Thursday, May 8, 2014

HoustonFest 2014 - Saturday: Review




Saturday at HoustonFest proved festive in every sense of the word. The weather was warm enough to be pleasant, with a slight breeze blowing to keep it a little cool. The sky was clear, and a wonderful day crowd showed up to cheer on the mixture of local bands, kids bands, and major performers. The spirit of Houston Caldwell and the remarkable people of Galax who labor so hard produce this show pervaded the environment. 

Jamming on the Back Porch

While the produced show moves forward in front of the Main Stage, there's another show continuing all the time, whether it's on the back porch, on the Youth Stage, in the Petting Zoo, or elsewhere on the grounds, there are young people making music for the joy of playing together. The sandlots of bluegrass music, where the greats we so enjoy were almost all nurtured and developed lie in the parking lots, fields, and camp sites at hundreds of bluegrass events around the country where young people emulate their elders, growing from the received wisdom and experience of generations of folk, mountain, and country music to re-create and then extend the sounds they hear. No matter how many hours of lessons, practice, and listening to recordings  accumulate, the playing together has created and will continue the joy of bluegrass music. 

Close Kin: Our Roots Run Deep Project


Close Kin is a project coordinated by Carl Cooler of Mountain Road Recordings and singer/guitarist Johnny Williams to showcase young artists in a musical setting combining Old-Time, bluegrass, and Americana music in a single setting. Featuring young artists on traditional acoustic string band instruments, this project has just released its second recording. You'll be hearing much more from these exciting young people. Meanwhile, please help me with identification by writing me at keenevalleyguy@gmail.com.

Lindsay Nale

Austin Greer

Daniel Greeson

Catherine Connor


Jacob Burleson

Jonah Horton

Madison Shepperd & Austin Greer


A collection of nine basses were decorated by local artists for display at HoustonFest. They will continue to be shown by local businesses for visitors to Galax to examine and appreciate in more detail. The backs of the instruments are as ornate and beautiful as the fronts, while the rationale for each interpretation and the profile of each artists are interesting in themselves. A trip to Galax should include further examination of these works of art.

Generation Bluegrass Youth Project

Corey Smith and Zeb Snyder joined together with representatives of several other family bands to showcase their accomplishments and development, facilitated by Henri DeChamps of the The Mast Farm Inn and Bluegrass Today.  Most players are in their mid- to late-teens, but have extensive experience as performers in family bands or more informal settings. As regular readers of my blog know, I've long been skeptical of the family band and professionalizing young performers. The quality of dedication and the pure joy of making music exhibited by these youngsters belies my skepticism. They're clearly doing it for themselves. Nevertheless, as with professional parents in any endeavor, I continue to believe it's worth parents examining their own motives and avoiding pushing their children too hard in their eagerness to support their performance. The number of budding musicians, nascent athletes, or prodigal students who burn out is too great to ignore the potential risk. Having said that and spent some time with these delightful kids, however, suggests the personal and artistic upside of such efforts.

John Meyer

Zeb Snyder

Samantha Snyder

Mary Meyer

Eli Smith

Mary Meyer & John Meyer

Brandi Miller



Stu Vincent Interviews Loose Strings
in the Hospitality Tent

At the Petting Zoo

The Whites at the Firehouse Stage

Although the Firehouse Stage lies only about 100 yards behind vendors row and the Main Stage, it seems to be a lightly attended venue. This is too bad, as the workshops held there are intimate and informative. Virginia Folklife Director John Lohman is a skilled interviewer who brings out the artists, who often speak candidly about their lives and experiences. The Whites, veterans of decades of bluegrass and country music, gave a performance and were interviewed.

Buck White

Sharon and Cheryl White

Steve Thomas

Photographer & Husband Rickey Skaggs



That's What It's All About

At the Petting Zoo

The Snyder Family Band with Newest Member

Owen Snyder

The Virginia Luthiers

The Virginia Luthiers not only make great instruments, they make great make. Here Adam Steffey is subbing while playing a Wayne Henderson mandolin.

Wayne Henderson

Spencer Strickland

Adam Steffey with Son A.P.


Gerald Anderson

Tina Steffey & Reilly

Happy Birthday, Wayne!



Jamming in the Field

Emcee - Stu Vincent 
One of England's Contributions to Bluegrass

Blue Highway

Blue Highway has been performing, recording, and writing much of its own material for twenty years with only one change in personnel. Their new album "The Game," is number ten, as fresh and lively as ever. They blend together into writing some songs that sound like ancient tones while others are as innovative as tomorrow. They will go down in bluegrass history as one of the greats.

