Monday, January 31, 2011

Palatka Bluegrass Festival - Rodehever Boys Ranch - Preview


The seventh annual Palatka Bluegrass Festival will begin at noon on Thursday, February 17th and run through Saturday evening the 19th.  This Adams & Anderson festival held on the campus of the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch about fifteen miles south of Palatka has been an artistic success for A & A and contributed significantly to the efforts of the Ranch, founded by evangelist Homer Rodeheaver on 600 acres since 1950.  The Palatka Bluegrass Festival is one of the Ranch's most significant fund raising efforts, so those attending will not only be hearing some of the finest in traditional bluegrass music, but will be making significant contributions to the boys' ranch.  While Irene and I won't be there to enjoy the fun this year, the first time we've missed since the 2nd festival, the event will have the usual professionalism of an Adams & Anderson festival along with the enthusiastic work of the boys and ranch staff to provide a very customer friendly three days. 

 Norman & Judy Adams

The Ranch Dining Room

When the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch decided to host a bluegrass festival to raise funds, they decided to do it right.  They put in what has now become over 400 water & electric camping sites, built a large, covered pavilion, hiring Adams & Anderson to promote the festival.  Since then, Palatka has grown steadily, becoming the premier bluegrass event in Florida.  The campground fills early, officially opening on the Monday before the festival begins. Here's a map of the grounds. In addition to the well-hardened sites, space for rough camping seems nearly unlimited. Pump-outs are available.  Hot showers and flush toilets are attached to the music shed;  portable toilets are plentiful and frequently cleaned. 

Snack Bar & Pavilion

 The pavilion is long and a little narrow with roll-down plastic siding to reduce the effects of the sometimes chilly weather found in north Florida during February.  Large gas space heaters help to alleviate the chill.  A large canvas floor keeps the ground from becoming too trampled.  Video screens improve visibility from the rear of the music pavilion.  Sound, provided by Gene Daniell is always excellent.  Those wishing prime seating in the music shed should arrive by early Tuesday to use the seating policy to their advantage.  Here's the policy as presented in the Palatka announcenment on line: "Chair Policy:  Chair placement numbers may be picked up beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday.  You will only be allowed to place chairs for the number of  three-day tickets purchased. Chairs may be placed in the concert area at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15th.  You must line up in numerical order near the pavilion."  This procedure has been refined annually, but has resulted in an orderly process.  Some people begin lining up on Monday night to be first in line to get seating numbers.

Sherry Boyd
Breakfast Buffet

Ranch Gift Shop

Emcee Sherry Boyd keeps the even moving along in style and rarely allows the festival to run behind time.  A range of food vendors supplement the meals served by the Ranch in their comfortable and spacious dining room.  Buffet breakfasts are large, tasty, and reasonably priced.  The Ranch also serves hamburgers and hot dogs from a large snack bar/gift shop directly behind the shed.  Other vendors assure a pretty wide variety of food choices as well as the usual instrument, CD, flag, clothing, and other festival oriented merchandise.

Dailey & Vincent Gospel Quartet

The Lineup

Adams and Anderson festivals offer a strong lineup of contemporary and classic performers.  Musicians like Doyle Lawson, Little Roy Lewis, Greg Cahill, and Ron Thomason represent a tradition going back nearly fifty years in bluegrass music.  Meanwhile, Tim Shelton & New Found Road, Dailey & Vincent, The Expedition Show, and the U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band bring a more contemporary bluegrass sound.  Darin & Brooke Aldridge as well as Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa are welcome newcomers to the lineup, bringing fresh new sounds and energy to the mixture.  There's something for nearly everyone at Palatka.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Tim Shelton (New Found Road)
 Wayne Taylor

  Greg Cahill (Special Consensus)
Thursday, February 17th
Newfound Road - 12:00 noon and 3:45 p.m.
The Easter Brothers - 12:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Darin & Brooke Aldridge - 1:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.
Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa - 2:15 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
The Special Consensus - 3:00 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.
Dailey & Vincent - 8:30 p.m. (one 90 minute show)
Dailey & Vincent
 U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band (Country Current)
Ron Thomason (Dry Branch Fire Squad)
Doyle Lawson
 Kimberly & Blake Williams (The Expedition Show)

Friday, February 18th
Goldwing Express - 12:00 noon and 5:30 p.m.
The US Navy Bluegrass Band/Country Current - 12:50 p.m. and 6:20 p.m.
Dry Branch Fire Squad - 1:40 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
The Expedition Show - 3:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

The Crowe Brothers

 Chris Jones & The Night Drivers
Little Roy Lewis

Lizzie Long

Randy Waller & The Country Gentlemen
Saturday, February 19th
The Crowe Brothers - 12:00 noon and 5:30 p.m.
Chris Jones & The Night Drivers - 12:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.
The Little Roy & Lizzy Show - 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Dry Branch Fire Squad - 2:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.
The US Navy Bluegrass Band/Country: Current 3:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Randy Waller & The Country Gentlemen - 3:45 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.

