Monday, August 1, 2016

Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival: September 2 - 4, 2016 - Preview

The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, September 2  4, 2016 at the Salem County Fairgrounds in Woodstown, NJ,is one of the oldest and most historic bluegrass festivals in the country. Founded in 1972, only seven years after the first multi-day festival in Fincastle, VA over Labor Day weekend in 1965, Delaware Valley was founded by Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. Held for the first year at a KOA Campground in Delaware, it then moved to Gloryland Park in Bear, Delaware before finding a permanent and larger home in the Salem County Fairgrounds in Woodstown, NJ for its nineteenth season. DelVal has been located there since then and will celebrate its 45th annual iteration this year. Noted for its fine lineup built on the theory that old-time and bluegrass music form the base for change toward more contemporary interpretations, the festival offers more than a plate-full of first rate performers. The festival is very jammer friendly, features a strong kids academy, programs for children, a Wernick Method Jam Camp, a novice picker's picking place, many craft and instrument vendors, and excellent food vendors. Conveniently located near Wilmington, DE between Philadelphia and Washington, DC, for many people in the Middle Atlantic States, Delaware Valley represents that last summer event before school and life take over again. It's a wonderful day to put the summer away.

The Lineup
Danny Paisley & Southern Grass

Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass serve as host band for the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, coming from just across the river in Pennsylvania's Chester County where his grandparents moved from North Carolina in the thirties, bringing their music with them. Since then, first under his father Bob's direction and now under Danny's, the band has presented hard-edged bluegrass in a unique, driving style. Third generation member Ryan Paisley has become a mainstay of the band on mandolin.

Ryan Paisley

Uncle Earl Reunion

Uncle Earl, a worthy successor for women's bands of the last century like the New Coon Creek Girls, put out two widely appreciated CD's in the middle of the first decade of this century, while paving the way for future female bands like Della Mae and Sister Sadie. Featuring four singer/songwriters with independent reputations of their own, the band thrived for a few years before the members moved on to other interests. Abigail Washburn has formed a fruitful professional and personal bond with Béla Fleck. Kristin Andreassen is widely experienced as an old-time musician, dancer, and music educator. Rayna Gellert is an old-time fiddler who has toured widely, recently releasing her first solo vocal album. A founding member of Uncle Earl, KC Groves is a celebrated multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter who has toured with many bands. Together Uncle Earl put a new spin on old-time music, bringing it to new audiences in their two recordings and wide touring. 

Audie Blaylock & Redline

Audie Blaylock & Redline is a widely recognized traditional, hard-driving band drawing much of its inspiration from the rhythm and music of Jimmy Martin, with whom Blaylock toured. The return of Evan Ward on banjo, as well as stalwart fiddler Patrick McAvinue complement Audie Blaylock's forceful playing and singing.

Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen

Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen are both legendary for their breadth in country/rock, country, bluegrass, folk, and more. They bring their experience with the icons of the music scene over the past two generations to a performance that I would expect to range across the musical landscape in ways that will excite memories and link related genres. From The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers through the best selling bluegrass album of all time (Old And in the Way) to The Desert Rose Band, Tony Rice, and more, these guys from California have seen it all and done most of it. 

Malpass Brothers (afternoon only)

The Malpass Brothers sing classic country with pleasing voices and a solid band supporting their impressions of country greats from the fifties through the eighties. They've found an audience at bluegrass festivals, where, by my estimate, between forty and sixty percent of the audience is composed of disappointed country fans who can't find the music they love on the air or in country shows. Since the audience still loves their songs in live performance, where would be a better place for them to perform than bluegrass festivals. Within the structure of Delaware Valley, they provide a nearly perfect fit. They were frequent openers on several Merle Haggard tours, and played at his funeral some months ago.

