Saturday, August 7, 2010

Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival - E. Hartford - Friday

The day dawned a little muggy and warm and improved for the next 15 hours or so.  Late in the morning some clouds came across the sky and a slight shower got everyone moving to cover up.  Before they were finished the blue patches expanded, the clouds disappeard, the humidity dropped, and the cold front had run right past us.  In mid-afternoon a blazing son kept the crowd looking for shade, but the music continued unabated with unusually high quality.  As the son settled down and the shadows lengthened, people were still streaming into Martin Park, looking for an evening of fine music.  They weren't disappointed.  Podunk, belying all the ironic suggestions of its name, is set in a city park and organized by E. Hartford Director of Parks and Recreation, Roger Moss.  It was one of the best organized festivals on the circuit.  Musicians remark on how smoothly run the operation is for getting them from the parking lot to back stage, the quality of the sound, the spaciousness of the backstage area, the quality of the food provided to them, and more.  Attendees notice the way site lines are maintained by keeping sun covers to the rear, the range and quality of the food vendors, the customer friendliness or the staff and volunteers, the activities provided for children, and much more. Finally, everyone recognizes the quality, diversity, and range of the bands playing here.  This is a happy festival for everyone involved.

Roger Moss in a Light Moment
Southern Rail

This Massachusetts based bluegrass band features a blend of bluegrass, folk, and gospel music packed in strong singing and excellent instrumentals.  The band sometimes sounds a bit like the Weavers, while at other times they're pure bluegrass.  Jim Muller's pure voice, spouse Sharon Horovitz's harmony and lead singing combined with her lovely smile, and Rich Stillman's excellent banjo work stand out, along with John Roc on mandolin and harmony vocals.  

Jim Muller

Sharon Horovitch

Rich Stillman

John Roc

 James Reams & The Barnstormers
You wouldn't necessarily think a band coming from New York City would be a high powered traditional group, but James Reams & the Barnstormers put the lie to this canard.  Coming from Kentucky, Reams fronts a band of high energy pickers and singers whose work shows what traditional bluegrass instrumentation and singing can sound like when it's delivered with conviction and taste.  No promoter should ever allow their Brooklyn location to suggest that their roots aren't deeply sunk into traditional bluegrass music.

James Reams

Mark Ferrell
Doug Nicolaisen

Nick Sullivan

The Freight Hoppers
The Freight Hoppers were making a name for themselves about a decade ago and then disbanded.  The reconstituted band is a real treat for old-time string band afficianados like Frank Shaw who traipsed down from the camping area where he jams through most festivals especially to hear them in the blazing sun of mid day.  They bring traditional old time music with a difference, and provide an often needed change of pace.  For me, two full sets of this sometimes frenetic music proved a bit too much, but they do an excellent job at what they do and help provide a significant link to bluegrass's roots.

Isaac Deal

Frank Lee
David Bass

Bradley Adams

Song Writing Contest
Winner - Gail Wade
As part of this ambitious and creative festival, Roger Moss has instituted a song writing contest and put aside time for the three finalists to perform during Friday.  A CD of all the finalist's songs was provided to each performer as a part of the swag bag the festival gives them.

Song Writing Finalists with Roger Moss
Gail Wade, Don Bernier, Ron Fetner

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeepers

Often the best way to tell about a band's quality is to look at who comes out to watch them perform.  From Carol Young of the Greencards to a certain top line performer transformed into a bluegrass photographer, musicians come to applaud Mike Cleveland's band.   Mike is a wonder on the fiddle, and their isn't a weak slot on stage, even with the very fine Ron Shuffler subbing for Marshall Wilborn, who's been ill.  Tight, high energy, responsive to each other, and emanating a wonderful spirit, this is simply a great band.  Michael closed their evening set by playing three absolute exhausting intrumentals in succession.  The trio opened with Mike and IBMA mandolin player of the year Jesse Brock performing their award winning version of Jerusalem Ridge.  They followed this with an extended jam on Lee Highway Blues, and offered Sally Goodin as an encore.  Sublime!
Mike Cleveland

Jesse Brock
Tom Adams

Jesse Baker

Ron Shuffler

Carol Young Watching Mike Cleveland

Bluegrass Photographer


The Greencards

How do you schedule a band to follow Mike Cleveland?  One good answer to this question is to put a significant change of pace in the lineup.  No band can better fill this role than The Greencards.  Originating as a bluegrass band from Australia, The Greencards have continued to spread their wings and broaden their perspective so their music has become hardly bluegrass, but always reflecting their love of where they came from musically while building on other origins in rock, blues, celtic, and world music to present a sound uniquely their own that vibrates with strength, originality, and good taste.  The addition of Carl Miner and Tyler Andel have only strengthened an already fine band.
Carol Young

Kym Warner
Carl Miner

Tyler Andel
Carol and Carl

Hot Buttered Rum started late and we were tired.  Sorry we missed them.  More tomorrow.