Getting to Palatka

Irene and I are particularly sad to be missing Palatka this year.  When we first attended the second festival, we were newcomers to the Florida circuit.  Since then, many of the people we've come to know have become friends we look forward to seeing at Palatka and other places during the year.  This festival has become widely known as a good one for jammers and for top level music.  The staff of the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, ram-rodded by Ranch Director of Development Jeff King, is well-organized to provide welcoming service and assistance to attendees.  While other well-established festivals in Florida have been forced to close recent years, Palatka remains an excellent choice for those wishing to attend a first rate event. Tickerts may still be ordered on line until February 7th or purchased at the gate.

Joe Booher (New Found Road)

Emory Lester (Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa)

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Chris Jones

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Autobiography of Mark Twain; Volume I - Book Review

This very large and heavy book seems destined to be one of those tomes people purchase because they think they should own it, but which end up prominently displayed on coffee tables everywhere, read by very few. That's a real shame, because this autobiography presents Twain as an engaging and interesting person who, during his consequential life, encountered many of the intellectual and political giants of the second half of the nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth centuries. While I had asked for the book as a Christmas gift, I must admit to feeling dismayed when I opened the book, hefted it, surveyed the layout, and thought what a slog it would be to work through it. The book is 716 pages long and weighs 4.5 pounds. The main text is 467 pages long ( Introduction pp. 1 – 58, Preliminary manuscripts and dictations pp 61 – 189, The first volume of Twain's dictations pp. 203 – 467, Explanatory Notes pp. 469 – 650, Appendices and Index pp. 651 – 736) Despite all the page turning the book requires to read it carefully, I'm glad I asked. The Autobiography is so filled with illuminating incidents and fascinating encounters that it is must reading for any Twin enthusiast or person interested in American intellectual or social history.

Twain made a number of stabs at writing his autobiography before finally being convinced to sit down with a stenographer over a period of a couple of years beginning in January of 1906. The current book, Volume I of a projected three, ends with a dictation dated March 30, 1906. Twain refused to adhere to a chronological account of his life, and the editors have wisely chosen to allow his mind to wander where it will without seeking to force the account into a more conventional format. Twain said, “... I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted. It is a system which follows no charted course and is not going to follow any such course. It is a system which is a complete and purposed jumble – a course which follows no specified route, and can never reach an end while I am alive....” (441) He intends his autobiography to be a map of his consciousness and realizes full well that no such work can ever be complete, because the subject's every waking moment cannot be recorded and continues to grow. Twain also insisted that the Autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death, thus the initial publication in 2010 with additional volumes to follow, although much of it has already seen print in other volumes. In the current text, Twain becomes more forthcoming about political issues as he apparently becomes more comfortable with dictating his memoirs. A recent radio interview Robert H. Hirst, executive editor of the entire project, indicated that subsequent volumes contain more of Twain's social, political and religious thought, often bitter and deeply satirical, well worthy of allowing a hundred years to elapse before publishing it.

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens)

Samuel L. Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, MO and soon moved to Hannibal, MO where he spent most of his childhood in a life not unlike that described in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In 1848 he became an apprentice in a local print shop and began his journey toward becoming a world famous writer and speaker. Clemens early took the pen name of Mark Twain, but was known interchangeably by both names for much of his life. His role, during much of his life would be what we now characterize as “Public Intellectual,” that is, he spoke and wrote extensively. He first came to public notice through his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County” and was seldom out of the public eye until his death in 1910. He married well, moved to Hartford, CT, invested unwisely and was forced to live in Europe for a decade, was saved financially by Standard Oil executive Henry Rogers, and died a beloved and cranky figure who both reflected the growth of America and created our imagination of who we are through his writing and speaking. As a primer for this autobiography, I would recommend a thorough reading of Ron Powers excellent general biography.

