We checked in at the Festival office, where promoter Steve Dittman and his wife Janice were busily getting set up. Steve is a tall, jovial man who wears his half-lens glasses dangling from a strap around his neck. He’s wearing a T-shirt advertising one of his other festivals (Yahoo Junction), jeans, and a smile that never seems far from breaking out across his face. Steve has assembled an interesting and varied lineup for this festival, leaning heavily toward the traditional and offering bands he knows will appeal to a largely retired
The three day lineup for
Michelle Nixon and Drive hit the stage after Eddie and Martha Adcock, about whom more later. Nixon belongs in a solid group with other bands headed by women, like Valerie Smith and Alicia Nugent. Her voice and enthusiasm sell a strong combination of fairly recent and traditional songs. The band is well named, as it has plenty…of drive, that is. Her song “I Know Rain” delivers bluegrass emotion the way fans like it, the pain hidden under a lilting melody and driving rhythm.
The James King Band took the stage with a new face. Banjo player Chris Hill apparently feel in love and left the road, a wise choice if he want to sustain a relationship, difficult to do in a band that travels as incessantly as the King Band does. His replacement, Adam Poindexter, spent eight and half years on the road with King previously and fits in well, despite the fact this is the first gig of his return. He closes Friday night talking of his need to drive a thousand miles before the next evening. King’s band seems to fly without a playlist as James makes his choices depending on some combination of how he feels, what the band wants, and whether he can remember the song. His band has a strong combination of excellent musicians who can roll with his moods and choices. Kevin Prater, about 80 pounds lighter over the past year, has a strong tenor voice he uses to good effect both as a solo instrument as a member of the trio and the gospel quartets the band does so well. “Just As the Sun Went Down” is one of their best. James’ patented “pathetic” songs like “Bed by the Window” and “Up on
The Lewis Family followed with their combination of a deeply felt gospel message and Little Roy’s clowning mad palatable by brilliant instrumental work on banjo, guitar, and auto-harp. His aging sisters manage to hang in and smile benevolently on their naughty brother. Polly, who sadly is quite ill, performs gamely and keeps on trouping. The Lewis Family sings only gospel words, but includes lots of patriotic and other familiar instrumentals. Janice Lewis’ son Lewis Phillips ably supports
Saturday – Steve Dittman schedules his festivals so that most of the bands play for two days. On Saturday,
The past was represented by former and present members of cornerstone group The Country Gentlemen. Formed by Charlie Waller, John Duffey, Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray in the 1962, this pioneer group from the
Randy Waller, son and heir to Charley Waller, currently tours as Randy Waller and the Country Gentlemen. My reaction, after several chances to see him perform, has been, generally, negative. He mugs, looks smug, and rolls his eyes, seemingly mocking the very music that he claims to celebrate while misusing a marvelous baritone voice. A conversation with a friend well-connected in the genre on Sunday afternoon helped me to understand Waller, who, my friend says, needs to pull himself out from under his Dad’s shadow and find a way to come into his own as a singer and song stylist while still giving his father’s memory an appropriate platform.
Carolina Sonshine is a gospel group which also features the comedy impressions of its lead singer, Danny Stanley. I commented two weeks ago about Dennis Cash’s rendition of a song, “God’s Been Good to Me,” that bothered me. This weekend I had a chance to discuss my concerns with him, and I’m glad I did, as we found more in common about ways of seeing the world than the ideas separating us. We also had a chance to spend some time with banjoist Tom Langdon, whose solo project is quite good. Carolina Sonshine has made a step up in the bluegrass world and belongs in the company it is joining. In order to sustain their position in this wider world, however, they will have to expand their repertoire. Meanwhile, they have a pleasant sound and fit well, especially on Sunday, with their deeply felt gospel renditions.
The Goldwing Express includes three sons, known as the Indians, and their blonde father. They are a group which spends most of the year performing in
Sunday – Sundays at bluegrass festivals are largely devoted to gospel music. This day, Mike and Mary Robinson, whose bluegrass ministry follows the sun, led their Sunday morning gospel jam. The jam is a great place for novice musicians to play, and this day they were supported by three members of Carolina Sonshine, a generous gift. Mike keeps the preaching low key, although he is quite clear about his faith and its biblical grounding and does a capable job leading the jam and the group singing.
Carolina Sonshine and the Gary Waldrep Band followed with all gospel programs followed by another performance by Goldwing Express. Roger Bass & the Hillbillies, a