Jason Burleson

Shawn Lane

Wayne Taylor

Tim Stafford

Rob Ickes





Emcee Dale Morris

Mark Johnson & Emory Lester
at the Firehouse Stage


Mark Johnson, a winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass, and Emory Lester, one of the most under-recognized greats of the mandolin, have been playing and recording together for sixteen years. Mark's unique style on the open back banjo is creative and distinctive. Emory, as either a soloist or an accompaniest, is superb. Together....sublime!

Mark Johnson

Emory Lester

In the Petting Zoo





The Boxcars



The Boxcars bring together some of the finest musicians in the business to present a range of musical tastes and style in intelligence.

Ron Stewart

Adam Steffey

Keith Garrett

John Bowman

Harold Nixon

The Meyers Family

Mary Meyers

Dessert Time in the Hospitality Tent


Galax Fire Department Color Guard

Galax Fire Chief Mark Burnett and Caldwell Family

Presentation of the Colors

Debbie Robinson Announcing the Winners
of the
Houston Caldwell Music Schollarships

Tess Caldwell Presents Scholarship Certificate


Scholarship Recipients

Deborah Stringer & Hal Epperson  Present
Ralph Epperson Musical Heritage Award

To: Trajan Wellington

Trajan Wellington
Winner: Ralph Ellison Musical Heritage Award



Somewhere in the Future...

The Whites


The Whites are more noted for their work as a country music group than for their bluegrass, but are recognized in both genres. Sharon White is married to Ricky Skaggs, who came with them and performed on their set. During the 1980's they had several country hits and are currently members of the Grand Old Opry. The sister duo of Sharon and Cheryl White blends beautifully. 

Sharon White

Ricky Skaggs & Buck White 

Ricky Skaggs

Steve Thomas

Buck White

Emcee Sherry Boyd

Meanwhile...Back on the Back Porch

Lonesome River Band

To be known by your initials is a pretty big deal. There's never any question in mind when folks speak of LRB. Having recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary as a band, LRB also signed with Mountan Home Music and looks forward eagerly to coming years. Having a distinctive sound based on the pounding banjo of Sammy Shelor, winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, band has had a remarkable run of stability, carrying the same crew since Randy Jones joined it four years ago. Brandon Rickman continues as one of the best lead singers around, bringing a contemporary bluesy voice and wonderful song writing to the mix. The Lonesome River Band is always a pleasure to see and to hear.

Sammy Shelor


Mike Hartgrove

Randy Jones

Brandon Rickman

Barry Reed




Winner of the Jimmy Edmonds Raffle Guitar

Banjo Jubilation



HoustonFest brought three of the four winners of the $50,000 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Each has only two things truly in common: banjo and bluegrass. Jens Kruger makes a banjo sound like an elegant classical instrument, bringing a European sensibility to interpreting and playing mountain music and bluegrass within a formal orchestral framework, as well as a deep knowledge of the history and background of the instrument. Sammy Shelor plays the banjo with huge power combining the deep Southwest Virginia mountain tradition with an ear and feel for the cadences of rock and roll. Mark Johnson has developed an idiosyncratic style based in old-time, incorporating Scruggs style, while playing on an open back banjo. Three diverse styles coming together to make music, backed by Emory Lester on guitar and Joel Landsburg on bass, adding Zeb Snyder on guitar and Samantha Snyder on fiddle. The music was powerful and enjoyable. One interesting and quite astounding moment occured when, on an old fiddle piece, Jens threw in a rushing glissando of notes running up and down the neck. Zeb followed with his solo and,  on his guitar, mimicked this complex solo with a flat pick. Jens' jaw dropped and a huge smile appeared on his face. Samantha Snyder played with a maturity, power, and joy I haven't seen fully realized before. Altogether a very satisfying performance.

Mark Johnson

Sammy Shelor

Jens Kruger


John Lohman Emceed the Event


With Zeb and Samantha Snyder

Three Masters of the Banjo
Jens Kruger, Sammy Shelor & Mark Johnson

The Kruger Brothers


Since coming to the United States from their native Switzerland, this trio has built themselves into Wilkes County, North Carolina, befriending people like Doc Watson and Tut Taylor and promoting their music while learning from them. Meanwhile, they've attracted new and unusual (for bluegrass) audiences to the music through their classical sound and appearances with symphony orchestras around the country. Their music requires a high level of attention and rewards those who really listen beyond measure. They bring a peaceful quiet and raucous enthusiasm simultaneously.

Jens Kruger

Uwe Kruger


Joel Landsburg


All told, HoustonFest accomplishes its goals of honoring service and song while presenting young and established players and bands with dignity and high levels of recognition. It has helped heal a family and a town devastated by the loss of Houston Caldwell. Come out next year and see for yourself.

The Caldwell Family
Kenneth, Hayden & Tess