Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Where Bluegrass is Found - Everywhere

"Preacher" Mike & Mary Robinson

We drove into Highlands Hammock State Park, set up our trailer under a tree, and heard a banjo playing one trailer removed. I walked over and found Paul Petrone and Maria camped there with Paul pickin’ happily away. They’d been at YeeHaw Junction for the weekend and would be going to Craig’s RV for the festival at Arcadia the next weekend. After going to get our mail at the Sebring Post Office we drove back into the park. Irene did a double take and said, “Isn’t that Mike and Mary’s trailer?” I pulled over, went into the office, and, sure enough, Mike Robinson was just finishing up registering and would be camped a couple of sites away. On Tuesday Mike came over to invite us to attend a sing and presentation over at DeSoto Park where his mother lives.

Paul Petrone


The Jam
Mike and Mary Robinson have been serving as traveling evangelists to the bluegrass community full-time for the past six years after several years of doing it part time. Their Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam will be heard at about 28 festivals up and down the east coast this year with a portion of their schedule in mostly in Florida and the rest in New England. Typically, a Gospel Sing & Jam is held on Sunday morning at bluegrass festivals before the rest of the Sunday program. Mike & Mary lead a group of jammers and assembled folks who’ve come for the non-denominational Christian service in well known and popular songs like “Take Me in Your Lifeboat,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” There’s usually a few words related to scripture and a prayer. The Gospel Jams are well attended and enjoyed. Both Mike and Mary are available for pastoral counseling, prayer support, and general support and help both at the festivals and by phone. In addition, they love bluegrass music as both fans and performers. Mike is an excellent guitar player and a very good singer who enjoys jamming. He also serves as emcee at many events.


On Tuesday afternoon, the band assembled at our camper and began to practice. As they sang and worked out a program for the evenings event, people stopped by to listen and some even brought chairs along and sat down. Soon Ernie appeared with his guitar, Irene brought out her mandolin, and I broke out my banjo. Paul picked up his fiddle then, and a full scale jam was in progress. Even though Mike had to sing later, he sang with us until he was getting hoarse, but we were sure having fun. Bluegrass happens where you find it.
Mike Robinson
Later on we headed over to Desoto Park for Mike and Mary’s presentation. They set up a microphone and plugged into the park’s PA system. Soon a small, but interested group gathered and the program began. Mike and Mary led off with a couple of songs from gospel song book they distribute at their jams. They also sang some straight bluegrass and a couple of novelty songs. The crowd was soon with them – singing along, laughing on cue, and having a good time. They talked about the nature of their mission, the work they do with and in the bluegrass community. With support from Paul and Maria they sang some more songs, passed a basket for contributions, sang some more songs, and the evening was over. A good time was had by all.

Desoto Park Meeting Room

The Band - Maria, Mary, Mike, & Paul



Mike and Mary Robinson do serious work with a serious purpose, bringing the gospel and the word to people who both appreciate it and need it. Their ministry meets a real need for musicians and bluegrass fans.
Mike & Mary Robinson

Monday, January 26, 2009

YeeHaw Junction - Sunday

There's a certain sadness on Sunday's at most bluegrass festivals. The community is packing up, dissolving, returning home, or moving to the next event. Rigs move slowly towards the exit, raising clouds of dust, no matter how slowly they move along. Others stay until the event winds down to a few diehard fans, many of whom wait until Monday morning to finally pack up and leave. Promoters are faced with the problem of providing an entertaining program to a diminished and often tired audience. Sunday morning is usually devoted to some sort of woship service and bands playing bluegrass gospel, a favorite sub-genre for many devotees.

Word had arrived at YeeHaw Junction that Mary Robinson had fallen ill. Mike and Mary Robinson would not be able to conduct their Bluegrass Gospel Sing and Jam on Sunday morning. Their place was ably taken by Jan and Larry Ladd ably abetted by Maggie and Bill Anderson. The singing was enthusiastic, the message thoughtful and supportive, and the hour successful. (Shortly after our arrival at Highlands Hammock State Park on Monday afternoon, we drove past the gate and Irene saw a motor home she thought she recognized. There was Mike Robinson in the office. Later, we saw Mary who looked healthy, although a little tired. She is recuperating well from some undiagnosed event. They will be holding forth at Craig's RV in Arcadia this coming weekend.)

