Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tomorrow's News BGF - Arcadia, FL - Review

Craig's Performance Shed
Performers Arrive in the Rain on Friday
The Tomorrow's News Bluegrass Festival concluded on Sunday morning with Mike and Mary Robinson's Gospel Jam and Sing.  The festival was a success for promoters Hall and Bass as well as for Craig's RV Resort and Campground, located a few miles north of Arcadia, Florida.  Despite heavy rain all day Friday, the substantial crowd remained in good spirits and the music was strong. With their first appearance in Florida, The Hagar's Mountain Boys from Roxboro, NC surprised those who had not heard them before and pleased the crowd with a varied program of standards and their own music.  Saturday was bright and sunny with a stiff wind keeping it from becoming too warm.  A substantial audience stayed into the somewhat chilly night to watch The Bluegrass Brothers close the official festival.  The spacious performance shed protected fans from the rain on Friday and from too much sun on Saturday.  Those seeking to get some color or warmth into their bones after the long, chilly, wet Florida winter were able to bask in the bright sun on Saturday afternoon.  

Highway 41 South

Highway 41 South has been at three of the festivals we've attended in the past six weeks, and has improved its performance each week.  According to Mark Horn, the band's founder, they have worked to become tighter and more musically diverse in their performances, while still largely relying on traditional bluegrass material.  They are seeking to add some original work to their repertoire as well as, perhaps, a fiddler, which would be a good idea.  Flat picker Robert Feathers, perhaps from growing on-stage confidence, is permitting himself to become more of a performing personality, increasing the power and value of his already very fine flat picking to this band.  By relaxing enough to have obvious fun on stage, smiling, and even contributing an occasional vocal, his personality has begun to emerge as a genuine asset.  J.R. Davis, whose background is largely in country music, is a fine expressive singer, while lead singer and spokesman Mark Horn does admirably.  Donny Harvey on banjo has become increasingly animated on stage, and his Scruggs style banjo is just fine.  Jack Woodrough is solid on bass.  This band will be seen in an increasingly high profile throughout Florida in the next few years and may be able to expand further.

Robert Feathers

J.R. Davis

Donnie Harvey

Jack Woodrough
Mark Horn
 Generations Bluegrass

Generations Bluegrass is a Florida-based traditional bluegrass band specializing in gospel and traditional music.  Featuring three members of the Rogers Family as well as Bobby Martin on banjo and Ryan Clark on mandolin, the band played a couple of good sets on Saturday.  

LeRon Rogers
Katie Rogers
 Ryan Clark & Bobby Martin

 Leron, Katie, & April Rogers

The Craig's Snack Bar
 Waiting for Dinner
The Hager's Mountain Boys
We saw the second ever performance of the Hagar's Mountain Boys at a Rivertown Bluegrass Society monthly show in Conway, SC in January 2007, where they opened for Lou Reid & Carolina.  The band was rough and tentative in this show, but had a naive sort of innocence that suggested they might have a future.  In the ensuing three years years, while making only one personnel change, the band has worked hard to improve its repertoire and tighten its sound while maintaining it authenticity.  Ricky Stroud has surrounded himself with strong musicians and worked to forge a varied and interesting program that pleases, and on occasion, surprises.  Original member Blake Johnson, whose soulful baritone voice immediately impresses audiences with its ability to move them, has been joined by his father Mike, a tenor of unusual clarity, to create a strong one-two vocal punch.  Harmonies, including Stroud in tenor, baritone, or lead depending on where he is needed, are tight and strong.  Mike Johnson's version of "House of the Rising Sun" brings crowds to their feet and begs for encore performances.  Cliff Smith, a solid and hard working banjo player, contributes bass on acapella gospel tunes, as well.  Having recently inked a record deal, received a positive review in Bluegrass Unlimited, and placed well at the SPBGMA band contest, The Hagar's Mountain Boys are set to move up to the next level.

Blake Johnson
Mike Johnson

Cliff Smith
 Ricky Stroud

Marty - The 50/50 Lady

Field Camping

The Wilson Family Band with Emcee Evan Carl

As Clint and Katie Wilson continue to mature, their contribution to this very fine family band helps improve its sound and deepen its personality.  Clint's Shelor style banjo playing has become increasingly powerful and authoritative.  His song writing, as evidenced by a new song called "If They Could See Me Now" which had the audience in tears with its sincerity and message, makes significant contributions to the band's repertoire and, one hopes, will soon be appearing in the recordings of other bands. Katie's voice is moving from being that of a little girl into the much more nuanced sound of a young woman as her fiddle playing has improved in tone and accuracy.  Melissa Wilson, on mandolin, shows increased confidence as her mandolin breaks and strong chop give the band a reliable voice.  Bruce Sheridan on bass undergirds the band with his rock solid beat.  Robert Wilson's voice is one of the finest too little recognized instruments in bluegrass.  The banter between him and his kids shows mutual love and respect as well as highlighting the increasing independence the growing kids show.  Because both kids are in school, this band has not been seen much outside the southeast.  Bluegrass fans have a real treat coming as they are able to spread their wings.

