Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival - Saturday and Sunday: Review

The weather continued to be uncertain while the music provided the sort of high quality and variety that the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival is known for. A storm interrupted a couple of sets, and by the end of the evening the temperature had dropped into the high forties, requiring frequent addition of more layers of clothing. Fortunately, most regulars there come prepared for just about everything but snow. Some bands, however, were less well prepared. 

Finding a Good Angle

Navy Band Warming Up

The U.S. Navy Band - Country Current

Country Current, the U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band represents the Navy at events ranging from the White House to high school gyms and country fairs. In that hierarchy, Gettysburg isn't exactly at the top, but represents bluegrass royalty. The Navy band contains wonderful musicians who enthusiastically present familiar bluegrass standards, songs written from within the band, and a stirring bluegrass version of the service hymns. This year, at Gettysburg, was a little bittersweet as banjoist Keith Arneson performed there for the last time. He's retiring, but will surely be seen on the bluegrass trail. On the other hand, young Danny Stewart, Jr., well known from his time with the Larry Stephenson Band and the son of promoter/bluegrass entrepreneur Danny Stewart, was welcomed with open arms. Country Current can be counted on for fast paced, heartfelt bluegrass.

Kenny Ray Vaughn w/Patrick White

Keith Arneson

Patrick White

Joe Friedman

Danny Stewart

Proud Pop - Danny Stewart

Camping Compound

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad is one of two bands that have appeared at nearly every Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival since the beginning. Originating in Ohio by way of Kentucky, band leader Ron Thomason was a member of Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys as a teenager. Somewhere along the line, he slipped up and earned a couple of college degrees, becoming a teacher and school administrator. This background collided with a piercing intelligence and scathing yet gentle sense of humor to create a unique performance bringing together a mind-bending view of a world most of us look at as being simple and straightforward. The music is bluegrass, the humor creates a contemporary Will Rogers, and the result is thoughtful good fun for those who listen and appreciate. 

Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd

 Adam McIntosh & Jeff Byrd

Dry Branch Fire Squad - Seven Spanish Angels - Video

Hank & Linda Janney
Married Six Years Ago on Gettysburg Stage

The Grascals

The Grascals have been through a rough patch over the past few years after establishing a reputation for both carrying a second generation torch and introducing new, more contemporary sounding music. Thank goodness they're back on track. The addition of John Bryan's tenor lead and fine guitar picking adds the final touch, completing the transition begun with bringing Adam Haynes on board. The current band may be even stronger than the original, formed a dozen years ago growing out of a group of session players getting together at the Station Inn. See them when you can!

John Bryan

Adam Haynes

Terry Eldredge

Terry Smith

Danny Roberts

Kristin Scott Benson

Adam Haynes & Danny Roberts

The Grascals - I Know Better - Video

Chris - Back Stage Major-Domo

Balsam Range

Balsam Range, composed of five friends from western North Carolina's rural Heywood County was formed in 2007, has made an almost meteoric rise to prominence in the bluegrass world. While, for some years resisting full-time touring as all members hold down jobs, and touring is a risky business at best, nevertheless, they have toured widely, while their songs have been wildly popular. Much of their music is both inspirational and uplifting while, on later consideration, leading the listener to think more deeply. They incorporate songs from a variety of genres, creating a wall of sound that grabs and carries listeners, turning them into fans. Jason Davis substituted for Marc Pruett, whose daughter was graduating from college during the weekend. 

Tim Surrett

Buddy Melton

Darren Nicholson

Caleb Smith

Jason Davis

 Jason Davis & Tim Surrett

Dobro Guys
Fred Travers, Tom Boyd, Wally Hughes

In the Sand Pit

 Chilly Afternoon

Balsam Range Backstage



Sideline presented a rare four sets at Gettysburg, two on Thursday and two on Saturday, where multiple performances on multiple days are rare, but Sideline is that good. Sideline is composed of three experienced road musicians who've played in major bands (IIIrd Tyme Out, Mountain Heart, Cherryholmes) and the Aldridge Brothers, separated by almost twenty years, who've both played with fine regional North Carolina bands. Nathan Aldridge, at age seventeen, has been playing beside John Ridge, one of the finest traditional bluegrass fiddlers around, since he was about seven years old. His older brother, Bryan, is a fine tenor singer and mandolin player. Steve Dilling, with diminished eyesight but a sense of humor as strong as ever, leads the way. Jason Moore brings his powerful bass, while Skip Cherryholmes is strong on guitar and a good singer. Sideline leads the way among contemporary traditional bluegrass cover bands. 

Nathan Aldridge

Jason Moore

Skip Cherryholmes

Steve Dilling

Bryan Aldridge

 Would You Play Music With Your Father-in-Law?

