Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival - Sunday & Final Assessment

When I peeked through the curtain of our room on Sunday morning, it was pouring outside - gray, wet, dark, nasty.  Arriving at Martin Park, we saw a couple of tents had been knocked down by the rain and the site was soaked.  The base paths were a sea of mud.  By nine, the sky had brightened a bit, but it was still pretty threatening out.  When our friend Donna Ulisse and her band reached the stage, there were hints in the sky that it would clear, but as she began her gospel set, the seats were, sadly, largely empty.  Too many people were missing another of the standout performances that characterized this festival during its entire four days.

Donna Ulisse & the Poor Mountain Boys

Donna Ulisse has paid her dues.  She came to Nashville from her home in Hampton, VA in the late 1980's with a country singing contract and did quite well through a couple of recordings with a video and such.  When her record company dropped her contract, she disappeared from public view while making a living using her mellow and supple voice to record demo records for other artists and developing a large catalog of her own compositions.  Several years ago, Keith Sewell looked at her catalog, heard her sing, and convinced her to put out the first of her three bluegrass recordings.  While not an established public performer, her music struck a positive chord with satellite radio, and her cuts began to get recognition.  Since then, her renditions of her own songs have had regular air play and she has cut an increasingly wider swath in bluegrass venues and at festivals.  We've known and admired her for a couple of years and been increasingly impressed with her growing confidence on the guitar and always wonderfully expressive singing voice, the ideal instrument for delivering her tuneful and thought provoking songs. Her band, a group of deeply experienced bluegrass musicians provides the supporting structure that complements her voice, making her an entirely believable and enjoyable bluegrass artist.

Donna Ulisse

Rick Stanley

Greg Davis
John Martin

 Bobby King

 Donna's opening set contained material from her successful gospel album, "Holy Water," a collection of her own songs as well as material from the standard bluegrass gospel repertoire.  Sorry about not having any video of this set, but it was still raining.  More coming from the second set.  Suffice it to say, her material was both inspiring and moving as the too few people assembled enjoyed her fine performance.  

Katie Wilson and the Two Time String Band contributed a reprise set of their material from Saturday's performance.  Once again, she acquitted herself well and bears watching.

Katie Wilson & the Two Time String Band

 Katie Wilson
Podunk Kids Academy

The Podunk Kids Academy worked for two days preparing for their annual performance on Sunday morning at the festival.  Under the leadership of Tim St. Jean and Vickie Baker with a staff of experienced bluegrass teacher/musicians, the kids came through with flying colors, singing and playing and showing their potential.  Keep it up, gang!

Tim St. Jean

 Click on the Photo below to go to a Web Album for a large selection of
Kits Academy Pictures. Enjoy

Podunk Kids Academy 2011

The Band Competition

Based on more than twenty applications, five bands were chosen to compete in the band competition at Podunk. They were given thirty minutes to construct a complete set to include their unique interpretation of the winning song in the song writing competition. The five bands were the strongest we had seen since we started attending Podunk, varied in their style, sound, and background.  Here are the five bands in their order of appearance:

Grass Pistols - Russia
Mikhail Dushin & Tatiana Pachenova

Reunion Hill Band - New England
Kevin O'Connor, Rich Schleckser, Rick Horton, Dave Ward

Jim Gaudet & the Railroad Boys - New York
Tim Wechgelaer, Bob Ristau, Jim Gaudett, Sten Isachsen

Travers Chandler & Avery County
Eddie Gill, Travers Chandler, Jessica Smith, 
Terry McGill, Merl Johsnon

The Judges
Arnie Fleisher, Ken Irwin, Wayne Bledsoe

With the sun now shining bright and steam rising from the grounds, the day had turned into a hot, but delightful opportunity to enjoy the bands.  Donna Ulisse & the Poor Mountain Boys took the stage again to complete the musical part of the day while the judges tallied their sheets and then met with each band to provide them with feedback concerning their performances.  Here are a couple of Donna's songs from her second set.

Donna Ulisse - This Old Hand Me Down Home - Video

Donna Ulisse - In My Wildest Dreams - Video

The Contest Winners
Third Place - Grass Pistols

Second Place - Reunion Hill

First Place - Travers Chandler & Avery County

Roger Moss, Executive Director of the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, brings an inventive, creative mind to the task of putting a festival together along with the ability to inspire volunteers to work long hours for no pay in the service of putting on a festival that once again lived up to the IBMA Event of the Year award it earned last year.  His ability to see opportunities for making connections between various elements is a quality that makes Podunk exceptional.  By drawing together the song contest and the band competition, Roger has improved the design of both. The workshop schedule goes way beyond the typical festival workshop design, with heavy emphasis on providing opportunities for emerging bluegrass professionals to learn and grow.  Expanding the mission of Kids Academy and bringing Louisa Branscomb for her day-long song writing workshop are just two of the many innovations he continues to produce.  As a finale, here's the song Louisa and her song writing workshop wrote performed by Donna Ulisse & the Poor Mountain Boys:
Podunk Family Reunion - Video