Thursday, July 12, 2018

Podunk Bluegrass Festival - Preview

Podunk Bluegrass Festival has become a mainstay of central Connecticut bluegrass music through its now twenty-two years in existence. This year's festival will run from Audust 9 - 12, 2018 at the Hebron Lions Club Fairgrounds in Hebron, CT, located just 15.5 miles southeast of state capital, Hartford, an easy drive from Boston to New York. This lineup is filled with major bluegrass bands as well as local and regional ones to be found on two stages. The former acoustic stage has been renamed the the Showcase Stage, and will feature more mainstream bluegrass, folk, and acoustic acts, catering more to the bluegrass audience. Headliner bands include the Tim O'Brien Band, Balsam Range, and Flatt Lonesome. and Dale Ann Bradley along with fine supporting bands on each day. The band contest looks like a winner, and the usual cluster of other of other activities are all present. Of course, there will be jamming late into the night all over the campus.

Main Stage

Band Contest
In past years, it has been difficult to preview bands participating in the Podunk Band Contest, and even more the secondary stage, because they were such low profile or so social media averse that I couldn't find sufficient information to write about them. Today, even most upstart bands have become savvy enough to post videos of themselves and some contact and personnel information. This is a huge advance over just a year or two ago.

Beg, Steal or Borrow - Last Year's Band Contest Winner

Having said that, I want to emphasize that the band contest offers plenty of good music for early arrivals. In the early days, it was held on Sunday afternoon, attracting few listeners. Now, once you get here and set up on Thursday afternoon, you can look forward to hearing at least four good contest bands performing twice starting at 5:00 PM with the winner to be announced at 10:15, just in time for a night of jamming. 

Collinsville String Band

Collinsville lies only about forty miles west of Hebron, just the other side of Hartford, and performs mostly in the village there. While the Collinsville String Band doesn't play bluegrass exclusively, it sees the genre as were their roots lie.

Blackjack Crossing

Based in Keene, NH and Brattleboro, VT, Blackjack Crossing has been together for nine years, playing locally and at the JoeVal showcase stage, Bluegrass in the Bogs in Massachusetts, and the Cheshire County Fair in NH.  While based in bluegrass, it doesn't restrict itself to the form, while performing many original songs, traditional ones, and thoughtful covers.

Blackjack Crossing - Little Cabin Home on the Hill

Pretty Saro

A Boston-based band formed in 2015, apparently still tinkering with its sound, which has showcased at Joe Val and FressGrass. They work on their fine harmonies and perform at clubs around the Hub. 

Pretty Saro - Horseplay - Green Room Session

River Bones Band

The River Bones Band is from Philadelphia, where they seem to play pretty regularly around the city and its suburbs. They say they don't play mountain music, but are influenced by it and create music which appeals to them, while inviting their audience to join them for a good time.  

Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down

Sponsor of the Band Contest

Mike Mitchell Trio

Mike Mitchell, who plays his grandfather's 1890 hand-carved fiddle comes from fiddle country, in Southwestern, VA. He's had his talented fingers in music ranging from classical to traditional bluegrass to the jam band scene. He teaches fiddle at the Floyd Music School, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA while keeping a busy performance schedule, too. 

The Lowground

The Honey Dewdrops

The Honey Dewdrops have been touring together for nine years and have crafted a unique pleasing sound lying somewhere between folk,bluegrass, country, their own idiosyncratic style. They've toured across thc country and abroad performing at festivals, in concerts, and house concerts, always pleasing and reaching out with beautiful harmonies accompanied on a wide variety of stringed instruments. Their songs are joyful, plaintive, warm, and welcoming. Make the welcome at Podunk. 

The Honey Dewdrops - Let Me Sing 

The Karl Shifflett & Big Country Show

Karl Shifflett & Big Country Show bring the feel and sound of radio music shows in the early days of broadcast radio when bands wearily traveled from small town to small town to appear at 5,000 watt radio stations, trying to sell out small meeting halls, school auditoriums, and local bars to make a living performing a new and much loved version of mountain music the people of these towns loved. Karl is a national treasure keeping this tradition alive. 

Karl Shifflett and Big Country Show

Kristy Cox & Calder Highway with Jerry Salley

Kristy Cox, an Australian born country and bluegrass singer, who has been living and performing full time in the U.S for the past three years is on a limited tour with Jerry Salley, and Grammy Award winning song-writer and fine performer. Australia, with its own history of wild country (the Outback) and successful country singers (think Keith Urban) provides rich territory. This should prove to be an excellent show you won't want to miss. 