Steep Canyon Rangers (evening only)
Graham Sharpe & Woody Platt

The Steep Canyon Rangers have emerged as one of the top contemporary bluegrass bands, bringing their own spin and sound, carefully honed yet wildly inventive. Nicky Sanders is a whirling dervish of fiddling acton, while newly added percussionist Michael Ashmead contributes tastefully conceived sounds rounding out and filling the bands few empty spaces. Mike Guggino on mandolin reminds listeners of the link to Bill Monroe. Songs, singing, and playing by Graham Sharp and Woody Platt provide the glue, while Charles R. Humphrey III is sturdily solid on the bass. The long evening set has become a signature of their performances which will keep listeners glued to their seats when they're not rising to cheer. 

Nicky Sanders

The Stage

Covered Seating

Kruger Brothers

Imagine a unique trio consisting a a bass player born in New York City who moved to Switzerland to play music, where he met two brothers who had supported themselves playing rock music all over Europe, but who wished to move to the United States to live near Doc Watson, whose music they loved and revered. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Kruger Brothers. Jens Kruger brings thoughtful composing skills to his virtuoso play on the banjo, play that has won him the Steve Martin Prize and this year's nomination for IBMA Banjo Player of the Year. If you've never heard this band before, they'll nail you to your seat with music crossing the boundaries between classical chamber music, old-time, folk, and bluegrass. If you've heard them before, you can only joyfully put them in charge for a couple of sets to allow you to sink more deeply into their music. Enjoy!

Jens Kruger

Uwe Kruger

Jim Kweskin & Geoff Muldaur

Jim Kweskin is credited with helping to bring old-time music into the modern era with his Jim Kweskin Jug Band during the sixties and seventies. Geoff Muldauer was also a founding member of the Jug Band, which included musicians like Maria Muldauer, Bill Keith, Richard Greene, and others. Their appearance at Delaware Valley helps provide the historical connections to old-time music so crucial to the development of bluegrass and the forefather of still more contemporary string band groups like the Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers. 

Sister Sadie
Deanie Richardson

Last year's Sunday appearance of Sister Sadie was greeted by cheers and tears as this fine all woman band electrified the audience while lifting everyone's spirit. This year the band is nominated for IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year while Dale Ann Bradley is nominated to repeat for the sixth time as Female Vocalist. Because all the members of this Super Group are actively involved with other projects and their own bands, opportunities to see Sister Sadie are limited. Delaware Valley is a superb location to see and hear this ground breaking band. 

Dale Ann Bradley

The Boxcars
Adam Steffey

The announcement that the Boxcars, featuring Adam Steffey and Ron Stewart, were being formed was met with excitement throughout the bluegrass world. Here was a band that would preserve tradition while forging ahead. As individuals Steffey and Stewart have won thirteen instrumental performer IBMA awards on three different instruments, while the band has been names Instrumental Group of the Year three times and won Emerging Band of the Year in 2011. All that is pretty high cotton. Meanwhile, both men are staples as session recording artists, each appearing on dozens of other recordings every year. This year both men have been nominated again. Adam Steffey has recently moved from adjunct status to full-time faculty in the bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University. Keith Garrett is a fine song writer, whose new works form part of the center of The Boxcars repertoire, along with classic bluegrass songs known to everyone. 

Ron Stewart

Claire Lynch Band

Like a glass of fine wine, Claire Lynch seems to keep improving with age. Since announcing a cutback in her schedule to spend more time in Canada with her new husband, Claire's performances have continued to grow in subtlety as they increase in warmth. With master bassman Mark Schatz on her shoulder and two young gun instrumentalists and singers in Bryan McDowell on mandolin and fiddle and Jarrod Walker on mandolin and Guitar, she has formed a band to frame her wonderful singing and song writing while each side musician performs wonders of his own. The resultant finely honed performances yield sublime music selected from Lynch's long and productive career as well bright new material delivered with ringingly true conviction. Claire has been named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year over a 16 year period and is nominated again this year. 

