Monday, March 31, 2014

Big Lick Bluegrass Festival: April 10 - 12, 2014 in Oakboro, NC - Prevew

 The Big Lick Bluegrass Festival, promoted by Jeff Branch and held at Big Lick Festival Park in Oakboro, NC will run from April 10 - 12 featuring top bands and lots of early Spring fun. It's a little difficult to preview a bluegrass festival we haven't been to yet, but we've known promoter Jeff Branch for several years, attended an event he produced in Troy at the James Garner Center, and watched his work as an emcee at the Denton Bluegrass Festival. He knows his bluegrass music and how a festival's supposed to work.

The Bands
The Renaissance Bluegrass Band

The Rennaisance Band is the traveling bluegrass band representing Bethel University in McKenzie, TN. Ben Helsen,  formerly of Rhonda Vincent and the Rage is the band director. The band returns to Big Lick for the third time, and has recently recorded its first CD.

Ben Helsen
Nothin Fancy

Nothin' Fancy is an always reliable band featuring excellent singing and musicianship combined with humor and inventiveness. They always provide a good show that tickles the funny bone while frequently asking their audience to think a little bit about the lyrics. The band has been together with very few personnel changes for twenty years.

 Tony Shorter & Mike Andes

The Darrell Webb Band

Despite his youth, Darrell Webb is a seasoned veteran who virtually has grown up on the bluegrass stage. A talented multi-instrumentalist and powerful singer, he has surrounded himself with a dynamic and lively band. Darrell has distinguished himself with many top bands and now leads his own exciting group.

 Darrell Webb
Deeper Shade of Blue

 A Deeper Shade of Blue is a regional bluegrass band that has distinguished itself in the crowded North Carolina field of excellent bluegrass bands. Coming from nearby Monroe, and probably familiar to much of the Big Lick audience, they are well worth wider attention for their tightness as a band and excellent musicianship.

 Jim Fraley

 Jason Fraley & Troy Pope
Feller & Hill & the Bluegrass Bucaroos

Tom Feller & Chris Hill have deep roots in the traditional bluegrass music of the Boys from Indiana. Tom Feller is Aubrey Holt's nephew, and their music reflects their lineage. They first came together at Musicians Against Childhood Cancer in Columbus, OH, and have now released an excellent recording and have begun touring widely. Look for a lively show from these two veteran performers and their versatile band mates. Each has been in and around bluegrass much longer than their age would suggest.

Tom Feller

Chris Hill
Balsam Range

 Balsam Range has emerged from Haywood County in westernmost North Carolina to become one of the most exciting bands on the bluegrass circuit. With drive, inventive and exciting song writing, fine instrumentals, and all-around excellence at each position, they are band not to be missed. Their CD Papertown was named IBMA Album of the Year in 2013.

Emcee Tim Surrett
Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk has been recognized for a long time for his fine tenor voice. He's shown steady improvement through the years as his band emcee, and has surrounded himself with a hard driving band of solid musicians he enjoys working with. Last year all that came together for him as he was named IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, and accolade he richly deserves. 

 Junior Sisk at the Awards Podium
The James King Band

 James King is still the master of the story song, whether it's sad and pitiful or inspiring. He's at the top of his game with a strong band and always strong command of his material. He tours hard and works hard. One of the real greats....

James King
This is a strong lineup with a great variety of bands, mostly of a traditional vein, but playing lots of music newly composed and thoughtfully arranged. Thursday evening consists of an open stage, and I have no sense of who will show up. Nevertheless, we look forward to a full and enjoyable weekend.

The Schedule
The Details

 For tickets call promoter Jeff Branch: (704) 985-6987. Sound will be provided by John Holder of Blue Ridge Sound.

Emcee - Sherry Boyd

 Emcee - Bobby Franklin
How to Get to Big Lick
Input your starting place on the o

The Fairground are located about 40 miles east of Charlotte, 35 miles Southeast of Concord, and 25 miles northeast of Monroe, NC. If you know bluegrass, you'll recognize this as a fine lineup. If you think you'd like to give bluegrass a try, come on out, because the setting and the price are right. Support Live Music! We hope to meet you there.

