Thursday, May 4, 2017

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival: June 1-4 - Preview

The Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival will celebrate its fortieth anniversary at Strawberry Park at 42 Pierce Rd. in Preston, CT from June 1 - 4 this year with a strong lineup in a beautiful amphitheater setting from a stage with excellent sight lines with sound provided by real pros who know what acoustic music sounds like. This year's lineup features top notch national touring bands, many familiar to and well-loved the Strawberry Park audiences as well as popular regional bands who provide much more than fill-in entertainment. Returning after some years absence will be Rhonda Vincent & the Rage while Sideline, a breakout band from North Carolina celebrating more traditional sounds, makes its debut performance at Strawberry Park. This historic New England festival convenient to fans from Boston to New York will please your musical taste in a setting with plenty to offer including a strong history of lots of wall-to-wall jamming.

The Lineup
Rhonda Vincent & The Rage

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage makes her return to Strawberry Park after several years' absence from Preston. As one of the most able and most entertaining figures in the bluegrass world, as well as the hardest working, Rhonda continues to deliver. Her daughter Sally has joined the band, singing harmony and playing rhythm, on the family side of the band, consisting of two sons-in-law and a daughter. There's no nepotism here, though. Only talent! Rhonda will perofrm two sets with country singer Daryle Singletary intervening.

Daryle Singletary

Described in his bio as a hard core country traditionalist, Daryle Singletary uses his resonant baritone voice to recall country legends like his idol, George Jones, as well as other country singers like Dwight Yokum, Johnny Paycheck, the immortal Merle Haggard and others. His show, accompanied by a solid country band featuring pedal steel, drums, and electric guitar often serves as a welcome change-of-pace during a bluegrass festival. He has recorded with Rhonda Vincent, and they are frequently seen in the lineup together.

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing
Bob Amos

Bob Amos, founder of and former lead singer for 90's band Front Range, has returned to northern Vermont, where, over the past five years, he has assembled a first rate bluegrass band and begun recording and performing again. As both a traditionalist and creator of new and thoughtful songs, he captures some of the spare qualities of life in the Northern Kingdom with a fine ear for nuance. Band, featuring Steve Wright on guitar with fiddler Freeman Corey and his daughter Sarah Amos' quality vocals is worth hearing and seeing.

Steve Wright

Kruger Brothers
Jens Kruger

The Kruger Brothers arrived from their native Switzerland a little over twenty years ago, settling in Wilkesboro, NC to be near Doc Watson. After years of traveling and playing across Europe, they found a new home in the center of Appalachia, where they could soak up mountain music and learn from one of the most simultaneously traditional and versatile musicians who ever picked up a guitar. Using bluegrass and mountain music as a springboard, they have forged a sound and approach which brings European classical sensibilities to American music. Last September, we sat in the Red Hat Amphitheater at IBMA in Raleigh to hear Jens' orchestral suite Spirit of the Rockies with a full symphony orchestra. With new music always in their hearts and minds, Jens, brother Uwe, and third brother Joel Landesburg provide joys and musical insights with their magic. Don't miss these two sets, where you can sit back and soak up beauty and excitement!

Uwe Kruger

Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers new CD In the Ground is the first collection they have released containing solely their own compositions. While digital streaming has effectively killed the compact disk, this recording, in its entirety, continues to grow as each song contributes to a musical portrait of the celebrated brothers' development. I've chosen to picture the entire band, above, as the ensemble sound Eric and Leigh have surrounded themselves with over the years contributes depth and individual virtuoso qualities that fully serve to enhance their singing and writing. Mike Barber, with the band since it began, is a subtle driving force in the band. Clayton Campbell's fiddle soars while always enhancing and never seeking to dominate. Jesse Brock, twice IBMA mandolin player of the year is lightning fast and deeply evocative, while his subtle baritone singing is the only third voice ever to join the brothers. This band never fails to uplift its audience or provide musical food for thought.

The Hot Flashes
Amy Gallatin

The Hot Flashes, begun (I think) as something of a lark, have emerged as a smart, witty, versatile band that captures the humor and depth of seasoning. With their supporting crew, The Men 0'Pause, the play music without consideration for genre across a spectrum of moods and highlights from bluegrass to swing and pop. Don't miss this fun band, which will be appearing on three days of the festival. . 

Gail Wade

Peggy Ann Harvey

Jr. Sisk & Ramblers Choice

A shy man whose greatest love is to be in the woods finding deer to fill his freezer, Junior Sisk has established himself as, perhaps, the foremost neo-traditional bluegrass singer. His great model is the Stanley Brothers, but his new songs in traditional style capture many of the themes of bluegrass with a contemporary perspective. His band has become a fine supportive instrument for him, with long-time banjo player Jason Davis one of the best around. 

Steve Dilling

Sideline's no sideline any longer. The band, composed of a mixture of seasoned pros and young hotshots has gone from being an off-season band designed to keep the fingers supple to over 100 dates from coast-to-coast. Built around Steve Dilling after more than twenty years with IIIrd Time Out, go-to bassist Jason Moore (Mountain Heart), and Skip Cherryholmes (Cherryholmes) the band has expanded to feature Brad Hudson on Dobro and vocals and Nathan Aldridge, a fiery young fiddler. The most recent addition to the band is Troy Boone, just having completed his formal education at ETSU, has joined the band on mandolin and lead vocals. Singing material from the first three generations of bluegrass' development, you'll enjoy the energy, humor, and versatility of this band.

