Carol Young (The Greencards)
Promoter Buck Bieber and his staff have once again assembled an interesting and varied lineup designed to appeal to a broad range of tastes. Fans of traditional bluegrass will be happy to see Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Dale Ann Bradley, Doyle Lawson and Quick Silver, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Carl Shiflett and Big Country, and the Grascals. More contemporary sounds come from The Gibson Brothers, The Lonesome River Band, and Laurie Lewis. Toward the progressive end of the bluegrass spectrum, Tony Trischka, The Greencards, and Peter Rowan will be on hand. Anne and Pete Sibley, who come from Connecticut but live in Wyoming bring a western gospel/folk sound while Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters offer country oriented bluegrass sound from the west transplanted to Connecticut. The festival brings a balanced program with something for everyone, which keeps on coming. Meanwhile, out in the campgrounds there’s plenty of jamming for everyone.
Kym Warner and Eamon McLoughlin (Greencards)
The festival opens on Thursday evening with Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters. This mellow and melodious band provides a good transition from arrival and setup into the bluegrass mode. Although born in Alabama, many of Gallatin’s formative years were spent in Idaho. Dobro picker Roger Williams is featured in her band. They’re followed by Anne & Pete Sibley, a duo who now live in Jackson, Wyoming, but who both come from Connecticut. Someone at Strawberry Park not only has an ear for good bands, but programs with a sense of humor. The Greencards present torrid picking by Kym Warner on mandolin and Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle, while Carol Young’s evocative singing carries the vocals and provides the bass. They’ve been through several guitarists, but always had a strong person in that position, too. Last time we saw them they had virtuoso Andy Falco as their flat picker, but who knows. This is an exciting band to watch and hear.
The lineup for Saturday offers a completely new set of performers. Tony Trischka leads off the day with his Double Banjo Spectacular. The double banjo album re-established Trischka as one of the most creative and able banjo players in the world. His new album, Trischka Territory, demonstrates why: he’s among the most versatile and restlessly creative musicians around. Dale Ann Bradley brings one of the purest voices in traditional bluegrass to the stage next. Her familiar songs and lively personality fill the lovely glade forming the natural outdoor auditorium of Strawberry Park’s performance area. Dry Branch Fire Squad returns next for a Saturday performance. They will also do their traditional gospel bluegrass program on Sunday morning. Featuring Ron Thomason’s sharp satire and a fine band offering traditional bluegrass and raw, primitive gospel, Dry Branch Fire Squad, after more than thirty years on the road, remains one of the most delightful and interesting bands there is. One of their great gifts to festival audiences is the humor they bring, a commodity often lacking in the genre. Karl Shiflett & The Big Country Show play bluegrass the way it might have sounded and looked in the 1950’s. With his hound-dog face and huge smile, Shiflett deftly leads a traditional band through their paces. Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands make an appearance on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday. Lewis brings a California sensibility and tone to her bluegrass, which is refreshing and lively. Supported by a very able band, she supplies a first rate opportunity to hear music that reflects the traditional while exploring new avenues of sound and content.
After the supper break on Saturday, add Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and The Grascals to the mix for one of the highest quality and most exciting evenings of bluegrass imaginable. Lawson, mixing traditional bluegrass with a strong component of gospel bluegrass, has stood astride the bluegrass world longer than many bands exist. He is noted as an exacting task master and the list of former members of his band now among the bluegrass elite is nearly endless. One musician says, “Four years with Doyle is like earning a Ph.D. in bluegrass performance.” Be sure to look past Doyle’s flashy performance garb for the quality of his band’s musicianship and entertainment value. The Grascals, probably the pace setter group for the spate of new groups composed of Nashville session musicians who have formed bands in recent years, has had a series of hit songs, a number of IBMA awards, and successful tours over the past four or five years. They have recently taken on a new permanent fiddler to replace Jimmy Mattingly who returned to touring with Dolly Parton. Jeremy Abshire is the new fiddler, and it will be interesting to see how he fits in. The last addition to the band, Aaron McDaris on banjo, added to the mix. Mattingly’s energy will be missed, but I’ll wait to make any further judgment.
All pictures by Ted Lehmann. Use by permission only.