Twain reveals himself through what he chooses to talk about, how he remembers his own experiences, and his discursiveness. When talking about the lost of members of his family, his writing takes on a lyrical quality. During his life his son and two of his three daughters as well as his often invalid wife died. His writing about the death of his daughter Suzy at age twenty-four and his wife Olivia after more than thirty years of marriage is often heart rending. He inserts significant portions of Suzy's biography of him, written when she was a teen, which illuminates from a different perspective the man and father he was. He captures fully the human capacity for surviving shock and then continues in detail to describe his young daughter's life and death, as well as his response to it. On the other hand, his treatment of John D. Rockefeller's twisted logic in rationalizing his own wealth while teaching a Sunday school class is barbed and carefully targeted. He writes with respect and affection about his friend Ulysses S. Grant, who he saved from bankruptcy by publishing his memoirs just as Grant was dying from cancer. The proceeds from these excellent volumes allowed Grant's wife Julia to live in comfort for the rest of her life. His accounts of his lifelong friendships with the Rev. Joseph Twichell of Hartford and editor/writer William Dean Howells shed light on both the subjects and upon Twain himself as a friend. For people concerned about Twain's racial attitudes, particularly the use of the word “Nigger” in Huckleberry Finn, this volume presents much to show that Twain was no racist. His language, used for several purposes, including capturing the times and showing Huck's increasing awareness of Jim as a human being, was satirical and instructive rather than demeaning. His voluminous correspondence attests to his loyalty as a friend and the importance of childhood memories to his massive lifelong production.

The lengthy explanatory notes (181 pages worth) are placed conveniently in the back of the book, thus never becoming intrusive, but always available for readers wishing further information about the people named in the text. I began reading the Autobiography determined not to read the notes, but succumbed and was then glad I did. They're filled with valuable information elucidating much not made completely clear in the text. While referring to them as I read sometimes slowed forward progress, I often found them interesting, and sometimes they revealed information I really needed to make the connections and understand the situations. How you use these resources is a matter of preference. Some people may read straight through this volume, while others will dip into it here and there. Some will prefer to read the notes while reading the text, others at the end of a selection. Regardless of how you approach this volume, it provides a full meal of Mark Twain, perhaps to the point of indigestion.

Robert L. Hirst (General Editor)

Mark Twain remains perhaps the most quotable of all American writers. Plowing through this volume I wrote pages of notes. Many of the incidents he describes are at least interesting and frequently arresting as he sifts through a lifetime of experiences around the world, still mining them for the interesting, curious, and enlightening moments. His rage at the U.S.'s slaughter of the remaining Moro natives in the Philippines is devastating, while the extended riff on a villa near Florence where he and his family lived is way too long for his desired picture of the American woman married to an impoverished Italian nobleman. But the gems are sometimes submerged in the flood of words. The book is structured in such a way that it can serve as both a specialist's source and a general reader's delight, but it is not to everyone's taste.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume I is published by the huge Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California Press. It has a list price of $34.95, but is already deeply discounted. I would not recommend reading this book in its Kindle version if you have any thought of reading the notes while working through the text. At this book's retail price, it would be hard to recommend buying it at your local independent book store, but check the remaindered tables before ordering it on line.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rhonda Vincent - Performer Profile

Rhonda Vincent is one of the hardest working troopers on the circuit in bluegrass today.  She tours about ten months a year and consistently puts in 120 to 140 appearances a year everywhere in North America.  She'll be touring in Europe this year during the second half of July.  Based in her highly recognizable Martha White Express touring bus and offering Rhonda Vincent merchandise from the Martha White Boutique at festivals, Rhonda is highly visible and always approachable.  I've watched her at many festivals tired from working, hot, or sick or cold stay to greet her fans who've waited in line to see her and get their picture taken with her.  She stays outside until the last fan has had a few moments of her time.  She never rushes everyone, and she always seems to be hearing the comments for the first time.  All these elements show a seasoned professional who knows her job and relishes doing it. 

