Bill Emerson, at age 75, comes from the second generation of bluegrass music, helping to remind us of the history and background most bluegrass fans carry in their musical bones, no matter their personal preferences in current approaches to the music. A founding member of both The Country Gentlemen and the U.S. Navy Band Country Current, Bill Emerson carries himself with dignity, reminding me of my banker whenever I see him. And then he turns on the fingerboard wizardry he still maintains. He's still writing music as well as performing great pieces from his own musical history. Wayne Lanham is plays fine mandolin and offers a strong tenor lead.
It's pretty risky to predict greatness, but if I were a betting man I'd place a big one on Balsam Range's odds of becoming a signature bluegrass band of the early 21st century. Even without standout bass player/emcee Tim Surrett this week, this driving band brought the crowd screaming to its feet with its exciting performance of a blend of classics, band created songs, and classic rock inflected covers of songs. Marc Pruett plays one of the most driving, hard edged banjos around without ever surrendering the smile on his face. Buddy Melton, seemingly fully recovered from last year's farm accident, is singing as well as ever and filled in on bass with complete control, although he later displayed his red/raw fingers. Darren Nicholson must often restrain his wicked sense of humor on stage, but there's nothing funny about his strong mandolin play and singing. Caleb Smith, playing a new guitar he had just finished building, is one of the best flat pickers around as well as being a soulful bluesy singer. This is simply a great band!
On the door of Doyle Lawson's bright red tour bus, there's an unintentionally revealing notice to those entering. It reads, "Wipe Your Feet." The sign suggests the man...meticulous, a little finicky, demanding, and a fine bandleader/musician. Doyle's career, spanning his first professional gig with Jimmy Martin, time spent with J.D. Crowe's Kentucky Mountain Boys, through eight years with the Country Gentlemen, and the founding of Foxfire, which soon became DL & Q in 1979. Since then dozens, perhaps hundreds of young, able musicians have cycled through this always high quality band combining bluegrass, bluegrass gospel,and comedy in a crowd pleasing combination that's always entertaining. Graduates of the Doyle Lawson school of bluegrass lead and populate more bands than space allows to be counted. Dustin Pyrtle, a fine singer and guitarist is the latest student in Doyle's school, whose faculty now includes lots of very able musicians who've earned their degrees, but declined to graduate.
Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins will soon be releasing a new CD composed of classic bluegrass songs that they've reinterpreted with members of the former Johnson Mountain Boys and other guests. A photo shoot at Denton FarmPark was scheduled to get a picture for the CD cover.
Junior Sisk has emerged as perhaps the finest modern interpreter of Ralph Stanley's music as well as the originator of a remarkable body of new material in classic bluegrass style, often collaborating with his father Harry or his cousin Tim Massey. The band is filled with first rate musicians whose commitment to traditional bluegrass in unparalleled. The result is a series of amusing songs of the "she done him wrong" school that are often funny. The quality of his band has consistently improved with each new addition.