Each year, one of the features of Strawberry Park is the Kids Academy. Under the direction of Tim St. Jean and Vicky Baker, the Adademy provides children an opportunity to get together for instruction in picking bluegrass music beginning on Friday evening and culminating in a performance in the Amphitheater on Sunday. The kids work hard, have lots of fun, get solid instruction, and are well-supervised during this period.
Workshops were offered on the first three days of the festival and drew enthusiastic support in the new venue. By moving the workshop area to home plate on the ball field, festival organizers have placed it right at the edge of the jamming center and in a good location for those who want to combine improving their own playing and understanding of their instruments with listening to great music in the amphitheater. From Danny Paisley's opening workshop on Thursday, through song writing with the Gibsons, guitar with either Kenny Smith or Josh Williams, to a band workshop with the Kruger Brothers, there was a wealth of experience and talent made available on a quite intimate basis for those who wished to avail themselves of the opportunity.
About a minute into the encore, in which Michael Cleveland joined the Kruger Brothers for a screaming version of Sally Goodin', I remembered my camera could also take video, but I was too late. Later I mentioned this to Jens, who smiled and just pointed at his head. He's right, there was not capturing this moment, but those who were there will carry it with them forever as one of those special moments that only a bluegrass festival can provide.
Josh Williams was recognized with the 2008 IBMA Guitar Player of the Year trophy fresh on his own after a stint with Rhonda Vincent as well as having toured with Special Consensus. This award presented him with a challenge that he and his band will now have to live up to by developing into an outstanding touring group. At present, filled with young and talented musicians, they show promise of being able to live up to these expectations. Williams is, of course, one of the premier flat pickers in the business. He also is blessed with a resonant and powerful baritone voice, especially in the low and mid ranges. He is joined by the broadly experienced Randy Barnes on bass, who brings solid underpinnings and fine harmonies to the group. Jason McKindry on banjo plays well and contributes substantially to the vocal trio. Chase Johnson on mandolin is first rate. Greg Blaylock on resophonic guitar adds instrumental versatility to the group. For their performance at Strawbery Park, Clayton Campbell of the Gibson Brothers (a childhood friend of Josh's) joined the band to excellent effect.
This group of Berklee College of Music students may be hard to classify, but if a band is recognized by the other musicians who come out to hear them play, this group will attract notice. They describe their sound as "contemporary roots rock, blending reverence for the beatles and the energy of the Avett brothers with hints of Appalachian string band music." Their content is irreverent with a strong social message. They are high energy and represented an enjoyable change of pace on a Saturday afternoon filled with great, but more traditional, bluegrass music.
Some bands are known simply by their initials. LRB has achieved such a distinction. Having run through a number of iterations through its nineteen year history, The Lonesome River Band is currently enjoying two months at the top of the Bluegrass Unlimted charts with their newest CD No Turning Back. This new CD was completely recorded with the current and excellent touring band. More about them in my Sunday report and final assessment. Meanwhile, here's some pictures from Saturday.