Nothin' Fancy is plenty fancy enough. They can be relied on for polished, varied, amusing, and musical performances which cover the bluegrass lot from early pioneers through the ground-breaking music of The Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene, to contemporary songs, including Mike Andes often either touching or downright funny songs. Chris Sexton, of fiddle, provides strong performances with a touch of classical reference in them. Young Jesse Smathers, only three weeks with the band, solves the long search for a tenor to replace long-time member Gary Ferris, who was one of the founding members. Smathers' pure tenor voice blends wonderfully with Andes and bassist Tony Shorter in trios. He sang the best version of "Kentucky Waltz" I've heard recently. This band keeps its repertoire and its routines fresh, while continuing to play and sing long-time fan favorites.
Tom Feller and Chris Hill, both veteran performers, have come together, forming their own band and finding a unique sound they can call their own. With deep roots in southwest Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana (Tom is the Boys From Indiana Aubrey Holt's nephew), they combine solid bluegrass sounds with the classic country music that Hee Haw fans, the Buck Owens crowd, have loved and missed for so long.
Junior Sisk was named IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 2013, finally achieving the recognition his long record has deserved as one of the finest traditional bluegrass singers currently on tour if not ever. His band Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice is composed of fine traditional instrumentalists who perform with equal ease the standards this band loves and the traditional sounding contemporary songs it embraces and performs with zest and taste. Jason Davis, quietly occupying stage right, plays a blazing banjo in a precise Scruggs style banjo few on the circuit today can match. Billy Hawks, on fiddle, is another quiet, yet effective bandsman. Jason (Sweet Tater) Tomlin is bobble-head active, and effective on bass and harmony. Newly added mandolinist Jonathan Dillon brings fine work and good harmony singing to the mix. Junior Sisk himself, is not only a fine singer, but widely recognized as one of the better rhythm guitarists. What's new in this band's shows is Juniors newfound confidence and the added zest he brings to the role of band emcee. Once painfully shy, he really seemed to be enjoying himself on stage this Saturday night.
Big Lick Bluegrass Festival was something of a very pleasant surprise to us. The sound, by John Holder's Blue Ridge Sound provides perhaps the best festival sound found in the east today. The environment at Big Lick is laid back, with lots of jamming going on and good crowds coming to the stage to appreciate and encourage the music. Promoter Jeff Branch has patiently developed the festival through the years and is now poised to move into a higher rank in the very competitive North Carolina festival environment.