Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2010 - Saturday
Each morning during the Palatka Bluegrass Festival the Ranch provides a wholesome, rib-sticking breakfast at a reasonable price of festival goers. In addition to getting a good breakfast, it's a good opportunity to interact with ranch personell to get a better idea of the place. Under the leadership of Executive Director Ken Johnson the "Rodeheaver Boys Ranch provides a wholesome home environment with religious, educational and vocational training for at-risk boys. These boys have no home of their own because of parental death, desertion, divorce, disability or dysfunction. Rodeheaver Boys Ranch provides these deserving young men a second chance in life and an opportunity to build a strong foundation for the future. Rodeheaver Boys Ranch has been carrying out this mission since 1950." The boys live in houses scattered about the campus with a couple serving as house parents. Every indication that we have suggests a loving, disciplined, supportive, Christian environment.
Typical Ranch Home
In the Dining Hall
Morning in the Campground
Saturday dawned warm and lovely and only got better as the day progressed. Lots of people enjoyed jamming at their rigs, while others headed for the performance shed for a day of fine bluegrass music. The day began with an open stage.
The Swanson Family Band
Phillip Steinmetz & His Sunny Tennesseans
On first sight Phillip Steinmetz promises a change of pace. Dressed in homespun clothes and carrying an open back banjo, his look and sound resurrect the string band sounds of old time music that were the precursor for bluegrass music. Singing Uncle Dave Macon and Grandpa Jones with healthy doses of music reaching back into the nineteenth century, his performance is authentic, tuneful, and enjoyable. As Grandpa Jones' great nephew, he carries on the tradition of old time mountain music and entertains as he informs his audience. His band for this performance also contributed a Carter Family piece using autoharp and guitar played in Mother Maybelle Carter's style.
Carter Family Style
Dry Branch Fire Squad
For more than thirty years, Dry Branch Fire Squad, under the leadership of Ron Thomason has offered up traditional music and topical contemporary humor in a blend that amuses and presents some of the most primitive sounding, fervant gospel music along with songs of horses, the West, and the horrors of war. Thomason, as well as being a fine singer and Monroe style mandolin player, is a serious thinker about the world, which he presents with an ironic twist that often skewers before his audience even knows the blade has been inserted.
Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top Express
Bobby Osborne, along with his now retired brother Sonny, established a new and exciting band touring during the fifties and sixties. They became members of the Grand Ol' Opry in 1964, and Bobby still performs there. His appearance at festivals helps retain a sense of connection to the early days of bluegrass music.
Bobby Osborne, Jr.
The Gibson Brothers
The Gibson Brothers took the stage for a double set occasioned by scheduling difficulties encountered by The Steeldrivers and The Travelin' McCourys. Ninety minutes is a long time for a single band to hold an audience. But from the time the band struck up the first three notes of their number one song "Ring the Bell" until a standing ovation recalled them for an encore, the Gibson's had the crowd with them completely. They sang songs from their album "Ring the Bell" which has been number one on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts for three months as well as many songs from their catalog of great music, about sixty percent of which has been written by the brothers themselves. Five successive number one CDs tell a lot of the story, but the on stage chemistry of this group grabs and holds an audience without gimmicks or showboating. All they provide is great music and intense personal commitment.
It does the members of the Gibson Brothers a disservice to refer to them as sidemen. Each is such a complete musician and adds so significantly to the overall sound of this superb band that their ensemble sound is currently unequaled among touring bluegrass bands. Their musicality, tightness, emotional intensity, and commitment to supporting Eric and Leigh's music is truly unsurpassed as they challenge and push the two brothers to drive themselves harder to exceed the high expectations they have developed for themselves. The recent addition of Joe Walsh on mandolin has finalized the solidification of this band. Long time bandmate, often called the third Gibson brother, Mike Barber always supports the music on bass with interesting and inventive play. Clayton Campbell on fiddle soars to places many other fiddlers never even attempt to reach. At Palatka, the band was joined by former band mate Junior Barber, who has recently retired to Florida.
As Del McCoury's sons and the other members of his fabled band become increasingly accustomed to working without their Dad, the band will inevitably move from being an enjoyable group taking pleasure in working with each other into one of the top bands in bluegrass. They will be aided by signing a regular guitar player to develop with him, and Josh Williams (who appeared with them at Palatka) would be an excellent choice for both the McCourys and for Williams himself. Once they establish a characteristic sound for themselves, develop their own repertoire, and begin building a catalog of their own original songs tailored to the sound they wish to create, this band will find its place. As it is now, they are an immensely likeable and enthusiastic group who still give the impression of being a group of eager kids out on a romp for the first time without adult supervision.
We needed to leave after the afternoon program, thus missing the delayed Steeldrivers, in order to attend the Memorial/Benefit for Jennings Chestnut, about which I'll be writing in a couple of days. Meanwhile, I want to to especially thank Ranch Director of Development Jeff King and festival promoter Norman Adams for helping us out by allowing us to leave our trailer on site for a couple of extra days and providing us with premium seating to permit Irene and me to take the kind of photographs we like to post.
Jeff and Donna King
Judy and Norman Adams