Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dr. Tom Bibey - Health Update

Dr. Bibey Playing Gig
Darin & Brooke Aldridge Festival

If you've been reading this blog for several years, you know that Dr. Tom Bibey is our long standing friend. We first met on line about four years ago or so, and after a good deal of dancing around like two new friends at the prom, we exchanged e-mail addresses and arranged to meet. We first got together at Lorraine Jordan's festival in Burlington, NC and have visited back and forth regularly since then, on line and face-to-face.  Last year we induced him and his wife (known as Marfar in his blog) to come to Strawberry Park in Preston, CT, at least partly because his young proteges Darin & Brooke Aldridge were performing in the northeast for the first time. Turned out that the first copy of his book, The Mandolin Case, was delivered to him there, so great excitement ensued. He found new friends, the way he does everywhere he goes, and discovered that Yankees jam “just like we do back in North Carolina.” Later in the summer, he and Marfar came to Columbus, OH for Musicians Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) where he had his first booth selling his book and making new friends. In short, Dr. B has been a good and dear friend to us.

Dr. B Opens First Copy 
The Mandolin Case
Recently, after becoming disoriented, and having associated speech problems, Dr. B has been diagnosed as having a brain tumor. We talked on Monday morning, and he expressed deep conviction that the cancer he's been afflicted with is highly treatable with chemo therapy and radiation. He expressed  optimism that his faith, family, friends, music, and the bluegrass world will support and nurture him through his current adversity. His love of his immediate and extended support group and their concern, prayers, and help for him buoy him up and carry him along in their arms. He says that he's well provided for and no one needs to worry about raising money for him. He says, if his readers and friends want to make a contribution, he'd like to see funds funneled through The MACC. Checks can be sent to: Musicians Against Childhood Cancer, 1434 S. 3B's & K Rd., Galena, OH 43021. This contribution would go directly to supporting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN where promoter Darrell Adkins' and his wife Phyllis's daughter Mandy died of a virulent brain stem tumor about ten years ago.

Dr. B will be unable to work on regular updates of his blog, which can be found here. He may, depending on how he progresses, post occasional health updates through his Facebook page. Otherwise, he believes he needs to focus on himself just now rather than his outreach to others. He mentioned that the recent strong review of The Mandolin Case written by Chris Stuart in Bluegrass Unlimited lifted his spirits, and he's always keen to hear from readers and friends. If you haven't yet read his book The Mandolin Case, you can order it through the link on the side of this notice. Meanwhile, keep Dr. Tom Bibey in your thoughts and prayers as he fights the good fight.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Gibson Brothers at Their Home High School

We arrived home from three and a half months on the road on Wednesday afternoon, tired but satisfied we had seen lots of great music, visited with many friends, and had a successful winter and spring bluegrass season.  We had decided to stay home on Friday to rest, but the lure of seeing The Gibson Brothers play before their home town audience at Northern Adirondack Central Schools was too much, so, around noon, we headed north across New Hampshire and Vermont to Ellenburg, NY.  After stopping at a large RV dealer near Burlington, VT to prove to ourselves that we're really satisfied with our current rig, we continued north, leaving the Interstate to drive up the picturesque Lake Champlain Islands, which often remind me somewhat of Prince Edward Island. While we knew the lake was high, we weren't prepared for what we saw.

Water lapped at the roadside of the causeway from the mainland onto Grand Isle, the southernmost of the Lake Islands.  At Sand Bar State Park picnic tables floated around and a stone building had water eighteen inches or so up its side. The water had obviously receded from its high point earlier in the week.  Compared to recent flood damage along the Mississippi or this week's tragic tornado in Joplin, the damage was actually slight, but impressive and frightening nevertheless.  Traversing Grand Isle, South Hero, North Hero and back to the mainland near Alburgh we saw water lapping at the road where jersey barriers and sand bags held it back, mobile homes with water up to their windows, docks under water, and clean-up going on.  And since then the rain has continued and wind blown up waves on the lake to continue the destruction.  While the national news doesn't cover such damage, the effect on people who live in the affected areas is every bit as difficult as better known flooding elesewhere.  We crossed into New York at Rouse's Point, a major border crossing and yachting town catering to Canadians from the Montreal area to see not a single sailboat in the water this late in May. Unusual at best....

