Friday, May 3, 2019

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival - 2019 - Preview

The forty-third annual Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival will run from May 30 - June 2, 2019 at Strawberry Park Camping Resort in Preston, CT. One of New England's oldest continuing bluegrass festivals, Strawberry Park went through some adjustments during a change in management, but has now re-emerged as a top-notch event, ranking with the best the northeast has to offer. Located within a hundred or so miles of huge population centers where bluegrass has been a popular form of entertainment since the late forties, the festival appeals to fans of both traditional and more progressive forms of bluegrass, offering something for all. Strawberry Park specializes in offering well-known and ground-breaking national bands, while highlighting the best in local entertainment, too.  Here's this year's lineup along with video examples of their work:

The Gibson Brothers (Mockingbird) and Bluegrass
Leigh Gibson

Eric Gibson

The Gibson Brothers have been a fixture in the region's bluegrass scene since the nineteen nineties. They've been named as IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year as well as twice Entertainer of the Year. Noted for their brother harmonies and song-writing, they have, this year, also recorded a new country album called Mockingbird. With help and encouragement of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the new recording expresses a deep inner part of the brothers background and forward looking attitude. It has been greeted with excitement by Rolling Stone and other major outlets. The Gibsons will be presenting two shows at Strawberry Park, the afternoon one a full electric band playing the Mockingbird material, and a ninety minute evening closer of their bluegrass favorites. What a treat!

Travelin' Day

Balsam Range

Balsam Range emerged from rural Haywood County in North Carolina with deep experience in bluegrass, gospel, country, and rock music, presenting a new creative sound for bluegrass. Couched in tradition, they explored and continue to delve into some of the places where bluegrass seldom goes. The response to their work from traditional audiences as well as more diverse ones has been electric and exciting as they've been awarded two Entertainer of the Year IBMA awards and fiddle player Buddy Melton has won two Male Vocalist of the Year awards. This is their first appearance at Strawberry Park, and you're in for a treat. 

The Girl Who Invented the Wheel

Kruger Brothers

Magic happens when the Kruger Brothers take the stage, whatever the venue. Whether it's a bluegrass festival or concert halls where they often play with an accompanying symphony orchestra, they always receive wild applause, often, certainly for me, bringing their audience to tears of joy or heights of passion. People who don't attend bluegrass festivals often come to them when the Krugers are there, while festival goers can be found in concert halls to see and hear them. I wrote a column in No Depression including more information about the Krugers that you might find interesting. 

Fields of Gold

Dry Branch Fires Squad
Ron Thomason

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad has performed at nearly every edition of Strawberry Park since the beginning, offering a regular set on Saturday and their gospel set on Sunday. They offer a mixture of traditional old-time gospel music and Ron Thomason's unique, incisive view of the state of the world, which might pass for a "Sunday sermon." A fixture at many festivals, Thomason's music is as old as his time spent as one of the the Clinch Mountain Boys with the Stanley Brothers and as new as today's newspaper. 

I Am An Orphan Child & Intro


Steve Dilling

Sideline began its career as an off-season project for several North Carolina bluegrass musicians and has morphed into a phenomenon based on the ability and reputation of Steve Dilling and Jason Moore, while augmenting its personnel with young musicians on their way up. Dilling's son-in-law Skip Cherryholmes carries on the family tradition of his ground-breaking family's band, a popular hit at Strawberry Park more than a decade ago. This band is highly entertaining, and you won't want to miss their sets. 

Thunder Dan

Colebrook Road

Colebrook Road comes from the area around Lancaster, PA, an area rich in Amish culture and the love of bluegrass music. Much of their music is written from within this quite diverse and highly skilled band. Listen for their version of Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" for a hint of their versatility Their first album, On Time, will be released on May 3, but I'd bet they'll have copies on sale at Strawberry Park. . 

One Way Track

Twisted Pine

Twisted Pine has grown in popularity as the Strawberry Park audience has come to appreciate their close harmonies and inventive use of modern material. They have been spreading their music farther afield, with performances at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in Reno, NV in July. They're a Boston-based band who pushes the boundaries while remaining accessible and personable onstage and off. 