Bryan McDowell & Jarrod Walker

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will close Saturday night with a long set including a special tribute to the late Ralph Stanley opening the Skaggs set with Sister Sadie, Claire Lynch, and Danny Paisley as special guests. Ricky Skaggs is legendary for his versatility, longevity, and influence within the country and bluegrass music orbits. His music bridges a stage debut with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys when only a child and his entrepreneurial work with Skaggs Family Records where he has recorded the traditional music of the Whites as well as game changing performers like Cherryholmes and Cadillac Sky. After a much rewarded career as a country artist, where he won CMA awards and Grammys, Skaggs returned to bluegrass, where he has led a neo-traditionalist movement to keep the music of Monroe and Ralph Stanley alive. Jake Workman has recently replaced Cody Kilby on guitar.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder


CabGrass, from the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, DE, just across the river, is a string band directed by Steven Field, a member of Brandywine Friends of Old-Time & Bluegrass Music and science teacher at the school which has appeared on Sunday morning at Delaware Valley for the past several years. It's remains a delight to see a bluegrass oriented string band located in a public school perform at a festival. 

Steven Field

Kids Academy

The Kids Academy will perform on Sunday after a couple of days of working together under the able direction of Ira Gitlin and his stafff. You can get additional information about the schedule, registration, and policies of Kids Academy here.   

A Rehearsal of Kids Academy Group

Chris Henry and Hard Core Bluegrass

Chris Henry's career has taken him from the deeply traditional to the wildly experimental and back again. Whether he's performing as a punk rocker, a contemporary country mandolinist, or in his own band Hardcore, however, his music is always informed by, but never governed by, the music and attitude of Bill Monroe, just as Monroe would have wanted. When we saw the band's showcase at IBMA last year, we were blown away by their energy and their crisp tightness. This is a band you'll enjoy as their intensity and sincerity have the potential to sear you. 

Charm City Junction

Charm City Junction is a string band coming from nearby Baltimore reminiscent of the sounds of the long gone Baltimore bar scene, but filled with Irish and old-time influences to boot. Patrick McAvinue, the familiar fiddler with Audie Blaylock and Redline, which will appear at DelVal on Friday, continues his journey as a versatile and talented contemporary fiddler comfortable in the many worlds available to fiddlers from old-time dance music through bluegrass to jazz and beyond. The other players are less familiar to  me, but this band fits right into the structure and idea of DelVal and will prove itself to be popular and welcome in this setting as well as in a much wider set of venues. 

Patrick McAvinue

Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass

Mike Compton & Joe Newberry

Mike Compton is acknowledged worldwide as the foremost teacher and practitioner of Monroe style mandolin play. In bands, he's best know as a member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Joe Newberry, after years as a successful song writer and performer and frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion, recently forsook his day job, committing himself to a full-time career in music. In their album Live they explored the world of the changing country music world of the 1930's and forties to rave reviews. It will be most interesting to see where they're headed and what they're exploring now. 

Kathy Kallick Band

Kathy Kallick was a student at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, musical home of John Prine, among many others. Based on the West Coast for most of her career. She was a founding member, with Laurie Lewis, of one the first all women bluegrass bands The Good Ol' Persons. With her own band, The Kathy Kallick Band, she has recorded and performed widely. She's well known as a guitarist, song writer and for her warm, fine voice. She's also been a prominent voice for the role of women in bluegrass. Annie Staninec is a brilliant and shy young fiddler who's performed with the band for several years. 

Annie Staninec

Seldom Scene
Lou Reid

Seldom Scene has been one of the most important, ground breaking, and long lasting bands in bluegrass music, now having completed 45 years. With the retirement earlier this year of original banjo player Ben Eldridge, the band has added Rickie Simpkins who brings added versatility to the band which has never before had a regular fiddle player as a member. The current lineup, minus Ricky Simpkins, is the longest running version of this great band, having all been together for more than twenty years. The role of closing band on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a carefully designed, creative festival suits a band like Seldom Scene with its familiar, deep catalog meeting the needs of a myriad of fans familiar with their music. 

