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. 

Friday
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



Sideline
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
with
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