Friday, November 19, 2010

Sierra Hull and Stockwell Brothers in Putney, VT - Review

The little Community Church in Putney, Vermont was warm and alive with bluegrass music on Thursday evening as Sierra Hull & Highway 111 headlined and The Stockwell Brothers opened a happy and enjoyable evening highlighted by Hull's sparkling personality and mature, virtuoso mandolin work. The near capacity audience rewarded her band with a standing ovation, and they could have stayed for two or three encores.  For promoter Barry Stockwell and his Twilight Music, this concert further cemented his credentials as a regional promoter of diverse and interesting events.

The Stockwell Brothers

The Stockwell Brothers were born and brought up in the rural southeastern Vermont community of Putney and have never strayed far from home.  Over a period of nearly four decades, they have played in local and regional bluegrass, rock, and folk bands in varying configurations, recorded, and toured.  Bruce Stockwell is very well known in New England as well as among banjo aficionados much more widely.  He won the 2005 Merlefest banjo contest, teaches banjo in his home, performs with local bluegrass band Hot Mustard, and, with his wife Kelly, is on the teaching staff of Banjo Camp North.  Barry Stockwell serves as the Director of the Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery on Main Street in Brattleboro, VT as well as continuing his work with Twilight Music.  His pleasant voice and solid guitar work is equally at home playing newgrass, bluegrass, folk, or funk.  Al Stockwell, who has a degree in electrical engineering, does sound engineering for Soundesign in Brattleboro.  The Stockwell Brothers' mixed genre set lists include songs re-worked from rock, reggae, folk, and other sources into a newgrass melange full of warm sound and first rate musicality.

Bruce Stockwell
Barry Stockwell
Al Stockwell

The Stockwell Brothers - Ain't It Something Hank Williams

Sierra Hull & Highway 111

We first saw Sierra Hull at Merlefest several years ago when she was about fourteen.  At that age, it was easy to look at the little girl and say, "Isn't she good for someone her age."  Well, she's nineteen years old now and a much publicized Presidential scholarship winner at the famed Berklee College of Music.  Sierra Hull is a young woman of distinguished achievement.  She was nominated for IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year in 2010 and her band was nominated for Emerging Band of the Year.  She can no longer stand out because of her age or diminutive size.  She stands alongside the other fine mandolin players in bluegrass and the only remainder from the earlier assessments is that she's still small ... and mighty.  In the past couple of years, Sierra has matured as a mandolin player and become a comfortable and engaging emcee as front person of her own band.  No longer the youngest person in the band, a distinction now filled by fiddler Christian Ward, she's clearly the focus and the artistic center while generously highlighting the contributions of each member.

Sierra Hull

Clay Hess

Better known as a hot-picking guitarist (see the video below), Clay has shown his versatility on mandolin as well as his singing.  First coming to prominence as guitarist for Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, in company with others like Bryan Sutton and Cody Kilby, Clay has shown himself to be a strong adjunct to Sierra's band.  The warmth and respect between the two musicians is clear, and his contributions obvious.  His flat picking is fast, clean, in touch with the tune, and expressive, while his rhythm guitar is effective and strong.  He'll be seen on a short tour in Florida next month including a concert and workshop in Gainesville.

Jacob Eller

Jake Eller is a strong bassist from southwestern Virginia along the Crooked Road.  He brings humor and a strong beat to this band.  

Christian Ward

Christian Ward comes from California with a hot fiddle and a pleasant stage personality, blithely putting up with the abuse that comes with being the youngest person in the band.  While young, he is not inexperienced. He brings taste and expressiveness to the band with his very fine fiddle playing.

Ron Block

Ron Block is appearing on the current tour with Sierra's band and has been a significant mentor in her development.  He co-produced her first CD, Secrets, and has performed with her in other settings.  Best known for his continuing work with Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ron is a serious student of the banjo, his principle instrument, as well as the guitar and has also established himself as a song writer.  It's also worth noting that he's seriously involved in speaking and writing about his deep Christian faith.  Ron's quiet competence and musical strength complements any group with which he plays.

Sierra Hull & Highway 111 - Daybreak in Dixie

Sierra Hull