Rickie Simpkins

Perhaps the most impressive element of the the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is the design of its lineup, both daily and overall for the weekend. The timing of each performer, given the rich opportunities to perform on this last weekend of the summer, presents each band within a larger context giving added meaning to its place in the overall picture of old-time and bluegrass music. No other festival we attend comes close to accomplishing this goal.

Katy Daly

Bill Foster

Other Activities: The Rest of the Festival

Heidi Olsen Leading Jam Camp

Wernick Method Jam Camp: Heidi Olsen will once again be conducting a Wernick Method Jam Camp for beginner and novice instrumentalists who wish to learn to jam, the staple skill of playing bluegrass as well as listening to it. Pete Wernick, aka Dr. Banjo, has been developing a teaching approach for jamming over the past couple of decades. After years of developing and honing his approach, he has identified a series of teachers around the country, many of whom are both graduates of his jam camps and former assistants in them. Heidi Olsen, with wide experience teaching and jamming has run the Delaware Valley Jam Camp for a couple of years and will continue this year with classes Friday through Sunday mornings for two hours each day. There's an additional cost of $65.00 for the three days or $25.00 per session. For further information and to register for Jam Camp, click here.

Jam Central Station offers opportunities for those who don't feel ready for a wide open fast jam to feel at home as they improve their jamming skills. This space offers a good opportunity for those enrolled in Jam Camp as well as others to play in a safe musical environment.

The Children's Stage is located behind the merchandise shed. Here's a schedule of specific activities scheduled there on Friday and Saturday:

1:00 & 3:00 Dave Fry (fun songs and stories)
2:00 & 4:00 Deborah Pieri (storyteller)
1:00 & 3:00 Chris Capehart (magic and comedy)
2:00 & 4:00 John & John & June Gallagher (folksongs)

Chris Capehart - Magician

Kids Watching Capehart

Fiddle Kicks will offer clogging workshops on Friday and Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM. Clogging, traditional Appalachian step-dancing, is a close relative of old-time music as it was experienced in small mountain communities and continues to this day. 

The Details

Purchase Tickets: Discounted tickets are available in three "early bird" categories of discount, the first of which has already expired. By clicking here, you can take advantage of one of the two more available before tickets can only be purchased once the gates open. A full explanation of the ticket prices is available here. You can download a ticket order form here, print it, and mail in an order. You can order tickets online here. Free rough camping is included with the price of tickets. Any way you slice it, the price of tickets at bluegrass festivals remains the best entertainment bargain available for anyone who loves live music.

Camping at Delaware Valley is rough camping with very few power sites, water available at convenient standpipes, and limited shade along the tree lines. Here are the camping guidelines and times. Campers can arrive on Wednesday, July 31 and must vacate the grounds early Monday morning, Labor Day weekend in South Jersey is likely to be hot and sunny. Campers are well advised to bring their own shade with them. Remember that this is a jam friendly festival. An area of the campground has been set aside for quiet camping. A few 20 amp electric sites are available administered and collected by the Fairgrounds staff.

Pump-outs Available at Reasonable Price

Festival Guidelines are pretty simple and straightforward. Here's the list governing pets, wristbands, seating, alcohol, and other essentials every festival goer should know.

Vendors: Delaware Valley attracts a wide range of craft, instrument, and other vendors, mostly housed in a large barn close to the main stage. The Salem County Fairgrounds has several comprehensive food vendors serving full meals and snacks. Independent food vendors include an ice cream vendor, but there's relatively little choice. Many campers join together in groups to provide their own meal services.

How to Get to Salem County Fairgrounds
For a Personalized Map, In put your location in the 0 space
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Festival Director - Carl Goldstein

The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is owned and operated by the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music, a regional non-profit, 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the preservation of old-time, bluegrass, and associated musics. It is run by a Board of Directors with Carl Goldstein as its Chairman. Because of its vision, design, and willingness to take a few chances. DelVal has taken its place among the top bluegrass festivals in the country. Moreover, it is convenient to a population of over 45,000,000 people in the megalopolis running from Boston to Washington. Who can beat that? See you there.