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 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.
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.
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.
Sonya Stratton with Congratulations Cake for Billy Droze
Friday opened warm and clear with Bill Anderson's well-attended guitar repair and maintenance workshop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.