Twenty-One and Rising

Gail Wade Trio

Singer, songwriter Gail Wade has been a fixture in New England bluegrass for at least two decades. She's at home, as can be seen on this preview with her trio creating an intimate environment, or in larger, more raucous settings, as with the Hot Flashes, also at Strawberry Park this weekend. Be sure to hear her in both settings. 


Last Fair Deal

Tom Hagymasi, fiddle; Paul Howard, guitar & lead vocal; and Phil Zimmerman, mandolin and banjo, have been performing as a part of Last Fair Deal for four decades. We often forget the impact that the counter culture bands of the seventies had on the development of music of every kind. As rock and roll developed, so did folk, country, and mountain music into new directions and sounds seen as revolutionary in their day. The Last Fair Deal falls into this category and will provide strong whiff's of nostalgia for the Strawberry Park audience.  

The Weight

Stockwell Brothers

The Stockwell Brothers come from a small village in Vermont where music has been at the center of their lives since high school. In one way or another, brothers Bruce, Barry, and Al, played folk music, rock and roll, and bluegrass around the region, and have continued to base their lives in the arts in one way or another. Bruce's wife, Kelly, joined the band on bass a few years ago. Bruce Stockwell is well-known in bluegrass circles as a teacher, former Merlefest contest winner, and banjo stylist. 

The Hobo Song

Hot Flashes

In a world increasingly obsessed with youth and sex, The Hot Flashes come as an unapologetically middle-aged, hip, funny, and good band composed of some of New England's best known musicians. Singers Amy Gallatin, Peggy Harvey, and Gail Wade provide voice and instrumental versatility, with dobro master Roger Williams, his son J.D. on Mandolin, and John Urbanik on bass. Peggy provides additional range through her work on clarinet and saxophone, making possible a variety of musical enjoyment not often encountered on a bluegrass stage. Enjoy these enthusiastic and wildly skilled musicians as they have fun together while producing wonderful tunes and a great vibe. 


Zolla Boys


The Zolla Boys continue to improve, as the clip below, from last year's IBMA World of Bluegrass demonstrates, despite continuing to maintain active school careers and other activities. With their Dad, Larry, as well as a new, young banjo player, they've made significant progress while leading active academic and other interests outside music. 

Don't Believe You've Met My Baby

This year's lineup at Strawberry Park offers some old favorites as well as finding new ways to express their artistry in interesting and exciting ways. It also introduces you to a major band that hasn't played there before, as well as local/regional bands of several stripes. It looks to me as if you can't miss.

The Details

Strawberry Park, located at 42 Pierce Road in Preston, CT, is a large, comprehensive camping/park model resort offering a broad range of facilities and recreational opportunities for families. Early in their summer season, the Park offers two festivals - a bluegrass festival and, the next weekend, a Zydeco festival. One of its jewels is a magnificent outdoor amphitheater, shaded and sloped in such a way as provide wonderful sight lines and to capture sound, funneling it up the hill. 

Not unaccustomed to inclement weather, it often rains during the last weekend in May in eastern Connecticut, Fortunately, under its new management, the Park has provided an outdoor alternative adjacent to the snack bar and pools where a significant audience can gather and the show can go on. In the tradition of bluegrass, every effort is made to continue in the amphitheater, but the alternative stage has become increasingly useful as a workshop stage and a bad weather alternative. 

Possessing a wide range of recreational opportunities including pools, a water park, tennis courts, frisbee golf, and more as well as close proximity to two of Connecticut's casinos and the Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum, you can come for a couple of weeks for a comprehensive vacation with great music as well as convenient off-campus alternatives.

The Snack Bar

Vendors Row

Staying at Strawberry Park 

Strawberry Park contains over 350 RV sites for rent as well as a large number of rental park models and deluxe rental trailers. Hot showers and flush toilets are available as well as full hookup sites. Most sites are shaded and the RV area is within easy walking distance of the Amphitheater. For the bluegrass festival, there are two other alternatives. The baseball field, on a plateau above the RV park, is designated as a jamming area, where dedicated jammers can park where 60 spaces are set aside, free for those holding a Full Weekend Pass. There are no hookups on the ball field. In addition, camping in the rough near the park entrance is free with a weekend pass. Consult the park web site for more detailed information and rules. 

