Monday, June 19, 2017

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival 2017 - Saturday & Sunday - Review

We had lots of pleasant weather on Saturday and Sunday after Friday night's chilly rain drove us under cover. Perhaps the best weather for enjoying outdoor music is warm, slightly overcast, and dry. The overcast holds the warmth in long into the evening, whereas clear days allow for the warm air close to the ground to escape, making for pretty skies and chilly fans. There was no rain on Saturday and Sunday until the skies opened up as the last people were leaving the campground. Rain fell most of Sunday night. As usual, when bands appeared on two days, I'll continue to only write about them once. 

Blackstone Valley Boys

The Blackstone Valley Boys come from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, once the home of industrialzing America. Their music combines hard driving bluegrass, folk, and rock in bluegrass style combined with a winning personal style that makes their show entertaining and lively. Their performances can be seen around the region.
Dave Nowlan

Dave Dick

Ken Taylor

Bob Dick

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad, coming from southern Ohio and Colorado, features old-time bluegrass and mountain music combined with Ron Thomason's dry, self-effacing humor which always carries an edge of satire while exposing fans to his own slightly off-center view of the world. He's a folk humorist of rare insight combined with traditional music to create a band persona appreciated and treasured throughout the country. The band appeared on Saturday and, with its unique Sunday gospel program, opened the Sunday show, an event many stay to hear before beginning the trek home. 

Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd

Adam McIntosh

Jeff Byrd

Great Pizza & Good Wine
Fresh by the Stage

The Gail Wade Trio

The Gail Wade Trio, features the talented and versatile singer/song-writer Gail Wade, along with two band mates well known in New England bluegrass circles, Joe DiLillo and Tim St. Jean.The band's repertoire ranges from classic bluegrass through Peter Rowan Newgrass to Gail's coffee-shop folk sound that works well in almost any setting. Gail also appears with The Hot Flashes. 

Gail Wade

Joe DiLillo

Tim St. Jean

The Lonely Heartstring Band

The Lonely Heartstring Band brings together five talented and attractive musicians from Boston who have captivated the bluegrass world with their fine singing and instrumental prowess as well as versatility. Their music ranges from wonderful songs written from within the band to ingenious covers of the Beatles, Paul Simon, Credence Clearwater Revival and more. They tickle and intrigue audiences with their ability to reconfigure iconic rock music into believable bluegrass. The band and its members have reached the second round in the IBMA awards nomination process in seven band award categories plus individual instrumental awards. Don't miss them near you.

George Clements

Matt Witler

Patrick M'Gonigle

Gabe Hirshfeld

Charles Clements

Mike from Ace Audio

Ace Audio provided superb sound in both the amphitheater and the backup stage at the recreation center. They deserve recognition for their flexibility and the strength of their presentation of acoustic sound.

Steve from Ace Audio

 Carl Landi - Festival Manager

Twisted Pine

Twisted Pine is another band coming from the Boston area and composed mostly of Berklee College of Music graduates that's hard to capture with a simple genre label. Coming from a variety of backgrounds and strongly influenced by bluegrass music, this band presents songs fitting within the conventional song-based performance and moving into the territory of jam band presentation, too. As they move away from conventional generic limits, they become increasingly interesting to those with adventuresome musical tastes. Their cover of Blondie's Heart of Glass was greeted with a delighted gasp by the audience. 

Dan Bui

Rachel Sumner

Chris Sartori

Kathleen Parks

Sundays at most festivals are quiet days which are attended largely by people with no urgent reason to head home who want to get still more music in a relaxed and, often, surprising way. A relatively large group of people usually stay for the gospel hour presented by Dry Branch Fire Squad,  for the music, the message, and the humor. The only band which had not already performed during the festival was the Stockwell Brothers, a band well worth staying for. 

