Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival 2010 - Sunday and Final Assessment

Late on Sunday morning at Gettysburg we started preparing for our trip home.  As I walked into the day lot to drop some chairs off in our truck, I glanced at the license plates on the cars there - West Virginia, Virgninia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, D.C., Ohio, and our lonely New Hampshire one.  Within a few hours drive of at least thirty million people, Granite Hill Campground, only a few miles west of the town of Gettysburg provides a nearly ideal site for a bluegrass festival.  The beautiful, spacious, and remarkably uncluttered stage is one of the best to be found anywhere.  As a photographer, I've never seen a better one for getting great images of performers against a background of warm, welcoming, natural wood.  The ground slopes gently up away from the stage giving excellent sight lines from every distance.  There's plenty of room for those attending this festival to spread out in comfort while still being close enough to see well.  Vendor's, including food, gifts, and instruments, are well placed for easy access, and there's plenty of covered viewing space for those wishing to avoid direct sunlight.  The pool sparkles and glistens just a few feet away from the stage, while the pond and old farm buildings behind it offer a setting the supports the music.  The campground itself is spacious and well-appointed.  Sites are mostly grassy and natural, but there are a few level full hook-up sites available for campers wishing fuller amenities.  Promoter Rich Winkleman, having succeeded his father-in-law as promoter of the twice yearly Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival a couple of years ago, says he still has much to learn, but this event was professionally run, well thought through, and seriously customer friendly.  The lineup was nothing short of superb!  There can always be quibbles over small issues, but this event gives great value for the price and stands at or near the top of eastern bluegrass festivals.

Rich Winkleman

The day opened with a slight drizzle that grew to, perhaps, ten minutes of rain before the expected "cold" front came through clearing the sky and leaving fleecy clouds and lowering humidity for the remainder of the day.  The slight rain provided fodder for those regulars who told us it "always rains at Gettysburg," while we marveled at a festival so generally dry and pleasant.  We never took out our rain gear nor put on warm clothes during the weekend.  Not bad....

Dry Branch Fire Squad

As they do at a number of events where they are a featured band, Dry Branch Fire Squad presented a Sunday morning gospel performance notable for the non-sectarian nature of its message.  In his message Ron Thomason made what sounded to me like a strong pleas for greater tolerance for our difficult to distinguish immigrant population, which may have been missed by many there.  His closing rendition of "If I Could Just Touch" ended with the audience rising and singing the refrain along with the band in a truly moving moment.

Ron Thomason

Betsy Voss

What often seems like small details are the core of creating a fine bluegrass festival.  In these difficult economic times, too many promoters seek to save money on two of the most important elements.  Saving a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars in a less than top notch sound company is never a good idea.  Every performer coming off the stage and talking where it didn't much matter spoke of the excellent sound provided by Southard Audio.  Artists commented that they could hear themselves very well on stage and we, in the audience, were treated to a uniformly high quality audio experience.  The second important element that the promoter assure there will be regularly pumped and clean porta-potties, or whatever other less colorful name you wish to assign to them.  My experience was that these were pumped daily and there were plenty of them.

The James King Band

The James King Band arrived tired after a four day trip that took them from their base in Virginia to Maine to Virginia and to Gettysburg.  The economics of bluegrass make it essential for a touring band to hit too many gigs on a weekend during the festival season, but good scheduling makes travel considerably less taxing.  Nevertheless, James and his band put on a spirited performance with plenty of the "sad, pitiful" songs James specializes in.   

James King

Ron Spears

Tony Mabe

Bobby Davis
Kids Academy

The Gettysburg Kids Academy worked on a variety of skills for two and a half days.  They had a chance to  strut their stuff on Sunday, and strut it they did.  The Kids were well schooled by the very capable staff and acquitted themselves well.  Here are a few pictures from that performance.  Below is a key to a web album you can access to download a full set of pictures from the Kids Academy Performance for your own use.

Kids Academy Parents

Raffle to Support Kids Academy
Seldom Scene

The Seldom Scene switched tracks for its Sunday set, presenting a lot of their sweet sounding harmonies and good cheer.  A wonderful set.  
Dudley Connell
Ben Eldridge
Lou Reid
Fred Travers
Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa

Wayne Taylor has been on the bluegrass trail long enough to have established himself and his music as separate and distinct from his time spent with the U.S. Navy Band Country Current and is close enough to his time there to continue to honor and support his commitment to the military through his singing and the continued service of his family.  His second band album will be released in a month or so featuring his current touring band with no guest musicians.  If the portions of it sung and played at Gettysburg are a good indication, this CD should help establish Taylor as a significant emerging artist on his own.  The body of solid work he has written combined with his taste in song selection and leadership in his excellent band all speak to his successful future.  Emory Lester on mandolin has long been an acknowledged master of his instrument.  Young Lee Marcus from South Carolina has emerged as a subtle and accomplished banjo player as well as an able harmony singer.  Keene Hyatt on bass comes from a jazz background and has adapted well to playing bluegrass bass with flair and imagination.  This is a band to look for at your local festival and to book for next season.

Wayne Taylor
Emory Lester
Lee Marcus

Keen Hyatt

Nothin' Fancy
Nothin' Fancy is a long-established bluegrass band featuring the solid baritone voice of lead singer and frequent song writer Mike Andes and a polished group of entertaining and accomplished musicians who have worked together long enough to present their humorous routines with verve and polish.  The humorous musical playing and physical comedy of fiddler Chris Sexton and banjo player Mitchell Davis play off against each other and Andes to create delightful byplay.  Tony shorter joins in and tenor Gary Faris is often the straight man.  Nothin' Fancy has a large fan base, making them a very strong band to close this festival on Sunday, often not an enviable job, but well done by them this week.  

Mike Andes
Chris Sexton

Mitchell Davis
Gary Faris

Tony Shorter
Faris, Sexton & Andes

As we headed out for the long drive north to New Hampshire, we reflected on the high quality of the weekend.  One way or another, we'll be back.