Bill and Maggie Anderson then followed with an all gospel set. This engaging couple has relocated from their home near Ithaca, New York to the mountains of southwest Virginia, where they have burrowed deep into the rich musical life of that region. Bill, in addition to performing with his wife, is developing a reputation as an instrument builder to supplement his work in repair and restoration. Their mellow and tuneful sets are just the thing for a Sunday morning. Maggie's play on the Dobro is often haunting and powerful, while Bill's guitar is strong. Their voices blend well and the duo is quietly satisfying. Each group performing on Sunday, also had a second set in the afternoon.

Al Batten & The Bluegrass Reunion came through with their usual strong performances on Sunday. They're one of the few groups that can ably sustain four sets over a two day period. Although they repeated a few songs on request, their catalog is long and deep.

Ray LaMarche - 2009 Senior Fiddle Champion

I've posted a link to pictures of the fiddle championship finals here. This event is always interesting and entertaining. It provides young fiddlers a chance to cut their teeth under the pressure of public performance and gives senior fiddlers a chance to shine. Ray LaMarche, the 2009 champion was engaging and skilled in his performance. It's difficult for any aspiring fiddler to be followed by Johnny Ridge, though.

Two local groups filled out the day's performances. One performer, the banjo player for Palms Bluegrass stood out along with Robert Feathers on guitar with Bluegrass Stagecoach. Otherwise, I'm afraid I missed the rest of the names. Both these groups are well known to the Florida audience and were enthusiastically received by the remaining people.

Bluegrass Stagecoach

Palms Bluegrass

I've missed the names of a few of the performers above. If you can help me, please drop me a line at

A Fan

The New American Gothic

Sunday, January 25, 2009

YeeHaw Junction - Saturday

The day dawned bright and sunny and proceeded to become nothing short of delightful - warm enough for a solid drive-in crowd to arrive and enjoy itself. When the sun set it became chilly quite quickly, but many people stayed to the very end, despite the chill air.

Fiddle Championship Nerves
The day began with the YeeHaw Junction fiddle championships. Click here to view the entire fiddle championship lineup. Tomorrow I'll post another album with pictures of the winners. Feel free to download individual pictures for your own pleasure. They should be good enough quality for you to print sizes up to 8x10. I usually leave such albums up for at least 30 days. Don't link to them, as the link will fail after about a month.

Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion

As I've watched this excellent North Carolina mainstay, I've become convinced they're one of the very best traditional bands anywhere. For more than three decades they've exemplified all that's good about bluegrass music. working full-time jobs and performing when and where they can. Their repertoire is mostly covers of classic greats, their musicians superb. They'll never garner enough attention to contend for national awards, but they should be heard and treasured by those who enjoy the best.

Al Batten

Johnny Ridge

Mike Aldridge

Jeff Huffman

Phil Patterson

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire squad also has a history going back to the early days of bluegrass music. Ron Thomason attended the first bluegrass festival in Virginia and has been touring with this legendary band since the mid-seventies. He brings humorous and piercing satirical comedy to the bluegrass wrapped in a band singing style of primitive power that presents both gospel music and traditional songs in powerful and meaning infused ways. His rendition of "Echo Mountain" evokes the shared destiny of humans and their "animals of a different species" friends in a tragic tale of enormous power. The resulting mix is not always to everyone's taste, but careful listening to his stories and anecdotes as well as the band's singing and musicality provides a deeply meaningful experience beyond mere entertainment. Their "Live from Newburyport Fire House" album offers very fine examples of the huge strengths of this band. A new CD hits the streets in a few days.
Ron Thomason
Brian Aldridge

Tom Boyd

Dan Russell

The rest of the day's bands were repeats from the very good Friday lineup. What follows is a collection of band and crowd pictures that I hope captures the spirit of YeeHaw Junction.

Hundred Year Old Fan

Steve & Donald Dowdy (Bluegrass Brothers)

Billy Hurt, Jr. (Bluegrass Brothers)

Bass Workshop

Gary Waldrep

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Mike Andes (Nothin' Fancy)

Chris Sexton & Mitchell Davis (Nothin' Fancy)

The Moron Brothers

Ron Thomason