Monday, March 28, 2011

RenoFest - Review

The Center Theater - Hartsville, SC

We'd heard about RenoFest but had never had a chance to fit it into our schedule before. Frankly, I was a little put off by the thought of spending two days seeing band and instrument contests for the opportunity to watch and hear a couple of national bands and some others I hadn't heard of.  Big Mistake! Lesson Learned!  Hartsville is a lovely smallish town in the PeeDee region of South Carolina, surrounded by farms and convenient to Lee State Park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935.  The Park is small, but quiet and pleasant, a good place for RVers to stop for this early Spring festival.  Those wishing extensive jamming, however, should consider staying at the The Landmark Inn in town, or one of the other local hotels suggested in the festival web site. RenoFest is simply one of the best run small festivals we've ever attended: fan friendly, welcoming, comfortable, great sound, and, for those interested in up-and-coming bluegrass pickers and bands, one of the best places to go.

Center Theater - Interior
 

I had dreaded the thought of sitting through a bunch of mediocre bands as well as both the guitar and banjo contests.  My concern was a waste of my worrying energy.  All  three contests proceeded like clockwork, on time and fast moving, while the music from the bands was often better better than you see with many of the local bands at festivals we attend.  You will be able to see and hear this year's band contest winner, Carolina Blue, as part of next year's lineup at RenoFest, Here's a look at the three finalists, including the winning band.


Mountain Faith - 3rd Place

Dry Run Bluegrass - 2nd Place

Carolina Blue - Winner

Carolina Blue, coming from the area around Brevard, NC, presented what judges look for in a band.  Their music was selected from classic bluegrass as well as songs written from within the band.  Their tempos were appropriate and strong, their vocal trio excellent.  This band will strengthen the opening hours of any bluegrass festival with its musicality and liveliness.

Tim Jones

Reese Combs
   
Bobby Powell

Don Austin

Members of several of the bands also competed in the individual instrument contests.  Each band was given a twenty minute period to perform a brief set. After an interlude, the top three bands were called back for further judging, and the festivities then moved to nearby Burry Park for a town sponsored barbecue-concert and the announcement of the winners as well as entertainment from The Gerald Anderson Band and Lonesome Meadow, last year's winner of the band contest. 

Burry Park Bandstand


 The Gerald Anderson Band
Gerald Anderson & Butch Barker 
Maker of the Prize Guitar for RenoFest

Jimmy Edmonds - Well-Known Luthier & Fiddler

Spencer Strickland - Kenny & Amanda Smith Band

Steve Lewis - National Banjo Champion

Mel Pennington - Mayor of Hartsville

One of the elements making RenoFest such a strong festival is the support of the city.  The Chamber of Commerce, the local arts council, a number of significant financial supporters, and Marty Driggers, who serves as festival Executive Director as well as being city attorney, and more than forty volunteers work year round to make this event a success. RenoFest has no paid staff.

Marty Driggers - Executive Director of RenoFest

Bluegrass in the Schools

Enjoyed by The Young

And the Not So Young
Saturday
  The RenoFest instrument contests are well known to contest competitiors. Last years' winner was Carl Minor, now a member of The Greencards, a top alt. bluegrass band.  Competitors come from significant distances to compete. The contests were judged blind by judges seated in a secluded room with the sound sent in on speakers.  The contestants were introduced by number and not permitted to speak.  There is no way favoritism or familiarity could have influenced the judge's decisions.  Producer Rob Jordan kept the contests running smoothly, and, in fact, this is the only festival we've ever attended which ran ahead of schedule. 

Guitar Winner - Zeb Snyder

Banjo Winner -  Corey Clark


Zeb Snyder - Forked Deer - Video
Contest Performance


Rob Jordan - Instrument Contest Producer
Festival Co-Producer


Lonesome Meadow


Lonesome Meadow, a family band from Ohio won last year's RenoFest.  As part of their prize, they won a performance at RenoFest. Actually, they performed several times, filling in during breaks in the contests as well as presenting a set at the barbecue on Friday. This band, composed of three young Jacksons and their Dad (Mark) on bass presents an excellent combination of traditional and new material in addition to some of their own writing.  They have an exciting driving sound and unusual presence for a young band. The kids are always in front and obviously having a good time.  At home, they attend public schools and daughter Ann Marie (19) lives in the dormitory at Ohio State, where she is a student.  They've recently completed a new CD at Tom T. and Dixie Hall's studio near Nashville.  As with so many family bands, it's probably a good idea to catch this one while they're still together.  

Ann Marie Jackson (19)

John Jackson (16)

Gary Jackson (15)- Banjo

Lonesome Meadow - It's Raining in LA - Video
 

Kenny & Amanda Smith
The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band brings superior musicality to the stage wherever they appear. Amanda continues to have one of the clearest, most bell-like voices to be found anywhere, let alone in bluegrass. Kenny is, and has been, one of the top flat-pickers in the business. They're backed by three young, skilled, and lively players who stand on their own while supporting the singing and playing of the principals at a very high level.  In the years we've been watching them, their stage presentation has consistently improved. They present a strong stage show filled with good songs that are familiar to anyone who listens to bluegrass radio. 

Amanda Smith

 Kenny Smith

Spencer Strickland

Trent Callicut

Zach McLamb

Worried About the Future of Bluegrass?



Ronnie Reno & The Reno Tradition

As host band since the beginning, Ronnie Reno & The Reno Tradition have continued to bring the music of Ronnie's Dad, Don Reno, as well as other traditional music to Hartsville each year.  Meanwhile, Reno has forged into new territory for bluegrass with "Reno's Old Time Music" on RFD-TV as well as Blue Highways TV, a syndicated cable channel.  As a busy entrepreneur, Reno has long committed himself to spreading the word about bluegrass music to larger and different audiences.  The bands music is traditional bluegrass presented in a light and friendly way.

Ronnie Reno

Mike Scott

Jackie Miller

John Maberry

Robin Smith


Russ Jordan - Saturday's Producer

The Boxcars

Since Adam Steffey left Mountain Heart after a nine year stay, he has seemed to me to be looking for the right combination to put together. While his tour with The Dan Tyminski Band was probably lucrative and looked like he was having a great time, everyone knew it would only last until Alison Krauss' next tour and CD.  The Adam Steffey Band didn't quite seem to work out as hoped, but now Adam has gathered a group of friends he knows well and trusts and created a band that represents all the last few years have almost, but not quite achieved.  The Boxcars, however, promise to tell a much different story.  Adam brought together four of the strongest musicians available under his musical and personal leadership to provide a band which has been bringing audiences to their feet with new songs, many from lead singer Keith Garrett, and traditional bluegrass sung and played as well as anyone today can manage.  This band has staying power, strength, and quality. You can't ask for more.

Adam Steffey

 Ron Stewart

Keith Garrett

John Bowman

Harold Nixon

Any way you slice it, RenoFest is a first class festival. Its filled with interesting music presented in a fast-paced but not rushed fashion...always on schedule.  The team assembled by Marty Driggers makes the festival run like clock work.  The Center Theater is large, comfortable, and offers wonderful sound.  While the event is only a day and a half long, it's well worth the time and effort to get to, particularly if you're interested in identifying new bands and instrumentalists before they make their big impact.  We're already planning our return.

Russ & Rob Jordan - Producers

We have collected a good deal of additional videos of performances at RenoFest.  We'll be posting them at our Facebook Fan Page Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure.  Come on over and check it out.



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