Thursday, January 22, 2009

Palatka Bluegrass Festival - Preview

The fifth annual Palatka Bluegrass Festival held at Rodeheaver Boys Ranch south of Palatka, FL will begin on Thursday, February 12th and run for three days. Another all-star production of the Adams and Anderson team, which now offers nine festivals a year, Palatka has emerged as the largest, and perhaps the best, of the winter festivals in Florida. The host organization, Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, decided a few years ago to hold a bluegrass festival as one of its major fund raising events. They have spared no expense in developing a spacious campground with water and electric hookups, hot showers and flush toilets, daily hot meals served in the Ranch’s dining room, a large area for vendors, plenty of the all-important porta-potties kept clean all weekend, and more. Their success has prompted the development of a second festival now held in October.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage

Rhonda Vincent

Aaron McDaris

Hunter Berry & Mickey Harris
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Ricky Skaggs

Jim Mills

Cody Kilby

Palatka this year presents first rate bands and some interesting early season looks at how they have changed during the annual musical chairs game December often brings to bluegrass bands. The most notable changes revolve around Rhonda Vincent’s decision to remake her band. She had replaced Kenny Ingram on banjo with Aaron McDaris, who comes to her band from The Grascals. Darrell Webb has also left and been replaced with Ben Helsen on lead and rhythm guitar who had been with Ricky Skaggs’ band. Ingram has joined the Larry Stephenson Band, where he replaces IBMA banjo player of the year Kristin Scott Benson, the new banjo picker with The Grascals. Webb has joined Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper. Alan Johnson has rejoined the Doyle Lawson aggregation on fiddle while lead singer and guitarist Darren Beachley has decided to leave. All these bands except for Cleveland’s will be performing at Palatka, giving audiences an opportunity to assess the effectiveness and impact of the changes. I was particularly happy to see the great Kenny Ingram catch on with Stephenson and Alan Johnson back on the road. Benson has also proven herself to be a first rate addition to The Grascals. Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice will be featuring a new mandolinist at Rodeheaver, replacing Chris Harris who has moved on.

The Grascals

Terry Eldredge

Kristin Scott Benson

Danny Roberts

Jeremy Abshire

Larry Stephenson Band
Larry Stephenson

Kenny Ingram

Jason Barrie
Each day at Palatka will feature bands that specialize in gospel music. The Chuck Wagon Gang appears on Friday and The Primitive Quartet on Saturday. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, noted for their gospel content is a featured band on Friday back to back with Dailey & Vincent, straight off a triumphant year which featured their winning seven IBMA awards in October and probably headed for a similar triumph at SPBGMA in a few weeks. We haven’t seen the 2009 Dailey & Vincent program yet, but, when Irene and I chatted with Jamie Dailey at IBMA, he said he was already hard at work on writing and shaping their show. Dailey, like his mentor Doyle Lawson, insists upon creating a highly polished performance filled with tight harmony, fast picking, and fine singing. Comedy is provided through the interchanges between Dailey and his partner, Darren Vincent. Audiences have responded with huge enthusiasm since they hit the road a year ago, and 2009 promises to continue this pattern. Lawson, too, can always be relied upon for a first rate performance, even with the frequent changes this notoriously tough task master experiences. A member of Lawson’s band once said to me, “Four years with Doyle Lawson is like earning a PhD in being in a band.” Such precision has paid off in numerous awards and consistently enthusiastic responses from bluegrass audiences. It was recently announced that Darren Beachley would be leaving the Doyle Lawson band. Lawson's office has confirmed to me that Beachley will be replaced by Darren McGuire. Furthermore, Jason Barie will be playing fiddle for Doyle Lawson. As with the other bands that have announced changes, it will be interesting to hear and see the new Quicksilver band.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Doyle Lawson

Alan Johnson
Joey Cox
Dailey & Vincent
More Than a Name on the Wall

Jamie Dailey

Darrin Vincent

Other bands appearing at Palatka this year will be:

· Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road

· The Gary Waldrep Band

· Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers

· Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

· Goldwing Express

· Nothin’ Fancy

· Barry Scott & Second Wind

· The Bluegrass Brothers

And other bands previously mentioned. The lineup is so strong, there’s no way I can comment on each on in a preview, but people attending this festival can be assured that there will be plenty of traditional bluegrass played by strong practitioners of the art. People seeing more progressive or innovative approaches to bluegrass and acoustic music should probably look elsewhere.
Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road
Lorraine Jordan & Jerry Butler

Josh Goforth & John Wade

Ben Greene

The Gary Waldrep Band
Gary Waldrep

Mindy Rakestraw

Stan Wildmon

Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers

Larry Sparks
The Rodeheaver Boys Ranch is one of the most interesting venues we get to visit on our bluegrass trips. Founded in the 1950’s on about 700 acres of ranch land south of Palatka, FL, the ranch houses about fifty boys who, for various reasons, have no family capable of caring for them. They attend the local public school and live on campus in comfortable home-line houses, about eight or ten to a building with house parents in charge. They receive strong, loving discipline, learn to work by doing ranch chores, and receive supervised study and tutoring (when necessary) in a library building. After school on Thursday and Friday afternoons, when school gets out, and through Saturday, the students are very much in evidence about the campus, helping with every element of the festival. They seem to be happy and well-adjusted to the situation. The Rodeheaver staff and volunteers we’ve met are committed to providing a Christian environment for these potentially troubled youth. Visitors to this festival should be sure to purchase a bag of the delicious navel oranges the ranch sells. I’m not generally a fan of navels, but these are the tastiest, juiciest ones I’ve ever tasted. The ranch will deliver them to the door of visitors’ rigs.
Junior Sisk & Tim Massey

Mike Andes & Chris Sexton (Nothin' Fancy)

Gary Faris (Nothin' Fancy)

The Bluegrass Brothers
Victor Dowdy

Donald Dowdy

Robert Dowdy

When Rodeheaver officials decided to hold a bluegrass festival, they did their homework well and sought out the proven team of Norman Adams and Tony Anderson to organize, book, and promote the event. The result has filled the grounds and the tent from the first festival. Rodeheaver staff and residents are uniformly courteous and helpful. The sound by Gene Daniel and his crew is very high quality, and last year they installed a large TV screen about 2/3 of the way back in the tent to promote visibility. This crew knows how to put on a festival that pleases.