Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival 2010 - Sunday and Final Assessment

Sundays at bluegrass festivals are usually laid back days.  Many people are eager to get home to church, to prepare for the week, or to accomplish other goals before they return to work on Monday morning.  Often a Sunday program will begin with a band presenting a performance heavy on gospel music or even a brief Sunday worship service.  Whatever promoters have tried to hold and entertain festival goers for Sunday, it's often difficult to keep a strong audience into the mid-afternoon.  Podunk, as in many of its other approaches, has found another way.

Roger Moss, Director of the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, is a man of vision who not only brings top national bands to E. Hartford's Martin Park, he seeks to develop new bands you'll be recognizing as great ones ten years in the future and to hire bands he hears before they have become household names.  To that end, he's instituted a new song writer's contest, which was held on Friday, and combined the winning song with the band competition held on Sunday, this year for the fourth time.  This conflation of two events brings together new songs and unknown bands, forcing the bands to show what they can do with material new to them as well as giving them the opportunity to showcase two or three of their best songs.  The effectiveness of the band competition is attested to by the acclaim being experienced by Gold Heart, the contest winner two years ago and now a candidate for nomination for several IBMA awards. Members of last year's winning band, The Packway Handle Band, told me that just appearing and winning had vastly broadened their opportunities, because they were heard by so many people previously unfamiliar with their work.  In addition, they earned a place in this year's lineup

Packway Handle Band

The Packway Handle Band opened Sunday's festivities after having performed two sets on Saturday.  They received a broad hearing and were well-received at the festival. 

 Podunk Kids Academy

Podunk Kids Academy directors Tim St. Jean and his wife Vicki Baker, working with a willing and highly skilled volunteer staff of musicians managed once again to gather a group of 25 musicians ranging in age from about six to their early teens together on Friday afternoon and to meld them into a group able to perform on Sunday noon.  
Tim St. Jean

Vicki Baker

Space considerations prohibit my putting more pictures of Kids Academy participants on my blog.  However, here's a key that will take parents and other interested people to a portfolio of sixty photographs Irene and I took on Sunday.  While the pictures are copyrighted, feel free to help yourself to them for your personal use on line or for printing.

Irene Taking Pics

Members of the Sound Crew

Sound by Rosewood Sound was exceptional by any standard.  Throughout the festival, working with a very wide range of bands, the sound was crystal clear, well modulated, and on-stage changes were made quickly and effectively.  Every band I talked to complimented the sound in private as well as publicly.  For photographers, the lighting was less obtrusive and more helpful than is usually the case at bluegrass festivals.

The Band Competition

About ten bands applied to participate in the band competition and five were selected to perform on Sunday. The bands entertained enthusiastically, each having a half hour set.  The competition was judged by three experienced bluegrass professionals.  Arnie Fleisher books acts for the Emelin Theater in suburban New York.  Wayne Bledsoe is the former publisher of Bluegrass Now magazine and a fixture on a local public radio station in Missouri as well as serving as an emcee at many festivals.  Ken Irwin is the CEO of Rounder Records.  The judges applied the following criteria:
  1. Content - Appearance, Use of time, appropriate material.
  2. Originality - Original material or interpretation of others works.
  3. Musical Ability - Vocal/instrumental ability, tone, intonation and difficulty.
  4. Stage Presence - Group communication, fluidity, audience appeal and entertainment value.
  5. Overall Impression
The grand prize to the winner included a cash award as well as studio services for recording a full-length CD, making success at this event quite a coup.  The five bands acquitted themselves well, and the winning band emerged with strong support from the fans, who also had input in a "Fan Favorite" poll at $1.00 a vote.

The Judging Panel
Arnie Fleisher, Ken Irwin, Wayne Bledsoe
The Bands in Order of Appearance

Chasing Blue

The Crunchy Western Boys


Nit Pickers

The Katie Wilson Band
The Katie Wilson Band was the clear winner, getting the nod from both the judges and the fans.  Here are a couple more pics:

Katie Wilson

The Winning Band

Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters

This popular regional band from Connecticut closed the music for the weekend offering a fine set of their well known country/bluegrass music.  They also performed some new material they've been preparing for their upcoming trip to England.  The band features Gallatin's very clear and pleasant singing voice supported by Roger Williams, one of the best Dobro players around, and he sings well, too.  The band is always a pleasure to hear.

Amy Gallatin

Roger Williams

J.D. Williams

Eric Levenson

By any standard the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival has become a resounding success.  It's one of the most fan friendly events around, using its facilities to get a great deal of mileage from a fairly restricted space.  The food vendors are excellent; not limited to the usual fair food, but including some wholesome choices, too.  There's a good variety of craft vendors, including a couple of people with instruments and music supplies as well as CD's not competing with the performers' merchandise.  The attractive swimming pool was very much appreciated on this hot August weekend. 

Performers at Podunk are kept happy, too. From their greeting at the gate, where they are parked and then transported to the performance area, to the provision of lighted merchandise tents with tables and chairs provided, to the high quality food prepared in a full field kitchen, performers are treated like the professionals they are.  Podunk has continued to grow throughout its fifteen year history.  It has become a powerhouse for both entertainment and innovation.  Next year's Podunk will run from August 4 - 7, 2011.  Put it on your schedule now.

C. Roger Moss - Podunk Director