Purchasing Tickets: You can purchase tickets online using their convenient order form and then printing out your completed orders. Tickets run from a day rate ranging from $60.00 (Thursday and Sunday) to $85.00 on Friday and Saturday. A four day festival pass costs $160.00, yielding a free passes for the first and last day as well as a $10.00 saving per ticket for the two major days, a significant saving. You can order online here, or call for tickets at 1.800.356.2460. You can also purchase day or weekend tickets at the gate.

How to Get to Strawberry Park: Place your location into the space marked O then click for a personalized map from your home or lodging place to Strawberry Park.

Once again, Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival promises to provide lots of great and varied bluegrass music as well as great jamming and first rate recreation. Vendors, and a full service snack bar fill out the festivities. Don't miss this years stellar edition!

Carl Landi - Festival Manager

See you there!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis - Book Review

Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, October 2018, 221 pg., $26.95, $10.58) shows in example after example how willfully ignorant Trump employees in Federal agencies were and are, as well as how much hard work and knowledgeability are required to do a good job within the federal bureaucracy. Lewis introduces the reader to a cast of dedicated professionals who provide necessary information and services to keep America running chosen from three million governments employs and with whom President Donald J. Trump has been at war since his inauguration.

Lewis is a story-teller who takes on interesting topics, spinning stories around them as his highly readable, informative narrative style draws the reader in, eventually capturing completely. He begins by showing us how unprepared and incurious the Trump minions were before introducing us to John MacWilliams, the first risk assessment officer of the Department of Energy. MacWilliams had prepared notebooks full of explanatory data and information about the job of DOE and the risks it oversaw, only to spend a few minutes with, of all people, the clueless Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, who inhabits the position.

Throughout the vast and dedicated bureaucracy, government civil service employees, upon learning that Donald J. Trump had somehow been elected President,  swung into action. They prepared voluminous briefing books to prepare members of the new administration to understand and continue doing the jobs that provided crucial information and services to the American people. They expected to be swarmed with these appointees the day after the election….And no one came! When a few new agency heads showed up, they demonstrated a remarkable lack of curiosity about what their jobs entailed. Eighty-nine year old Wilbur Ross thought the Department of Commerce was devoted to business and could never grasp the breadth of services and information it provided. Curiosity and skill were absent. And so information essential to meeting the needs of every day Americans, particulalarly in the rural areas that won the election for Mr. Trump, were hollowed out...neutered and made totally ineffective by a President not interested in governing.

The advantage of Lewis’ style of story-telling lies in his ability to take a general principle of which we’re all aware, in this case the two facts that Trump is sending unqualified hacks to lead the major divisions of the government and that the agencies are being hollowed out, denied money and qualified staff becomes real in his hand. We see directly through the eyes of dedicated employees the importance of many functions we’re not aware exist protect and inform, as well as how cutting off the top and denying funding hollow out the agencies, denying the recipients of their services essential protections and advice that agencies provide. By focusing on the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy, Lewis shows the breadth of their portfolio and the importance of the high quality people working for them. Replacing what Trump has so successfully destroyed, with the canny help of one of America’s most underrated disablers, Mick Mulvaney, will take a generation or more to rebuild once we rid ourselves of their depredations.

The replacement of food scientist Dr. Cathie Wotecki with right wing political hack and talk show host Sam Clovis represents another example of removing expertise from important, but often quietly effective low-profile specialists with political people seeking to achieve political goals. The achievements of Wotecki during her time with FDA at the Department of Agriculture were monumental, and life saving. Clovis job was to shut down programs and eliminate the words “climate change” from government lexicon.