Singer/Songwriter Clint Wilson
Singer/Songwriter Katie Wilson
Bruce Sheriden

Melissa Wilson

Singer/Songwriter Robert Wilson

Two Fans
 Bobby Martin & Daughter

The Bluegrass Brothers

The Bluegrass Brothers' recent recognition as Instrumental Band of the Year at SPBGMA solidifies their reputation among their fans for fast, hard-driving, rough hewn entertaining bluegrass music.  With the loss of Robert Dowdy from the lineup, there is now only one pair of bluegrass brothers, Steve and Donnie, but Brandon Farley is a strong banjo picker who carried his share of the load, although it was only his second performance with the band.  Left-handed Donnie plays the mandolin upside down, a feat in itself.  Steve picks the guitar with speed and self-assurance.  Billy Hurt on fiddle is an excellent fiddler who shows both speed and sweetness of tone in equal measure. Father Victor Dowdy dominates with his powerful, high-pitched lead tenor and showy bass play.  Their fans request repeat performances of signature tunes like "Ruby," "Grandfather's Clock," and "Country Poor and Country Proud," a song which captures much of their appeal.

Billy Hurt

Brandon Farley

Donnie Dowdy
 Steve Dowdy

Victor Dowdy
Ken Scoggins & Miller's Creek

Palmetto Ramblers

Tomorrow's News
Kalyn Hall

Bryce Hall
Host band Tomorrow's News is an entertaining and enjoyable band.  Victor Hall, as spokesman, overwhelms the stage physically, but his slight and very pretty daughter Kalyn carries the day for the band with her fine emerging voice and sparkling personality.  Standing with her bass fiddle between her Dad on her right and his co-promoter Keith Bass on her left playing banjo, she winsomely seems to wrap both men around her little finger while projecting innocence, fun, and warmth to the audience.  Along with her younger brother Bryce, on mandolin, she is working to broaden the band's repertoire while, at the same time, remaining true to its deep faith and commitment to gospel music.  Bryce proudly wears a Cadillac Sky t-shirt, proclaiming his musical view, while continuing to improve his accuracy and speed on his instrument. His voice is still a bit uncertain and tentative, but will continue to improve.  Kalyn has taken the Allison Krauss song "Atlanta" and made it her own while never failing to move the audience with her rendition of "How Great is Our God," a southern gospel piece that fits into the band's repertoire.  Keith Bass on banjo plays traditional Scruggs style banjo with skill, if not flash, and contributes a solid sound to the band. He does an excellent job on the Country Gentlemen standard "Matterhorn."  By adding more contemporary sounds from the Country Gentlemen and Allison Krauss, the band has widened its appeal without diluting its sound.

Keith Bass
Victor Hall

Excellent sound was provided by Robert and Clint Wilson and Emcees Evan Carl and Mike Robinson did an excellent job of keeping the festival moving along.

Emcee Preacher Mike Robinson

The Tomorrow's News Festival was the second festival promoted in Florida this weekend by the team of Keith Bass and Victor Hall, and the first one in which they had the luxury of putting together the entire lineup.  The choices they made for this festival and the names Darlene has shared with me for the upcoming festivals next year suggest some generalizations that can be made about this team.  While having a commitment to providing traditional bluegrass music to an audience that prefers tradition, Bass & Hall will still be willing to be forward looking in their choice of bands and to take some chances on importing bands to Florida that have not yet become household names.  Both the Ken Scoggins band, from Rock Hill, SC and The Hagar's Mountain Boys from Roxboro, NC suggest this.  The strong positive response received by The Hagar's Mountain Boys suggests that the risks can pay off strongly.  For next year, the new band fronted by Adam Steffey called The Boxcars will be appearing at both Bass & Hall festivals.  Bands featuring young people, like Tomorrow's News and The Wilson Family Band will inevitably showcase music appealing to a younger generation of pickers and fans while still reaching out to the traditional bluegrass base.  Look to both YeeHaw Junction and the Tomorrow's News Festival to be providing leadership in Florida bluegrass circles in 2011.

Darlene & Keith Bass
Victor & Melieka Hall