Monday, February 24, 2014

Palatka Bluegrasss Festival 2014 - Saturday & Assessment

Saturday at bluegrass festivals almost always turn out to provide a few surprises. Maybe it's the culmination of a longish weekend or the sense that festivity should be really festive. Performers give their best performances for responsive and engaged audiences, and big drive-in day crowds bring new energy to almost every event. A major headliner or two doesn't hurt, either. With Rhonda Vincent & the Rage followed by country legend Gene Watson closing out the evening, a big and enthusiastic crowd was on hand,  filling the music shed to the back, and expanding the sides far beyond the extra tent provided. Fortunately, the weather cooperated as the sun broke through a few times and no rain fell. Sadly, for me, the Ranch concession stand ran out of cookies before noontime, depriving me of the great chocolate chip cookies and brownies made on campus. On the other hand, the Brunswick Stew, provided by a ranch supporter in huge quantities was still available, and I enjoyed another large cup of this wonderful regional delicacy in mid-afternoon. That's a good enough way to start off what turned out to be a fine day of music and celebration.

Cody Shuler & Pine Mountain Railroad

Cody Shuler brought what has become his usual Florida band to Palatka, featuring veteran Terry Baucom with his very strong banjo. Jerry Cole's energy and very fine voice provides a lot strength to this band, and Matt Flake brings a strong bass beat, although I prefer his even better fiddle play, when he's on fiddle. They're a strong band for the opening slot.

Cody Shule

Terry Baucom

Jerry Cole

Matt Flake

On Vendors Row

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad was welcomed back for a second day of ancient tones bluegrass and Ron Thomason's own special brand of social commentary. It's worth spending a moment to consider the marked contrast between Thomason's heartfelt tribute to the sacrifices of American families and people entering service with the overblown and time consuming pageant staged at each appearance by GoldWing Express. Thomason, whose son volunteered for service in Afghanistan after 9/11, began singing "He's Coming to Us Dead" on his son's departure. He vowed to sing it at every appearance until the young man returned. Now, though his son is safely home, he continues to deliver this heart rending song of a father's grief at his son's homecoming during the Civil War. The song is always a moving experience for Thomason himself as well as to the audience. In contrast, the parade of veterans seems cynical and manipulative. 

 Ron Thomason & Brian Aldridge

Dan Russell

Tom Boyd

Little Roy Lewis Often Shows Up with Thomason

Ron Thomason

The Little Roy & Lizzie Show

Little Roy Lewis remains, after more than sixty years in the business, the preeminent clown in bluegrass music, a genre that once relied on the baggy pants clown as a staple. His effective clown work, in his own shows and in appearances in other people's shows, too, often leads people to overlook the quality and distinctive style of his musicianship. Meanwhile, Lizzy Long has established herself as an extremely able multi-instrumentalist on at least five different instruments. Meanwhile, David Hevner has been added on bass and the band has a new guitar player, too.

Little Roy Lewis & Lizzy Long

Nathan Stewart

David Hevner

Lizzy Long

Little Roy & Lizzy

Gotta-Go Did an Excellent Job

It's worth taking a moment to not the excellent job Gotta-Go of Florida does of keeping the portable toilets clean and providing a convenient hand washing station at the main location. It's a testament to the thoroughness and professionalism of the ranch and the company itself that a pump out truck is on site at the entire festival, providing pump outs for needy campers at a reasonable price and keeping the facilities clean and nearly odor free.

Marty Raybon & Full Circle

Marty Raybon is living proof that you don't have to tell jokes or have schtick to be an entertainer...but you do have to be good. Raybon hits the stage with energy and commitment and delivers on every song. There's minimal talk, and lots of high energy musical output. He was awarded Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year for Beulah Land at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in September. He has a low down blues side and a country rock side, both wrapped in a believable bluegrass package. His brother Tim backs him on bass and high harmony, while Zach Rambo on mandolin is very strong on mandolin and vocals. Isaac Smith is animated and effective on fiddle. Chris Wade is a first rate Scruggs style banjo player.  This is a very entertaining band.

Marty Raybon

Zach Rambo

Isaac Smith & Chris Wade

Isaac Smith

Tim Raybon
Chris Wade

Isaac Smith, Zach Rambo, & Marty Raybon

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent has got to be the hardest working entertainer in the business. She works harder than anyone, keeps the recordings coming, with her mixed country/bluegrass double CD "Only Me" charting at the top of the Billboard bluegrass list and Bluegrass Today's chart. Meanwhile, she attends to her fans with more givingness than any other performer, staying at the Martha White Boutique until the last fan has taken the last picture. She has the unique quality of giving each person her full attention. You never see Rhonda's vision waver to assess the end of the line or to see who's next. Her mock feud with Lizzy Long is the stuff that makes bluegrass legends.

Rhonda Vincent

Mickey Harris

Hunter Berry

Josh Williams & Aaron McDaris

Josh William

Rhonda - Staying out in the Chill Wind

Aaron McDaris

Brent Burke

Family Portrain
Hunter Berry, Herb Sandker, Brent Burke, Rhonda Vincent 


Eighty-Sixth Birthday at Palatka

The Silent Auction Quilt

Some Boys from the Ranch with Ranch Director Ken Johnson

It's important to remember that the Palatka Bluegrass Festival is a fund raiser for the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, founded in 1950 and now having been dedicated to the idea that it's "better to build boys than mend men" for sixty-four years. People wishing to donate can click through to this link. The ranch continues to do a fine job of providing a temporary or semi-permanent home for up to fifty boys in need of a home.

Jeff King - Director of Development

Ken Johnson - Ranch Executive Director

The Boys

Gene Watson

Gene Watson is a seventies and eighties country performer whose career has been largely resurrected through Norman Adams and Rhonda Vincent's efforts. He performs at many Norman Adams festivals and is  paired with Vincent, with whom he shares the stage and frequently follows as the closing act.  Backed by an able band of Nashville session musicians, his show features most of the familiar songs from his career in country music. This evening, Lizzy Long and Rhonda injected a note of energy and enthusiasm into the show.

Lizzy Grabs the Mic to Steal Rhonda's Song

...But Rhonda Escapes from Captivity

Driving Lizzy off the Stage

...To Complete Her Duet with Gene Watson

Rhonda Vincent & Gene Watson

Rhonda & Gene

Chad Phillips

Chip Bricker

 Staley Rogers

Danny Nacarado

 It All Must End...

 Some People Leave Early....

Not Everyone Has a Big Rig

Ranch Personnel Were Busy Getting People Unstuck

 Judy & Norman Adams