Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gettysburg 2012 - Sunday & Assessment

We've never been to a bluegrass festival which holds its audience very far into Sunday. Some festivals showcase bands or have a band contest on Sunday. Merlefest schedules blockbuster headliners as closers on Sunday. Others offer a gospel oriented half day which sort of fizzles out in the late morning or early afternoon as people leave. The MACC (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer) offers a four day summer festival beginning on Wednesday Some festivals have given up Sunday altogether, finishing their program on Saturday night. The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival offers a strong Sunday lineup beginning with a Gospel show with Dry Branch Fire Squad, presenting a couple of very strong newish bands, always featuring the Seldom Scene for a long set on Sunday mid-day, and closing this year with Danny Paisley's high powered and traditional program. I watched in dismay as the crowd trickled out during the day, leaving only a hard-core small group to finish out the day. Regardless, it was a day filled with fine music and rewarding performances.

Dry Branch Fires Sqaud
I covered DBFS in greater detail yesterday, but they were in fine form on Sunday morning, offering Ron Thomason's unique combination of raw traditional  bluegrass and topical, relevant humor. He's appeared at every Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and is an institution there. There are more pictures of this band on Saturday's entry.

The Hillbenders

The Hillbenders have stepped up to another level, as has the next band Della Mae.  The Benders are tighter and their musical is more melodic while also reaching new levels of energy and commitment to their music. Nolan Lawrence's wonderful baritone voice has great range and suppleness. Jimmy Rea, on guitar and vocals, is a whirling dervish of energy. Mark Cassidy, a graduate of Alan Munde's South Plains College program in Texas, has Munde's combination of Scruggs and melodic styles down to a T.  Chad Graves, on Dobro, has matured and improved on his instrument as well as continuing to be an energetic force.  Gary Rea on bass and harmony vocals is also strong. If you haven't seen the Hillbenders yet, you need to keep an eye out for them. They are clearly a bluegrass band influenced by the music they grew up with. While they can't say how they did, look for them on "America's Got Talent."

Nolan Lawrence
Jimmy Rea

  Mark Cassidy

Gary Rea

Chad Graves

 Chad Graves, Mark Cassidy, Nolan Lawrence

Della Mae

Della Mae is NOT a girl band; it's a bluegrass band.  Each of the women in the band is a first rate instrumentalist and their singing is better than good. The recent addition of Shelby Means at bass keeps the vibe of the band very strong while their musicality is superb.  They sing enough traditional bluegrass to let fans know they've toiled in the fields of the genre, while vocalist Celia Woodsmith's rock/blues inflected vocals cover a wide range of possible directions for the band to go.  Kimber Ludiker, an award winning fiddler, is powerful, while Jenni Lyn Gardner, on mandolin, holds up her end of the line with grace and ability.  Courtney Hartman is a versatile, fast flat picker.  This year the band will be appearing at DelFest, Telluride, and Grey Fox as well as a number of more traditional events. Catch them wherever you can. 

Celia Woodsmith

Kimber Ludiker
Jenni Lyn Gardner
Courtney Hartman

 Shelby Means

 Seldom Scene

Seldom Scene represented a revolutionary change in bluegrass when it appeared in 1971. It's smooth sound and use presentation of bluegrassed versions of folk and rock songs from the period was greeted with derision and huge enthusiasm. Now, forty years later, their once unique sound has influenced generations of bluegrass pickers and fans. Their catalog is so familiar to their fans they can play multiple sets selected from their extraordinarily deep catalog.  Some fans will argue the present aggregation "just isn't the same" as the original band, but as the only Seldom Scene we've encountered, they are one of the most exciting and energizing band going.The most recent addition to the band has been with them for seventeen years.  While somewhat captive to the demands of their historically oriented fan base, they deliver. Ben Eldridge is the only original member of the band remaining. Dudley Connell remains one of the most dynamic performers in the genre.

Dudley Connell

Ben Eldridge

Fred Travers

Ronnie Simpkins

Lou Reid

Dudley Connell
 The Roys

The Roys play a strongly country music influenced brand of bluegrass with a very heavy emphasis on the songs and character of Dolly Parton.  Brother/sister Lee and Elaine Roy are earnest and hard working. Their band - young and filled with hot pickers.  Their road appearances have shown strong development recently as daily performance and very hard work are paying off for them.  They are sponsored by Compassion International, a well-regarded charity organization.

Elaine Roy

Lee Roy

Clint White

Sterling Massatt

Harry Clark

 Danny Paisley & Southern Grass

Danny Paisley follows in his father's footsteps, keeping the sound and music of Bob Paisley alive while adding new material and contributing his distinctive traditional bluegrass voice. For some years he traveled with his brother and the two Lundy brothers who were in the original Southern Grass band or descended from it.  Recently, he has added his twelve year old son Ryan, a blooming mandolin player, and younger musicians to the mix, while continuing the hard-edged sound characteristic of this band. Paisley closed out this delightful Sunday afternoon of bluegrass music.

Danny Paisley

Doug Meek

Mark Delaney

 Eric Troutman

Ryan Paisley

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival Assessment: The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival has a distinguished history of presenting leading bluegrass bands from the full range of bluegrass music. Combining quite traditional bands like Audie Blaylock & Redline or the James King Band with cutting edge bands like Mountain Heart, The SteelDrivers, and the Hillbenders with in-the-pocket neo-traditional bands such as IIIrd Tyme Out, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, and Blue Highway, the festival offers a true feast to its many regular attendees. The event is very well run with excellent vendors, great sound provided by Southard Audio, first rate emcees, and a very convenient merchandise tent that's often crowded after each performance. The swimming pool, sand pit, pirate ship, and swings make this a perfect venue to bring children to. In August, the children's academy is first rate.  As usual, I would wish management were more aggressive in discouraging smoking, but most attendees try to be considerate. Beer and wine are sold on the premises, but I encountered little or no drunkenness.  Treating people like adults seems to work quite well here. 

 Granite Hill Resort Campground is extremely spacious, providing full hookup sites, water/electric ones, and what appears to be an almost unlimited amount of rough camping.  The staff works hard to keep the sometimes overburdened bath houses clean, while the porta-johns are emptied daily. Someone commented to me that clean porta-johns are more important than great music at festivals.  Rich Winkleman, the son-in-law of festival founders Joe and Lil Cornet is pleasant, accommodating, and knows when to keep out of the way of allowing the festival to create its own environment. Known as a festival often having rain, this year's Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival had perfect weather for four days, eliciting comments from performers and regulars.  The August Festival has another first-rate lineup.  While drawing primarily from Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Washington D.C., and northern Virginia, Gettysburg is truly a national festival and worth inclusion on every bluegrass fan's list of favorites.

Due to bandwidth restrictions, I've had difficulty uploading videos. Over the next few busy weeks, I'll try hard to get them up to my YouTube Channel as well as to embed them on the relevant pages here at the blog and featuring Gettysburg performances at Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure. Please visit each often to look for more Gettysburg additions as well as coverage of our usual festival schedule including Strawberry Park and Jenny Brook in June. Also look for some special events.