Monday, September 28, 2009

Dare to Be Different Showcase - Bell Buckle, TN



On Sunday morning we drove south of Nashville about sixty miles, braving the interstate before turning off onto rolling country roads past horse pastures here in the heart of Tennessee Walking Horse country.  Bell Buckle is a charming little village with store front antique shops and the Bell Buckle Cafe, which also owns and operates the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theater where Valerie Smith has annually hosted the "Dare to Be Different" showcase as a preliminary event to the IBMA annual convention, which opens today.  The event is held to benefit the IBMA Foundation and the Music in the Schools program.  Bands donate their performances, and the site offers an enjoyable chance to hear some bands you might not see otherwise and eat some good barbecue provided by the Cafe. 

Host Band Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike

The Soul Pickers

The Soul Pickers are primarily a gospel band from Alabama and Mississippi who offer tuneful renditions of recognizable gospel songs as well as some solid secular tunes.  Their banjo player, Weston Stewart is a multiple state contest winner, and the band is quite able.  Lead singer Buddy Mason has a strong voice.

Buddy Mason

Weston Stewart

Brett Anderton

Shane Norman

Jerry Butler/John Wade & The Blu-J's

Jerry Butler and John Wade had an idea.  "Let's do a solo project of truck songs!"  The idea has turned into a band, Jerry Butler/John Wade & The Blu-J's, a CD called "Haulin' Grass" released by Tom T. and Miss Dixie Hall's label Blue Circle Records, and a new career for Jerry fronting his own band.  On the basis of their early performance at Bell Buckle, it seems like a combination made in heaven.  Jerry has a fine lead voice and plays very good guitar. John provides a driving bass beat that just keeps on moving.  Veteran North Carolina banjo player Jim Fraley and his son Jason, on mandolin, are taking the very good work they've been doing for years in their gospel group "A Deeper Shade of Blue" to another level. And Tim Goins (the only non-J) helps build a good wall of sound with his Dobro play and acts as a humorous, although mostly silent, foil to Jerry's light humor.  The set we saw featured cuts from their CD and a good mix of classic bluegrass and country songs.  Jerry's voice is perfect for the musical choices they're making and this band has enough vocal strength to provide two distinct trios.  IBMA attendees should look for this group at various after hours showcases this week and promoters would be well advised to book them early and often.

Jerry Butler

John Wade

Jason Fraley

Jim Fraley

Tim Goins


Frances Mooney & Fontana Sunset

Frances Mooney has been around a long time and is featured in the Daughters of Bluegrass records as well as singing and playing bass in her own band. Mainly known regionally in the southeast, this north-Georgia based band deserves wider attention.

Frances Mooney

Mark Mundy

Steve Sosebee

Jimmy Ross

Ronnie Wilbanks

Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike

 A return to good health for Valerie Smith, the marriage of Miss Becky Buller, and and acquisition of Ernie Evans on three instruments along with his organizational skills and energy have served to strengthen this already very fine touring band.  Val is back to top form.  Their program, including everything from straight ahead bluegrass through western swing, to something akin to Broadway show-type numbers is high energy and features quality music.  They are highly entertaining and very lively.

Valerie Smith

Becky Buller 

 Ernie Evans

Bobby Davis 

Two more bands completed the evening.  29 Strings, a bluegrass band from the Slovak Republic, did a creditable job despite their obvious nervousness playing in front of an American audience.  Their music is rendered in English and suggests strong influences from the progressive side of bluegrass.  The Rigney Family Band closed the show to much reduced audience which missed the virtuoso performances by the two young sons, both recent contest winners, who finished with a rousing duo on St. Ann's Reel. Time and space make it impossible for me to include more about these two worth bands today.

29 Strings

The Rigney Family Band

We had a long but very fulfilling day in Bell Buckle and Val Smith is to be complimented for promoting this prelude to this week's big events.  Thanks.