Monday, July 13, 2009

Basin Bluegrass Festival - Brandon, VT - Review

We decided to drive up to Brandon, VT to spend Saturday at the Basin Bluegrass Festival and to see our friends from Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. We'd be told that this was a very nice festival with lots of good regional bands, jamming, and a friendly atmosphere, and we found it to be exactly as advertised. Despite the late afternoon thunder storm, which blew hard and closed the festivities down for an hour or so, the event provided a good opportunity for us to visit with friends, hear some bands we hadn't heard before, and renew acquaintances with some others. Only one element threw a sour note into the mix, and that was the sound. More about that later.

Located just south of Brandon, Vt up a narrow country lane that turns into a dirt road soon after turning off Rt 7, the major north-south road in western, Vt, we drove onto the festival grounds to find RV rigs and tents of all kinds spread across the grounds in tight formation. The stage was conveniently set more or less in the middle, with three large shade/rain tents and a large vending area. An extensive range of food and craft vendors surrounded the area providing plenty of diversion. We wandered through the campping area until we found Mike and Mary Robinson, whose bluegrass ministry and Sunday Gospel Jam are a fixture at any number of festivals in both New England and Florida. Mike is also an able emcee, who keeps the festivities moving along.
Mike Robinson

Mary Robinson

As we enjoyed our chat with Mike and Mary, the mellow sounds of Smokey Greene found their way into the Robinson RV so we wandered over to spend a little time listening to Smokey and his small band deliver his special combination of classic country and novelty songs so well known and like by people up and down the east coast. Smokey, well into his seventies, delivers a reliable performance. Accompanied on Saturday by his son Scott on bass and Chad Darou on resonator guitar, Smokey presented his usual reliable performance with a special bow to his venerable guitar, Ben A. Martin.

Smokey Greene

Scott Greene

Chad Darou

Cabin Fever is based in Norwich, NY where they also host an annual bluegrass festival of their own. The band provides melodic covers of familiar and not so well-known tunes and features an able group of musicians. Mike Tirella has a resonant baritone voice and Brian Jiguerre, a long-time fixture in regional bluegrass, provides the high lonesome tenor. Their rendition of the Chris Kristofferson song "Darby's Castle" was particularly effective as was their very strong gospel acapella quartet. Harry Ralph plays a very sweet fiddle and Bill Lewis fills out the band on bass.
Mike Tirella

Brian Jiguerre

Harry Ralph
Bill Lewis

Blue Horizon - Nova Scotia
Blue Horizon is a young, enthusiastic, energetic, and entertaining band from Amherst, Nova Scotia. For us, they were the surprise band of the festival. They stood out for their strong instrumentals and solid singing. Several samples of their work can be found on their MySpace page. A significant body of their performance is material the band itself has composed, always a welcome gift at festivals where many cover bands play familiar songs all too frequently. This band is original and delightful. If you see this band in the lineup of your favorite festival, don't stay in your camp site jamming or visiting, come down and here a very solid, original band.

Jessie Haley

Mary Frances Haley

Larry Rushton

Michael Allain

Joe Doucette

The Pine Hill Ramblers

The Pine Hill Ramblers come from Massachusetts and New Hampshire and are well known throughout New England. Their sound is gentle and enthusiastic, reflecting the nature of the delightful people in the band. They play a pleasing mixture of lesser known covers and their own compositions. Their rendition of the late Bill Harrell's "Cold November Rain" was particularly touching, as Harrell died only a couple of weeks ago. Banjo player Doug Downey has contributed a number of songs to the group. Claudia Landell, playing bass and singing both lead and harmony vocals, is a standout. Her yodelling deserves special notice, especially since so many singers try in vain to manage a good yodel. Ben Silver and Larry Simonson are the founding members and provide solid leadership. They all can be found around the grounds in jams when not on stage or at their merchandise table.

Ben Silver

Larry Simonson

Claudia Landell

Doug Downey

Richie Chaisson

Blistered Fingers

Blistered Fingers performed two sets and provided the completely inadequate sound for the festival. Throughout the day, it was clear that the four small speakers, more appropriate for an indoor event, were creating a serious problem for the bands, who appeared to have to fight the sound system all day long. The mix was uneven, sometimes over emphasizing instrumentals to the detriment of sound and at other times boosting vocals to a level that made the lyrics difficult or impossible to understand. The space that needed to be reached forced the sound man to push the speakers way beyond their capacity. While it is conventional for bands to thank the sound man for providing first rate reproduction, in this case the gratitude was either unwarranted or unspoken.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road

Lorraine Jordan & The Carolina Road Band were the headliners for Basin. Carolina Road can always be counted on to give a strong and professional performance. My reaction when I see them, particularly at small festivals like this one, often is "here come the grown ups!" The full sound they create, along with their well-crafted sets featuring every member of the band assure that fans will get a strong and enthusiastic performance. When Mike Robinson asked how many people had never seen Carolina Road before, a majority of the audience raised their hands. By the end of their first set, they were captured and called the band back for a well-deserved encore. This band performs too infrequently in this part of the country, so many New Englanders have not had the opportunity to hear them play. Promoters in the region will strengthen their lineups and please their fans by remedying this oversight.

Lorraine Jordan

Jerry Butler
Ben Greene

Josh Goforth

John Wade

Ben Greene & John Wade

Lorraine, Josh, & Jerry

Acoustic Blue can be counted on to cut a tailored and neat look and provide equally tailored and smooth bluegrass music. Offering well honed covers as well as original compositions by Cory Zinc and Shaun Batho, this band's sound and demeanor hearken back to earlier bluegrass days while keeping their sound in the traditional groove with a contemporary lean to it. Their current CD is a solid piece of work, and they have a new one in the works.

Bear Acker
Shaun Batho

Bear Acker & Mike VanAlstyne

Cory Zinc & Shaun Batho

Big Spike
Big Spike was back in form from the somewhat depleted band we saw twice last summer. It was particularly nice to see Neil Rossi returned to form after the losses and health issues of last year. The band was in good form.

Pete Langdell

Neil Rossi

Bill Gaston

Freeman Corey

Michael Santosusson

We were disappointed to miss James Reams & the Barnstormers, who only appeared on Friday. Otherwise, we found the Basin Bluegrass Festival to be a friendly and satisfying festival, despite the disappointing sound. The festival features some of New England and nearby New York's better bands and provides a well-rounded experience for festival attendees.