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Monday, March 14, 2011
Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival - Review
The Newell Lodge Stage Area
Nestled in a lovely grove of live oak trees a couple of miles off the paved roads and surrounded by stands of long needle pines with few other homes nearby, Newell Lodge stands ready to welcome guests for a variety of activities including horseback riding, weddings, a small rodeo as well as a brand new and very promising bluegrass festival. Promoters Harvin and Kay Carter, along with their daughter Ashley, have spent the past five or six years developing the site, which contains six small rental cottages, a cook house, stables, and lots of space for development and expansion. The Carters have devoted a great deal of time, energy, and no little amount of money to develop a venue bluegrass fans will come to enjoy as much as any they can find in the southeast. Future plans include increasing the number of electric and water hookups, building additional toilet and bath house facilities, and making the site still more user friendly. By the next festival, to be held October 27 and 29, many of these improvements will be achieved or well underway.
The quality of food and the level of hospitality put forward by Kay and Ashley Carter and their staff in the cook house was exceptional, especially considering what passes for festival food at most venues. Fresh barbecued pork and chicken were always juicy and tasty, baked goods were home made, and breakfast bowls were delicious, even for a Yankee whose chosen morning meal doesn't usually include grits.
Breakfast in the Cook House
Making the Grounds Beautiful
Camping in the Live Oaks
Vendors and the Cook Shack
The bands selected to perform for this inaugural effort included a range of young, ambitious, up-and-coming national bands and several local bands, several of whom are well-known to local bluegrass fans. There was a strong representation of bands featuring gospel music, a particular love of folks from the region, which is southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. The festival opened with four regional bands performing on a chilly Friday evening and featured a full day of music on Saturday. People were in no great hurry to leave on Sunday morning, lingering to enjoy the setting a few more hours and jam a little bit. The crowd was friendly and enthusiastic, with attendance in line with what one might expect for a first run of a festival that should become a favorite. Newell Lodge is in Folkston, GA, well located for people to come from as far away as Jacksonville as well as the island resorts along the shore. It could easily become a stop for snowbirds heading in either direction, and the two festivals are held at times fitting the movement to and from Florida.
Trinity River (The Harris Family Band) is primarily a gospel band from Callahan, FL spreading its message and planning on heading out on a national ministry to churches and smaller events along the bluegrass trail. Featuring song writing and guitar from Stephen Michael Harris and strong vocals from daughter Sarah, this band is pleasant and fervent in its faith.
Stephen Michael Harris
Delivering Fans from the Day Lot
Tomorrow's News, based in Ft. Meade, FL, has taken a huge step upward by adding fiddler Steve Durrwachter to its instrumental and vocal mix. A fine fiddler with a very fine folky voice, he adds vocal texture and strong musicality to this rapidly improving band. Kalyn Hall, with another year under her belt, has, at seventeen, become a seasoned performer with a wonderful and nuanced voice which serves her well in the bands mix of gospel, traditional bluegrass, and some more modern work. And who would have imagined Kalyn as a torch singer? Brother Bryce, at sixteen has improved vocally and continues to explore the limits of his mandolin. Gavin Boulacon banjo provides just the support needed for Kalyn's voice. Victor Hall does a solid job on rhythm guitar, singing, and emceeing for the band.
Victor and Kalyn Hall
Clint Wilson at the Sound Board
The Wilson Family Band
Fans of The Wilson Family Band have watched Clint and Katie grow from being children embarking on a new adventure to becoming strong performers while developing independent lives of their own. Parents Robert and Melissa Wilson have raised Clint and Katie to be ready to head in their own directions, keeping them in public school and reserving music for weekend appearances and summer festivals. Clint, nearly twenty-one and away at Valdosta State has become increasingly visible as a song writer and is embarked on a course that may lead him to Nashville where his song writing and instrumental skills spell out an interesting future. Katie, less formed at fifteen, is an independent and spunky girl on the cusp of womanhood, who will make her mark wherever she goes. As the kids are fledged, the elder Wilsons will be able to look back on a gratifying period of growth and making music together and forward to watching their kids establish themselves on their own.
When Monroeville split away from its previous leader to form its own band, no one knew exactly what was going to happen. Now, after a period of forming itself and thinking through where it planned to head, Monroeville is emerging as a hugely exciting bluegrass band which probably won't limit itself to the traditional boundaries of the genre. Young and energetic, the band hits the stage with commitment, drive, and the confidence of seasoned musicians ready to forge their own place. A look at their very creative web site not only suggests the breadth of their experience, but in the audaciousness of its design opens itself to new audiences while never seeking to distance itself from the traditional core of bluegrass music. In opening their first set, the took an old chestnut, "I Ain't Broke,But I'm Badly Bent," and turned it new, taking it to a level rarely heard in a young contemporary band. At the same time, featuring songs by bassist Daniel Salyer, they showed their potential for original material. Seth Taylor is so good on guitar he doesn't have to sing (unusual in any band) while spokesman and mandolinist Matt Munsey strikes just the right notes. Zane Petty on banjo and Travis Houk on Dobro were excellent, while fiddler Matt Flake stayed home to supervise the birth of a child. I'm eager to hear the band in full complement.
Daniell Salyer & Matt Munsey
Monroeville- Jack up the Jail - Video
Blue Moon Rising
When three members of the well-established band Blue Moon Rising sought greener pastures, founder, lead singer, and principal song writer Chris West was left to figure out what to do. He gave some thought to not reforming the band, but, not to worry, he's brought together three new members in a configuration quite different from what he had before. They're strong, personable, and musically versatile, giving West a solid platform for his writing efforts as well a good band to perform work by others writers. Blue Moon Rising tends to explore some darker areas of the bluegrass world in convincing and engaging story songs. West's "The Hanging Tree" and "This Old Martin Box Guitar" are favorites of mine, and their new CD, many songs from which they sang at Newell Lodge, has plenty of strong content in it.
Blue Moon Rising - Time to Be Moving On - Video
Irby Brown - Emcee
Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band
Darin & Brooke Aldridge have been on the bluegrass circuit for less than three years. During that time they've made remarkable progress with strong festival appearances up and down the East Coast and incursions into the mid-west. They've had support from terrestrial, satellite, and Internet radio and grown an excited fan base in both bluegrass and gospel music. The new arrangement of "Jerusalem Ridge" featuring Darin on Mandolin, new addition Rachel Johnson on fiddle, and Chris Bryant on banjo will send chills down the back of any aficionado. They will be hosting their own festival in Cherryville (Chur-vil) NC on April 1 & 2. They'll also be appearing at three major festivals in New England this summer as well as around the country. Try to catch them at the event near you.
Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Corn - Video
Darin & Brooke - Bluegrass Sweethearts at Newell Lodge
Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival was a great success, especially for a first time effort. The next festival here will be on October 28th and 29th featuring country star returned to bluegrass after a long absence backed by New Found Road, who will also perform two sets of their somewhat edgier bluegrass at the event. Florida tradtional bluegrass favorite Highway 41 South will be there for two days, as will the Andrews Family Band, Tomorrow's News, and The Wilson Family Band. Shannon Slaughter and his wife have formed a new band called County Clare, which will be performing there, too. You may remember Shannon as the guitar player and harmony singer with Lou Reid & Carolina, with whom he continues to perform.
Sunday Afternoon Delight Katie Wilson and Kalyn Hall
The Kids Jamming Sarah Harris, Bryce Hall, Kalyn Hall, Josh Harris Katie Wilson, Clint Wilson