Monday, March 25, 2013

RenoFest 2013 - Review

Despite chilly weather and rain on Saturday, RenoFest's sixteenth annual run in Hartsville, SC was well attended, professionally produced, and provided all who attended with a good time. Hartsville is a small town with a bigger town feel thanks to a major Fortune 500 industry and Coker College, a good, small liberal arts college being located there. The downtown area features several quality restaurants and small shops which provide pleasant alternatives for strolling the area when the weather is fair. The Hartsville Museum, next door to the Center Theater where RenoFest is held, is a small, professionally curated gem of a local history museum, separated from the theater by a small, pleasant sculpture garden. 

We arrived at Lee State Park, about 18 miles from Hartsville, on Monday. This is a small jewell of a park with well-constructed sites on two loops surrounding rest room areas. One of the loops is devoted to equestrian activities. At this time of year Lee provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of other camp sites. Sadly, when it rains, the internal sites become more than damp, but otherwise it's a wonderful place to stay.

Marty Driggers, town attorney for Hartsville and Director of RenoFest, invited us to participate in a radio show hosted by Sharman Poplava at the Village Cafe, a charming breakfast and lunch spot, for an hour interview about RenoFest. This was a first for us, and we had a good time.

Sharman Poplava

On the Air

The Center Theater

Sculpture Garden

The Band Contest
Band Contest Coordinator and Promoter Rob Jordan

 RenoFest is a small festival with a big reputation, earned for its prestigious band and instrument contests and a small but high quality lineup of national bands for the concerts held on Saturday.  The band contest is open to both amateur and professional bands which must be an "organized band that has performed previously and available for booking. Cash prizes are awarded, and the winning band earns a booking at the next year's RenoFest.  This year eight bands competed on Friday afternoon, each completing a twenty minutes set with five finalists invited back for a second look before final judging. Criteria for judging are available here.  Bands this year came from Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Their performances were entertaining and the judging, based on the results, was professional and thoughtful. This year, the judges resisted the "cute kid" factor with the winning band presenting a fast-paced, tuneful, and varied performance.

No 1 U No

Samantha Casey & the Bluegrass Jam - Finalist

New River

Cabin Creek

The Smith Family Band

South 79 - Finalist

Most Wanted - Finalist

 Most Wanted is an outgrowth of the innovative, creative program called YAM (Young Appalachian Musicians) located in Pickens, SC and focused on introducing young people to old time and bluegrass music. It's the kind of program that requires increasing community support as music programs (aside from marching bands) in public schools have eroded in the past couple of decades.  Take the time to Like this band on Facebook and support your local bluegrass association or school traditional music programs.  They list their influences as Mountain Heart, Balsam Range, The Grascals, IIIrd Tyme Out, and The Boxcars, reflecting accurately the interests of many young bands we see along the road. These bands will, no doubt, be attracted to the roots of bluegrass as well as continuing to develop their own sounds and songs as they develop.

Highway 60 - Winner

Highway 60 from Cherry Log, GA won the band competition, demonstrating a strong combination of contemporary and traditional bluegrass delivered with first rate musicianship. The band is highly energetic and enthusiastic in its delivery. Jeff Partin, Dobro and guitar player for Volume Five as well as this band, is a standout musician in a fine group of accomplished pickers. The band won the 2011 Georgia State band competition and will be worth watching as it seeks to join the myriad of good young bands currently emerging. 

 Jonathan O'Neal & Jeff Partin

 Jay Shuler & Josh Hicks

Brett Cantrell
RenoFest is a community project with support coming from local business and industry as well as the local development organization.  As a part of the free event, therefore, a benefit barbecue and concert are presented in a town park to provide some music as well as present the winners of the band contest. A small, but enthusiastic, crowd showed up on this chilly evening for the event.  Entertainment was provided by the Four Virginia Luthiers and last year's band contest winner, The Hinson Girls. 

Band Contest Finalists

Band Contest Winner Highway 60
with Contest Director - Rob Jordan

Instrument Contest & Concert

This year's guitar and banjo contests were hotly contested with twenty high quality guitar pickers, perhaps attracted by the Henderson Guitar offered as a prize, who showed up to compete. Adam Wright, former winner of the National Flat Picking Championship in Winfield, KS won the guitar champrionship. Second place was taken by Andrew Hatfield of Peoria, IL, who won at Winfield in 2011. I'm told there were five national winners and several other people who have placed at Winfield in the highly competitive mix. Featuring blind judging, the contests are professionally run and fun.