Rhonda & The Rage in Performance - Slide Show

Rhonda comes from Kirksville, MO where her family has long been a bluegrass fixture, hosting the Sally Mountain Show and will this year be hosting the Sally Mountain Festival again, as well as celebrating her parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Rhonda recorded her first solo album in 1986, making 2011 her 25th year as a bluegrass professional. During that time she has released fourteen albums as well as a number of singles and made countless guest appearances.  After a brief sojourn and two albums recorded in country music, Rhonda returned to her bluegrass roots where she has forged a remarkable record of achievement and high recognition.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage at Podunk 2010
"I've Forgotten You" video by Steve Ide

Rhonda's recognition from within the profession can be seen from the remarkable record of awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association since 1999.  Three time Recorded Event of the Year, 2004 Song of the Year for "Kentucky Borderline, Entertainer of the Year in 2004, and Female Vocalist of the Year from 2000 through 2006 establishes her as one of the top bluegrass performers of the twenty-first century. For me, her song All-American Bluegrass Girl tells her story and connects her to the history of bluegrass's earliest days.

Rhonda Vincent: Fans, Friends, & Fun - Slide Show

Rhonda is proud of her two daughters, Sally and Tensel, who now tour as Next Best Thing.  Along with husband Herb Sandker, who serves as her manager and best friend, when he's not on the golf course, the family is a close knit unit.  This family was recently joined by Rhonda's long term fiddle player, Hunter Berry, when he and Sally were married.  The video below shows Rhonda and the Rage in performance with her daughters' band.  Good fun at Podunk. The Rage consists of  Hunter Berry on fiddle and mandolin, Aaron McDaris on banjo, Mickey Harris on Bass, and Ben Helsen on Guitar.  The band, many of whom are award winning performers in their own right, provide a perfect vehicle for supporting Rhonda's singing and sparkling stage personalith.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage with Next Best Thing
Video by Steve Ide

Eric Gibson may have said it best.  After The Gibson Brothers had spent three days at a festival in Alberta, Canada with Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, he commented that he'd always been aware of Rhonda and admired her work, but really didn't know her well.  In Alberta their merchandise tables were next to each other. Rhonda and her mother also substituted with Eric and Leigh in a vocal harmony  workshop when the scheduled duo couldn't appear.  He commented how much he had enjoyed getting to know Rhonda and what a thoroughgoing professional she is.  

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage: "All American Bluegrass Girl
from Darrington Bluegrass Festival - Video by Wellusedtube

Rhonda Vincent's latest CD can be ordered from her web site, Amazon, and other online sites or purchsed at the Martha White Boutique wherever Rhonda Vincent & The Rage are performing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Brothers Concerts - Gibsons and Spinneys

The Brothers Jam
Two great brother duos, two markedly contrasting styles, two marvelous venues, and two enthusiastic crowds will inevitably lead to two remarkable concerts. The Gibson Brothers and The Spinney Brothers each excited and repeatedly drew cheers from audiences in Lexington, MA and Bellows Falls, VT on this mid-January mini-tour. The Gibson Brothers and The Spinney Brothers appeared at the National Heritage Museum on Saturday night to a sold out house, and at the Bellows Falls Opera House in Bellows Falls, VT to a nearly sold out ground floor.  The bands have markedly contrasting styles, making for a grand evening of brother singing combined with first rate picking.  No one could have asked for more.

 Sound Check at Lexington

Eric Gibson at Sound Check

Leigh in Sound Check
Green Room Candids

Rick & Allan Spinney - Sound Check

Stan Zdonik - BBU and IBMA President

Reuben Shetler - BBU Vice President
Introducing the Show

The National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA is an ideal site for a bluegrass concert, intimate, with comfortable, raked seating and not a bad seat in the house, the auditorium has fine acoustics and is well laid out for both band and audience comfort.  Nothing stopped a sell-out audience from attending on this chilly Saturday evening with Lexington's streets narrowed by the nearly two feet of snow that had fallen earlier in the week. The Bellows Falls Opera House, a recently renovated theater in the middle of the recovering Vermont mill town, also offers attendees a delightful experience.  The room seats a little over 500 people, also has excellent acoustics and a fine sound system.  The Sawyers plan on sponsoring other events in this venue which is very well suited for bluegrass events. 

The Bellows Falls Opera House
Candi and Seth Sawyer, Promoters

The Gibson Brothers are familiar and loved by audiences throughout the region. The Spinney Brothers come from Nova Scotia and are less familiar to audiences in the U.S.  They appeared last year at the upcoming Joe Val Festival in Framingham, MA and made a good impression. They have worked hard to get the word out, attending IBMA and this year having both Official and after hours showcases.  Fans of these two groups  came from long distances to see them perform this weekend.  In fact, for the concert in Bellows Falls on Sunday, a group of four women had flown from Dallas, Texas for the event and others came from New York to Maine to see both groups.  This was a widely anticipated and joyfully attended pair of events.  The format for both concerts featured the Spinney Brothers opening with a full set followed by the Gibson Brothers. At the end of the two sets, the Spinneys returned to the stage for a delightful jam with the two bands playing together.  Each band received enthusiastic ovations for their work at both concerts with encores being demanded exuberantly. 