Promoter Jeff Branch with Barney Fife
Photo by Chasity Hinson

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum - Nashville, Part III

 The Main Entrance

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, located in downtown Nashville, impresses with its size, the high quality of its exhibits, its regular programs of lectures and performances, and its organization, which is easy to navigate, clear to understand, and immense in its scope. It's truly a national treasure for any fan of country music in all its guises. In the vast lobby of the Museum we met our guide, Shannon Turner, a friend as well as a former Museum guide before her writing career really took off and Michael Gray, the Museum's Senior Editor, whose work involves curation and history. Much in the structure of the Museum is subtly designed to reflect music in an architectural fashion. The building, when viewed from the air, is shaped like a G-clef. Terrazzo on the lobby's floor looks like black and white piano keys. The musical images are everywhere. While waiting for Shannon to appear, we spent a little time in the newly enlarged Museum store. Divided into two rooms, one side of the hallway holds recordings and books, while the other contains clothing and artifacts.

Museum Stores

Shannon Turner & Michael Gray
Ticket Booth and Main Lobby

Admission prices seemed a bit steep to us at first, until we compared the Country Music Hall of Fame to other similar national special purpose collections. We found them right in line with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. The museum is large and provides a comprehensive view of the development of Country Music from its earliest recognizable emergence as a genre through its current state as a major competitor to other huge popular forms of music. The Hall of Fame also serves as curator for a huge collection of country music memorabilia and sponsors a fascinating series of museum programs and school programs. More generally, The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum's web site provides a treasure trove of information about and with country music throughout its history. It's truly worthy of study.

The Exhibit Halls

The exhibit halls of The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum are well laid out. Visitors can stroll fairly quickly through them, concentrating on the memorabilia donated by favorite stars, or they can work through the museum with much greater deliberation, reading placards, drilling down on eras or individual country artists. Scholars and specialists, of course, have access to much larger archives providing access to the museums huge collections.

 The Taylor Swift Education Center

Taylor Swift donated $1,000,000 to build the Taylor Swift Education Center, a space which provides activities of interest to young people.  The center has classroom space, a hands-on instrument room and ongoing education opportunities.

 In the Exhibit Hall

In our visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I concentrated more on looking at ways the pioneers of bluegrass music are covered. Nevertheless, like many bluegrass fans, I have my favorite country music artists. Also, I noted repeatedly the way in which there has been constant crossover between country and bluegrass, always remembering that the people now recognized as bluegrass pioneers saw themselves as simply country musicians forging their own styles to be able to stand out in country music and earn a living. Here are pictures of some of favorite exhibits at the museum.

 The Stanley Brother's Tools

Shannon Turner & Irene Look at Webb Pierce's Cadillac

The Mother of Country & Bluegrass Music

The Father of Bluegrass Music 

The One and Only

Wall of Gold & Platinum Records

The Bakersfield Sound

A special exhibit, recently extended for another year, shows the western musicians who made the Bakersfield Sound developed in California during the late fifties and was made popular largely by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, but influenced country music heavily for more than a generation. Strongly driven by the western movement of farmers forced off their high plains farms in Oklahoma and other states during the dust bowl period of the depression, these artists emerged from the agricultural area surrounding Bakersfield and vied for prominence in country music with Nashville.

Waylon Jennings

John Hartford's Banjo

Keith Whitley's Motorcycle

Ricky Skaggs

Garth Brooks & Vince Gill

Brought Bluegrass Music Back to Life

Some People Prefer to Deny Her
Inventive, Youthful Style 

The Hall of Fame

 Deford Bailey was a longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry, one of the few black performers to perform regularly there. The rarity of minorities in country and bluegrass music, two genres strongly influenced by African American music, remains a blot on the history and current direction of both genres. Bailey was active from 1921 - 1941 when WSM fired him, supposedly because of copyright disputes with BMI-ASCAP. Although he lived until 1982, his career was effectively ended. While active, he frequently played with Bill Monroe.

The Hall of Fame is an impressive space, appropriate for meditating upon the contributions of its inductees, many of whom are still active.

Stairwell Up to New Hall of Fame Auditorium

From archival footage of the earliest country performers playing what is called "old-time" today to the present day new country stars who are, perhaps, more toned down rock and rollers than they are  country, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum gives visitors an impressive and thoughtful trip through the world of commercial country as it has moved from being an expression of largely rural musical enjoyment played by plain folks on the back porch to a highly professionalized and produced musical experience for the masses.  A visit to the museum can be satisfactory for only a couple of hours or can take a day or more for connoisseurs who wish to study deeply. Scholars and writers can apply to view the archives at even deeper levels. A visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must for people who love the music.

Downtown Nashville from Museum Front

Bridgestone Arena Across the Street

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Our thanks to the museum for making this visit possible and gratitude to country and bluegrass writer Shannon Wayne Turner for serving as out guide. It was a wonderful day.