Adam Wright - Guitar Winner

1. Adam Wright, Nashville Tn
2. Andrew Hatfield, Peoria Il
3. Scott Fore, Radford Va
4.  Matt Lindsey, Dunbar WVA
5. Matthew Taylor, Maryville Tn

Guitar Finalists

Banjo Contest
Winner - Steve Moore

 Competing at RenoFest for the first time, Steve Moore took home the beautiful Yates stressed banjo with an inspired and risky performance featuring  "Super Grouper" a Noam Pickelny original in the finals. Steve is a recent graduate in biochemistry from Marietta College in Ohio as well as a former banjo contest winner at Winfield, when he was fifteen, and at Rockygrass in Colorado. We've watched him for the past five years years, first as a member of the MACC (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer) Children's Band and then as an instructor there as well as with the Youth Band at IBMA's Fan Fest. His growth as a person as well as a musician has been a pleasure to watch.
Steve Moore Recieves Banjo Award
from Meredith Lanier

Steve Moore with Prize Banjo Maker Warren Yates

1.  Steven Moore, Bethesda Ohio
2.  Brandi Miller, West Jefferson, NC
3.  Weston Stewart, Anderson Alabama
4.  Alex Edwards, Salisbury NC
5.  Moses Dehart, Glenside PA

Banjo Contest Finalists

The Concert
The Hinson Girls

The Hinson Girls, winners of last year's band contest at RenoFest, have shown improvement since their upset win last year. Anchored by fifteen year old twins Melissa and Allison on bass and banjo, with thirteen year old Katelyn carrying much of the singing load on mandolin, and eighteen year old Kristin doing most of the emcee work. Their voices are becoming stronger as they mature and their instrumental work is solid.  

 Katelyn Hinson

Allison Hinson

Kristin Hinson

Mellisa Hinson 
Balsam Range

Balsam Range is fast emerging as one of the finest and most exciting bands in bluegrass music. Its consistently driving music and thought provoking ballads and story songs guarantee a varied and entertaining mix. Gospel Music Hall of Famer Tim Surrett on bass and Dobro handles most of the emceeing responsibilities with grace and humor. Hot guitarist (and rising guitar builder whose product is increasingly in demand) Caleb Smith sings, plays, and writes with the best. Buddy Melton's pure tenor voice and obvious passion are just plain wonderful to hear. Darren Nicholson's rugged mando chop helps drive the band with an always sure hand. Fans shouldn't let Marc Pruett's smile beguile them into thinking he isn't a monster banjo player. Ask your local promoter to book this band!

 Caleb Smith

Marc Pruett

Darren Nicholson

Tim Surrett

Buddy Melton

Balsam Range

Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition

Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition is the host band at RenoFest, representing his late father Don Reno, who, because of his early death and service during World War II, is, sadly, less remembered for his great contributions to bluegrass music on the banjo, guitar and as a song-writer, than he deserves.  Ronnie Reno has emerged as fine interpreter of his father's music as well as a bluegrass entrepreneur for his work on Blue Highways TV and RFD-TV on satellite and cable television. 

Ronnie Reno

Mike Scott

 John Mayberry

Heath Van Winkle

Steve Day

Promoter Russ Jordan

The Claire Lynch Band

Claire Lynch brings a fine voice (two time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year) and an ear for combining traditionalism with a cutting edge fusion of styles. Her band, composed of incredibly versatile personnel at each position brings youth and experience together under her leadership to provide an entertaining and musically varied program. At RenoFest the Claire Lynch band was absolutely on the top of its game, and the crowd's response was strong and positive. Her demanding standards of excellence are clear in every aspect of her performance. Mark Schatz, on bass, continues to be one of the driving spirits in bluegrass bass while contributing dance, hambone, and clawhammer banjo to the mix. Matt Wingate, a former winner of the Merlefest guitar contest, contributes on mandolin as well. He also sings both a clear and steady baritone lead in addition to his fine harmony work. Bryan McDowell won Winfield in 2009 on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, an unprecedented feat. He also blends marvelously well vocally, adding tenor harmonies. This is a musically and personally superior band.

 Claire Lynch

 Mark Schatz

Matt Wingate

Bryan McDowell

Claire Lynch

Gary Payne - Sound

RenoFest is perfectly located in the season as a small and important indoor bluegrass festival in the central and enjoyable small town of Hartsville, SC. It belongs on the schedule of people who love great bluegrass music and wish to see emerging bands and pickers before they gain national reputations on tour.  Try to schedule it for next year.

Marty Driggers - RenoFest Director