Saturday, March 4, 2017

Florida Bluegrass Classic 2017 - Review

The Florida Bluegrass Classic, located in the Florida Classic Park near Brooksville, FL, built on its first year impression to become a new staple of the Florida winter bluegrass season. Promoted by Ernie & Deb Evans Evans Media Source, the festival is located in a long-established park dedicated to major dog shows. Offering almost unlimited space for expansion, over 200 water/electric sites, a performance shed, bathroom complex, dump station, and flexible space, the site is nearly ideal for a bluegrass festival. Located within a fifty-some mile radius of Tampa, Orlando, The Villages, and Ocala, the park is convenient to reach for a long-weekend of full immersion in a festival or for a day trip to experience good music and lots of fun. This year featured clear skies, warm weather, and a variety of bands to please a range of musical tastes. Evans Media Source promotes four music festivals in Florida as well as a classic country cruise with more on the horizon. Each event strives for its own distinctive focus while maintaining an emphasis on acoustic music based in bluegrass and country. 

Ernie Evans


Evan's events in the past couple of years have evolved along a couple of interesting lines. He has actually begun activities on Tuesday, although the core of the festival remains Thursday through Saturday, with the bulk of the music running on Friday and Saturday. However, he has been offering activities and music each day, beginning with a musical performance on Tuesday evening. He likens his design to a cruise, where each day there are a variety of activities offered as well as plenty of opportunities to make your own fun. On Tuesday there is a soup beans and cornbread supper followed by pick up bands and a professional performer. On Wednesday the eating highlight is a covered dish supper with campground bands formed from jams or groups who came to the festival. And, of course, attendees can usually find an informal jam on-site at almost any time of day, or late into the evening. 

Greg Bird

Greg Bird acts as the genial pre-festival emcee, sing country karaoke in a skilled, pleasant baritone voice, and share the microphone with anyone wishing to show off their voice or take a try. It's fun and sometimes more than that.

Billy Droze

Billy Droze is a country singer and producer with convincing roots in bluegrass music, unlike Joe Diffie, who made an abortive foray into bluegrass a few years ago and now Daryle Singletary. Droze came to the festival to perform, and mixed easily with the crowd. He also performed very effectively with Marty Raybon on several bluegrass songs. Since I've long maintained that many bluegrass fans are former country fans now not hearing the music they loved a generation ago, so-called classic country is making a strong comeback in bluegrass festivals. Droze belongs to this resurgence as do acts like the Malpass Brothers. Droze also introduced young Grace Pfeiffer, who's more of a pop singer with a fine voice, to the audience. Two of Droze's recent songs have reached #1 on the Bluegrass Today charts.

Grace Pfeiffer with Billy Droze

Grace Pfeiffer

Billy Droze

RV's Continue to Load In

The Performance Shed

 Waiting for the Food to be Announced
Irene, Bill & Pam Warren

Always Plenty of Scrumptious Food

Clarence Candada & Ernie Evans
Getting the Sound Right

Jill & Pete: Super Jammers at Open Mic

Open Mic

Bob & Lacenda Phillips

Donna Gibson, Jan Ladd & Marilee Dove Martinson

Sound Guys
Clarence Canada & Larry Payton

Brink Brinkman: Song Writing Workshop

Mark (Brink) Brinkman conducted one of his popular song writing workshops, explaining the process of song writing with examples chosen from his many recorded songs as well as a couple of in-process ones.

Brink Brinkman

Bill & Maggie Anderson

Bill and Maggie Anderson, now based near Fancy Gap, Virginia, where they retired to be close to more music, are a delightful duo singing bluegrass, gospel, and folk music in a variety of venues as they travel. During the summer, they appear Wednesdays at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Bill is also a certified Martin Guitar repairman who does wonderful guitar care and feeding workshops at festivals.

Bill Anderson

Maggie Anderson

The Adventures of Annabelle Lyn

Three women singing in close harmony and playing acoustic instruments are The Adventures of Annabelle Lyn, an accomplished and entertaining group delivering folk, calypso, rock, and bluegrass covers, all delivered in a unique and idiosyncratically pleasing style. They offer a wonderful change of pace for festival audiences as well as playing in pubs near beaches where they often create a costumed, fantasy show. I'm eager to see them again at a time when the wind doesn't ruin the videos Irene took of them. 

Holly Riley

 Kathryn Belle Long

Elizabeth Fravel

South Country Classic

South Country Classic is a classic country band which emerged out of an idea of Ernie's about might go well at his festivals. Last year at the inaugural Florida Bluegrass Classic they performed for the first time as what was billed as almost a rehearsal to see how such an offering would work out. It was one of the hits of the show. Since then, the band has appeared at YeeHaw Music Fest, gone on a classic country cruise, and shown up again at the Florida Classic with Billy Droze singing lead. Someone who looked a lot like Garth Brooks made an appearance as well as members of Remington Ryde. Great fun was had by all.

Billy Droze

Ernie Evans & Richard Egolf (Remington Ryde)

Dave O'Brien

Sonya Stratton

Garth (Ryan Franhauser) Brooks

Jesse Dane

Warren Blair (Remington Ryde) 

Sonya Stratton with Congratulations Cake for Billy Droze

Bill Anderson - Guitar Workshop

Friday opened warm and clear with Bill Anderson's well-attended guitar repair and maintenance workshop.