By Sunday morning, the weather had decided to be cold and windy, dry, but not too pleasant. It's not unusual to have rain at Gettysburg in May, but in the years we've been attending, Sunday has always provided warm weather and a relaxed atmosphere as people stay for the Dry Branch Fire Squad gospel service first thing before beginning to leave for home as well as Seldom Scene's long set. This Sunday, it didn't really get close to warm until the closing act. Nevertheless, Gettysburg regulars expect to encounter weather, and spirits remained high. 

At Work

Sam Buckmaster

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad plays an unusual role in two festivals we attend, presenting a Sunday morning gospel program with words (I hesitate to call it a sermon, but it functions as one) provided by leader Ron Thomason. The Sunday show ends as the audience rises to sing "If I Could But Touch the Hem of His Garment" along with the band. This is always a moving moment for believers and seekers alike. 

Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd

Jeff Byrd

Adam McIntosh

Ron Thomason

If I Could But Touch.....

The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band

In too many instances, Darin & Brooke Aldridge appear to have been stereotyped as primarily a southern, gospel band, thus reserved for Sunday performances or for particularly faithful audiences. While they come from deep religious roots and are fervent believers, their appeal is also much broader and they can (and do) tailor their performances to the needs and experience of their audiences. Brooke has a strong, supple voice which can belt, soothe or praise with equal facility. Darin's voice is somewhat lighter, but contributes effective leads and fine harmony, as well as being one of the best mandolin and/or guitar pickers around. Carley Arrowood, on fiddle, provides excellent fiddle and a harmony voice that blends in perfectly, providing the band with enormous vocal versatility, with three players all of whom can switch parts and roles with equal facility. The band has taken another upward step by adding the deeply experienced and musically thoughtful Billy Gee, recently inducted into the Wilkes County Music Hall of Fame, on bass. Tyler Collins is excellent on both banjo and guitar. If you haven't seen this band in a while, you'll find them both musical and entertaining. 

Brooke Aldridge

Darin Aldridge

Carley Arrowood

Tyler Collins

Billy Gee on Brooke's Shoulder

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Outbound Plane - Video

 Trinity River

We've been seeing Trinity River since they were very young, inexperienced, and not very good. After several years of hard touring and harder work, the band has developed a catalog of work, some of it written within the band, other content carefully chosen covers. The singing and playing of the three siblings has all the advantages of sibling harmonies and they've vastly improved as instrumentalists. Mike Harris, their father and no mean singer/guitarist himself, has wisely moved into the background while singing a solo or so, playing well and contributing harmonies. Josh is solid on the Dobro and beyond that on banjo. Brianna, the younger of the two sisters, at fourteen looks and sounds older. Sarah, who has developed her own vocal style, has also begun to truly stand out. Trinity River looks like a good bet to continue improving and working hard to keep raising the bar. 

Sarah Harris

Josh Harris

Brianna Harris

Mike Harris

Lisa Harris

Trinity River - The Mirror - Video

Ferguson & Ferguson

Ferguson & Ferguson are a couple of guys named Gary who are practically invisible on the internet, but who make very pleasant folky Americana music perfect for a warm, sunny spring afternoon. Sadly, they got a cold, windy one. 

Gary Ferguson

Gary Ferguson

Chris Brashear

Keen Hiatt

Chris - Still At His Post Back Stage

The Seldom Scene

With the retirement of Ben Eldridge, the last original member of The Scene after more than forty years anchoring the band with his innovative, driving banjo is gone. Taking his position with skill, enthusiasm while adding at least one additional instrument to the mix, the fiddle is Rickie Simpkins, brother of long-time bass player, Ronnie. Dudley Connell tells me that although Ricky Skaggs has been a guest of The Scene on Fiddle, Rickie Simpkins is the first full-time member of the band who's played fiddle along with banjo, giving the group added versatility. The Scene has played at every Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and, at least these days, plays a long set on Sunday afternoon, often responding to requests from the audience. It's quite a feat to remember as many songs as they play, which may be the reason they haven't added a new one in years. No matter, their audiences don't want to hear new material with a band that created a unique sound and has maintained it from the time they burst on the scene. A truly great band!

Rickie Simpkins

Dudley Connell

Lou Reid

Fred Travers

Ronnie Simpkins

Lou Reid

Rickie Simpkins

Remington Ryde

Remington Ryde, based in rural McClure, PA half-way between Harrisburg and the home of the band's bluegrass festival in Centre Hall, near State College, has been touring hard for a dozen years. Their performance at Gettysburg was the best I've ever seen, as they rose to the occasion and the quality of the audience. Closing this festival is an unenviable task, as the band must watch chairs being folded and a parade of rigs heading up the exit road. Nevertheless, they sang with enthusiasm, and represented themselves with dignity. A reasonably-sized and enthusiastic group of Gettysburg die-hards stayed to the last encore.

Ryan Frankhauser

Billy Lee Cox

Greg Moore

Richard Egolf with Ryan Frankhauser

Southard Sound Planning Lighting for Next Time
w/Rich Winkleman

....and Breaking Down the Stage

...So Long 'Til Next Time