Friday, June 3, 2011

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival 2011 - Th

One of the most enjoyable elements of arriving early at a bluegrass festival is to watch the venue change and reform itself as the bluegrass community arrives, settles in, and prepares for another long weekend of music and fellowship.  We had the added excitement, as well as distress, in watching on Wednesday night as tornadoes and warnings rolled through the region. Tornadoes are not standard events in New England, so the twister hitting Springfield on Wednesday evening was more than a little unusual. We watched the TV in horror as we saw the devastating effect too close to home and then the computer as the storms passed north and south of us here in Preston, while nary a drop of rain fell here.  Thursday was clear fine, although a quite windy, as the weekend's festivities opened for a four day run with a mandolin workshop by Emory Lester with Wayne Taylor backing him up on his fine new Martin D35 waveback guitar.

Mando Workshop with Emory Lester

Emory Lester is a subtle, thoughtful, and marvelously expressive mandolin player who has clear ideas about how to create and produce mandolin music.  His workshop emphasized intuitive playing combined with practice and variety.  His series of duo recordings with clawgrass banjo innovator Mark Johnson shows much of his wonderful diversity.  In his workshop he impishly made fun of the fast, but often content free, play of many younger mandolin players while showing he could produce cascades of notes with the best of them.  Meanwhile, he emphasized melody and cooperation.  He was supported by Wayne Taylor, whose band, Appaloosa,  Emory plays in, who helped keep the focus on Emory's teaching while showing his own strengths as both a rhythm and flat picking guitarist.  It was a most enjoyable session.

Emory Lester

Wayne Taylor

Emory Lester & Wayne Taylor

The Ball Field Parking Area

Katie Wilson & The Two Time String Band

Katie Wilson and her band won the 2010 Podunk band contest.  She opened the festival with a good set. Sadly, I was unable to get the names of her band members.

Katie Wilson

Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa

Wayne Taylor, after years as lead singer and front man for the U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band Country Current retired several years ago to form his own band Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa.  As the band has toured, it has grown ever tighter and stronger.  Emory Lester on mandolin provides a perfect relaxed counterpoint to Wayne's intensity. Taylor is a fine song writer, singer, and guitar player.  He has surrounded himself with excellent players who are stand-outs in their own right.  It's a delight to see banjo player Mark Delaney back with the band, and Kene Hyatt is ever strong on bass.  The song selection is always interesting and varied.  Wayne's rendering of "Proud to Be an American" is always a stirring presentation, and his repertoire is both wide and deep.
Mark Delaney

 Emory Lester

Keene Hyatt

The Boxcars
Adam Steffey has drawn together the band he's been seeking for several years.  Filled with performing talent at every position and strengthened by the song writing of Keith Garrett, The Boxcars stand as a strong candidate for Emerging Artist of the Year as well as other IBMA awards.  With Ron Stewart and Jon Bowman switching instruments as fiddler and banjoist, the band has huge flexibility.  Harold Nixon is always animated and accurate at bass.  Steffey's enthusiasm is contagious; the band always seems to be having fun while performing at a high level.
Adam Steffey
Keith Garrett

Ron Stewart
Harold Nixon
John Bowman

While Thursday evening was a bit chilly, it was warmed by the quality of the music.  Both Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa have two sets on Friday and there's a fine choice of other bands.  The sun is rising and it's warming up as I write this.  Come on out if you live within driving distance.