Friday, May 22, 2015

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival 2015: Saturday & Sunday - Review

The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival packs a lot of music, fun, fellowship, and weather into four packed days. Friday and Saturday always feature major bands with plenty of musicians around the campground for the day to enable interesting workshops and jams in the workshop tent while there are big shows happening at "the Stage that Alison Built." The vendors at Granite Hill Campground are varied, and their food is good. I noticed this year that there were more vendors offering healthy food - salads, veggie wraps, and broiled or barbecued as well as fried fare. The ice-cream wagon from Antietam Dairy and Uncle Moe's Soul Food, and the Apple Bin are among the best. 

Antietam Dairy

 Uncle Moe's

The Apple Bin

I'm lumping together pictures from Saturday and Sunday because only one new band not appearing earlier in the festival performed on Sunday. Since many, if not most, people attending bluegrass festivals leave well before performances are over, the audience is a shrinking one. By the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, the closing band is usually performing to a large expanse of grass with a few seats scattered around. Many festivals have simply dropped Sunday from their schedules, concluding with bang-up performances late into the night. Gettysburg, to its credit, has gone another direction. Sunday here opens with Dry Branch Fire Squad presenting a gospel music session with a message from Ron Thomason, often spiritual but not denominational, inspiring without proselytizing. Later in the afternoon, The Seldom Scene offers a long set composed mostly of songs requested by the audience. The closing acts are often rising bands deserving a show at Gettysburg which, while not heavily attended, allows them to have this major festival on their performance list. Attempts to hold an audience with blockbuster major acts on Sunday afternoon almost always fail. So, I'll feature bands as they come up in order with pictures from the most photogenic of their performances.

Gold Heart

Gold Heart is a family band that, according to their web site, has been touring now for ten years. The three sisters sing in close sister harmonies quite effectively. In past opportunities to hear them, I've found it difficult to make out their lyrics. This year their improved diction and the great sound provided by Southern Audio combined to make the words clear, a great improvement. Their instrumental work is acceptable, but the emphasis remains on their singing. They were joined this year by their thirteen year old brother, whose name is not yet on either their web page or their Facebook page, making what I believe to be his first professional appearance. Their father, Trent Gold, plays bass in the band. 

Jocey Gold

Tori Gold

Shelby Gold

Kai Gold

Trent Gold

Tim Michaels - Emcee

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Ron Thomason was there at the beginning, Cantrell's Horse Farm just outside of Fincastle, VA, Virginia, near Roanoke where the first multi-day bluegrass festival was held in 1965. His band, Dry Branch Fire Squad, has performed at every Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival since the beginning, all seventy of them. Thomason leads his deeply experienced and varied band through a range of traditional bluegrass and gospel songs interspersed with historical and topical subject matter delivered in a wry, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and usually humorous way. But there's no doubt about the seriousness of his subject matter or his devotion to song and the genre. While not to everyone's taste, Dry Branch Fire Squad has been a long-lived and important bluegrass band.

Ron Thomason

Brian Aldridge & Tom Boyd

Dan Russell

Ron Thomason & Brian Aldridge

The Many Faces of Ron Thomason


Betsy Norris Voss - Bluegrass Fan


Detour has made great strides as we've watched them during the past few years. Lead singer Missy Armstrong has gained in confidence and, at her best, features a strong voice, which can belt with the best of them. She varies her music between traditional bluegrass and country songs with more folk tinted or adapted material. It's well presented with a five piece band supporting Missy. Their web site claims this has been the most active year in their history, with more and better to come. The show is enlivened by some bluegrassed interpretations of country and rock songs. 

Missy Armstrong

Jeff Rose

Scott Zylstra

Jeremy Darrow

Lloyd Douglas

Missy Andrews

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Usually, when the evening ends and everyone heads home, there's no sign of the big blue Martha White Express. When morning breaks, there it is, parked with Rhonda Vincent and the members of her band The Rage inside. As the day wears along, Hunter and Brent may be seen around the grounds, and Mickey found reading the paper back stage. After a while Josh shows up, and, as showtime approaches, the members of the band are dressed and assembled backstage. And then Rhonda appears and it's SHOWTIME. While Rhonda Vincent gives more of herself to the audience when it's time to meet with them, she values her private and quiet time, too. Then she hits the stage, and the show begins - fast paced, varied, everyone in the band featured, the new CD emphasized, Martha White flour and a recent promotion pushed, and plenty of songs from her long catalog sung. It's all there, but it never seems canned. She selects the set's songs based on her almost flawless intuition about what will suit the moment, and then it's over. She goes to the Martha White boutique to sell CD's, t-shirts, and other memorabilia, but also to give what feels and looks like her whole self to her fans, who are lined up waiting to spend a minute or so with her. And, as they move through, she recognizes them, chats for a moment or two, and without ever seeming to rush them along, greets everyone in line one at a time, and in person. It would be easy to be a little cynical about all this, but I'm not. Rhonda is one of the best in a highly competitive business, and gives it her all every time out. 