Jerry Salley &Kristy Cox - When It Comes to You

Flatt Lonesome
Charli Robertson & Kelsie Robertson Harrigill

Flatt Lonesome is an example of the benefits of talent, hard work, and persistence. Coming from a rural, background in northern Florida, they appeared first about seven years ago. Since then, they have moved to the Nashville area, build an ever growing fan base and been awarded with a pile of IBMA awards. They have broadened their musical palette while their sibling close harmonies are well-loved by many. They haven't reached near the top of their potential yet, so keep an eye on them while you can still afford to go to one of their shows. 

Flatt Lonesome - All My Life

Balsam Range

Balsam Range is one of those rare groups that has had the same personnel in it since their inception in 2007, when they emerged out of rural Heywood County in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina they have their varied musical backgrounds in bluegrass, country, and rock music together into a rich, exciting musical soup. Balsam Range is one of those bands we travel to see when they're in the lineup. They don't play in New England as frequently as they should, so take advantage of this opportunity. 

They[re Burning Georgia Down

Main Campus & Vendors Row

The Zolla Boys

The Zolla Boys have continued to grow, to improve, and to continue to work at their music while allowing themselves to become well-rounded and attractive young people at the same time. As their musicianship and poise have increased, so has their range of song choice and geography. The work shows. They'll be seen on both the main stage and the showcase stage this year, where they will be the host band. 

The Zolla Boys - Colleen Malone

Beg, Steal, or Borrow

Beg, Steal, or Borrow, winner of last year's Podunk Band Contest justly deserve to be on the main stage at Podunk, not just because they won the band contest, but because they are good. Based in Vermont, their range of bluegrass festivals has widened, while they should be known even farther afield. They're a hard driving, inventive and fun. Join the fun on Friday!

Beg, Steal, or Borrow - Hard Hearted

Virginia Ramblers

The Virginia Ramblers are the successor band for the long-time traditional band, The Virginia Cutups. They have continued the musical tradition while add new players from a variety of backgrounds as needed.

Virgnia Ramblers - The Shut In Friend

Dale Ann Bradley

Dale Ann Bradley's voice is familiar and loved by bluegrass fans everywhere. She's been named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year five times. Her leadership of Sister Sadie has helped propel this all woman band of experienced and under-recognized musicians into national prominence. Her melodious voice and warm personality can't help but capture fans wherever she appears. 

Dale Ann Bradley - Somewhere South of Crazy


Flashback was formed originally in 1995 as a reunion band of J.D. Crowe and the New South. The current membership, with Stuart Wyrick on banjo, Richard Bennett on guitar, Don Rigsby on mandolin, and Curt Chapman on bass does an admirable job of recreating the Crowe sound and vibe. 

Flashback - You Can Have Her

The Tim O'Brien Band

For more than forty-five years, Tim O'Brien has showered the musical world with his virtuosity and the variety of his musical imagination. The list of accomplishments don't quite capture the breadth of Tim's accomplishments. A founding member of Hot Rize (IBMA's first Entertainer of the Year), two Grammy Awards, twice IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year don't tell the story. The number of people he's performed with from his sister Molly, with whom he still performs, to singer/songwriter Darrell Scott with whom he has been performing and recording for several years, the range is beyond imagination. Tim will be performing one 90 minute set on Saturday night. 

Tim O'Brien - High Flying Bird

Tod Hutchinson & Mark Fitzgerald
Rosewood Sound

Rest Room & Shower Complex

Gospel Sing & Jam
Kids' Academy Performance

The Cornfed Dogs

With Nick Novia and Joe DiLillo at their center, the Cornfed Dogs have been a busy band in and around New England, Here's an earlier version of the band you'll see on Sunday, but you get the idea. Lots of fun with some familiar faces. 

Cornfed Dogs - Gone Home

Showcase Stage

The Showcase Stage has worked over the past few years to provide an opportunity for little known bands to perform in a festival setting. Sadly, the stage has been located a distance away from the Main Stage on this relatively large fairground. Podunk attendees who wander back to the Showcase Stage are in for a treat this year.   Contrary to past years, most of the bands have an active web presence, although they don't all have YouTube videos. I've done my best to introduce some of these riches to you. Bands appearing more than once or contest bands featured on the main stage are not profiled again. 

