Monday, March 21, 2011

Rivertown Bluegrass Society Benefit - Review

A disappointingly small audience attended the benefit concert at Conway High School sponsored by the Rivertown Bluegrass Society and featuring the Lonesome River Band and Grasstowne as headliners as well as two other bands quite popular in the Grand Strand region.  Nevertheless, the event was a musical and production success.  Grasstowne featured material from its new CD Kickin' Up Dust while LRB introduced new mandolin player and tenor singer Randy Jones, playing his first gig with them, to very positive responses.  Mickey Sellers and the members of the Rivertown Bluegrass Society, with support from the Omar Shrine, the beneficiary of the event in support of their hospitals, provided a wonderful, large auditorium for a bluegrass concert, good sound, a vendor offering tasty and reasonably priced food, and plenty of space.  Here's a look at the bands, including several videos of signature performances.

Red White & Bluegrass

Red White hosted a radio program for sixteen years out of Wilmington, NC bringing bluegrass and bluegrass gospel to people in eastern North and South Carolina as well as traveling the bluegrass and southern gospel trail with his family band.  While he died in 2001, two of his daughters and other members of his family have continued his tradition. Daughters Gwen White Johnson and Barbara W. Old sing lead and  harmony vocals with Gwen's son Chris Holmes playing resonphonic guitar and providing powerful vocals.  Three of Chris's children (Emily Grace, Josey, and Lee) have begun playing and singing with the band to help assure that a fourth generation of the Red White family will continue in the tradition. Over four decades this band has brought family vocals and its faith to the bluegrass world.

Gwen White Johnson

Barbara W. Old

Chris Holmes

Josh Greene

Randy Smith

Steve Gulley of Grasstowne w/
Emily Grace, Lee, and Josey

Joshua by Red White & Bluegrass - Video

The Wilson Family Band

The Wilson Family Band, based in Folkston, GA have become quite popular along the Grand Strand because of their performances at Rivertown Bluegrass Society events.  Their combination of family charm and high quality musical presentation offers a model for families seeking to perform together. Watching twenty year old Clint Wilson, a songwriter of unusual promise, one of whose songs is in the current Blue Moon Rising CD, and fifteen year old Katie, rapidly moving from childhood into the beauty of young womanhood, has been a treat for their audiences.  The band's most recent CD Chasing Faith provides ample evidence of their quality, but they shine their brightest in live performances.  

Robert Wilson

Melissa Wilson
Bruce Sheridan

Clint Wilson

 Katie Wilson


Several years ago, Steve Gulley and Alan Bibey, seeking opportunities to combine their vision of bluegrass music fusing traditional bluegrass and country traditions with their own unique versatility, formed Grasstowne.  Now, after several personnel changes and a settling-in process, during which they released two well received CD's, the band has coalesced around these two seasoned veterans with three young, vibrant players who complement them perfectly. The resulting combination can be heard in their new CD Kickin' Up Dust, released on March 22nd. Containing five original songs by Gulley & Bibey as well as carefully selected original and older work, this recording represents the most mature and well-conceived work the band has accomplished.

Steve Gulley

Alan Bibey

The three new members of Grasstowne bring loads of experience combined with youthful exuberance to the band, helping create a lively and entertaining environment. Gulley and Bibey each seem strengthened by their commitment to nurturing this group and providing an outlet for the band's creative energy.

Adam Haynes

Justin Jenkins

Kameron Keller

Grasstowne - Kickin' Up Dust - Title Song - Video

Rivertown Bluegrass Society

President Mickey Sellers

Thomas Lilly - Board Member and Emcee

Tammy Holt Presenting Holt Mandolin 

The Reason for the Event
The Lonesome River Band

When Andy Ball announced he was leaving LRB to return full-time to graduate school, it left a pretty big hole in the band.  Sammy Shelor says he spent four months looking for the person who would combine the necessary qualities to continue the characteristic Lonesome River Band sound and vibe.  Proof that his wait was well worth the effort became immediately apparent with Randy Jones' debut in this storied band.  Jones is widely experienced, but relatively unknown, having devoted much of his musical career to playing in regional bands in his home state of Kentucky.  He toured for a period with Larry Sparks' band.  His fine tenor voice and blazing mandolin work fits in wonderfully well with LRB, as can be heard in this video.

Lonesome River Band - Old Lonesome, Welcome Back - Video

  Sammy Shelor, leader of The Lonesome River Band for nearly twenty years, remains one of the most dynamic and highly skilled performers in bluegrass music.  The ensembles he draws together under his leadership are formidable individual musicians who create a single unified sound characteristic of LRB for all these years.  Brandon Rickman, with the release of his solo project Young Man, Old Soul has emerged as a solo singer and songwriter in his own right, while remaining an integral part of this band.  We were disappointed this week, because he neglected to break a string, depriving the well-attuned audience of the opportunity to watch him change strings on the fly without dropping a note from his lyric. Mike Hartgrove is unobtrusive and effective, bringing years of experience with major bands to his fiddle work here.  Barry Reed, new to the band last year, is strong on bass and harmony vocals.  While some fans continue to whine that this isn't the LRB or Dan Tyminski and Ronnie Bowman, it remains a powerful and contemporary bluegrass band generating excitement wherever it goes. The Lonesome River Band's latest CD No Turning Back is a first rate contribution to their catalog.

The Rivertown Bluegrass Society of Conway, SC, county seat of Horry County, offers many of the sorts of events and design for their monthly meetings that represent good local practice.  They showcase local and regional bands with the occasional national band, cooperate well with other bluegrass associations in the region, provide plenty of jamming, and create a welcoming environment.  The Grand Strand, from Georgetown SC across the North Carolina border to Calabash  comprises a length of over sixty miles and a permanent population in excess of 100,000 along with, perhaps millions of touring visitors. The region has a long history of bluegrass music and hosts two major indoor festivals. While there's significant competition for the entertainment dollar, Rivertown, located in Conway, offers a strong program which will continue to attract bluegrass fans for strong musical performances and opportunities to jam. Check out one of their monthly meetings if you're in the area.