Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bluegrass Saturday Night - Nashville Style

It was an evening of contrasts and perhaps too easy comparisons. Two singer/songwriters, one a rising and talented woman coming back into the performing world and the other a storied singer and writer of hits who's a legend in both bluegrass and country music. Two husband-wife teams with highly listenable voices supported by strong bands. And, finally, two performances worth treasuring in contrasting venues that shared good sound, a welcoming environment, and fine entertainment.

Donna Ulisse & The Poor Mountain Boys
Douglas Corner Cafe


The Douglas Corner Cafe´ is a drab looking building in an easily missed Nashville neighborhood. Inside, the room presents a well-lit dark stage and quite good sound. Drinks are served and a light menu, but the emphasis here is on the music. Since we heard Donna Ulisse at an IBMA official showcase last year, her reputation has grown through frequent air play on country and bluegrass stations and her band has grown into a tight and entertaining ensemble. Ulisse's mellow, warm, full voice is a perfect instrument for singing the country tinged bluegrass songs she writes.

Rick Stanley & Donna Ulisse

Greg Davis 

Jon Martin

Scott Neubert

Bobby King

While she's been successful in Nashville since the 1980's as a contract songwriter and singer on demos as well as doing backup work, she has only recently embarked on a solo career. With her husband Rick Stanley (Dr. Ralph's cousin) she has formed The Poor Mountain Boys and begun recording again after a hiatus of nearly twenty years. Songs like “Walk This Mountain Down,” “I Lied,” and “Calling Heaven Down” have received well-deserved air play and show her versatility and talent as a song writer. The band, with Rick singing lead, contributed good ensemble singing in “Hallelujah, I'm Ready” as well as showing top notch instrumentals. With Scot Neubert on Dobro and guitar, Greg Davis on banjo, Jon Martin on guitar, and Bobby King on bass, the band provides Ulisse with very good support. Her voice complements the band and the mix is very effective. Keith Sewell, who produces Ulisse's recordings, sand three very effective solos, including one with his wife Wendy. Donna Ulisse deserves continued attention as a bluegrass singer/songwriter. She and her band are expanding their repertoire and their range, and will be performing at festivals in the coming year. Take a look for this group when they're near you.

Wendy and Keith Sewell


Ronnie Bowman & the Committee

The Station Inn

  We hopped back in the truck, programmed the GPS and headed over to The Station Inn, hurrying because we were, typically, worried that we wouldn't be able to get a good seat. Also typically, after struggling to find a nearby parking spot, we walked into the room to pretty much our choice of seats. People attending events at The Station Inn who want to listen carefully to the music, would be well-advised to find seating as far away from the bar as possible, as there's always a party buzz emanating from there. For us, however, mobility trumps quiet. The Station Inn is a “Must Visit” venue for bluegrass fans coming to Nashville. It's not a place you would stumble across while wandering through Nashville. But a good map, or better still, a GPS will take you to its door. Open seven days a week, you might find almost any bluegrass band performing. On some nights there are two different shows, one at seven the next at nine thirty with cover charges ranging from $0 to $20. The Mashville Brigade is an all-star pick-up band that plays traditional bluegrass on Tuesday nights. The Time Jumpers play country and western swing on Monday nights. The pizza is edible and there's plenty of beer. What more could anyone ask? For the past six years Ronnie Bowman & the Committee have done a “welcome to Nashville for IBMA” show.

Ronnie Bowman

Garnet Imes Bowman

Ronnie Bowman's career has been studded by huge success. He performed with Lost & Found before joining The Lonesome River Band where he was featured on the IBMA award winning “Carrying the Tradition” album. He's been recognized as IBMA male vocalist of the year three times. Two of his songs were taken to number one by Brooks & Dunn and Kenny Chesney and one of his songs can be found on Lee Ann Womack's “I Hope You Dance” multi-platinum album. By any account, Bowman is one of Nashville's stars. At The Station Inn he came across as warm, friendly, funny, authentic, and delightful. He sang a range of traditional bluegrass covers and lots of his own songs. His band was strong at every instrument. Garnet Imes Bowman, Ronnie's wife of nine years, and Chris Harris, a fine young mandolinist and singer (who also writes songs) provide the backup, and each offered proof of their solo skills. Rob McCoury is one of the most accomplished traditional bluegrass banjo players on the scene, well known for his work in his father's band, was a standout playing on his own mic and frequently featured by Bowman. Harris, only twenty-three years old, is a HOSS on mandolin. Jimmy Stewart on Dobro added depth and strength to the band along with a first rate solo on “Freeborn Man.” Greg Martin was strong on bass.

Ronnie and Garnet


Chris Harris

Rob McCoury

Jimmy Stewart

Greg Martin


It would be impossible to mention all the highlights in this evening filled with them. “The Man I'm Trying Be,” “One Life,” and the frightening “Here I Am,” written with Sean Lane were standouts for us, but there were so many they just can't be listed. An evening of music with Ronnie Bowman is a rare treat, since he doesn't tour much or perform that often, probably due to his extremely busy writing career, but obviously enjoys it when he does. For us, the last few years have been filled with musical and personal highlights associated with bluegrass music. This performance joins the highlight list easily.