I was sorry to miss Friday's show at Podunk, but my back and the weather kept me in our room. Similarly, when it started rain on Sunday morning, we headed for home. I didn't like giving in on Saturday, but Irene was down there working Grasstowne's merch table and reports that they made a highly successful New England debut, despite the reduced audience. Overall, I gather the gate was a well deserved record for Roger Moss.
Saturday turned out to be one of those perfect summer festival days, sunny with wisps of high clouds and a very slight breeze keeping it a little cool. During the day the crowd built for the late afternoon and evening's high profile performances. The grounds were remarkably dry considering the amount of rain the night before. The music was very high quality as the performers responded to the enthusiasm of the large crowd. The scene was colorful and friendly. Vendors served a variety of good food, workshops were well-attended, and a festival tone pervaded the environment. Podunk is a heck of a good place to hold a bluegrass festival.
Ron Spears has joined the James King Band bringing solid harmony singing and a reliable mandolin chop to the band, even in his second show with them. As he learns the songs, he will clearly make a significant and welcome addition to the band. Meanwhile, Chris Hill, a long-time member of the band and always reliable on banjo, harmony and lead vocals, guitar, and in light comedy routines with James, continued as a significant force in this band. James was in excellent voice and humor as he sang his patented "pitiful" songs. He was at Podunk for two days, and we were sad to miss his gospel set on Sunday.
Gold Heart won the Podunk 2008 Band Competition and was awarded a main stage booking for this year. The Virginia family band has recently signed a recording contract with Rural Rhythm Records.
Kim Cyr - Emcee
Connecticut Bluegrass Music Association
Amy Orlomoski - Emcee
Dailey & Vincent hit the festival trail only eighteen months ago after both principles had had distinguished careers with important bands. Their show, combining gospel music and upbeat secular bluegrass, was an immediate hit, and they won seven awards at IBMA 2008, including both emerging band and entertaining band, a highly unusual event. Jamie Dailey is a top notch tenor singer, as attested to by his male vocalist of the year award. His harmonies with Darrin Vincent are spot on. The rest of the band could easily stand by itself with Jeff Parker on mandolin, Adam Haynes on fiddle, and Joe Dean, Jr. on banjo. There isn't a hole in the band or its performance. If I've had any criticism of the band, it has been a certain lack of sponteneity in their very well crafted performance. All the crafting went out the window on Saturday evening, and the result was pure delight. A woman in the audience stood up and started waving a straw hat for Dailey to wear. He took it and put it on, and suddenlyaudience members ran to the stage and presented hats to every member of the band. Each was soon wearing straw hats and having a great time clowning. The audience roared its approval. Such moments are rare anywhere, and particularly so with this band. Then Dailey showed a remarkable piece of leadership, cutting the hilarity off with perfect timing and returning to a more serious vein with a Darrin Vincent solo. Later, when they sang their award winning "By the Mark," the audience gave the band a spontaneous standing ovation unusual for a northern audience. Dailey invited the audience the audience to sing, and the chorus came back to the band in parts, just as it's supposed to sound. A very moving experience.
It's worth pointing out that we've never been to a bluegrass festival that featured so many women in lead roles in bands as there were at Podunk. This is a welcome move. There was a time when bluegrass was primarily a "boys" club, but those days are, thankfully, long gone. The range of musical sounds and looks was quite broad, and the addition of more women to the mix can only help the genre. I don't know if this mix was a conscious decision or an accident, but it surely was welcome.
Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, held in Martin Park in East Hartford, CT has clearly turned the corner, if Saturday's attendance and performances are any indication. The location is convenient, the venue offers many amenities not found elsewhere, management is responsive and professional, the grounds are spacious and plans are afoot to extend the camping area for next year. Roger Moss has struggled to attract people to his in-town location and has, this year, succeeded very well. Next year's lineup looks like another great one. Place Podunk on your "Must Attend" calendar. If you're from out of the region, think about building a trip to New England around this fine event.