Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival - Sunday & Assessment

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival promoter Rich Winkleman likes to give good value for the customer dollar. One of his obvious commitments is to provide a strong Sunday lineup for people willing to stay long into the afternoon. Typically, a Sunday crowd starts leaving pretty early in the morning at most bluegrass festivals; perhaps show up for one or two acts before finishing packing and heading home.  Two of Gettysburg's major attractions have appeared for over thirty years on Sunday.  Dry Branch Fire Squad begins the day with a gospel set unlike anything one sees at southern festivals.  In the early afternoon, The Seldom Scene provides a long set characterized by its relaxed good humor and lively interaction with what remains of the audience.  The audience's familiarity with The Scene's content and the band's obvious enjoyment of the relationship contribute to a lively 75 minutes of entertainment. Sunday presented a particular problem as the weather decided to try to sum up the three previous days by alternating between sunshine and rain before ending with a mild thunderstorm that shut down the closing act.  As Lonesome Highway closed the afternoon, only a few dozen people remained, but all who decided to stay were treated to a first class show.

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad presented its Sunday gospel program, enriched this year by Ron Thomason's thoughts on the important loss of Hazel Dickens.  He sketched out the battle waged by Jock Jablonski to overthrow the corrupt regime of United Mine Workers president Tony Boyle, who had stolen the miner's black lung relief fund, making it impossible for the fund to provide for people sickened by breathing coal dust. His moving tribute credited Hazel Dickens with helping to defeat Boyle through her writing, film making, and courageous personal presence.  Later he sang "He's Coming To Us Dead," and found himself so moved by the audience response he had to take a few moments to regain control. Traditionally, at Gettysburg, the Dry Branch Fire Squad ends with the audience rising and singing together with the band "If I Could Touch the Hen of His Garment," a fitting end to a moving and enjoyable hour.

Ron Thomason

Brian Aldridge

Tom Boyd

Danny Russell

Ron Thomason

The Hillbenders

The Hillbenders offered a second set as strong as their first one. Nolan Lawrence's Natioanl Anthem wowed the crowd which stayed to see the strong, lively set the Hillbenders offer. Once again, I want to highlight them as my surprise band of the festival and applaud their thoughtful work at building a long-term career.

Nolan Lawrence

Jimmy Rea

Chad Graves

Mark Cassidy

Gary Rea

Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice

Junior Sisk has long been recognized as one of the finest traditional voices in bluegrass music. Deeply influenced by The Stanley Brothers and the Johnson Mountain Boys, Junior brings his own voice and style drawn from his Virginia roots while keeping older songs alive and introducing new work by his Dad Harry Sisk and his cousin Timmy Massey that sounds older than the hills. Junior's voice supported by a strong band makes him, still, a good candidate for consideration as emerging artist of the year at IBMA.

Junior Sisk

Timmy Massey

Jason Tomlin

Jason Davis

Billy Hawks
The Seldom Scene

The Seldom Scene has been playing one of the Sunday afternoon sets at Gettysburg for thirty years.  Their relaxed style and informal interactions with the many fans who stay to see them one more time create a Sunday environment that's both warm and musical regardless of the weather.  I really haven't much more to say about this band, but I like taking their pictures so much, I thought I'd put them in again.

Fred Travers

Ben Eldridge

Lou Reid
Ronnie Simpkins

Dudley Connell

Sally Love Connell
Linda & Hank Janney (emcee)

David Parmley & Continental Divide

David Parmley has been in ill health for the past several years and had severely restricted his touring schedule.  Restored to the pink, looking and sounding better than I've ever seen him he brought renewed energy and a strong, young band with him for his Sunday afternoon set.  The music reflected the many requests he'd received for material from his career with special emphasis on his years spent with his father Don Parmley's band The Bluegrass Cardinals.  His long time publicist, booking agent, and friend Randy Graham served as emcee, and the interplay between the two of them showed their warm relationship. One can only hope that they'll be able to succeed in finding plenty of new fans to add to the ones who've remained loyal to him for years.

David Parmley
Randy Graham

 Josh Hymer
Steve Day
Matt Wallace

Lonesome Highway

Every festival must have a closing act that, on Sunday must face increasing green space as fans pack up and head home to re-enter their world of work, chores, and living their real lives.  Lonesome Highway, a West Virginia band accepted this task with good grace and put on a first class performance before being stopped near the scheduled end of their set by flashes of lightning.  This band's work is highlighted by the song writing of guitarist Buddy Dunlap and deserves to be heard outside its current regional bounds.

Mason Wright
John Arnold

 Jimmy Kountz
Cody Brown
Buddy Dunlap

As rain and some electrical activity shut down the show, it's worthwhile to look back on the entire four days.  Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and the Granite Hill Campground are a fine combination for those seeking a long weekend of bluegrass music.  Gettysburg is convenient to the huge population living in the middle Atlantic states and offers an extremely strong and varied lineup.  The new stage serves as one of the best platforms for presenting bluegrass music anywhere.  Sound by Southern Audio is accurate and well modulated, always providing good listening and never becoming overwhelming, even for bands who present the loudest music. Gettysburg has some of the best food vendors to be found anywhere, offering a range of fair food and more wholesome entries.  The festival permits discreet consumption of alcohol and sells beer and wine on site.  Over-consumption of alcohol never presented a problem during the festival.  As is often the case at out door events, we would wish more effort were taken to restrain and localize smoking, which is offensive to the majority of people these days and damaging to musicians seeking to perform.

A friendly vibe pervades the event, where children can be found everywhere.  The fish pond, volley ball court turned sand box, and pirate ship offer a range of alternatives for active young people.  The staff of Granite Hill Campground is always helpful and used to dealing with large crowds.  If you're attending the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, it's worth your time and money to extend your visit to prowl around the lovely town of Gettysburg and the battlefield, which is one of the most important sites of the Civil War and, of course, the location of Lincoln's iconic speech.  We especially wish to thank the Campground and the Promoter Rich Winkleman for the courtesies extended to us, making it so much easier for us to cover the wonderful event.