Saturday, February 14, 2009

Palatka Bluegrass Festival - Fri

Friday at Palatka dawned bright, clear, and warm, staying that way all day until the sun dropped below the horizon and a slight chill descended. People returning from supper carried snuggy clothes with them, and, if they stayed until the last note, needed them. Five bands performed. Four of them exemplified all that’s good in bluegrass music. They ranged from one of the standout traditional bands touring today to two high concept show bands combining secular and gospel music into entertaining and often inspiring music through an amusing and entertaining band with a distinct seventies look and contemporary feel. I’d like to say a few words about Rodeheaver Boys Ranch.

Several years ago, under the influence of Board member Carlton Spence, the Ranch decided to offer a bluegrass festival as its major fund raiser. Not a place to take on new projects without due consideration, the Ranch’s development department under the leadership of Jeff King spent a couple of years attending festivals and looking for a promoter who could make bluegrass at Rodeheaver work. They convinced the very successful promotion team of Norman Adams and Tony Anderson to take on the effort and set about preparing the grounds to accommodate a number of visitors. They installed water and electric hookups for a few hundred RVs, built a performance shed and associated support buildings, booked some national acts, and kicked their fist festival. The first event succeeded beyond their wildest hopes. Despite sometimes encountering chilly and wet weather since, each year’s festival has exceeded the previous year’s.

Promoter Norman Adams

The Ranch houses about fifty boys, most of whom are young people whose parents, for one reason or another, are not capable of providing an appropriate home for them. The boys live in houses on campus with house parents. They eat their breakfasts in their campus home, attend school, do chores, study in the campus library, attend services in the lovely campus chapel, and eat their evening meal with the staff in a large and pleasant dining room. The environment is distinctly Christian. The boys receive love, discipline, and structure while having plenty of space to grow and develop. Attendees at the festival get a good chance to see the boys and interact with them on Friday afternoon and Saturday once school is out. Ken Johnson, President of the Ranch is in evidence throughout the festival. Rodeheaver Boys Ranch provides a needed service in a highly professional yet personal and caring manner. While the bluegrass festival helps, the Ranch requires money to operate. Particularly in these hard times, it is worthy of everyone’s consideration as they allocate their giving.

Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice

This band was reconstituted about eighteen months ago and has grown in performance ever since. The addition of John Martin on mandolin has been a good one. His voice fits perfectly into the trio with Junior and his cousin Tim Massey. Massey is not only a fine bass player and singer, but has written many of the songs featured in the band’s sets. Billy Hawks brings his first rate fiddling to the group and Darrell Wilkerson is solid on banjo. Junior Sisk is, of course, the center of this band. He’s at his best with sad and pitiful songs like “ He Died a Rounder at 21” and his payback songs like “I Did the Leavin’ for You” are funny and capture the audience’s attention. A genuinely shy person, Junior has, nevertheless, blossomed as emcee and front man for his band. His gentle, self-deprecating smile is perfect. This band was making its first appearance in and Adams and Anderson festival. They will be attracting a wider audience and deserve it.

Junior Sisk

Tim Massey

Billy Hawks

Darrell Wilkerson

John Miller

GoldWing Express

GoldWing express gave its standard performance. They have many fans who appreciate their work.

Dailey & Vincent

This was our first chance to see the 2009 version of the Dailey and Vincent show. This band very clearly shows its lineage. Jamie Dailey spent nine years as lead singer and comic relief with Doyle Lawson, while Darrin Vincent toured for years on guitar with Ricky Skaggs and has produced many of his sister’s very successful bluegrass CDs. Their own carefully constructed shows clearly reflect their experience. In their year on the road, Dailey and Vincent have experienced huge success, high acclaim (seven IBMA awards, a record), and much well-deserved praise. It must have provoked some anxiety for them as they approached revising their show for 2009. They can stop worrying now! Their repertoire has expanded to include much more trio singing and southern gospel quartets. Mandolinist Jeff Parker’s role has been expanded; he plays more and is more active in the comic aspects of the show. Adam Haynes fiddle work has been broadened, and he has responded with the best fiddling we’ve heard from him. Joe Dean, Jr., not yet twenty, is a very fine banjo player who also contributes deep bass to the quartets, a surprise coming from his youthful face and slight frame. The comic interaction between Jamie and Darrin appears much more natural and less forced. Their voices and playing are well-know quantities. Darrin’s voice is strong and provides fine harmonies to Jamie’s high tenor, still without peer in bluegrass music. Fans attending events featuring Dailey & Vincent this year will encounter a new a stronger program, something that cannot always be said of sophomore efforts. Their entertainment value is, if anything, stronger than last year’s.

Jamie Dailey & Darrin Vincent

Jamie Dailey

Darrin Vincent

Jeff Parker

Joe Dean, Jr.

Adam Haynes

Darrin Vincent & Joe Dean, Jr.

By the Mark

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

Doyle Lawson has been on the road for 46 years, thirty of those with his own band, Quicksilver. The list of players who have been in his band is nearly as long as those who began their careers with Bill Monroe. He is a noted a demanding task master, which is perhaps the reason he has had so many successful progeny. His perfectionism is well-known and those attending one of his performances always know they’re going to get a first class product. We were eager to see his current band, which, as is often the case, contains some new additions. After a period of time where Darren Beachley took the high tenor role, Doyle has hired the young Darren McGuire on guitar and singing high tenor. Although only with Lawson for a couple of weeks, and obviously still learning the material, it is clear that McGuire has the requisite voice and is a fine rhythm guitar player. His high tenor is up there with the best. The other new addition is Jason Barie on fiddle. Jason has served his apprenticeship with several fine bands and has shown himself up to this challenge. Again, pretty fresh out of the box, his playing was crisp and full-bodied. He plays with dignity and grace, making the difficult look easy – a fine choice for Doyle’s exacting standards. Joey Cox remains one of the top banjo players around and has become more comfortable on stage, now participating in some of the humor and even contributing some singing. Josh Swift on Dobro continues to grow into one of the top Dobro players. I’d really like to see him turned loose for some more progressive resonator work, and perhaps he’ll produce a solo project. Carl White on electric bass is now the center of the comic interaction with Doyle. It’s funny and endearing, seemingly unrehearsed and coming out of left field. His send-up of Doyle’s legendary embroidered jackets is hilarious and not to be missed. Despite his many years of touring, Doyle Lawson’s combination of bluegrass and bluegrass gospel remains fresh and enjoyable.

Jason Barie & Joey Cox

Josh Swift

Jason Barie

Carl White

Darren McGuire

Nothin’ Fancy

Nothin’ Fancy has been on the road together for fifteen years with only one change in personnel. The only change has been at bass, where Tony Shorter, one of the founding members, has returned for a second stint. Mike Andes, on mandolin, is at the center of the madcap group that contributes humor and good bluegrass in equal measure. Andes fine baritone voice permits the band to do covers of Country Gentlemen standards as well as to sing Andes own compositions. Chris Sexton’s classic violin training makes for amusing interactions with bluegrass music. Mitchell Davis on banjo is funny and skilled. Shorter, mugging his way through bass solos, still provides the strong beat and good harmonies on trios. Gary Faris, suffering from a damaged shoulder, never shows it on stage and his tenor voice fills in well.

Mike Andes

Chris Sexton

Gary Faris

Tony Shorter

Mitchell Davis

Gary Faris & Mike Andes