Tuesday, March 27, 2012

RenoFest 2012 - Review

RenoFest, held annually on the fourth weekend in March in Hartsville, SC, represents the sort of effort a town and a group of dedicated bluegrass people can make to offer a niche event which draws an audience and spotlights a town without risking breaking the bank.  By placing its emphasis on band and instrument contests, RenoFest has established itself as a significant player in bluegrass.  A look at the previous winners suggests the quality of past entries. This year's contests were especially distinguished in the instrument categories. Furthermore, host band Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition as well as other national bands Big Country Bluegrass and perennial favorite IIIrd Tyme Out also entertain. Under the leadership of City Attorney Marty Driggers and supported by city agencies and private support, RenoFest keeps itself manageable while, at the same time, spotlighting this friendly small city.

The Band Contests

Friday afternoon was dominated by the band contests as well an evening barbecue in a town park in which a couple of bands played and the three winning bands had an opportunity to perform.  This years winning band, The Hinson Girls, was characterized by attractiveness and youth as well as instrumental precociousness. They won a cash award and a guaranteed gig at next year's festival.  Runners up were The Smith Family and Ridge Side, a newly formed band led by Josh Green.  The judges overlooked one deserving band from North Georgia called Blue Billy Grit.  At least one contest we attend makes sure bands get feedback from the judges, a worthwhile practice RenoFest should consider. 

The Smith Family - Runner Up

Ridge Side - Third Place

The Hinson Girls

Katelyn Hinson

Kristen Hinson 
Melissa Hinson

 Alison Hinson
The Hinson Girls - Momma Don't Allow - Video

Friday Evening Barbecue

The Four Virginia Luthiers


Guitar Contest - Ben Cockman - Winner
Rob Jordan, Ben Cockman, Gerald Anderson (Luthier)

 Danny Smith, Randy Lucas, Rob Jordan
Ben Cockman, Gerald Anderson

Ben Cockman w/Four Luthiers - I'll Fly Away - Video

Banjo Winner
Steve Lewis
Gary Pressley, Cameron Norris, Steve Lewis
Luthier Ronnie Bales, Rob Jordan

 Ronnie Bales & Steve Lewis

The Bands
Carolina Blue

Carolina Blue, the winner of last year's RenoFest band contest, continues to impress as a solidly professional band singing in a traditional fashion while including strong original material.  They're tight and well schooled, presenting themselves well at all times.

Bobby Powell

Tim Jones

 Reese Combs
Don Austin

Carolina Blue - Simon Crutchfield's Grave - Video

The Four Virginia Luthiers
Wayne Henderson

Spencer Strickland

Jimmy Edmonds

Gerald Anderson

The four luthiers each contributed to making the winning guitar, and three of them have worked for significant periods of time in Wayne Henderson's shop. Beyond that, they're each seasoned performers, which was well demonstrated on both Friday and Saturday at RenoFest.

The Four Virginia Luthiers - Temperance Reel - Video

Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition

Banjo great and song writer Don Reno, Ronnie's Dad, was a South Carolina native who Hartsville chose to name this festival after. Ronnie Reno and his band have been the host band since the festival's inception, bringing a nostalgic selection of music largely culled from Don Reno and, later, the Reno Brothers' music. The band is solid and entertaining.

Ronnie Reno

Mike Scott
Jackie Miller

John Mayberry

Robin Smith

Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition - Mr. Coachman - Video

Big Country Bluegrass
Big Country Bluegrass is currently experiencing some personnel changes and members are facing health issues. The band we saw was augmented by two substitutes (the great Junior Sisk and Billy Hawks) reflecting this. The band serves up traditional bluegrass in a traditional fashion with lead singer Eddie Gill perpetuating the high lonesome sound so loved by many.  Lynwood Lunsford on Scruggs style banjo is always strong and the band works with enthusiasm.

Tommy Sells

Theresa Sells

Lynwood Lunsford
Junior Sisk

Billy Hawks

Eddie Gill

 Tony King

Big Country Bluegrass - High Allegheny - Video

Gary Payne - Sound

IIIrd Tyme Out
In its twentieth year on the road IIIrd Tyme Out continues as one of the most musically solid and personally entertaining bands in all bluegrass. Serving up a mixture of traditional and more contemporary fare along with some non-bluegrass tunes like "Only You," they always make contact with their audiences on an authentic level. Russell Moore is viewed by his contemporaries as Mr. Lead Singer. They remain a "don't miss" band.

Russell Moore

Steve Dilling

Wayne Benson

Justin Haynes

 Edgar Loudermilk

RenoFest is one of those festivals you don't hear about as often as larger and more publicized events. Nevertheless, it's a very worthwhile two day event that fans wishing to see and hear new groups as well as established ones should seriously consider. There's also a good deal of after hours jamming at local motels.