Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival - Saturday and Assessment

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.

The James King Band

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.

James King

Ron Spears

Chris Hill

Greg Moore

Glenn "Cookie" Inman

Chris and James

How Many Festivals Provide a Pool?

Camping Area

Gold Heart

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.
Analise Gole

Shelby Gold

Jocelyn Gold
Trent Gold
Russ Carson

No Telling Where You'll Find a Jam!

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out
Russell Moore is the only remaining founding member of this storied band that has had remarkable success for many years. His toney, soulful voice has more shades of color and meaning than anyone else in the business. Combine his singing with some of the finest bandmates in the business, and you have a band that provides a great show with totally reliable music ranging from traditional bluegrass into a realm where bluegrass meets pop in a most pleasing fashion. IIIrd Tyme Out is a band that always pleases with its sound and the diversity in its largely traditional program. Wayne Benson is a standout on mandolin. Edgar Loudermilk has surprised with his resonant bass voice to go along with his powerful picking on the doghouse bass. Justin Haynes on fiddle and Steve Dilling continue to stand out. This is really a very fine band.

Russell Moore

Wayne Benson

Steve Dilling

Justin Haynes

Edgar Loudermilk

Russell Moore

Amy Orlomoski - Emcee

Steep Canyon Rangers
The Steep Canyon Rangers are a young, highly energetic, original bluegrass band who make their contemporary music sound traditional, generating excitement wherever they appear. Their upcoming tour in support of Steve Martin should add even more lustre to their image. They will be holding their own festival in Brevard, NC in early September. Meanwhile, their songs are topical and traditional at once, their musicianship impeccable, and their youth and enthusiasm irresistable.

Woody Platt

Mike Guggino

Graham Sharp

Charles Humphrey III

Nicky Sanders

Dailey & Vincent
with Guest James King

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.

Jamie Dailey

Darrin Vincent

Jeff Parker

Adam Haynes

Joe Dean, Jr.

Darrin Vincent
Jamie Dailey

Bluegrass Visitor from Spain

Mystery Bluegrass Photographer

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage put on two very good sets at Podunk. Sometimes, recently, she has seemed a bit tired to me. Because she is a terrific trooper and a real professional, she does her very best not to let this show. At Podunk the air, the audience, the excitement, or something brought out the very best in her. Furthermore, after six months with Ben Helson and Aaron McDaris well solidified in the band, the performances have become nearly seamless. Both Helson and McDaris are first rate at their primary instrument and versatile enough to allow for a variety of instrument exchanges during her show. Hunter Berry is always inventive on the fiddle as well as helping provide on-stage humor, and Mickey Harris reliable and personable.

Rhonda Vincent

Ben Helson

Aaron McDaris

Hunter Berry

Mickey Harris


Natalie MacMaster

Natalie MacMaster is a Grammy winning, internationally acclaimed fiddler, dancer who comes from Nova Scotia, where music is simply in the air. Her lilting fiddle and sprightly dancing never ceases to please and draws young girls, especially, to the stage where they try to dance along with her. Her band, chosen to complement her excellent work, does its job to perfection, and the audience loved her show.
Natalie MacMaster

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.