The Spinney Brothers

The Spinney Brothers are a hard driving traditional bluegrass band whose members speak with a strong Canadian accent but whose music comes from the heart of Dixie. Although they have been touring for eighteen years or so, audiences in the U.S. have not yet become widely familiar with this excellent group.  We should be seeing more of them in the near future.  The feature an excellent combination of first generation bluegrass and classic country strongly influenced by The Stanley Brothers.  Instrumentally and vocally they are strong with Allan Spinney singing an easy to listen to baritone and a good high tenor.  Rick is a flashy and accurate Scruggs style banjo player with a pleasing voice.  Gary Dalrymple, a veteran of the band, does much of the emcee work and contributes solid mandolin work.  Darryl Hebb on bass provides rock solid bass work.  Here's a sample:

Spinney Brothers - Send Me Your Address in Heaven


Allan Spinney
Rick Spinney

Gary Dalrymple
Darryl Hebb

The Spinney Brothers - Rick & Allan

The Spinney Brothers recordings can be found and bought here.  One of the Spinney Brothers' signature songs is "If I Were Your Brother."  Many friends of the Sawyer Family know that Candi and Seth's son Mathew has been battling a number of health issues and recently endured another major surgery. He and brother Adam have sung this song from the stage at the Jenny Brook Family Festival.  At Bellows Falls, the Spinney Brothers dedicated their performance of it to Mathew.  Here it is:

If I Were Your Brother - The Spinney Brothers


The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers are so frequently recognized for their unique brother style and outstanding song writing that the instrumental talent displayed at every Gibson Brothers concert is too easily overlooked.  From Clayton Campbell anchoring the left side of the band to Joe Walsh's mandolin on the right, every member of this group is a master of his instrument and his role in creating the signature ensemble sound that exemplifies The Gibson Brothers.  Joe Walsh, whose new solo CD "Sweet Loam" is currently in limited distribution, but will soon be more widely available, is one of the most supple and subtle mandolin players around.  His fluid, elegant style provides a perfect complement for the Gibson Brothers' songs.  Clayton Campbell has played his stylish fiddle with the Gibson Brothers for seven years.  Quiet and unassuming, his work is always melodic and tasteful.  Mike Barber, who is often referred to as the "third Gibson Brother, had been a crucial adjunct to this band almost since its inception.  He's one of the best under-recognized bass players in the business and has been listed as co-producer on several of the brothers' albums.  Because they sing so well, neither Eric nor Leigh get enough recognition for the superb instrumental work, either.  Here they all are in "Farm of Yesterday," a song written by Eric that topped the Bluegrass Unlimited charts.

The Gibson Brothers - Farm of Yesterday

Leigh Gibson
Eric Gibson

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Joe Walsh

The Gibson Brothers' new CD "Help My Brother" will be released on February 22nd by Compass Records.  The new CD contains a mix of original Gibson Brothers tunes, carefully chosen new works, and a couple of covers with cameo appearances by Claire Lynch, Ricky Skaggs, Mike Witcher, and Alison Brown.  Otherwise, as has become customary of Gibson Brothers' albums, their traveling band remains the core band on the CD, adding to the authenticity and familiarity of their work.  One of the new songs on this CD is "Frozen in Time."

The Gibson Brothers - Frozen in Time

A Few People
Sandy Blankenship with the Spinney Brothers
She Came All  the Way from Texas

The Ladies from Texas at Bellows Falls

Stan Zdonik, Katy Daly, and Reuben Shetler
Photo by Jennie Scott

Red (?) Presents Leigh Gibson with a
Custom Walking Stick

Seth & Candi drawing the 50/50 Winner

The Brother Jam
Both shows ended with a joyful brother jam.  I'll let the pictures tell the story and end with a classic song interpreted by these nine fine artists working together for the first time.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves and conclude with a video of the two bands playing Bill Monroe's great song "Uncle Pen."

The Brothers' Bands - Uncle Pen