Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Palatka Bluegrass Festival - Preview

The fourth annual Palatka Bluegrass Festival kicks off on Thursday, February 7th at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch about ten miles south of Palatka on Highway 19 . Promoters Norman Adams and Tony Anderson ramrod this fine festival for the folks at Rodeheaver, who use it as one of their major fund raisers. Rodeheaver Boys Ranch is a 700 acre working ranch where about 45 boys whose parents are, for one reason or another, unable to care for them live. The ranch staff, a group of dedicated educators and house parents, have created a loving and challenging environment to turn unhappy boys into productive citizens. During the festival, which always has one of the strongest lineups in the Florida circuit, bluegrass fans get an opportunity to encounter these kids and those who care for them directly, as they serve as staff and volunteers for the event. The festival runs for three days.

On Thursday, Paul Williams and the Victory Trio lead of at noon. Williams is an old-timer in bluegrass who has written hundreds of bluegrass gospel classics. He does a limited touring schedule these days, and it will be a treat to see him. A characteristic of Adams and Anderson promoted festivals is their fealty to early bluegrassers. At the other end of the spectrum, the brand new band Dailey & Vincent will be performing. Jamie Dailey spent the last several years singing lead and doing comedy for Doyle Lawson while Darrin Vincent (Rhonda’s brother) has been with Ricky Skaggs’ group Kentucky Thunder. These two very accomplished sidemen have joined together to form one of the two new bands creating a great deal of buzz this season. Other bands on Thursday are James King, Gary Waldrep, The Grascals, and Blue Highway. I’m told that Blue Highway is releasing a new album with several great new songs by Tim Stafford.

Danny Roberts and Terry Eldridge (The Grascals)

Friday opens with Carolina Sonshine, a mostly gospel group which has stepped up in the last couple of seasons. Danny Stanley has a fine baritone voice and does comedy bits and voice impressions. Steep Canyon Rangers can be relied on for a first rate performance. We’ve never seen the Isaacs Family, but have heard their work and expect them to be excellent. The Gibson Brothers, one of the finest bands on the bluegrass circuit today will offer songs from their new album Iron and Diamonds which will be released in a couple of months. Their work is always of the highest quality, featuring the tight harmonies of Eric and Leigh Gibson and unique musical quality that catches the ear and the spirit. Doyle Lawson, featuring several new band members, is always reliable. Goldwing Express will be there, too.

Eric and Leigh Gibson

Doyle Lawson

Dr. Ralph Stanley

As this festival began with one of the first generation bluegrassers, it will end with one also. Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys will close the festival with one long set on Saturday evening. Leading up to this closer will be Nothin’ Fancy, a mainstay at this festival, and Marty Raybon & Full Circle, who we have also never seen before, but whose work as we’ve heard it on XM radio is first rate. The Lewis Family, hobbled in recent years by the illness of one of their members, still features one of bluegrass gospel’s prime attractions, banjo player and clown extrordinaire Little Roy Lewis. One of the highlights of the weekend will be Country Current, the U.S. Navy’s touring bluegrass band. Because this band is on active duty in the Navy, they are precluded from making commercial recordings. This means that much of their very high quality repertoire is not as well known as it should be. Lead singer Wayne Taylor is exceptional. Frank Sollivan II is one of the finest mandolin players in the business. Keith Arneson’s work on banjo is elegant and thoughtful and his direction of the band light. This band is not to be missed. Rhonda Vincent, one of the most reliable, hardest touring, and highest quality performers in bluegrass music. One of her great qualities is the amount off-stage time she gives the rabid fans and new converts who flock to her merchandise table. While she is a known quantity, she never disappoints. I’m eager to hear what Darrell Webb, who has replaced Josh Williams at guitar will add to the mix. He was excellent with Wildfire, and he will surely change the mix as well as continue the excellence.

Rhonda Vincent
The Palatka Bluegrass Festival’s lineup is loaded with first-rate performers. In the past five years, the folks at Rodeheaver Boys Ranch have created a fine performing venue featuring over 500 RV sites with water and electric, a pole barn music shed with gas heat for the chilly nights often found in northern Florida in winter, and a fine set of very good vendors. The staff serves tasty hot breakfasts each morning in the ranch dining hall as well as dinners in the evening. Keep your eyes open for the wonderful local navel oranges sold by the festival and transported to your rig if you wish. This is a first class operation with fine performers presented in a prime setting. If you can fit it into your schedule, get yourself there.

Carolina Sonshine

Frank Sollivan II (Country Current)

Hunter Berry (Rhonda Vincent)

Jamie Johnson (The Grascals)

Jimmy Mattingly (The Grascals)

Kenny Ingram (Rhonda Vincent)

Kevin Prater (James King)

Mike Andes and Tony Shorter (Nothin' Fancy)