Rhonda Vincent

Josh Williams

Brothers-in-Law - Hunter & Brent
From the Family Side of the Band

Aaron McDaris

Mickey Harris

Hunter Berry

Brent Burke

 Rhonda & Mickey
 Rhonda Vincent

All-Star Jam in the Workshop Tent

Jerry Douglas, Shawn Camp, Ronnie Simpkins
Rhonda Vincent, Aaron McDaris, Hunter Berry

Big Country Bluegrass

Big Country Bluegrass was founded by Tommy and Teresa Sells in the late eighties is a traditional bluegrass band based in southwestern Virginia and East Tennessee. They bring Eddie Gill's high lonesome sound and plenty of plaintive mountain singing to their show. 

Tommy Sells

Lynwood Lunsford

Tim Laughlin

Theresa Sells

Eddie Gill

Tony King

Lou Reid & Jerry Douglass - Backstage

Jerry Douglas Present The Earls of Leicester

In a day when Flatt & Scruggs may be losing their impact as young, gunslinger bands shoot for the moon with new and, sometimes, interesting music, Jerry Douglas had the idea that it would be a good time to re-introduce, pay tribute to, and re-create the sound and feel of what Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt created after they left Bill Monroe and went out on their own. They were, and may still be, the most successful band of their, or any, era. They brought bluegrass music to regular television, the movies, and Carnegie Hall, creating whole new audiences for it. In putting together the Earls of Leiscester (a wonderful, uncharacteristic pun of a name for a bluegrass band) Douglas picked singer/songwriter Shawn Camp to play the role of Lester Flatt. Johnny Warren, playing his father's 100 year old fiddler played the role and music of his father, Johnny. Charlie Cushman, who's noted as one of the finest Scruggs style banjo players ever played the music of the man he's been emulating for decades. Barry Bales plays, I suppose, Howard Watts, better known as Cedric Rainwater. Tim O'Brien started out as Curley Seckler, but had the bad luck to be involved with two successful superbands at once, making it difficult to tour with the Earls while Hot Rize is hot. Douglas himself plays his ever flexible Dobro as if her were Josh Graves incarnate. The music sounds almost eerily like Flatt & Scruggs, especially with the accent and gestures of Camp. The videos I've posted from Gettysburg so far have had more hits in less time than any others I've ever made. The Earls of Leicester impressed me as having re-created the The Foggy Mountain Boys in an unusual way when I saw them at IBMA's World of Bluegrass last fall. Ninety minutes of their frolic exceeded even that level. Don't miss this band if you can get to see them!

Jerry Douglas

Shawn Camp

Lou Reid

 Barry Bales

Johnny Warren

Lou Reid, Shawn Camp, Jerry Douglas

Shawn Camp 

The Earls of Leicester - 'Til the End of the World Rolls Round - Video

Sold Out!


Sideline began, as its name implies, as a side project for several North Carolina musicians with just a little too much time on their hands during the slow season. Steve Dilling had retired from the road after twenty years with IIIrd Tyme Out, but wanted to keep playing "a little." Fine bluegrass pickers are scattered around North Carolina like Jack's beans, and Steve knows them all. One is even married into his family. A few phone calls and there was a band. A few more and there were some dates. Getting together to play classic bluegrass songs they all knew anyway was more fun than work. And just about the best bluegrass cover band in the country was born. Simple! With over sixty dates this year, including a two week Canadian tour making them an international band, there's probably a little too much work, but I haven't heard many complaints. Sideline has two CD's out so far: Session I and Session II. They have fun playing, and they're really good. Steve Dilling's picking may have slowed a little on the banjo, but he's still the best band emcee in the business. Promoters: Hire this band if you can. Fans: See this band while you can!

Steve Dilling

Brian Aldridge

Jason Moore 

Skip Cherryholmes

Nathan Aldridge

Jason Moore & Skip Cherryholmes

Dudley & Sally Love Connell
Watching Sideline

The Seldom Scene

The Original Seldom Scene began playing in the basement and, each having sold, full-time professional jobs, never thought they'd ever be anything but an enjoyable jam. They forgot to tell all the people who came to see them and stayed to enjoy them for two generations. They introduced a new sound, incorporating the music of their time, rock and folk music, into bluegrass format and then delivering it with skill and elan. Many people still tell us, "You should have seen the original Seldom Scene." But we discovered bluegrass at least ten years after all the current members were in the band. The only remaining original band member is banjo player Ben Eldridge. No member of the current band has spent less than twenty years with the scene. And they are our Seldom Scene, the smoothest and, perhaps, most melodic band in bluegrass.

Ben Eldridge

Ben Eldridge has been with The Seldom Scene since they were founded on November 2, 1971. For the past two years at Gettysburg, his son Chris (Critter) Eldridge, a member of the Punch Brothers, has played with The Scene. Watching the interaction between these two generations of great bluegrass pickers is worth the price of admission alone.

 Ben and Chris Eledridge

Lou Reid

Lou Reid has the second longest tenure with The Seldom Scene, having played guitar with the band for seven years before his current tenure began in 1996;

Dudley Connell

Ronnie Simpkins

Fred Travers

Chris (Critter Eldridge)

Ben & Critter

Baby Williams


Newtown closed the show on Sunday afternoon with grace and fine music to a quickly diminishing crowd in a hurry to get home and ready for work the next day. In the past few years they've broadened their repertoire and sharpened their delivery. They're a good band deserving a better slot in the lineup next year. 

Kati Penn Williams

Jr Williams

Clint Hurd

Tony Mowell 

I'm sorry to say the hot sun got to me on Sunday afternoon, and I couldn't make it to the end of this band I really like. I dragged home with their sound in my ears.

The Saddest Moment