Friday, February 26, 2016

Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2016 - Satuday: Review

Saturday dawned warm and sunny at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch with a whole new set of buses in the parking lot and lots of good music to come. While some bands didn't quite live up to their reputations for quality entertainment, they still provided plenty of highlights and variety for bluegrass fans.

The Marksmen

The Marksmen are a well-known bluegrass gospel band.

Earle Weaver

Other names of current touring band not available on web site or Facebook page. If you know their names, please let me know. 

Mark Wheeler

Darin Chambers

Breaking Grass

Breaking Grass came to Palatka with a new banjo player, Jody Elmore, who is still working into the band, but will be a fine addition. I was sad to hear of Thelton Vanderford's continued health difficulties and wish him well. Meanwhile, Zach Wooten has begun singing. The band continues to write excellent new songs and incorporate interesting interpretations of earlier bluegrass. I should think that Breaking Grass is in the hunt for this year's recognition as IBMA Emerging Band.

Cody Farrar

Tyler White

Jody Elmore

Britt Sheffield

Zach Wooten

The Rodeheaver Ranch Museum

Rodeheaver Boys Ranch has built a delightful small museum just across the street from the performance pavilion (needs a name). It contains historical material about Homer Rodeheaver and the Billy Sunday ministry, the ranch itself, and a pretty little cupboard taking a look at the Palatka Bluegrass Festival. This year, it also functioned as the Ranch's point of contact with attendees and the site for selling tickets for the guitar raffle as well as festival t-shirts. Next year, stop in, look around, and buy plenty of tickets on the beautiful guitar they always raffle off.

Bluegrass Cupboard

The Little Roy and Lizzy Show

Little Roy Lewis remains the clown prince of bluegrass music, a remnant of the earlier days of bluegrass where a comic figure wore costumes and played tomfoolery. Younger people, coming new to a bluegrass festival might wonder what this is all about. Fans of the great Lewis Family gospel band, which flourished from the nineteen fifties into this century recognize a nostalgic view back to a simpler day. At seventy-three, Little Roy Lewis can still make a banjo ring. His once protege and now partner, Lizzy Long, plays a many instruments and has developed a sweet singing voice, when she is allowed to use it. The band is all about supporting these two performers. Recently, Haley Stiltner has joined the band on bass.

Little Roy Lewis

Lizzy Long

Nathan Stewart

Tyler Biddix
Haley Stiltner

Little Roy on the Autoharp

Little Roy & Lizzy

Janet & Lamar Moss

The Bluegrass Brothers

The Bluegrass Brothers have been changed with the loss of son Steven to another band, reducing family membership to only Donnie on mandolin and patriarch Victor Dowdy playing bass, singing, and acting as band emcee. This weekend, their new banjo player was ill. The Bluegrass Brothers stand as proof that a band can still move from parking lot picking to success on the bluegrass stage through perseverance, grit, and hard work. Their work is drawn from the first three generations of bluegrass, ranging from Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers to Seldom Scene and The Country Gentlemen. Chris Hart on Dobro worked hard, as he always does.

Victor Dowdy


Donny Dowdy


Chris Hart

The Steep Canyon Rangers

The Steep Canyon Rangers (Steeps to their fans) have not been to Palatka in some years. Last time they were here, they were a pretty much conventional contemporary bluegrass band. Today, they have become a high profile band seen as representing bluegrass in a number of high profile, varied venues. They've toured as Steve Martin's back-up band and recorded with him. On tour, Martin always makes sure they get to play several numbers as themselves.  They joined him on the Tonight show. This year the Steeps will be playing selected dates as part of a comedy tour Steve Martin and Martin Short have created. They'll be performing at places like Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, the Wang Theater in Boston, and the Rama Theater in Canada. In addition, they'll be seen at bluegrass festivals like Gettysburg, Strawberry Park, Grey Fox, and Delaware Valley as well as arts centers and theaters across the country. For many people, as one of the commenters on my Facebook page put it, they represent bluegrass for many people. While some attendees at Palatka may have left the performance, not finding them to their liking, the majority stayed to enjoy or at least seek to appreciate their performance. 

The Steep Canyon Rangers are consummate musicians and thoughtful interpreters of the fine covers they do as well as new material they write. Nicky Sanders stands out as a serious violinist reaching new heights on the fiddle while also being a lively whirling dervish. Woody Platt's singing is a clear and well-modulated lead singer. Graham Sharpe sings fine bass and plays an excellent banjo. Mike Guggino has emerged as a polished and persuasive mandolin player. Since we'll be seeing them a lot this summer, I'll reserve more comments for later. 

Nicky Sanders

Mike Guggino

Graham Sharpe

Charles R. Humphrey III

Michael Ashmead

Woody Platt

Graham Sharpe & Mike Guggino

Nicky Sanders

This year's Palatka Bluegrass Festival was one of the best designed Norman Adams festivals we've ever attended. It contained excellent balance between traditional bluegrass along with more contemporary and cutting edge bands. The partnership between Adams and the administration of the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch continues to be productive for both. Next year's dates: February 16 -18, 2017.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2016: Friday - Review

Friday morning dawned bright and clear at Palatka, welcoming the day of fine music we were about to experience. I walked across the campus to where Gilbert Nelson was teaching his Wernick Methods Jam Class, which appeared to be the largest since he started offering them here.

