We drove into Dixieland RV Park last Monday in a pouring rain after a short drive west from Palatka, Florida. By the time we had parked and set up on the newly renovated site, with a broad concrete patio and new gravel added, we were drenched through our rain gear. Promoter Ernie Evans told us people were cancelling after having been pulled out of the mud at Palatka by the boys ranch's fine staff, saying they just couldn't face another week of bad weather. Too bad, because they missed a fine week filled with lots of activity and good music at the Roscoe Canady Memorial Bluegrass Festival in Dixieland RV Park in Waldo, FL one of the state's most notorious speed traps.
Promoter Ernie Evans has re-conceived the bluegrass festival along the lines of a cruise ship. People coming to the event can look forward to finding plenty of activity each day to keep the busy and interested, or can choose to use the time for their own purposes. There's lots of jamming throughout the campground, but not so much that a person can't get plenty of quiet. The activities include bingo, a Facebook2Face activity in which people who know each other on Facebook can become better acquainted, a fishing tournament, and evening activities provided by group meals including a barbecue fully provided by the campground, a covered dish supper with meat provided, and a corn bread and beans supper. Each night there's a music activity after supper with either jamming or open stage performances.
The Palmetto Ramblers opened the festival on Friday afternoon with a set of traditional bluegrass covers performed with good fun and earnest concentration.
The Hard Road Trio, from New Mexico, offers a very pleasing mix of folk, Americana, and bluegrass featuring strong harmonies and solid singing, particularly of their own singer/songwriter material. The band provides a wonderful change-of-pace at a bluegrass festival. Steve Smith on mandolin, also plays with Alan Munde and Country Gazette, is both energetic and skillful, a fine mandolin player. Chris Sanders, on rhythm guitar, has a very pleasing voice and personality. I'd like to hear a little more from Anne Luna whose bass work and harmony singing added to the mix.
Swinging Bridge has established itself as one of the very best local bands in Florida. They've been together nearly twenty years, selling themselves both by the quality of their musicianship and the energy of their performance.
New mother Kati Penn-Williams and her vastly improved band is still recovering from a personnel change, and has added new energy to its already strong Kentucky brand of bluegrass. Originating in the Louisville area of Kentucky, the band, as you might expect, is fiddle-centric, but balanced. Junior Williams shares emcee chores with his wife Kati. C.J. Cain is a hot guitar picker with plenty of chops. Clint Hurd plays solid mandolin and contributes good vocal harmonies.
There's a new maturity of both voice and behavior in a Travers Chandler performance that lifts him and his band to new levels. The band retains it raw energy reflecting the Baltimore barroom style of Charlie Moore, a performer Chandler deeply admires and seeks to emulate, while exhibiting a degree of nuance and vocal subtlety it has not heretofore shown. Travers' voice has deepened in tone while increasing in range, eliminating the shrillness and extending its power. They provide a refreshing change of pace while remaining in the pocket of traditional bluegrass.
Blue Highway has been together for twenty years and, in that time, has refined and continued to develop as a band and as individual performers. Boasting three fine song writers and a fifteen time Dobro Player of the Year, they are at once a top instrumental band offering contemporary bluegrass within a context of a deep musical tradition. Wayne Taylor's song Lonesome Pine is often mistaken for a classic bluegrass standard. It astounds me that this powerhouse band has won so few IBMA awards through the years. While once chosen as vocal group of the year (well deserved) they should also have been in regular contention for instrumental group of the year. Intensity, musicality, singing, and songwriting, this band has it all. People came to Waldo on Saturday from as far away as Miami (a five hour drive) just to see Blue Highway.