Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sertoma Bluegrass Festival - Brooksville, FL 2015: Review

The Sertoma Youth Ranch lies nestled in a largely live oak glade just between the Florida towns of Brookville and Dade City. Sertoma is an international service organization over a hundred years old dedicated to helping youth with hearing and health issues. The Ranch operates as a venue for several music festivals during the year and hosts a number of youth groups who come for a day of organized activities or for a camping weekend. At times when the Ranch is not hosting a ticketed event, it is open for people who wish to camp there. With plenty of shaded campsites offering water & electric hookups as well as a bath house with plenty of showers and toilet facilities, Sertoma Youth Ranch is a good stopping off place for campers seeking quiet and solitude within a few miles of exit 301 of I-75. The rate of $23.00 per day makes it even more attractive. Proceeds from camping and the music festivals held at the Sertoma Youth Ranch go to supporting the local organization, and Sertoma volunteers are very much in evidence helping the festivals run smoothly.

Shower & Toilet Building
The facilities are convenient and were kept immaculately clean by Ranch staff.

The Sertoma Bluegrass Festival has been running for perhaps twenty years, attracting a knowledgeable bluegrass crowd. There's lots of jamming at all hours. Promoter Ernie Evans has assumed management of the Spring Bluegrass Festival, held the last weekend in March. This year's lineup featured several national bands, a well-known regional band and some local bands just getting off the ground. At Evans' festivals, organized activities begin early in the week as campers arrive. While the grounds are restful, the area provides plenty of shopping, eating, and sight-seeing for those who seek it out. We found the wonderful Hancock Grove Store about four miles from the Ranch, where we were able to resupply our oranges and grapefruit while learning more about citrus fruit and the area. Walmart, Publix Market, banking, and other needs can be met a few miles away in Brooksville. For non-campers, there are several motels as well as restaurants at the Interstate entrance. 

Bluegrassers Know How to Eat!
Chicken Supplied

Thursday Afternoon Bingo

Steve & Irene Stepped Up to Call the Numbers

Open Mic Thursday Night
Host: Greg Bird

Greg does a great job hosting these open mic events with his fine radio voice and very good karaoke singing.
Emma Biesack

Sarah Biesack

Gordon Pike

Open Mic evenings give parking lot pickers and up-and-coming young players an opportunity to strut their stuff. There's always plenty of enthusiastic support, sometimes from overenthusiastic relatives. 

The Little Girl & the Dreadful Snakes

This is a tuneful, local band which, besides playing a couple of sets on Friday, offered workshops over in the Soggy Bottom area on Saturday morning. 

Swinging Bridge

Swinging Bridge, from the Venice area of southwest Florida, has emerged as one of the better local bands playing festivals in Florida. They perform a pleasing mix of classic bluegrass covers with enthusiasm and skill. Furthermore, their jams in the field attract plenty of people to hear them and pick with then. They sing and play well, enjoy each other's company, and provide a good time for their listeners.

Chris Bryson

Alan Colpits

Bobby Martin

Doug Rowe

J.R. Davis

Carl Bailey

A Quiet Moment for Ed Wybronowski

The Boxcars

The Boxcars arrived at Sertoma rested and eager to play.  Adam Steffey, returned from successful elbow surgery, is again playing as only this most influential of contemporary traditional mandolin players can. Filled with some of the best musicians in the business, the Boxcars have been named the IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year three times, Steffey is eleven time Mandolin Player of the Year, and Ron Stewart has won both banjo and fiddle Player of the Year. Keith Garrett is an accomplished singer/song writer, whose work forms the core of the band's contemporary offerings. They play a range of traditional favorites, too.