Gilbert Nelson Leading Large Slow-Jam

This Year's Graduating Class
 Thanks to Leigh Nelson

Open Stage

The Koch Brothers, from Pensacola, FL and attending their first bluegrass festival. Later, young Aaron won Danny Stewart's raffle mandolin.

Justin Koch

Aaron Koch

Alan Sibley & the Magnolia Ramblers

Alan Sibley serves up a nice combination of classic bluegrass and bluegrass gospel mixed with lots of talk about his appearances on RFD-TV. Good opening act. Sadly, Sibley doesn't mention the names of the other members of his band on either his web site or his Facebook page.

Alan Sibley

Larry Wallace

Butch Hodges

Robert Montgomery

Sherry Boyd - Emcee

Sherry Boyd, a radio broadcaster from Mount Airy, NC has consistently been one of the very best festival emcees we encounter anywhere. She's to the point, knows when to talk and when to be quiet, and keeps the audience aware of other opportunities to attend festivals throughout the South.

Audie Blaylock & Redline

Audie Blaylock plays fast-paced, intense, hard-driving bluegrass with a strong emphasis on the music of Jimmy Martin and with lots of newer traditional sounding material. Long-time fiddler Patrick McAvinue is a huge addition to this band. Reed Jones on bass is strong. I didn't catch the name of the band's current banjo player because both Audie's web page and Facebook. More people need to know about the quality and the excitement this band can generate. 

Audie Blaylock

Patrick McAvinue

Reed Jones

Evan Ward

The Golf Cart Corral

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers

Joe Mullins owns a group of radio stations in southern Ohio which play country and bluegrass music. His on-stage voice is reminiscent of radio, too. His band, the best he's had since they hit the road about ten years ago, Jason Barie, when he moved to Mullins' band put, he had a first rate ensemble to deliver his mixture of Scruggs style classic banjo, classic and contemporary gospel, and patriotic tunes. Joe, a member of the superband Longview, plays superb banjo. Mike Terry, on mandolin, joins Joe as the last of the original members of the Radio Ramblers.

Joe Mullins

Dwayne Sparks

Mike Terry

Randy Barnes

Jason Barie

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad has been reinvigorated by changes in its personnel. Fronted for forty years by bluegrass musician/social commentator Ron Thomason, the band is a favorite a large and small festivals around the country. The music is drawn from old-time, folk, and early bluegrass as well as liberally from the songs of Hazel Dickens. Thomason brings sharp analysis and social consciousness to his often piercing wit. This remarkably durable band continue to deliver. The addition of former member Adam McIntosh, a fine flat picker and singer along with bassist Jeff Byrd, referred to by Thomason as a human metronome, has pushed Ron to sharpen his instrumental work. We're looking forward to seeing Dry Branch Fire Squad several times during the coming season.

Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd

Adam McIntosh

Jeff Byrd

McIntosh & Byrd

The Grascals

The Grascals are the Grascals again! They've returned to the excitement and enthusiasm that characterized this band when they hit the road ten years ago. The current band is probably better musically than the original with the addition of John Bryan, a wonderful tenor and fine guitar player, to the mix. I've never seen award winning banjo player Kristin Scott Benson having as much fun on the stage as she is at the beginning of this season. The interactions of Danny Roberts with Adam Haynes on his right and Bryan on his left show the fun they're having as well as the leadership Roberts has assumed in the band. Their show at Palatka was truly enjoyable, with new material and many of their old favorites.

Terry Eldridge

John Bryan

Terry Smith

Kristin Scott Benson

Adam Haynes

Danny Roberts

Terry Eldridge & Kristin Scott Benson

Red Jones

Red and Chery Jones have hosted bluegrass bands for supper at their outdoor kitchen/dining room for many years. They provide a place of respite and good fellowship for hard working musicians as well as some of the best food to be found on the road. They are one of those quiet assets to the bluegrass community which makes it unique and distinctive. 

Chery Jones

The Gibson Brothers

No one finds it odd that two brothers from the far northern reaches of New York State, only three miles from the Canadian border should be at the very summit of success and recognition in the small, and often parochial world, of bluegrass. Growing up on a dairy farm, they were nurtured on classic country music and learned bluegrass early. (Side question: How many current bluegrass players from their generation actually grew up on farms, in the mountains, or worked in mills?) Over the more than twenty years of their career as leaders of the Gibson Brothers, they've created an enviable catalog of highly recognized and recognizable songs, a unique style and sound, and the most entertaining onstage relationship to be found in the music. In addition, they've surrounded themselves with a band known for its individual high quality and forged into a single unit. At Palatka, they showcased three new songs being prepared for their upcoming recording, a new album featuring all Gibson Brothers songs.

Mike Barber

Jesse Brock

Clayton Campbell

Leigh Gibson

Eric Gibson

Friday turned into one of the finest days of bluegrass imaginable. More tomorrow.