Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival - Saturday

The bane of every bluegrass promoter's dreams...a rainy Saturday, which suppresses the drive-in crowd so essential to making a profit in this difficult and risky business.  Nevertheless, an enthusiastic, though often soaked, crowd remained good-natured and attentive as some of the best bands in the business performed for them.  Highlights of this day included the return to action of J.D. Crowe after breaking his arm back in February, the first appearance of Michael Cleveland with, essentially, a brand new Flamekeeper band, and the emergence of an exciting new band, The Hillbenders.  The day was satisfying and delightful with the rain adding a degree of extra seasoning to the mix.

Pete & Joan Wernick with Don Rigsby

This group of seasoned pros can always be counted on for a good set of traditional and new music.  I wrote about them yesterday, but wanted to put their pictures up again today anyway.

Pete Wernick

Joan Wernick

Don Rigsby

Ira Gitlin

Dry Branch Fire Squad

There's a relative paucity of humor found in bluegrass music. Ron Thomason of Dry Branch Fire Squad does more than his share to help fill this gap with his mixture of topical humor, wry social commentary, and serious views combined with fervent gospel and driving traditional bluegrass music.  For those not familiar with his unique combination of humor and music, the band's CD from a couple of years ago, Live at Newburyport Firehouse, provides an excellent sample.

Ron Thomason

Brian Aldridge

Tom Boyd

Dan Russell

 The Hillbenders

I haven't highlighted a new band that really excited me in a while, but The Hillbenders, making their first appearance at Gettysburg and relatively new on the road, deserve to be recognized, applauded, and seen.  This band, fronted by the talented Nolan Lawrence, a participant in the Mast Farm Inn Singer/Songwriter seminars last August, is filled with liveliness and drive.  While skirting the edges of bluegrass, they clearly reflect the shoulders on which they stand, acknowledging their roots with respect and gratitude.  Jimmy Rea on guitar joins Lawrence as a writing power as well as a dynamic performer.  His song "Red Stains" particularly caught my attention.  It's a particular pleasure to see Chad Graves join a band that suits his style and groove.  Mark Cassidy on banjo is strong as is Gary Rea on bass.  Nolan really showed his chops when he sang The Star Spangled Banner with his trained voice on Sunday afternoon to a crowd ovation and then came back with his excellent bluegrass voice...a neat trick.  Listen to The Hillbenders and ask  your local promoter to book them. You'll be able to say you heard them before.....

Nolan Lawrence

Jimmy Rea
Chad Graves

Mark Cassidy

Gary Rea

The Hillbenders - Take Me Away - Video

J.D. Crowe & the New South

Ever since mid-February when J.D. Crowe slipped while getting off his bus on the way to the Joe Val Festival in Boston, his friends and fans have been concerned about his making a full comeback.  They need worry no longer. J.D. and his band hit the stage on Saturday afternoon with enthusiasm and energy. His picking was strong and sure, and the very strong band he's assembled around himself provides precisely the support he wants.  Ricky Wasson's voice delivers the New South material in a strong baritone voice with a delightful gravelly bottom.  Dwight McCall's tenor vocals and mandolin work combines with Matt DeSpain's Dobro and low harmonies.  Kyle Perkins on bass is always there and strong.  I chatted with J.D. at his merch table after the show. He said he's been able to come back faster than he anticipated.  He's worked hard at his rehab, although he's not as strong as he thinks he needs to be yet and seemed to tire a little easily.  Have no fear, however, as J.D. is determined to continue his rehab exercises until he no longer feels any loss of function.  Since he certainly knows his own capabilities better than any listener, he probably hears deficits none of the rest of us do.

J.D. Crowe

Ricky Wasson

Dwight McCall

 Matt DeSpain

Kyle Perkins

The Grascals

The Grascals always hit the stage with conviction and energy, committed to providing a lively and musical show filled with strongly motivated fun.  This much awarded band, which came together as a group of sidemen playing a regular gig at The Station Inn in Nashville, has remained quite stable, with changes at only fiddle and banjo since they began.  Kristin Scott Benson has since been named Banjo Player of the Year at IBMA three straight times. Jeremy Abshire on fiddle is an excellent player.  The four remaining original members continue to sell the band's material with huge enthusiasm.  The Grascals, because of their associations with people like Dolly Parton and Hank Williams, Jr. have been able to spread bluegrass music to a wider audience, bringing new people under the bluegrass tent.  They have a new album available at Cracker Barrell and their merchandise table at festivals consisting of songs done with established country stars singing bluegrass material.  Their recent band album, The Famous Lefty Flynn's, is also still very much available. 

Terry Eldredge

Terry Smith

Jamey Johnson

Kristin Scott Benson

  Jeremy Abshire

Kristin Scott Benson & J.D. Crowe

Dailey & Vincent

Dailey & Vincent brought their carefully produced and highly entertaining show to Gettysburg for a single ninety minute set.  The ninety minute set has become pretty standard for this highly awarded and multi-talented band, allowing fans to get the whole piece in one evening presentation. Meanwhile, the highly polished act continues to put fans in the seats just long enough so they can get up to cheer.

Jamie Dailey & Darin Vincent

Happy Birthday Abbie Winkleman

Jeff Parker

Joe Dean

Jesse Stockman

Christian Davis

The Seldom Scene

The Seldom Scene, founded in 1971, is in its fortieth year of performing a unique blend of bluegrass, folk, and rock classics in a bluegrass style featuring smooth harmonies and a relaxed, almost ironic sense of humor.  Recently, their biggest problem is that their fans are so familiar with their vast catalog of songs they have no need to create new material because their standard material is in such demand.  Their on stage chemistry reflects the era they came from and their ongoing strength as a band. While banjo player Ben Eldridge is the only remaining original member, the Scene has been remarkably successful at preserving their original sound and keeping it fresh.

Ben Eldridge

Dudley Connell

Lou Reid

Fred Travers

Ronnie Simpkins

Regan Michelle, Ch. Annie Reid, Irene Lehmann

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

Knowledgeable fans at Gettysburg were waiting to see who would take the stage as Michael Cleveland's band Flamekeeper on Saturday afternoon. Discussion had been flying around the grounds concerning the breakup of the band with the announcement that Marshall Wilborn, Jesse Brock, and Tom Adams had left the band. I've only heard rumors about the circumstances, so I won't even try to add to them. Suffice it to say that everyone I talked with about this issue over the weekend was sad to see these fine musicians who are also extraordinary people have to leave a band that had coalesced into the Instrumental Band of the Year for several years running.  The effect on their careers and Michael's band remains to be seen and will emerge as the coming year passes. It's sad to see these fine people on the sidelines for the coming festival year. Meanwhile four strong musicians steeped in traditional bluegrass music playing together on stage for the first time as Flamekeeper aren't an adequate substitute for a seasoned, tight organization that's gone through steady transitions, but has maintained its core personnel for several years.

Dave Peterson's strong commitment to traditional bluegrass music and David Harvey's wonderful Monroe style mandolin play were excellent. Charlie Cushman on banjo is a master of many styles of play.  Andy Todd on bass, who I don't remember having heard play before, did his job in solid fashion. Mike Cleveland played his heart out, but I missed hearing Jerusalem Ridge and The Lee Highway Blues. However, I must confess to having gone to bed as he was taking the stage at the late end of a long and wet Saturday night.  In the end, we can only wish this extraordinary young man who has dominated bluegrass fiddle for years success in drawing together a new band that can continue to represent his music and bluegrass as well as it has in the past.

Michael Cleveland

 Charlie Cushman

David Peterson

David Harvey

J.D. Crowe & Miss Annie Reid
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