Monday, August 4, 2008
Podunk - Saturday w/Banjo Spectacular
Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, held in a city park in the middle of East Hartford, CT, deserves serious attention from bluegrass fans. Promoter Roger Moss, Director of Parks and Recreation in East Hartford, with the support of the city and a strong selection of sponsors, has designed a bluegrass festival with balance, thoughtfulness, and variety. By bringing together Tony Trischka's Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular and turning it into an octuple spectacular, he has really pulled off a major coup. The range of workshops, held in a delightful small pavilion far enough away from the main stage so the sound of performances wasn't too overwhelming, was thoughtfully created and offered excellent opportunities for in depth looks at various elements of bluegrass music and closeup contact with individual artists and groups. An extraordinary off-site seminar for band and performer professional development brought together national authorities to provide in-depth seminars for individual musicians and new bands seeking to take the next step. Offered at the nominal cost of $15.00 for the day, these seminars were a huge value for those electing to participate. Sound, provided by Rosewood Sound was clear and audible throughout the grounds without ever becoming harsh or so loud it was uncomfortable for fans near the front. Never underestimate the importance of good sound, which is always best when least noticed. While we were not able to stay through Sunday, the winner of last year's band competition appearing for a full set on Saturday, suggested the high quality of bands entered. For fans seeking to become early adherants of new bands and promoters wishing to identify new and interesting peformers for their festivals, the Podunk band competition seems a truly useful and entertaining opportunity. Despite nearly two hours of rain and surrounding thunder storms in late afternoon, the festivities were never stopped, and the weather cleared early enough for the sun to dry people's seats and the evening to be a perfect ending for a spectacularly successful day.
Dan Paisley & Southern Grass
The Dan Paisley band, with a new CD out from Rounder Records, is just getting around to receiving the recognition it has long deserved. In the past three or four years this band has recovered from the loss of Dan and Michael Paisley's father Bob and developed its own sound without leaving the precurser band behind. For fans of traditional hard driving bluegrass music, the Paisley band offers the very best singing and instrumental work. Paisley's voice, a distinctive high lonesome sound, excels whether the song be fast and lively or slow and plaintive. There isn't a weak place in its personnel or show.
Blue Moon Rising
Since we first saw Blue Moon Rising, they have supplemented their already fine singing and high quality songs written by Chris West and Keith Garrett with much increased energy and performance values. This elevates them from being a good filler band to near the headliner level. Blue Moon Rising's CDs are good listening and they have become a pleasure to watch in performance. They have become tighter and much more interesting.
Arising from the somewhat improbable mixture of rock and alternative country, The Steeldrivers have rapidly penetrated the bluegrass world with a soulful mixture both strange and strikingly familiar. Chris Stapleton's R&B infused soulful sound has become one of the most recognizable voices around, while Tammy Rogers fiddle and singing complement him perfectly. It's taking me a while to accustom myself to their sound and vibe, but the reactions they've garnered in the two successive weeks we've seen them have been thunderingly enthusiastic. I'd be surprised not to see them garner some kind of recognition at IBMA in October.
It's impossible to list the finest banjo players to be found in this small world of bluegrass music. It's easy, however, to say that the eight people brought together for Tony Trischka's Double Banjo Spectacular on the main stage and for this workshop rank among the very best, and most interesting, pickers around. Ranging from most traditional to some of the most creative contemporary players, this group offered dynamite to the thirty of forty enthusiasts who came up to the workshop pavilion for this treat.
Joy Kills Sorrow
Winner of last year's band competition, Joy Kills Sorrow presented a range of contemporary bluegrass with skill and grace. Funky to jazz-infused and folky sounds presented with high musicality characterize this new young group.
Larry Stephenson Band
The Larry Stephenson Band offers a combination of Stephenson's fine tenor voice and very good ensemble playing from the entire group. Stephenson is a tested veteran, while most of his band consists of younger, but widely experienced musicians. They never fail to offer a first rate show and to please their fans and people who are hearing them for the first time. Stephenson has been around a long time, but his show remains fresh and lively.
Kristin Scott Benson
Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and Jerry Salley
Take three of Nashville's most storied songwriters whose roots are firmly in bluegrass, sit them comfortably on three chairs before an audience, and just let them sing their own songs together in rotation. There's a formula for moments to be treasured. In the audience people instantly recognize many of the songs they hear even though they don't necessarily connect them with their composers. A look at the web sites of any of the three reveals catlogs of songs and participation in projects beyond legendary. These three guys have formed a backbone for much of the contemporary quality music scene.
Octuple Banjo Spectacular
Sadly, Cherryholmes, who were scheduled to close Saturday, were detained in Boston's Logan Airport on their return flight from London and were unable to appear. Happily, however, this hole in the time slot provided Tony Trischka and his merry pickers more than two hours to delight the crowd with banjos, banjos, and more banjos. Trischka's band, consisting of Jon Weisberger on bass, Michael Daves on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Mike Barnett on fiddle deserve special recognition for providing backup for all the pickers over the entire period of this fascinating show.