The role of government in rural America hidden, by being administered through small banks, brings expertise and money into places where neither exists, while being hidden by local interests and their antipathy to what they see as “the government.” Lillian Salerno eventually ran for Congress as a Democrat as she became increasingly aware of the Trump strategy of replacing professionals with political appointees who had no expertise or interest in the areas where her specialization had helped strengthen rural areas. Simply a small example of the larger problem. She lost!

Instead of re-visiting the depredations committed daily on the American people, the Tweeting, whining, self-promoting course of the Trump train wreck, Lewis takes the time to burrow into the inner workings of the crucial agencies and programs operated by the lower level political appointees and civil servants who make the wheels turn. Often, the recipients of government services don’t even know these services are sponsored and paid for by the government. Lewis shows how commitment, expertise, hard work, and dedication have built a system that actually delivers necessary services, improves the national health, protects the environment, and places needed checks on the damage often perpetrated by big money and large corporate interests. The results are a hollowing out of the inner workings of the government, hidden by bluster and mis-direction from the top. There’s no little irony in Lewis’s ending the book with the story of a tornado chaser, who has learned to follow behind storms to avoid being killed by the object of his studies.

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is the author of a series of best-selling books mostly having, at least superficially, to do with sports and/or business (Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, Blindside, The Big Short) which have all been best sellers as illuminating changing aspects of our culture through his wonderful storytelling. Originally from New Orleans, and educated at Princeton and The London School of Economics, Lewis’ is 58 years old, and with Fifth Risk at the top of his game.

In the beginning of Fith Risk by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, October 2018, 221 pg., $26.95, $10.58), Lewis chats at length with John Macwilliams, who has identified the five risks facing the government as the Trump administration sets and achieves its chaotic agenda. MacWilliams has identified four risks for Lewis, who finally asks him what the fifth risk is, to which MacWilliams responds, perhaps in a toneless, hopeless voice, “Project management.” This book is highly entertaining as well as “Must Reading!”

Saturday, March 9, 2019

House Concerts: A Boon for Bands with Darin & Brooke Aldridge

House concerts help make travel and lodging possible for a vast number of touring musicians making their way to and from anchor gigs at festivals and concert halls around the country. The artists are often accorded lodging and sometimes significant financial support in return for spending a night in a comfortable home and performing for a group of paying invited guests in a more-or-less informal setting. You can sometimes see these stops along the way on the artists schedules, but often they are held quietly, in a quite private setting, and made available only to invited, paying guests. Usually a fee is charged for attending these events, with all the proceeds going to the band. If you get an invitation to attend one of these events, anywhere in the country, jump at it. You'll have a fine musical experience as well as contributing to keeping live music alive and well in America. Bruce and Jody Watson host such events at their expansive, very pleasant farm near Bushnell, Florida.

Bruce and Jody Watson

Last week, The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band traveled from their home in North Carolina for two concerts at Bruce and Jody's Farm. We drove down at mid-afternoon for the 3:00 PM Sunday concert, arriving early enough to meet our hosts and take a look around as well as to get a brief chance to visit with Darin & Brooke, who we missed at a cancelled show in North Carolina on our way to Florida. The spacious living room had been re-arranged to allow room for people to put down folding chairs, and about 100 music lovers filled the room to more than capacity. 

Darin Aldridge Relaxing by the Fireplace

Ready to Go 

Someone's Everything

There's no amplification at the Watson's home, creating an exceptionally warm sound and intimate environment where the audience is drawn into the performance. experiencing an intense connection with the band. Brooke Aldridge has begun writing her own songs. The song above is one of hers as she shows why she has been named the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year for the second consecutive year.

During the break between sets, we wandered outside to the lanai to enjoy light snacks provided by the guests (next time we'll know to bring something), and visit the picking shack at the back, where the walls are signed by all the people who've appeared there and jammed with Bruce and his friends.

