Bluegrass on the Waccamaw is an unusual and delightful small festival. Held on the grounds of the Old Peanut Warehouse in Conway, SC, the festival is organized and presented by luthier Jennings Chestnut, Sr., who owns the Chestnut Mandolin Shop on Main Street, Conway. Involved in bluegrass music for well over 30 years, Jennings knows a lot of people, has fine organizational skills, and an idealistic view of how and for whom bluegrass should be presented. As a result of this combination of qualities, Jennings brings together a winning combination of local, regional, and national groups to present “World Class Bluegrass” free to the public. To accomplish this goal, he has had Bluegrass on the Waccamaw recognized at a non-profit 501 c(3) organization and spends much of his year, when he isn’t busy building finely crafted and lovely sounding mandolins, raising money and support for his festival. Through dint of hard work and the encouragement of the city fathers of Conway, this was twelfth annual event, always held on the second Saturday in May.
The Snyder Family Band played one set early in the evening, having been added to the lineup when Jennings heard them at Bluegrass First Class in Asheville this last winter. This trio features nine year old Samantha on fiddle and twelve year old Zeb on guitar, backed by their father Bud on bass and, occasionally, mother Elaine on gospel vocal trios. The two kids are accomplished musicians for their age with pleasant young voices. Samantha, a smiling sprite who barely peeked over the ferns and carnations decorating the stage, plays fiddle with élan and sings in a young but on-key and pitch voice. Zeb is already an accomplished flat picker, and competed in the Merlefest guitar competition this year. Both Snyder children have improved considerably since we first heard them at Carolina in the Fall back in October. Personally, they are precocious and unassuming kids, home-schooled, polite, and engaging. Their parents seem to be succeeding at keeping the performing and the learning fun for them. Look for these kids around the festival circuit as more fans become aware of them. They received a standing ovation and an encore at the end of their set.
Jammers on the River Walk
For Grasstowne, there simply is no better mandolin player on the circuit today than Alan Bibey. His precise and lightning fast breaks are a joy to hear and watch. Steve Gulley, having joined Grasstowne after a lengthy stint as lead singer with Mountain Heart, remains at the top of his game. And his game is very near the top of the vocal heap. To hear two of the best mandolin players and two of the finest lead singers in successive sets is truly a great treat. Phil Leadbetter on Dobro remains one of only three musicians ever to win IBMA Dobro Player of the year along with Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes. That’s pretty rare territory. Jayme Booher, who has played a very capable bass for Grasstowne since shortly after it was formed, has taken on the job of singing baritone, which he performs with skill and good voice, but always in his typical self-deprecating manner. Jason Davis, a still developing master on banjo, allows his banjo to do the talking for him, and talk it does with taste and exquisite melding of this difficult instrument into the sound of one of the best bands around.
Jayme Booher Sings