Rouse's Point is just few hundred yards south of the Canadian border.  Our route lay west along U.S. Highway 11 never more than a few miles south of the border.  The Adirondack Mountains' jagged profile rose in the mist far to our south, and Lyon Mountain, the location of the Gibson Brothers' great song "Iron and Diamonds" stood out just north of its larger cousins.  We crossed the Great Chazy River, filled to the brim, more times than we could count.  The land is flat, and what was once productive farmland has gone to seed, along with the villages through which we drove.  People as well as productive capacity have left a region that looks and feels desolated.  Driving through this hard-scrabble land always reminds us of the iconic Gibson Brothers songs like Farm of Yesterday, The Barn Song, The Railroad Song, Bottomland, Safe Passage, Sam Smith, and others.  The roots of the Gibson Brothers' experience can be found in the North Country, not only in what it has lost, but in the tough, good-natured survival instinct of those who remain.  This is now, and perhaps always has been, a land of survivors who know what hard work and sacrifice are all about.

Northern Adirondack Central School
We arrived at Northern Adirondack Central School early, as usual, and went inside to discover that the first two rows of the auditorium were leaking water through the floor, as the water table was so high it couldn't be contained.  The first two rows of the raked floor were cordoned off to keep people from slipping or injuring themselves.  A girl's softball game was going on outside, the league trying to make up games lost to the season's continuing rains.  A crew was vacuuming up the water, but couldn't stay ahead of the leaking.  We met Shari Colvin-Dauginault in line outside with her mother.  They had driven the nearly 170 miles north from their home near Albany for this concert.  Shari told us this would be one of thirteen Gibson Brothers concerts they would attend this year.  They buy day tickets to large festivals just to attend the Gibson's portion of the show.  That's the kind of fans this band attracts.  An hour before the show was to begin, a sizable crowd was waiting patiently at the door while outside the black flies swarmed and chomped away.

The Gibson Brothers

It was hot and muggy inside the auditorium.  The light was set low to reduce the amount of heat being generated indoors.  The seats were nearly filled for a Friday evening show as the Gibson Brothers took the stage shortly after seven.  The crowd cheered. Eric and Leigh Gibson looked out at  the audience, filled with high school classmates, colleagues of their sister Erin who teaches second grade in the district, cousins galore, friends from their very earliest performances, and, of course, their parents, now retired from the farm and looking better than they had in some time.  A Gibson Brothers show in Ellenburg Depot is always a joyous event.  They perform fairly frequently in the North Country, as this part of northern New York is known, because they've become the go-to group to perform for a variety of benefits in the region.  This concert was sponsored by a local organization supporting elder housing.  Perhaps the title song of their new CD "Help My Brother" grows from this environment.

The Gibson Brothers - Help My Brother - Video

Eric and Leigh with their fine band, put together to support the music and sound they create, sang songs from their large catalog including many from their new CD, "Help My Brother" which reached #1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts this month.  This is the sixth consecutive Gibson Brothers album to top the charts. It displays, with increasing power, the confidence the Gibsons have in their own song writing and the sure touch they have developed as a touring band.  Their ability to work off the cuff without a standard set list or humor routines shows their increasing sense of exactly who they are and how to communicate themselves to their audience. Each set is built in response to the audience's reactions and requests.  While being especially relaxed in their home setting before what is always an extremely friendly audience, they always hit the right note personally as well as musically.  This relaxed sensibility pervades their performances wherever they appear,  ranging with increasing breadth throughout the U.S. and increasingly in Europe, too.  They leave for the Yukon and British Columbia right after next week's Strawbery Park. Last year they traveled to Ireland.  Their audience of loyal supporters grows with every performance.

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

 Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Due to a previous commitment, Joe Walsh could not appear with the Gibson Brothers at this concert. It was a delight to Jesse Brock, a long-time friend of the band and former winner of the IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year award as a substitute.

