Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Great Southern Bluegras Fetival - Preview

Great Southern Bluegrass Festival
Ochlocknee, GA (near Thomasville)
March 21 and 22, 2008
It’s a sad event when a scheduled festival has to be postponed or cancelled. The Spirit of Suwannee Bluegrass Festival had been scheduled for the weekend of March 20 – 22, but it was cancelled. Promoter Don Miller tells me the cancellation was necessary because of inadequate pre-registrations and lack of sponsorship. My hunch says that Spirit of Suwannee Music Park was less than enthusiastic about this event, scheduling a large canoe festival for the same weekend and putting its emphasis onto Springfest coming the following one. Beer sales for Springfest are huge! Thus a fine festival with a varied lineup and a quality venue has gone down the tubes.
Fortunately, Miller’s co-promoter, North Florida’s Ernie Evans has stepped into the breach and arranged for a festival called “The Great Southern Bluegrass Festival” and held at Picker’s Paradise Park in Ochlocknee, GA (near Thomasville) on March 21 – 22. The headliner will be Grasstowne, a band only a little over a year old, but creating a buzz across the nation at concerts and festivals as well as through its hit CD “The Road Headin’ Home.” The Wilson Family Band, Southern Lite, Pure and Simple Bluegrass, and Southern Lite, as well as other bands to be announced are also on the bill. Of particular note in this schedule will be workshops offered by musical greats Alan Bibey and Phil Leadbetter on Saturday morning. Bibey, mandolin player for Grasstowne, has long been recognized as one of the very finest on his instrument. Chosen by SPBGMA as mandolin player of the year in 2006, Bibey was a founding member of four great bands as well as performing on countless other albums when pure, virtuoso picking is required. Leadbetter is one of only three Dobro players to ever have been awarded IBMA Dobro player of the year (2005) as well as being this year’s SPGMA Dobro player of the year. He is a fine teacher as well. An hour spent at a workshop with either of these masters is worth the price of admission to any festival.

Katie, Clint, and Robert Wilson
We first met the Wilson Family Band at the Spirit of Suwannee Bluegrass Festival a year ago. At that time they were still somewhat lacking in development, but were infectiously joyous about making their music. We were taken by them right away. Since then they’ve become friends of ours, and we seek out opportunities to see them perform. This is a family band with a difference, and the difference is joy. The look on Robert Wilson’s face as he watches and appreciates the work of his two children is priceless. Clint, at seventeen, has branched out from the banjo to also take solos on guitar and mandolin during their sets. We’ve also seen him play bass. Daughter Katie, still only twelve, has been playing fiddle for less than two years. Her fiddle playing, helped along by her friendship with Becky Buller, grows with each performance. Her voice will continue to mature as she grows into the songs she sings. The family has tailored song selection to her age and appearance, making her even more effective. Drew Jones on bass is a friend of the family and adds still another teenager to the group. Mother Melissa provides a steady beat on mandolin and has begun taking more frequent and demanding breaks. This band, hailing from rural Folkston, GA should be seen to be appreciated.

Melissa Wilson

Katie and Clint Wilson
Pure and Simple Bluegrass is a six member band which describes themselves as traditional with a “touch of comedy and magic thrown in.” Based in Dothan, Alabama, they appear mostly in the region and sound, at least from their on-line samples, to be a solid band. Southern Lite is the house band for this festival, as they are Ernie Evans’ band. Ernie brings a lively enthusiasm to everything he does, and this is reflected in the music his band plays. Ernie’s work on mandolin is very solid, and we were surprised to hear his very good flat picking in a guest appearance with Tyler Williams a month or so ago. Also appearing will be The Kenny Hill Band and The Andrews Family Band, neither of which provides sufficient Internet information for me to have anything to say about them. All told, the line-up for this event should provide sufficient variety and excellence to make its Friday evening all-say Saturday format varied, interesting, and enjoyable. The highlight, for both established fans and those who have not yet had the pleasure of seeing them, will be Grasstowne.

Alan Bibey (Grasstowne)

Phil Leadbetter (Grasstowne)
Picker’s Paradise Park can be found here. Some pictures of the facility can be found here. The pictures suggest a very pleasant setting in southern Georgia with trees, water, a comfortable and roomy music shed, and plenty of camping spaces. Water and electric are provided and there are hot showers and flush toilets available. Nearby Thomasville, located in south Georgia a few miles north of the Florida border, appears to be a pleasant town of slightly more than 18,000 people. Average daily high temperatures in Thomasville in late March are in the low seventies with evening temperatures in the low fifties. It’s early spring in this part of the world, and the azaleas should be in full bloom. Picker’s Paradise Park can be easily reached from North Florida, Eastern Alabama and South Georgia, Snowbird bluegrass fans beginning their trek homeward in late March should find this to be a pleasant and rewarding stop.

Steve Gulley (Grasstowne)

Jason Davis (Grasstowne)