their publication means I don't have to cut the pages out of my copy of this book to post a few of them. Bluegrass: Funnier Than It Sounds by Rick Cornish with illustrations by Donna Miklica and edited by Nanci Bolas is available from Amazon.com for $14.99. That works out to about 1¢ per smile/giggle/laugh. I was sent a copy of the book by the author and wrote a blurb for it.

Please remember that if you wish to order a book linked to in my writing, the embedded links take you to Amazon.com , paying me a small commission which goes towards continuing to support this blog and our travels.