Adam Steffey

Ron Stewart

Keith Garrett

Harold Nixon

Gary Hultman

Ron & Adam

Ron's Son Watches from the Wings
Deb & Ernie Evans at the Ticket Booth

Plenty of Rough Camping Available
Hidden Away in the Woods

Nothin Fancy

Nothin Fancy is, at once, one of the most entertaining and busiest bands in the business. With a huge catalog of songs developed over their twenty-some year history, they're one of the few bands that can successfully pull off two days of performances without repeating themselves. In fact, we've seen them at three festivals this winter, they've never repeated a show, although some of their songs are frequently requested. Each member is accomplished at his instrument while playing a well-defined role within the band. Chris Sexton, both a fine bluegrass fiddler and classical violinist, has become increasingly central in recent years, and can be looked to for subtly mordant comments as well as super fiddling. We always find that this is a band we look forward to seeing on the stage, at their table, or around the grounds of a festival. I'm truly befuddled at why this band hasn't received recognition from IBMA.

Mike Andes

Chris Sexton

Mitchell Davis

Tony Shorter

Jesse Smathers

Emcee Jo Odum

Frank and Barbara Shaw
ShoreGrass Band & Wonderful Jammers

Cotton Eyed Does

The Cotton Eyed Does are a new band expanded to include bucks as well as does, They combine bluegrass with folk music, depending on which musician is being highlighted. 

This lovely little spring-fed brook meanders through the campground, providing a texture and structure as well as beauty. I'm told it wells up high in the Sertoma property, but I wouldn't drink from it except at its source.  

Trust in Him

Trust in Him is a gospel-bluegrass group including a substantial amount of testifying along with its fervently, and skillfully delivered bluegrass. 

Guitar Workshop

A series of instrumental and vocal workshops were offered on Saturday morning. The one I dropped in on included interesting and useful skills worth working on. They were located over in the Soggy Bottom area in a subsidiary performance and meeting area. 

Bob Landry & His Autographed Map

Bob Landry has been collecting bluegrass autographs on this map/poster for over twenty years. There are some real treasures on it. If he's at a festival where you are, ask him to show it to you. 

Vendors Row

The Tyler Williams Band

Tyler Williams, recently graduated from East Tennessee State University's bluegrass program, provides an impressive example of the power of human will to grow beyond the limits that physical disability imposes. Born blind and with cerebral palsy, he has found a way to express the music within him, playing guitar and singing. Get to know Tyler when you're at a bluegrass festival where his band appears, and be inspired by what he has accomplished. He performs regularly with Ashley Davis, whose fiddle work and vocals are excellent. 

Tyler Williams

Ashley Davis

Ernie Evans

Ryan Wilson

Josh Griffin

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

Despite the un-seasonal late March chill, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out delivered another one of their nearly flawless, highly engaging sets of bluegrass music tinged with swing, and a few country sounds as well as some jazz influences which audiences love for its diversity and reliability. For over twenty years, the storied band has delivered the best in bluegrass from Mr. Monroe to John Hartford and beyond. Russell Moore continues as one of the finest singers in bluegrass history and has developed increasingly winning stage emceeing skills. Wayne Benson, one of the finest mandolin players around in any genre, has begun talking more on stage, a welcome addition. Newcomers Keith McKinnon and Blake Johnson are, by now, fully integrated into the band. Justen Haynes quietly and effectively continues as one of the better fiddlers around.

Russell Moore

Wayne Benson

Justen Haynes

Keith McKinnon

Blake Johnson

Blake Johnson & Wayne Benson

While Florida has some inherent difficulties attracting top national bands and developing excellent local ones, Ernie Evans has been growing a string of thoughtfully conceived festivals bringing increasingly strong bands to the state. His festivals attract visitors to Florida's mild winter weather as well as local bluegrass fans and retirees. He has re-imagined the Florida festival, expanding his events to run from Monday through Sunday, with a number of musical and non-musical activities offered throughout the week. The Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival, long established in a fine venue, can grow and will, with more imported bands, plenty of vigorous jamming, and enthusiastic support. The various Florida promoters need to cooperate to coordinate dates, build local and regional audiences and bands, working together for the benefit of all.  Bluegrass in Florida can only improve with such cooperation.

Meanwhile, our first visit to Sertoma introduced us to a terrific venue to which we look forward to returning. See you there next year!