Jesse Brock
The crowd, the band, the setting, the weather, and the music all affected this concert.  Not only does "Help My Brother" top the BU chart, it's also at the top of the album chart of Bluegrass Music Profiles magazine as is their single "Walking West to Memphis" by Chris Henry.  Here's this hit as performed on Friday evening.

The Gibson Brothers - Walking West to Memphis - Video

Eric Gibson and Erin Gibson LaClaire

A Gibson Brothers show in Ellenburg Depot often turns into a family affair.  Their sister, Erin, now teaches second grade at Northern Adirondack, where she happily stays home with her husband Matt and their children.  In earlier years she sang with her brothers, mostly in church, and people coming to see the Brothers at home are always eager to hear Erin sing with them.  She sang three songs on Friday evening, including the one she's recorded with her brothers.  Here's "The Lighthouse."

Erin Gibson LaClaire with The Gibson Brothers
The Lighthouse

Eric's song Kelly, named after his grandfather, also played a song he had written.  I think this is the first time he'd soloed from the stage.

Kelly Gibson


So what does all this add up to. A hard working band that  has achieved remarkable success based on years of touring together, building their repertoire, writing the best original work performed by any band, and never ceasing to be themselves.  Their harmonies have become the gold standard, rivaling the best brother duos of all time.  Their stage presence and performance skills seem natural, but grow from their comfort with each other and confidence in their audience, two shy men who prefer not to over-sell themselves always being wry and funny. All this comes at the moment the IBMA ballots are in the hands or on the computer screens of members preparing to undertake the first stage of the nomination process for bands, recordings,  and individuals. The Gibson Brothers deserve serious consideration for Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Album of the Year, and several individual awards.  'Nuf said....

Eric & Leigh Gibson

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tony Trischka at Bellows Falls Opera House - VT

Tony Trischka
Bellows Falls, Vermont is one of those old mill towns in central Vermont along the Connecticut River that's seen better days.  The river provided power and the railroad transportation well into the twentieth century, but the mills have closed and the railroad doesn't go here any more.  The town, however, has beautiful, old Victorian homes and a quaint downtown. Tucked into the downtown redevelopment area is the Bellows Falls Opera House, a restored theater being developed as a performing arts center and movie theater, provides a delightful space for concerts and shows.  Manager Howie Ires has ambitious plans to develop subscription performing arts center offering a range of artists. Last Thursday's performance by Tony Trischka & Territory drew an excellent crowd to hear one of the world's foremost banjo players play with his latest band. Local group Hot Mustard, a promising traditional bluegrass band opened for Trischka. 

Tony Trischka & Territory

Tony Trischka's warm personality and generous spirit showed through in every moment of the show, as he highlighted each member of his band while performing material from his three most recent CD's and talked about many of his career highlights. Only the night before he had opened for Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers before 1700 people in Portland, Maine and here he was in the small town of Bellows Falls. Born in Syracuse, New York in 1949, Tony was inspired to start playing the banjo in 1963 on hearing the Kingston Trio play Charlie on the MTA (Wikipedia), played with several progressive bands in the sixties and seventies, making his recording debut in 1971.  As a teacher, he is known as Bela Fleck's teacher.  Fleck joined him as one of the world's great innovators on the instrument.  His best selling and highly regarded Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular forged new ground, as well as introducing Steve Martin as a banjo composer and picker.  His latest CD, Territory, perhaps gets its new name by the new territory it explores.  With guest players like Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, and Bill Keith, the CD, according to the liner notes exhibits "fearless musical curiosity" as it explores the potential of this often maligned instrument, which came to the America from Africa in our earliest days.  Trischka has long been in leader in exploring the limits of this cranky instrument as well as displaying its traditional repertoire and sounds.  In songs like his single string virtuoso piece and much more traditional bluegrass works like "Dark Hollow" he showed its and his virtuosity and versatility. 

Tony Trischka & Territory - The Crowe by Steve Martin

Brandon Rickman
As guest singer, guitarist with Territory, Brandon Rickman did a stellar job presenting music he's not generally associated with as well as a couple of songs he performs in his regular gig with The Lonesome River Band.  His Cold Rain and Snow cries out with the loneliness of a failing marriage while I Bought Her a Dog describes the process of a new, young husband being tamed by a wife eager for domestic bliss.  Brandon can be heard in his solo album Young Man, Old Soul in which he shows his versatility as a singer and as a song writer.  His excellent flat picking showed his breadth in a way not always possible with LRB despite the somewhat muddy sound delivered by the sound crew. 

