Tuesday, January 26, 2016
YeeHaw Music Fest 2016 - Review
The Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center lies just to the east of the center of Okeechobee, FL on U.S. route 70. The new home of the renamed and re-imagined YeeHaw Music Fest is nearly an ideal venue for a bluegrass festival. The grounds are spacious and well laid out. The Center itself provides flexible space for a large and varied event. In barely three months from being approached by the City of Okeechobee to bring YeeHaw to the convention center, Ernie Evans, along with his wife Deb and partner Don Miller, pulled off a successful festival that promises to grow and prosper in coming years.
View of the Stage
While the northeastern part of the country was enduring the largest snowfall ever recorded in many cities, cold northern winds and some significant rain couldn't put a damper on this first bluegrass festival to be held in the Agri-Civic Center. A crowd that appeared larger than the past two years at the old site in YeeHaw Junction, thirty miles to the north, bundled up against the cold but remained dry in the building while enjoying more amenities and more solid ground than they ever would have had at the former site. There was little or no nostalgia as people enjoyed themselves and looked eagerly forward to the strong lineups and better weather coming in the future.
In recent years, promoter Ernie Evans has built a concept for his festivals modeled after the design of a cruise ship. Once people begin arriving at the grounds on Monday, he tries to make sure that there's organized activity of some kind every day throughout the week. This year, with standout group The Lonely Heartstring Band heading through the area, he arranged for them to stop for a previously unscheduled performance in the conveniently placed activity tent on Tuesday evening. Despite the chill wind cutting across the fields, a small, but enthusiastic, crowd enjoyed a stellar performance.
The Lonely Heartstring Band
As the week progressed, there were formal and informal opportunities for jamming, including an open mic, a festive covered dish supper on Wednesday, and plenty of opportunities for socializing as old friends greeted each other and people new to YeeHaw enjoyed the scene. The city of Okeechobee is located beside Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida. It is the county seat and center of a vast agricultural and retirement region. There are plenty of nearby motels in a variety of price ranges (remember - it's "in season") and sufficient shopping for necessities, and lots of chain restaurants. I never heard anyone yearn for the days in an open field with a circus tent in the center. It appears that those days are pretty well gone when a more convenient and comfortable alternative exists.
As usual, bluegrassers showed that they know how to eat and how to provide plenty of food for each other at a pot-luck supper. Ernie will probably need to provide a somewhat larger auxiliary tent for next year's event.
Nothin' Fancy is fancier than their name suggests...and more serious, too. They're especially serious about their comedy, which maintains a sense of sponteneity and humor while always being careful not to exceed the bounds of reasonable good taste. The addition of Caleb Cox, now with nine months spent with the band, has proven itself to be an inspired choice. He offers fine flat picking along with excellent rhythm guitar as well as both harmony and lead singing. This weekend, with Mitchel Davis sidelined by a knee injury, Gaven Largent of Blue Highway, filled in superbly on banjo. It's rare to see a musician who's unfamiliar with a band's repertoire pick instrumental jokes within a song as aptly as Gaven did. Nothin' Fancy has stepped up its game to complement its new association with bluegrass recording company Mountain Fever Records. Balancing excellent bluegrass from the first three generations of bluegrass history with Mike Andes' contributions of serious and novelty songs, their work is solid and thoughtfully designed. Nothin' Fancy has worked hard for twenty years, with very few lineup changes. They've developed a large and appreciative fan base and are always reliable. They can, without stretching present two days of varied sets, never repeating a song, while obliging the promoter with interesting and useful workshops.
Tony Shorter & Mike Andes
The YeeHaw Band
A fixture of many Ernie Evans festivals has become the pickup festival band on Thursday evening. Made up of good local pickers and band members who have come to the festival, they function as a popular filler band that regular attendees look forward to hearing and seeing. This year's version featured plenty of guests to keep the interest high. In the future, look for an increase in the number of touring bands on Thursday which might have the effect of pushing the YeeHaw Band back to a performance after the covered dish supper on Wednesday.
Penny Creek is a local band from Melbourne, FL, which is experiencing increasing popularity with their greater visibility. They have just released their first CD. The musical highlight of this group lies with Chris Paganoni's very fine flat picking along with Isaac Taylor's banjo work. The band features covers of less frequently played music from all eras of bluegrass music. Chris's work on Ginseng Sullivan was particularly notable. Bo Frazer on mandolin and fiddle is animated and lively. Susan Pounds, is a solid singer, bass player, and band front. They perform weekly in a Melbourne bar and are getting more attention around the state. Look for them as a scheduled act at Palatka on Thursday.
Jo Odum - Emcee
Jo Odum has become an increasingly important contributor to the quality of Evans Media Source events. She keeps the emphasis on the bands, the festival, the vendors and the sponsors while contributing an appropriate amount of color and good humor.
The Opening Ceremony featured Nothin' Fancy singing the National Anthem and the introduction of the town officials responsible for bring The YeeHaw Music Fest to Okeechobee.
County Commissioner and Fire Department Chaplain
with Center Manger and RV Dealer/Sponsor
Matt Dorreity - Agri-Civic Center Manager
Deb & Ernie Evans
The Atlantic City Boys
The Atlantic City Boys are a national touring group paying tribute to the Jersey Boy bands of the 1960's. Representing a decided change of pace for a bluegrass audience, their music and performance were, nevertheless, welcomed with enthusiasm. Their close harmony to a recorded instrumental track emphasized their allegiance to Franki Valli and similar New Jersey bands. Their performance included tributes to Neil Diamond, the Beach Boys, the BeeGees, and many other performers of the 60's era, right in the pocket of much of the audience, most of whom enthusiastically threw themselves into the performance.
Proud Mom (Deb Evans) Watching Son Mike(i)
The Gary Waldrep Band
The Gary Waldrep Band doesn't travel outside the South much, and it's a shame. The band offers lots of southern gospel style bluegrass with plenty of fervor behind it. Gary's a strong banjo player, both in three finger and in clawhammer styles. Mickey Boles brings super energy, while Mindy Rakestraw's voice is strong and clear. Gary's aunt, Donna Townsel, plays bass and sometimes Travis style guitar. It's a good, entertaining band.
Hwy 41 South
Hwy 41 South, based on Florida's west coast, have improved all around during the past couple of years. Moving Dave Beaumont from bass to lead guitar has given the band more versatility. Jimmy White does a fine job on bass. Mark Horn spreads the work around, giving everyone a chance to show off his best side. Jr Davis, who sang with three bands this weekend, can be counted on for his fine singing.
Solution to Cold Hands on a Chilly Day
Blue Cypress Bluegrass
Blue Cypress Bluegrass is a local band from Vero Beach, They play mostly classic bluegrass or classic sounding bluegrass. Their rendition of "Thirty Years of Farming" was effective, including a verse that I don't think James King sings. They play a weekly Friday night show at the Marsh Landing Restaurant in Felsmere, FL.
Swinging Bridge is also a Florida west coast band which has been existence for about twenty years. They play at festivals around Florida bring good musicianship and lots of fun to their shows.
Sonia Stratton (guest)
Jan and Larry Ladd Gospel Sing
All-in-all the YeeHaw Music Fest, in its debut in a new location on short notice, did a fine job of showing off the site and pointing to a rosy future with plenty of room to grow. Already counting the days until next year.
Next year, the YeeHaw Music Fest will be January 12 - 14, 2017.