The Picking Shack

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Jerusalem Ridge

Darin & Brooke, who recently celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary, have been honing a sound and developing their reputation based on musically developing the ideas Darin has in his fertile musical imagination. His light tenor blends with Brooke's powerful voice to create a duo of rare power and ability to move listeners. Meanwhile, accomplished on both guitar and mandolin, it often seems a shame that Darin himself doesn't have four arms. With banjo master Matt Menafee playing a classical concert in Nashville, and frequent partner John Cowan ill at home, regular bass player Billy Gee was a delight to see at this house concert. His elegant bass playing and supple bass/baritone voice added resonance to the band's quartet singing.  Carley Arrowood on fiddle and harmony vocals always blends beautifully into this band's mix, making the acoustic quartet a wonder of variety and musicality. 

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Children Go Where I Send Thee

Darin and Brooke's story is one grounded in their mutual love for each other, their faith, gospel and bluegrass music, and for making music together. In the past few years, they've developed connections to singers ranging from Jimmy Fortune, formerly singer and writer for the Statler Brothers, and John Cowan, the legendary bass player and tenor singer for The New Grass Revival, a seminal band in bringing the Rock sensibility into bluegrass music. This has led toward invitations to play on RFD-TV as well as increasing numbers of gigs at the Grand Ol' Opry, where they have appeared about a dozen times in the past two years. Their singing, Darin's amazing instrumental versatility, and Brooke's warm, welcoming voice have led to five well-loved CD's and, now, a new recording contract with Rounder Records. Their first recording with Rounder should be released later in the Spring. Darin and Brooke Aldridge continue to emerge as a major force in music as under Darin's leadership they continue to attract top musicians to play with them and to develop their signature sound. 

After a couple of hours in a musical delight, the audience went home knowing they'd heard the best in an up-close and personal environment provided by the Watsons and enriched by The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Band. Here they are with Shania Twain's great song, "No One Needs to Know."

Don't miss this group at a festival or concert venue near you!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Sertoma Bluegrass Festival 2019 - March 20 - 24 - Preview

Evans Media Source will present its Spring Bluegrass Festival at Sertoma Youth Ranch from March 20th - 24th, 2019. Featuring a strong lineup of sell known national bands including this year's IBMA Entertainer of the Year, Balsam Range, some of Nashville's finest, and lots of great bluegrass music from across the spectrum. Held on the Sertoma Youth Ranch, located at 85 Myers Road, just outside Brooksville, FL, the site is a well-shaded grove of live oak trees equipped with hot showers, a covered performance shed, a first rate snack bar, as well as a range of food and craft vendors. Come early to enjoy the fellowship, jamming, and early activities as well which are always a feature of Ernie and Deb Evans festivals.

The Lineup
Balsam Range

Twice IBMA Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year, Balsam Range offers a range of musical treats from haunting ballads to heartfelt gospel to driving rock with joy and conviction. One of the two of three finest bands currently touring, they have forged a huge record of accomplishment in their, for bluegrass, relatively brief twelve your career. Don't miss this exciting band! 

Balsam Range - Hobo Blues

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy has grown its music, reduced its once trademark clowning, and broadened its repertoire as it has moved into the top ranks of hard-touring, extremely popular bluegrass bands. While they have foresaken some of the comedy and reduced their reliance on Country Gentlemen covers, they have grown musically at every position, Their recordings have received increasing amounts of serious airplay while they have maintained and grown their core audience. Always fun!

Nothin' Fancy - The Footsteps That I Follow

The Grascals

The Grascals have been one of the most energetic and enjoyable traditional bluegrass bands touring for nearly twenty years, now. From minute to minute they can tear your heart out and make you laugh while showing remarkable instrumental versatility; Kristin Scott Benson on banjo has been named IBMA Banjo Player of the Year four times. They owe much of their sound to vintage Osborne Brothers music, while remaining instantly recognizable. They hit the stage with high energy, maintaining their drive and musicality throughout their performance. Welcome them back to EMS shows this year. 

The Grascals - Windy City

Don Rigsby

Since his early years with The Lonesome River Band, Don Rigsby's tenor voice has been one of the most recognizable in bluegrass. His performance in January with his current band was filled with energy, fine singing, and solid emcee work by Rigsby himself. As a music educator for many years at Moorehead State in Kentucky, as a singer and instrumentalist, and as a force in the music, Rigsby has stood firmly and proudly for traditional musical values of bluegrass music. 

