Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Darin & Brooke Aldridge Bluegrass Festival - April 9 & 10, 2010

Darin & Brooke Aldridge
The 1st Annual Darin & Brooke Aldridge Bluegrass Festival (formerly known as the Coot Williams Festival) will open with a Jam and Pinto supper on Thursday night at 6:00 PM and continue through Friday and Saturday April 9 and 10th on the festival grounds at 5799 Coot Williams Road in Cherryville, NC.  The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band, rising in national prominence with their recently released self-titled CD, will serve as host band.  Other headliners include J.D. Crowe and the New South, Balsam Range, and The Harris Brothers. The festival flyer can be found here for further information about location and prices.  The festival will open with a Jam and Supper on Thursday evening, follow with two days of music on Friday and Saturday, and close with a community worship service on Sunday.

Event Schedule
Thursday Night
6:30 p.m. Jam & pinto supper

4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Open Stage
5:00 - 5:30 p.m. Carolina Foxfire
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. Closer Walk
6:00 - 7:30 p.m. Darin Aldridge Student Showcase
7:30 - 8:00 p.m. Catawba Valley Music Revival Youth Band
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Darin & Brooke
9:00 - 9:45 p.m. Unspoken Tradition

11:30 - 1:00 p.m. Open Stage
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. New Plowed Ground
2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Harris Brothers
3:00 - 4:00 p.m. Balsam Range
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Darin & Brooke
5:00 - 6:00 p.m. JD Crowe & The New South
6:00 - 6:30 p.m. BREAK
6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Harris Brothers
7:30 - 8:30 p.m. Balsam Range
8:30 - 9:30 p.m. Darin & Brooke
9:30 - 10:30 p.m. JD Crowe & The New South

J.D. Crowe & The New South

J.D. Crowe is one of the most storied banjo pickers of all time.  He served as a linchpin between the three finger style of Earl Scruggs and the newgrass efforts of virtuosos like Bela Fleck.  His famous Bluegrass Album Band recordings of the eighties captured the sounds of the founders while pointing to the future of bluegrass music.  His current band brings tradition and contemporary sounds together in a most pleasing package.
J.D Crowe
 Dwight McCall

Ricky Wasson
Matt DeSpain

Kyle Perkins

Balsam Range
Balsam Range, coming from nearby Ashville, NC, has been increasingly recognized as one of the most exciting bands in bluegrass.  They feature an extremely strong combination of traditional, familiar tunes and material written by band members.  Their singing and musicianship is of extremely high quality and their recognition quotient has been rapidly rising. Their recent CD "Last Train to Kitty Hawk" had received lots of air play, and is an excellent production.

Buddy Melton

Mark Pruett

Caleb Smith

Darren Nicholson

 Tim Surrett

The Harris Brothers (with Darrin Aldridge)
The Harris Brothers, a local institution in their home town of Lenoir, NC offer an exciting guitar and bass duo performing jazz, blues, bluegrass, Latin, and Americana tunes in a delightful whirl of sound and vocals that proves to be endlessly fascinating.  While they do not travel far from their home base, their performances are worth traveling to hear.

Reggie Harris

Ryan Harris

The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band
Darin Aldridge is a native of Cherryville and has been making his way as a professional musician since he was an early teenager.  After stints with several local bands, he joined fabled Country Gentlemen and toured with them for seven years.  After Charley Waller's untimely death, he was a member of The Circuit Riders, a band formed of many members of the Country Gentlemen.  When he met Brooke Justice his life changed as the two formed a duo and, soon, a band which sang out their faith in churches and other venues  With the release of their fast rising self-titled CD, produced by Nashville veteran Jerry Salley, they have begun to achieve a national visibility as their music, both secular and gospel has inspired and entertained an increasingly large and appreciative audience.  Supported by a fine band of veteran performers, the band brings its joy and faith to Catawba Valley as host band of their own festival.  