Mike Barnett

Mike Barnett, while only twenty years ago, has been showing his chops in and around Boston as well as nationally for several years.  We first saw him at Strawbery Park the day before his high school graduation three years ago.  He cruises through the violin and fiddle reportory with apparent ease, providing a perfect foil for the sounds of the banjo with his mellow fiddling.

Skip Ward

Skip Ward on bass has toured with country stars, played jazz in New York clubs, and provided the kind of solid versatility that helps complete the Territory sound.  Skip's Facebook profile describes him this way, 
"Skip Ward is a classically-trained jazz musician with a penchant for rock n' roll. And fusion, blues and bluegrass. In fact, Skip can play in just about anything with a rhythm section, and has had experience in too many genres and styles to count. He plays four, five and six string electric and acoustic fretted and fretless basses, and has a special love for the upright." In his performance with Territory, he showed his strengths as a solid back-bone for the band as well as a strong and humorous soloist. 

Bring all these fine musicians together with the musical vision of Tony Trischka and you have a tour de force of musical inventiveness and outreach.  Trischka's music is frequently challenging and always accessible, a pretty neat trick. His personality, open and approachable, makes his music the same.  Here's an example from his recent CD Territory.  DeFord Bailey was the first black member of the Grand Old Opry, performing there from 1927 until 1941.  Several years ago, Tony heard his song Fox Chase and was inspired to pay tribute to it with his own version, sung below by Brandon Rickman.  It shows Trischka as both a historian and a person with a deep respect for his instrument's traditions as well as its possibilities. 

Tony Trischka & Territory - Fox Chase - Video

Skip Ward & Tony Trischka

Hot Mustard

Hot Mustard, opening for Tony Trischka on his four day swing through New England, has seemingly come from nowhere to increasing prominence on the New England bluegrass scene.  Having formed after Bruce Stockwell, long admired as a fine banjo picker and teacher, and Bill Jubett received a state arts grant to work on double banjo manterial, the band won the 2010 Jenny Brook band contest.  They began appearing at small venues in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, and in 2011 will be appearing at eight New England festivalsTheir combination of traditional bluegrass along with inventive stylings and funky banjo duos make for a lively and enjoyable program.  The two couples clearly enjoy each other's company.  Bruce Stockwell, who teaches at Banjo Camp North each year, is a banjo master too little recognized on the national stage, even though he won the 2005 Merlefest banjo contest. April Hobart on guitar and lead vocals has a fine bluegrass voice and plays solid rhythm guitar.  Bill Jubett easily exchanges leads with Bruce in their banjo duos, plays fiddle on some numbers, and sings harmony with April, who will become his wife in a couple of months. Kelly Stockwell plays a driving bass with energy, inventiveness, and intelligence.  The combination is worth seeing and hearing. They hope to go into the studio to record this fall.

Bruce Stockwell

April Hobart

Bill Jubett

Kelly Stockwell
Below is a video of one of their more inventive pieces, in which they combine three early jazz numbers into what they call their jazz medley.  Other pieces of theirs can be found on my YouTube channel, and more will be featured on our FB Fan Page "Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure

Hot Mustard - Jazz Medley - Video

For music lovers, bluegrass fans, and, most of all, banjo aficionados, the Tony Trischka mini-tour of New England last week was a remarkable event.  Look for both of these bands near you.  We want to thank The Bellows Falls Opera House for assisting us in attending this event.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival - Preston, CT - Preview

The Strawberry Park Amphitheater

Two weeks from today the Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival kicks off with one of its best lineups ever, running from June 2 - June 5.  This is quite a feat for a festival many had given up on only a few months ago because of the bankruptcy proceedings facing the ownership of Strawberry Park Resort Campground.  Apparently, the signature events of this fine campground serve to make it more attractive for potential investors and the festival has been given the go-ahead. The Lineup includes old Strawberry Park favorites and some people either new to the venue or returning after several years absence.  There is a liberal salting of IBMA award winners in multiple categories. Dailey & Vincent, Claire Lynch, Kristin Scott Benson, Larry Stephenson, The Gibson Brothers, Adam Steffey, Ron Stewart, Russell Moore, IIIrd Tyme Out, and The Grascals have all been recognized by their peers. Several of these bands are either new to the festival or returning after some years absence.