The Stockwell Brothers

Three brothers from rural Putney, VT, have been around the bluegrass, folk, rock, and Americana scene in New England for a generation. Barry Stockwell, whose sings lead and plays guitar, has an engaging voice and personality. He also is the promoter at The Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, a non-profit which presents a variety of regular musical events. Brother Al owns Black Mountain Sound in Brattleboro. Bruce is well known in the banjo world, having won the Merlefest banjo contest some years ago and being a frequent staff member at banjo camps around the country. Kelly Stockwell, on bass, has been a driving force in increasing the band's visibility over the past few years.

Barry Stockwell

Bruce Stockwell

Al Stockwell

Kelly Stockwell

Soon after the Stockwells finished and Ace Studio struck the sound, it began to rain. The next morning, despite the number of gypsy moths who had descended on our trailer, we headed home, tired and happy after hearing first class music in a familiar and welcoming setting. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival 2017 - Thursday & Friday - Review

Less than a week after we returned from our long winter/spring trip to the South, we packed and headed to Strawberry Park RV Resort in Preston, CT where, for over a dozen years, we have begun our summer bluegrass season in New England. We always look forward to this event, which has been rescued from near extinction by new management providing increased resources and renewed imagination, despite the fact the the weather in late spring New England is unreliable, at best. This new commitment was signaled by Rhonda Vincent's return to Strawberry Park after too many years' absence.

Chris Wuerth

Chris Wuerth, promoter of GuitarTownCT Productions, debuted as a new emcee this year, doing a creditable job. 

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage with Daryle Singletary

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage opened Strawberry Park on Thursday evening with one long set, before participating in Daryle Singletary's set in support of their new CD of classic country duets called American Grandstand. Rhonda, despite nearly ceaseless touring (the bus left Strawberry Park to travel to Plains, AL by way of Nashville as soon as the the show was finished) Rhonda injects personality and life into her shows. She unselfishly gives credit for excellence to every member of her band, while making sure to distribute the spotlight while remaining careful to keep the show fresh and energetic. Daughter Sally, who became a full-time member of the troupe about a year ago, has become increasingly comfortable on stage. Her byplay with husband Hunter Berry is amusing. The family side of the band, Sally, Hunter, and Dobroist Brent Burke are there for their entertainment value, not because they're kin. Meanwhile, the left side of the band continues to showcase three of the best in the business doing what they do best: Mickey Harris, Josh Williams, and Aaron McDaris speak for themselves, both musically and personally. 

Rhonda Vincent

Sally Berry

Josh Williams

Aaron McDaris

Brent Burke

Hunter Berry

Mickey Harris

Rhonda, Mickey & Josh

Daryle Singletary

Classic country music seems to be filling a desire felt among some bluegrass fans to bring back the sound and feel of music popularized by the likes of Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and, most of all for Daryle Singletary, George Jones. Lists of "old" country or "classic" country look back as far as the singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers and can be as recent as the still active Willie Nelson. In other words, people who appreciate country music with a pedal steel guitar in the mix and generally reject rock music as belonging with it. Singletary has the kind of gravely baritone voice that fits well into the George Jones repertoire. His performance really came to life, when Rhonda joined him on stage for a few duets, including the classic George Jones-Tammy Wynette song, Golden Ring.

Daryle Singletary

Tyler Hall

Phil Frye

Ricky Land

Andy Varner

Brent Johnson

Rhonda Really Loves the Pedal Steel

Daryle Singletary

Rhonda & Daryle

Thursday evening was warm and pleasant, a wonderful way to kick off a four day festival. 

Getting the Ball Field Set Up for Jamming

Emcee Jim Beaver Arrives at Work

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing have become one of the most consistent and original regional bands in New England. Amos, having returned to New England after a long absence, has built a band of local players into a powerhouse unit featuring a good selection of first generation bluegrass songs with an emphasis on Ralph Stanley combined with his own compositions capturing the beauties of New England in nature and values. Enjoy this band whenever you get the chance. 

Bob Amos

Sarah Amos

Gary Darling

Steve Wright

Freeman Corey

Chris Cruger

Junior Sisk's Bus Arriving at the Gate
"How do we get to the stage?"