Bill Anderson

 Remington Ryde

Remington Ryde comes from Pennsylvania, where leader Ryan Frankhauser also owns a growing bluegrass festival in Centre Hall, across the mountain from State College. They sing traditional bluegrass, lots of gospel music and original songs written by Frankhauser and specialize in corny humor, which isn't to my taste, but their audience enjoys immensely. Billy Lee Cox is one of the best banjo players around. 

Ryan Frankhauser

Billy Lee Cox

Richard Egolf

Warren Blair

Marty Raybon & Full Circle

Since bluegrass diverged from country music into its own genre, few musicians have equaled Marty Raybon's success and seemingly easy crossover success between country and bluegrass. Both with his bluegrass band and with Shenandoah, he has won CMA, ACM, Grammy, and IBMA awards as well as having two albums certified gold and twenty-six charted songs. That kind of cred would suggest that you're getting a "star," when you meet Marty. But what you soon learn, when you get to know him is a kind, deeply faithful, thoughtful and caring person who you'd be happy to call a friend. Marty's life has not been easy or untroubled, which he owns from the stage, but, having come out the other side, is a humble man  and a polished performer who remains a crossover great. Sidemen Chris Davis on mandolin and Luke Munday on banjo are both seasoned, superb performers, while Brad Benge has replaced Marty's brother Tim on bass, and it's too early to assess his contribution. Nevertheless, this is a fine band which spends way too much time playing in the South and deserves much broader nationwide exposure.

Marty Raybon

Luke Munday

Chris Davis

Brad Benge

Marty Raybon

Marty Raybon & Full Circle - Rocky Road Blues 

Salute to the Veterans & Local Providers

Saturday at the Florida Bluegrass Classic opened with a tastefully orchestrated salute to America's veterans, who were very well represented, as the picture above indicates. The salute included the national anthem and a salute by service branch. Furthermore, the recognition extended to police, fire, emergency service and other community organizations often not included in such ceremonies. Here's a salute to Larry Ladd for orchestrating this event.

Ernie Evans Conducts Guitar Workshop

Swinging Bridge

Swinging Bridge, located in southwest Florida around Englewood, is one of Florida's busiest and best local bluegrass bands, playing as often as six nights a week at local gigs and jams. Their song selection ranges through bluegrass history from classics to the more contemporary. Before and after performances, they can almost be found jamming in their encampment. They enliven any festival where they appear.

Chris Bryson

Alan Colpits

Bobby Martin

Doug Rowe

JR Davis

Local Car Collectors 
A Classic Car Show

In keeping with the "Classic" theme of this festival, the inclusion of classic cars from the thirties through the seventies spiced up the show and gave attendees and car collectors a chance to reminisce about the days when you could tell cars apart on the road by style, color, and design. It was a real treat to see a rare Henry Jay, named after the Kaiser founder.

The Gary Waldrep Band

Gary Waldrep comes from the Sand Mountain region of northeastern Alabama, one of the most isolated and sparsely populated regions of the state. His lively music reflects the region's conservative religious and social environs as well as the continuance of sacred harp singing in the area. He's a seasoned performer and one of the few banjo players still using clawhammer banjo as well as three finger style in his shows. Mindy Rakestraw, one of the Daughters of Bluegrass has a fine voice while playing very solid rhythm guitar and Micky Boles is a whirling dervish on the mandolin.

Gary Waldrep

Mindy Johnson Rakestraw

Mickey Boles

Donna Townsell

Randy Smith

Gary Waldrep

Deb & Ernie Evans at the Festival Desk

Jo Odom - Emcee

 Lorraine Jordan & Carolina
Eddy Raven & Country Grass

Lorraine Jordan is both a hard working, hard touring band leader and a canny judge of trends that lead to audience building. Last year she recorded a CD which she called Country Grass, including many traditional country performers doing grassed versions of classic country songs. At the Florida Bluegrass Classic, she opened her long set with her own band, then concluded with an extended guest appearance by country legend Eddy Raven, whose Louisiana tinged singing and evocative song writing proved to be a great hit at Brooksville. Once again, this demonstrated the strong appeal of traditional country music when it's served up in a bluegrass environment with acoustic instruments. The added percussion complemented rather than complicated the well-honed sound of this set. Eddy Raven's spirited, full baritone voice and fine songwriting worked well. His new bluegrass song penned for this tour was especially well received.

Lorraine Jordan

Eddy Raven

Josh Goforth

Ben Greene

Matt Hooper

Alan Hicks

Joe Pesalona

Joe Wilkins

Garrett Newton

The Country Grass set was exceptionally well-received, justifying the supposition that a semi-reunion between segments of musical cousins who have lost track of each other over the years. With the increased influence of rock and pop on today's country, a movement towards one another of bluegrass and classic country makes excellent artistic and commercial sense. The addition of pedal steel to some bluegrass bands and the re-introduction of banjo to many country bands can do nothing but benefit both. 

Lorraine Jordan

Eddy Raven

 The growing success of the Evans Media Source brand is the result of careful rebuilding after the Great Recession from 2007 through 2009 which resulted from the bursting of the housing bubble, or which Ernie was a collateral victim. From that time, he has shown that he can turn festivals around and start them from the ground up. Evans Media Source has become a go-to organization in the state to provide sound, publicity, and other services as well as overall promotion of music events. 

Next Event: The Sertoma Bluegrass Festival at Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, FL March 23 - 26, 2017

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