Brad Hudson


The SteelDrivers
Richard Bailey

Winners of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album, The SteelDrivers began their career a dozen years ago as a nighttime hard driving, beer swizzling sound relying largely on the song writing and gravely voice of Chris Stapleton. Now, while singer/guitarist Gary Nichols is undergoing some kind of treatment, the band has announced that Adam Wakefield, a recent contestant on The Voice, will be filling in. With Brent Truitt on mandolin and a change in emphasis, the band is less boozy and more serious, but a better band, too. In many ways, fiddler Tami Rodgers has become the heart of the band, with her blazing fiddle, song writing and fine harmony singing. Watch for banjo master Richard Bailey's subtle, yet powerful banjo work and Mike Fleming's excellence on bass. The band the brought the blues back to bluegrass won't disappoint.

Mike Fleming

Lonely Heartstring Band
George Clements

The first time I heard The Lonely Heartstring Band's cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland,"chills ran down my spine. This still happens each time I hear them play this classic. With their first CD Deep Water released by Rounder Records, they have moved rapidly upwards in the staunchly traditional world of bluegrass, where longevity and traditional roots count for much. Beginning life as a Beatles cover band, this band has defied convention and prospered. Instrumentally and vocally well rounded, the band is a constant joy to hear. Outside their classic rock covers, much of the rest of their glowing material is written within the band.

Patrick M'Gonigle

Dry Branch Fire Squad
Ron Thomason

Dry Branch Fire Squad has appeared at all but one of the forty Strawberry Park festivals. Combining wry wit, piercing social commentary, and raw, from-the-heart traditional bluegrass and gospel singing, Many people who might leave early on Sunday morning, wouldn't consider leaving until after Dry Branch's Sunday morning gospel set and Ron Thomason's "Sermon." Some observers complain that many bluegrass bands lack entertainment value. This band entertains, enlightens, and delights!

Tom Boyd

Twisted Pine

Twisted Pine is a hard to categorize genre busting band filled with talent, tunefulness, and teamwork. Based in Boston, they're one of the few bands from their who seem to downplay any connection they might have to Berklee College of Music. Nevertheless, their march toward success is studded with important wins and nominations at FreshGrass, Thomas Point, Rocky Grass, and IBMA the band is filled with musical enterprise and surprise. 

Rachel Sumner

Blackstone Valley Boys

The Blackstone Valley Boys are a Massachusetts band composed of players well-known in New England. They play upbeat, traditional and not-so-traditional bluegrass music from across the genre while having lots of fun on the stage. Since all of New England is, roughly, the size of Indiana, its surprising that so many high quality bands have developed here. The rich variety of bands hearkens back to the post World War II Appalachian diaspora as well as the efforts of traditional collectors like the Rounder Records team to bring mountain music north. The Blackstone Valley Boys and other bands like them point back to this development as well as reaching forward to where acoustic music might go.

Dry Branch Fire Squad
The Stockwell Brothers

The Stockwell Brothers, Barry on Guitar/lead vocals, Al on mandolin, and Bruce on banjo now joined by Bruce's wife Kelly on bass have been in and around New England for at least forty years. Their music is an eclectic mix of bluegrass, swing, rock, folk, and anything else that takes their fancy. Bruce is recognized by his banjo peers as a highly accomplished banjo stylist, having won the Merlefest banjo contest back in 2005. They're on the bill for two sets on Sunday afternoon. Stick around to relax in the sun and soak up their vibe drawn from a deep and wide catalog.

Workshop Stage, located adjacent to the snack bar and near the swimming pools, has programming offers a more informal program of performances and instrumental workshops. Workshops are often an interesting feature that allows you to get to know members of a band better, come to understand their music more thoroughly, or see them in a more intimate setting. Check to schedule for what's happening up there.


Tickets: Tickets to Strawberry Park can be ordered online or by  calling 1-800-356-2460. 

Camping: Strawberry Park has about 300 full hookup campsites available only to ticket holders during the festival. There is also free rough camping for people holding tickets for the bluegrass festival. There are two areas available for rough camping. The ball field is the traditional area where jammers gather in groups to camp. Camping areas are lined out on the field. Jamming continues long into the night as well as often during the day on the festive ball field. Another area, just outside the gate, contains almost unlimited space for additional rough campers.

The Park also owns and/or manages a number of trailers which may be available for rent. These comfortable alternatives for people who don't camp. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-356-2460.

Facilities: Strawberry Park is a comprehensive camping resort featuring spacious swimming pools, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and much more. The snack bar serves full meals at reasonable prices as well as ice cream and snacks. Situated between the Amphitheater and the snack bar is an area that accommodates craft and a few food vendors. You'll find plenty to keep you busy at Strawberry Park. 

Getting To Strawberry Park
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Carl Landi

Under the direction of festival promoter Carl Landi, an executive of park owner Elite Resorts, the Strawbery Park Bluegrass Festival has returned to the quality it had achieved before falling on hard times about a decade ago. This year's event, running from June 1 - 4 offers a range of national and regional bands presenting bluegrass music from a variety of perspectives from traditional to progressive. The air will also be filled with music from the jam sessions around the campground. See you there! 

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