Monday, March 18, 2013

First Annual Sweet Grass Music Festival - Review

The First Annual Sweet Grass Music Festival presented an all-star lineup in a relatively secluded glade on the edge of the Patriot's Point Naval & Marine Museum in Mt. Pleasant, SC across the majestic Ravenal Bridge from Charleston. Promoter Mike Murrell put together a well-organized affair with open space, plenty of quality vendors, clean porta-potties, and a world class lineup for a one day festival. A young and enthusiastic audience joined the more ordinary older crowd often found at bluegrass festivals to enjoy the day. Children ran, danced, and played. Beer was served while people acted like adults. Despite a brisk breeze and low humidity which cooled the site quickly after the sun set, the festival was a booming artistic success.

 U.S.S. Yorktown Looms Over the Nothin' Fancy

Common Ground

Alan Bibey, Melvin Cumbee, Susan Riddle

 Common Ground is a Charleston-based bluegrass band playing a pleasant mix of contemporary bluegrass and grassed modern country with just enough classic bluegrass to show they know how and like it. The addition of Alan Bibey to anyone's band is always a plus, but this band can stand on its own as lively and entertaining. 

 Doug Weaver & Tracey Jackson

Debi Kinzey

Melvin Cumbee

Laura Macon

Susan Riddle

Alan Bibey

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy is an entertaining and musically able band which can (and does) take advantage of the situation to find humor in fun-loving and gentle ways. The day before St. Patrick's Day was a natural for them. Ben Stevens capably filled in for Justin Tomlin. Mitchell Davis on banjo is a reliable straight man who also manages his own subtle clowning.

Ben Stevens, Tony Shorter, Mike Andes

Mike Andes & Ace Tambourine Player Chris Sexton

 Ben Stevens

Mitchell Davis

Chris Sexton

Tony Shorter

Russell Johnson of The Grasscats
Representing the Raleigh Convention Bureau 

IBMA's World of Bluegrass will be held in Raleigh,  NC this year from September 24 - 28th.  Russell, a volunteer on the local organizing committee, came to Sweet Grass with plenty of information and enthusiasm. There was lots of interest as people picked up flyers and picked Russell's brain.  His enthusiasm for this redesigned and relocated conference is enthusiastic and infectious.

Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull & Jake Eller

In the last few years Sierra Hull has matured enormously as an artist and as a person. No longer a precocious cute little mandolin player, she's a seasoned performer, agile and quick on the fingerboard and inventive as she continues to develop her own style.  It's been a real joy over the past couple of years to see her come into her own.  She's surrounded herself with a young band filled with virtuoso musicians who share her questing musical spirit. Corey Walker, coming into his own as a Walker style banjo player is also coming through with constant musical surprises without ever stepping on Sierra's excellence, a sad tendency among banjo players. Jake Stargell has fit his fiery guitar style to Sierra's melodic one. Justin Moses filling in on fiddle is always a welcome addition.

Corey Walker

 Sierra on the Octave Mandolin

 Jake Stargell

Justin Moses


Balsam Range
Balsam Range is currently leading the Bluegrass Today weekly airplay chart with their hit song "Born Ramblin' Man." but they have been rising to prominence for the past few years. Located in westernmost North Carolina's Heywood Country, they have been slow to commit to touring as all members have day jobs.  They're finding it harder to resist, however. Their quality has been spread by a number of excellent singles receiving lots of air play on Sirius/XM radio as well as other satellite and terrestrial stations. Their stirring song choices and fervent gospel singing along with drive which just won't stop has been creating a buzz wherever they're seen, and they're being seen in more and more places.

Darren Nicholson

Buddy Melton

Caleb Smith

Marc Pruett

Tim Surrett


Sweet Grass Baskets
Regional Craft Treasures

 Flight Seeing Flyover

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out have been a standout band over a period of twenty years, but it hasn't all been gravy, as they hit a low point about a decade ago that took them several years to climb out of. Today, they're once again at the top of the heap, to the satisfaction of many, many fans. Russell Moore, once again the IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year has been suffering from laryngitis for several weeks, not only unable to sing, but not allowed to talk, either. Last night he was once again in good voice, to his very obvious relief and joy. He's still not taking all his singing chores, but it sure is nice to see and hear him again.

 Justen Haynes

Wayne Benson

Edgar Loudermilk

Steve Dilling

Russell Moore

Steve Dilling with Cousins Marthe & Christine

 Carolina Studios
On Track for Success

 Irene pointed out to me that the bus I had been seeing all day but not noticing was, in fact, a complete recording studio for kids. I went over to it and Sam Epstein told me the remarkable story of their program to challenge disadvantaged kids with the opportunity to use computers and the recording studio in the bus to make recordings. For more information about this inventive and interesting program, look here and here. The program is partially supported by the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation , Student Transportation of America and other community oriented companies.

The Studio in the Bus

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Rhonda Vincent

It's hard to pick a favorite Rhonda Vincent performance because her work is so uniformly strong while it remains spontaneous. She always responds with warmth and enthusiasm to her audience and they return her attention with love. She's molded her present band into the strongest one she's had since we've been watching her. Meanwhile, her ability to continue being fan centered, maintain her energy, and deliver strong performances is truly astounding.
Brent Burke

Josh Williams

Thoughtful Rhonda

Hunter Berry

Rhonda & Mickey Harris

Hunter Berry & Brent Burke

Rhonda & Friends

Irene Shooting Video

Videos of the bands are already up on our YouTube Channel. There'll be more coming in the next few days. Enjoy them, comment, and share them with your friends.

Promoter Mike Murrell

Mike Murrell has produced a professionally run and fully satisfying first festival introducing Charleston to some of the best bands in bluegrass. One can only wish him well as he seeks to continue this fine event and turn it into part of Charleston's rich musical tradition.