Don Rigsby - Daddy Was a Moonshine Man

Donna Ulisse

Donna Ulisse has grown into a powerhouse performer! Her versatility as a song writer has morphed into a series of well attended workshops as stand-alone events where she works with nascent and experienced writers to grow themselves. Her performances on stage have grown from tentative to extraordinary as she takes the stage with confidence to tell her story in wonderfully melodic songs written with art and delivered with high artistry. Her IBMA award winning song writing combine with one of the most pleasing, mellow voices in any music to deliver wonderful shows. 

Donna Ulisse - Whispering Pines

Larry Stephenson

After thirty years with his own band and at least ten more with others, Larry Stephenson's clear, bright tenor voice remains undimmed. It seems to come clear and clean from somewhere deep within without ever seeming forced or difficult, as if he just opens his mouth and the notes flow out. His current, very young, band provides strong support with Nick Dauphinais on guitar. Derek Vaden has ably brought his fine banjo and strong harmony singing to the band, replacing the irreplaceable Kenny Ingram. Larry continues to add new material to the solid body of traditional bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music his many fans know and love. . 
e Larry Stephenson Band - Patches

Larry Efaw's Bluegrass Mountaineers - 

Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers are a Kentucky-based, traditional bluegrass band offering lots of fast bluegrass music which will set your feet tapping. Active mostly in the mid-west and mid-south, this appearance will give some people not familiar with his music a chance to get to know him. 

Larry Efaw & The Bluegrass Mount

Darrell Webb

Darrell Webb returns to Sertoma this year after last  years extremely well-received high intensity performance of his wide ranging, powerful music. He brings with him a new band, but with all the old enthusiasm. Darrell grew up in bluegrass. His music reflects the ancient tones as well as contemporary trends in the wider world of music, making him a rich resource for the bluegrass world. 

Darrell Webb - Crossroads

Rebekah Long

Rebekah Long brings her experience as a fine bass player with Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike for several years and as an experienced sound engineer working for Tom & Dixie Hall to forming and touring with her own band. We haven't seen Rebekah on a bluegrass stage in several years, but expect her to show continued growth and maybe some surprises, which very much include loads of talent!

Rebekah Long -I'll Never Make It Home Tonight

Brad Hudson

Brad Hudson, after stints with Lorraine Jordan as well as with Sideline and guest appearances with a number of other bands, has gone out on his own with his own band. He's a versatile musician, skilled on guitar and Dobro and a fine singer. 

Brad Hudson - Brand New Heartbreak

Jo Odum - Emcee

Here's a link to the entire activity schedule for the Sertoma Bluegrass Festival:

The Details
Tickets: Four day advanced ticket prices (ends March 1) at $65.00
               Four day at the Gate is $75.00 is $75.00
               Wednesday admission is free with a three day ticket.
               Thursday tickets are $25.00
               Friday tickets are $30.00
               Saturday tickets are $35.00 
               Sunday (morning gospel sing) is free with a ticket
               Youth tickets (age 10 - 15) sell for $15.00 for the weekend or $5.00 per day
                Children 9 and under are free.


Camping: Camping with hookups (water & electric) costs $25,00 per night
                  Dry camping is $13,00 per  night with almost unlimited space. 
                  Free hot showers and flush toilets are available.

Nearby Motels: A number of motels are clustered around the Route 98 exit of I-75 (Brooksville). The Days Inn of Brooksville is offering a Special Rate for those attending the Sertoma Bluegrass Festival. It is located 8.3. miles from the Sertoma Youth Ranch
In order to arrange tickets and/or camping call or email Evans Media Sourse at:
               (386) 385-3500 or email:
               Send checks payable to Evans Media Source to:
               119 Clearwater Road, Satsuma, FL 32189

How to Get to Sertoma Youth Ranch
Fill in Your Location in the O Space
Then Click to Generate Your Own Google Map

Ernie Evans

Deb Evans w/Berna Lu Gibson

Promises to be a great show! See you there.....