Monday, February 23, 2015

Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2015 - Saturday: Review

After two days of cold, crisp wind blowing in from northern climes suffering much worse than we were, the crowd attending the Palatka Bluegrass Festival greeted a warm, sunny Saturday with eager anticipation and then massive appreciation as a day of wonderful music and generous support for host venue The Rodeheaver Boys Ranch.
Festival Promoters - Norman & Judy Adams

Each morning during the festival the ranch serves a sumptuous buffet breakfast to ranch employees and festival attendees. Boys living on the ranch help serve coffee and are a welcome presence for their cheerfulness and helpfulness. Because the attend the local public school, boys at the ranch are not much seen during the first day, but their presence around the grounds working and sometimes stopping to enjoy the music adds the the total Palatka festival experience.

Ranch Executive Director Ken Johnson (R)
at Breakfast with Staffers

The Kitchen Staff Always Produces

Breaking Grass

A year ago I highlighted Breaking Grass in a blog entry pointing to bands to watch in 2014. This weekend Breaking Grass made their debut at a Norman Adams festival to an enthusiastic crowd, earning one of the few encores for an opening band I've ever seen at this festival. Led by Cody Farrar, whose infectious smile seems to have been built into his face, the band presents a diverse bluegrass mix with material from Bill Monroe, the New Grass Revival, and on through western swing and into grassed versions of rock 'n' roll songs and including lots of original material, mostly written by Farrar himself. With all members coming from Mississippi, the band is instrumentally strong and personally attractive, young, and enthusiastic. I continue to look for much more from them.

Cody Farrar

Britt Sheffield

Tyler White

Thelton Vanderford

Zach Wooten

Cody Farrar

At the Merch Tables

The Little Roy & Lizzie Show

The Little Roy & Lizzie show continues to troop, entertain, and provide a platform for one of the great clowns of bluegrass history. It also is adding a fourth generation of accomplished Lewis Family entertainers with Little Roy's grandson Bennett Boswell confidently holding his own on mandolin and one bravura banjo piece featuring Little Roy and Lizzie too on Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Meanwhile, Tyler Biddix on guitar and Dave Hevner on bass provide the strong background that Lizzy's multi-instrumental show pieces and Roy's great guitar and banjo performances require. As Ron Thomason later commented in a moment of sincere accolade, Little Roy deserves recognition as "one of the best banjo players ever to pick up the instrument."

Lizzy Long

Little Roy Lewis

Tyler Biddix

Bennett Boswell

Dave Hevner

Ron Thomason Hamboning

...and a Guest Appears

Saturday is also Family Day

Marty Raybon & Full Circle

Marty Raybon lives his music and his faith. I was approaching him on the grounds on Saturday morning before quickly backing off as I noticed he was providing both personal and spiritual support for a man dealing with a medical issue. He's available as a person-to-person presence as well as continuing to be a bang-up entertainer. Raybon has had a legendary career in both country and bluegrass, bringing a rock and blues sensibility to both while remaining both a country boy, as the song says, and a purveyor of entertaining and enlightening music. His rendition of Beulahland sets the standard for all other performers of the song, and won him an IBMA award two years ago for Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year. His brother Tim stands at his shoulder singing tenor and playing bass, while Zach Rambo on mandolin and harmony and Isaac Smith on fiddle are strong. 

Marty Raybon

Tim Raybon

Zach Rambo

Isaac Smith

Luke Munday

Marty Raybon

Bill Huckeby & Roy Lewis

 The Gibson Brothers

I can think of only a few  other bands whose catalogs are so deep and varied that they risk becoming captive to their own historic production,  The Gibson Brothers, in twenty years of active touring have created so much original and well-loved material that it's difficult for them to introduce new songs, yet they continue to grow, widen their repertoire and enrich an already nearly historic musical world. Their latest offering, Brotherhood, contains no Gibson Brothers original songs. Rather, it is a tribute to the historic brother duos in bluegrass, country, and rock whose unique harmonies have enriched music through the past half century, or more. They put their own spin on songs by groups you know well, like the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, and the Osborne Brothers as well as other lesser known brother duos. Their first release on Rounder Records, Brotherhood is sure to reach the top of the bluegrass charts, as have their last seven albums.

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock

The Most Important Support Vehicle

Jeff King Presents the Raffle Guitar

The Grascals

The Grascals closed Saturday night with a fine performance, responding to shouted requests that could have continued for another half hour after their appointed time. Featuring covers of the Osborne Brothers, who several members toured with, and other early bluegrass as well as fine songs they have selected through the years and popularized (Me and John and Paul, The Famous Lefty Flynn) as well as material written by lead singer Jamie Johnson, the band is always a strong entry. The addition of Adam Haynes has helped reinvigorate the band. The interactions between him and Danny Roberts on the left side of the stage are a delight to watch. Kristin Scott Benson's precise banjo and guitar play is always excellent, and it's a joy to hear her sing, too. Always relaxed and entertaining, the Grascals were well worth staying up for.

Jamie Johnson

Terry Smith

Terry Eldredge

Danny Roberts

Kristin Scott Benson

Adam Haynes

Emcee Sherry Boyd - Simply the Best in the Business

We've attended nine of the eleven Palatka Bluegrass Festivals, and this is the best one I think we've been to. The lineup was strong, and despite the weather, the audience was enthusiastic. For some reason there were fewer vendors this year than others, and I missed a couple of them. The support for campers provided by Development Director Jeff King was, as usual, superb. Campers were well taken care of, trash removed regularly, porta-potties pumped almost before they were used, and problems dealt with smoothly and pleasantly. The boys on the ranch are a delight. Sound by Blue Ridge Sound was almost flawless. As is usual at bluegrass festivals, lighting could have been improved. All told, though, the semi-annual Rodheaver welcome home for bluegrass represented a highlight in our year, and we look forward to coming back next year.