The Hot Flashes

The Hot Flashes is a group composed, as those of us brought up in an earlier age might say, of women "of a certain age." But don't for a second mistake my coy labeling to suggest that this is old people's music. Accompanied by their side musicians Dobro wizard Roger Williams, his son J.D. on mandolin, and John Urbanek, known as Men-O-Pause, this band is consistently pleasing and surprising. Amy Gallatin, a witty and evocative song writer emcees the band. Peggy Ann Harvey, a multi-instrumentalist whose range extends from fiddle to saxophone to harmonica has a subtle, but authoritative harmony voice. Gail Wade sings her own lovely songs while adding guitar and banjo accompaniments, along with fine harmony. This band will leave you asking for more rather than waiting for the next headliner. 

Amy Gallatin

Peggy Ann Harvey

Gail Wade

 Roger Williams

J.D. Williams

John Urbanek

Steve Dilling

Sideline has emerged as a strong band by not even trying to pretend that they're anything other than five terrific musicians filled with energy and the joy of presenting music from the first two or three generations of bluegrass. But this doesn't mean they're simply playing covers of familiar songs repetitiously. Rather, they seek out songs from early bands that are not necessarily familiar to their audiences and present them with a hard driving sound, first rate musicianship, and lots of fun. While fiddler Nathan Aldridge stayed home this weekend to graduate from high school, veteran Molly Cherryholmes, now touring with Mountain Heart, more than ably filled in. Sideline has reached the second round of IBMA nominations in several categories. 

Brad Hudson

Troy Boone

Jason Moore

Molly Cherryholmes

Skip Cherryholmes

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk, who comes from southern Virginia where he spends much of his spare time making sure there's plenty of venison in the freezer for the coming winter, has become a much sought after representative of both traditional bluegrass, and new songs following the traditional forms. Membership in the band has been consistent for several years, leading to an increasingly cohesive sound anchored in Junior's consistent leadership, fine rhythm guitar, and superb tenor bluegrass voice. 

Junior Sisk

Jamie Harper

Kameron Keller

Jason Davis

Jonathan Dillon

As the afternoon wore down, clouds and then rain moved into the area. forcing the remainder of the power packed evening to move under the pavilion covering the snack bar where a sound stage, usually provided for workshops and minor performances, provided space to continue and finish the night. Despite the chill, damp weather the high quality of the music prevailed, making a success out of what could have been a cold, wet outdoor evening. 

Carl Landi - Festival Manager

Kim Vickery & Eric Gibson Enjoying the Kruger Brothers

 The Gibson Brothers

It's very difficult to get good camera angles at the pavilion/workshop stage in Strawberry Park. I could have gone back in my images files to find super pictures of everyone in the band to post. I decided, rather, to post some of what I was able to take. For some reason, I didn't take pictures of their afternoon set, because the light on the main stage in the late afternoon makes it almost impossible to get good photos. Meanwhile, they were very well received both in the amphitheater and the workshop stage, which felt a lot like a house concert.

Eric, Leigh and Jesse
Jens Kruger & Jim Beaver Looking On

Leigh Gibson & Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell & Eric Gibson

Original Band Members
Eric, Leigh & Mike

The Kruger Brothers

Not even by the broadest stretch of the imagination can the Kruger Brothers be considered to be a bluegrass band, although they can play bluegrass as well as anyone. However, whether they play a sophisticated concert hall backed by a symphony orchestra or as a trio playing and singing their rich mixture of songs, stories, and orchestral suites, they transcend genre and become a trio everyone can and does enjoy. Jens Kruger may be the best banjo player in the world. Period! Winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo, he used the $50,000 prize to help underwrite the composition of his Spirit of the Rockies. While seldom playing bluegrass festivals, the Kruger Brothers hold the existing audience and attract day crowds whenever they do appear at one. Their audiences do something rarely seen at bluegrass events, they listen intently and erupt with cheers at the end of a show. Combining sublime music with amusing and thoughtful commentary, the Kruger Brothers provide a special musical experience. 

Jens Kruger 

Joel Landsberg & Uwe Kruger