Band in the River

This is a young duo from Portland, CT. You can see a video and learn a little more from their Facebook page. 

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces describes itself as "music without borders." Offering acoustic music which apparently achieves what it claims, this band looks and sounds like fun. Worth a trip out to the Showcase Stage,

Wide Open Spaces - Limin'

Grass Routes

Grass Routes has been around since the 1980's, a Connecticut band familiar to and liked by bluegrass fans. This solid cover of a fine Gibson Brothers song shows how deeply into bluegrass communities Leigh and Eric have penetrated around the country. Know a band's greatness by the quality of it's covers. If that's a valid measure, there's plenty good to say about this song and this band. 

Grass Routes - Somethin' Comin' To Me

Andrew Bohrman

An experienced multi-generational performer from Yarmouth, ME, Andrew Bohrman will be performing as a solo act. 

Open Mic with Jack Jolie

Jack Jolie is a noted Maine singer and known associate of the great Al Hawkes. He will host an Open Mic on Thursday as well as perform on this state on Friday 

Jack Jolie - Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart

The Zolla Boys
River Bones Band
Jack Jolie
Still Pickin'

Trio based in Mansfield, CT, Still Pickin' has been performing for nine years at festivals, local events, senior citizens residences, and other venues. 

Still Pickin'Band 

Sinners's Pie

Coming from the Brookline/Newton area of Boston suburbs, Sinner's Pie offers a wide variety of Americana leaning towards acoustic bluegrass and folk. They claim, rightly, that "everything goes better with pie." Make mine strawberry-rhubarb. 

Sinner's Pie - Ring of Gold

Black Jack Crossing

Dale & Darcy Band with Neil Rossi

Dale & Darcy have been entertaining at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT on Saturdays for the past eight years as well as at the full range of festivals, local events, weddings, and family reunions available to solid performing bands. It's always a pleasure, and too rare, to see Neil Rossi, too. 

Seat of Our Pants

It's always refreshing to hear a band that infuses a bit of humor into its music. Seat of Our Pants (SOOP) performs around Connecticut, maintaining a busy schedule. 

Seat of Our Pants - Connected

Jackson's Island Band

"Bluegrass inspired folksy rock band" covers a lot of territory. Not much more available except the FB song linked to below.

Collinsville String Band
Restless Mountain Bluegrass Band

Restless Mountain Bluegrass Band has been active in various configurations in Connecticut for over a decade, and reconstituted in 2017 with several new musicians, a new song mix and new presentation. They claim, "Restless Mountain Bluegrass Band always offers a fun mix of traditional standards and entertaining classics that bring fond memories and a smile. From music stages to special occasions, we'll entertain!"

Restless Mountain Bluegrass Band - I've Got a Tiger by the Tail

See Podunk Showcase bands for information about this band. 

One Way Track 

Zolla Boys
Cajun/Zydeco Dance with the Squeezebox Stompers

On Saturday evening the Squeezebox Stompers will play for a Zydeco/Cajun dance at the Showcase Stage.

Overall, Podunk offers one of the broadest ranges at a mid-sized festival offered anywhere. The Showcase Stage offers New England bands, and particularly those with their roots in Connecticut an opportunity to be seen and heard. Let's hope the attract enough attention from fans and promoters to justify continuing this often neglected stage.

Other Activities

Workshops: As usual, Podunk will feature an extensive, wide ranging Schedule of Workshops. These will empasize instrumental and vocal skills, discussions with artists, and opportunities to drill down with accomplished artists into their approach to music. 

Family Fun: Enjoyable activities and projects for children, sponsored by Hulls Art Supply will continue through the weekend. Here's the schedule

Podunk Kids Academy: Once again the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance (RIBA) will conduct the Kids Academy. Bluegrass festivals feature kids academies during the summer months designed to acquaint children with bluegrass instruments, build a short performance to be delivered on Sunday morning, and give parents a break. Get the details Here.

The Details

The Podunk Bluegrass Festival has, over the years, developed a useful, functional website, making it only necessary for me to provide links to the relevant places at their site. Explore the Podunk Bluegrass Festival web site for further information. 

How to Get to Podunk
Place your location in the space marked O
Click Enter and copy the directions

The Artists' Merchandise Barn

Only a month away, we look forward to seeing your at Podunk. 

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