Strawberry Park, located in Preston, CT is a full service campground where this bluegrass festival has been a feature for over thirty years.  The natural amphitheater is well shaded and presents fine natural sight lines. Cobra Sound has provided excellent sound for the past several years. The company knows bluegrass music and what it should sound like.  Emcee duties will be shared by Kym Cyr, Jim Beaver, Glen Huffner, and Lisa Husted at the main stage.  You can order tickets on line here or by calling the park for tickets or camping reservations at 1-888-794-7944.

Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa

Emory Lester

The Boxcars

Adam Steffey

Strawberry Park Main Stage Schedule
6:00PM Katie Wilson & The Two Time String Band
7:15PM Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa
8:45PM The Boxcars

IIIrd Tyme Out

Russell Moore

Amy Gallatin

Dailey & Vincent

Darin Vincent

FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2011
12:00PM Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa
1:00PM Della Mae
2:00PM The Boxcars
3:00PM IIIrd Tyme Out
4:00PM Amy Gallatin
5:00PM Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa
6:00PM The Boxcars
7:00PM Della Mae
8:00PM Dailey & Vincent
9:30PM IIIrd Tyme Out

 Claire Lynch

The Greencards
Carol Young

Kym Warner

The Grascals

Kristin Scott Benson

The Gibson Brothers
Eric & Leigh
Amphitheatre Main Stage
12:00PM Claire Lynch
1:00PM The Greencards
2:00PM Dry Branch Fire Squad
3:00PM Grascals Amp
4:00PM Gibson Brothers
5:00PM Claire Lynch
6:00PM Dry Branch Fire Squad
7:00PM Gibson Brothers
8:15PM The Greencards
9:30PM Grascals

 THE FOLK STAGE on Saturday hosted by Jim Christensen
11:30 -The Kennedys
 1:00 - Tripping Lily
 2:30 - Dave Mallett
 4:00 - Sally Rogers & Howie Bursen
 5:30 - Darin & Brooke Aldridge in a Special Folk Stage Set
 7:00 - Vance Gilbert
 8:30 - The Haymakers (Rani Arbo & Mark Erilli

Dry Branch Fire Squad
Ron Thomason

The Larry Stephenson Band

Larry Stephenson

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Hot Mustard

SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 2011
Our Sunday morning Gospel Hour will be hosted by the Dry Branch Fire Squad
10:00AM Dry Branch Fire Squad
11:15AM Larry Stephenson
12:15PM Darin & Brooke Aldridge
1:15PM Amy Gallatin
2:15PM Hot Mustard
3:15PM Larry Stephenson

As at any good festival, however, Strawberry Park isn't just about the main stage.  The Park is well-known as a strong jamming event, with a whole baseball field devoted to jams large and small on a plateau above the main campground.  Sadly, Kids Academy will not be held this year, because the Festival was unable to secure a sponsor for the event.  Everyone hopes this popular feature can be re-started next year.  The Folk Stage was held in the large meeting room over the snack bar last year.  There's a workshop tent on the ball field near where the jammers congregate.

The Workshop Stage

The Folk Stage

But suppose you or members of your family tire of music during the weekend.  Well...you can eat at the snack bar, swim in one of three pools, bounce on the bouncer, play bingo, shop or eat wholesome food at the vendors, or just take a walk in the woods.

The Pools

The Bouncer



Meanwhile, people in the campground party into the night and jam all night in areas where there are no quiet hours.  In other words, Strawberry Park is one of the most comprehensive sites for a bluegrass festival there is.  So come on out.  We'll be getting there on Tuesday and look forward to seeing you during the weekend.  Please make sure to say "Hi" to us.

How to Get to Strawberry Park