Jam Camp, as an activity for novice and beginner musicians to learn how to play bluegrass music with others was developed, popularized, and spread by the hard work of Pete Wernick, Dr. Banjo. Several years ago he began training several authorized teachers to offer his program on a wider scale. The Jam Camp at Gettysburg, now run by long-time assistant and colleague of Pete's continues to thrive, beginning on Monday afternoon and concluding with a short performance from the Gettysburg stage as the opening act of the event. Attending Jam Camp has become a central event of festivals for many people across the nation.
Blue Moon Rising, a solid bluegrass band featuring the stirring songs written by Guitarist and band leader Chris West, achieved their greatest recognition with the 2005 CD "On the Rise." They have appeared, mostly as a reunion band, from time-to-time during the past four or five years. West's songs like "This Old Martin Box Guitar" and "The Hanging Tree" continue to be popular and are sometimes covered. It was a delight to see the band together again, with a couple of additions, Randall Massengill on guitar and harmony vocals and Kyle Perkins, always reliable on bass.
Blue Highway has become a senior band on the bluegrass circuit through their combination of excellence and consistency. The title of their new CD captures well the essence of their music - Original Traditional. Much of their music is written from within the band by stalwarts Shawn Lane, Wayne Taylor, and Tim Stafford. They sound traditional, but, on closer listening, also communicate a quite contemporary sound and quality. Young Dobro ace Gaven Largent has settled into the band, filling a hole many thought could not be adequately filled. This multi-award winning band can be counted on.
I can't write any more about Sideline being a side project of a few bluegrass veterans. It's emerged as a headliner band containing a mixture of old pros and emerging young guns delivering the best in traditional bluegrass with drive, skill, and commitment. Sideline presented five sets and conducted a workshop during three of the four days of Gettysburg. That's a large commitment, made even more impressive by how few songs they repeated over the period. They seemed to carry the heavy performing load lightly on their shoulders and clearly made a name for themselves with the Gettysburg crowd. Sideline has now gone beyond "keep your eye on" to the "get your local promoter to book" stage. You'll be glad you asked for them. Steve Dilling remains the most engaging band emcee in the business.
Darin & Brooke Aldridge have a new CD out called Faster & Farther, which may be their best collection yet. They appeared at Gettysburg in two configurations this weekend, which deserve two entries. Meanwhile, the duo continues to build a strong band, add personnel, and strengthen themselves internally. Matt Menafee, remembered from his time with Cadillac Sky is a wonderful banjo player, who can play any style. Billy Gee, a veteran bass player from Wilkesboro, NC is steady as a rock, and sings harmony, too. Allan Shadd has been added on guitar, freeing Darin to show more of his virtuoso work on mandolin, his primary instrument. Carley Arrowood is accomplished beyond her age on fiddle showing all one could wish, both instrumentally and vocally. Brooke Justice Aldridge remains one of the strongest, clearest, most nuanced vocal forces to be found anywhere. It remains a mystery why IBMA hasn't yet recognized her as Female Vocalist of the Year.
Leigh Gibson & Mike Barber
Plant Your Fields & Annabelle