Chris Bryant

Eddie Biggerstaff

Perry Woodie

Josh Green
Darin & Brooke

Other Bands

Closer Walk is a gospel bluegrass band featuring Jennifer and Harold Simpson coming from Bessemer, NC. They will be appearing on Friday, as will Carolina Foxfire, a group I can't identify on the Internet.  Unspoken Tradition is a band born, like so many others, some of whom have become prominent, from a jam, which developed into an aspiring bluegrass band. This one traces its roots to the famous Bomb Shelter, a well-known local jam spot in Cherryville.  Also appearing on Friday will be a group of Darin's students and the Catawba Valley Music Revival Youth Band.  All in all, Friday should offer a good mix of traditional bluegrass and bluegrass gospel bands along with a performance from the host band.  On Saturday, New Plowed Ground, a trio featuring Al Dunkelman and his wife along with Dr. Bobby Jones will play their eclectic mix of bluegrass/folk/and Americana, much of it written or arranged by Dunkelman.

New Plowed Ground

Al Dunkelman
Dennis Jones, the wizard of Studio B at WNCW-FM in Spindale, will bring his knowledge and good humor to the task of emceeing.  Food vending will be provided by local church and civic groups.  Co-promoter Linda Hunsacker assures me the food will be delicious.  No alcohol is allowed.  This is a family friendly event.  Other local  vendors will be selling a variety of crafts.  There is rough camping available, but there are no hookups.  There is a bath house with showers, flush toilets, and baby changing tables on the premises. 

The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Bluegrass Festival can be found here:

This small, eclectic country bluegrass festival along the western edge of the North Carolina Piedmont area west of Charlotte should provide an engaging weekend or a rewarding day trip.  It's a good deal more diverse than many more traditional festivals, adding to the attraction of this event.  Come on out!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Family Bands and Bluegrass Prodigies

The essay below was originally posted as my column on the Welcome Page of the California Bluegrass Association, which usually appears on the third Friday of each month.  I like it well enough to repost it here for my own audience.

Is the family band a rich source of talent for the bluegrass music world, a way to keep families together in an increasingly fractured society, an exploitation of child labor, or a meal ticket used by cynical parents manipulating their children?  I suspect it’s all of the above.  Recently, we were at a bluegrass festival where there was a seven (nine?) year old boy who played on the stage with several major bands as well as with the youth band of this event.  He was a whiz on the mandolin. I couldn’t help noticing, however, the worried looks he kept shooting at his handlers (parents and grandparents) who were ever in evidence. The effect of parents on their performing children can be deep and pervasive, resulting in happy success or deep and continuing sadness.

Part of what I do is walk around festivals and other events trying to capture the scene in photographs.  A couple of years ago, I noticed a small family band playing in front of their RV on a sunny, summer morning.  The little girl was sawing away on her fiddle with Dad on the bass and Mom playing guitar. (Why do Dads so often play bass?)  As I pointed my camera toward them, hoping for a candid shot, the father thrust his daughter into a position where she would be prominent in any picture I might take, not trusting the camera (or me) to do its natural thing and show the situation. I lowered my camera and walked on.  Later, when I heard her sing, I noticed she had no idea where a tune might be found, yet her parents continue to push her forward as the front of a family band to this day.
The list of family bands is long and their contributions to bluegrass music are incontrovertible.  No matter how many names I include in this post, my readers will no doubt be able to point out to me ones I’ve missed.  But think of the impact that multi-generational family bands have had on bluegrass music – The Carter Family, The Lewis Family, brothers without end, Skaggs, Brock, Cherryholmes, Doerful…. The list goes on.  Oh, and don’t forget little Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose father had him touring soon after he could walk.  All this raises the question: Where would we be if parents had not introduced their kids to an instrument and got them out performing?  How would bluegrass music be doing today had not Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, Michael Cleveland, Chris Thile, and Marty Stuart not wowed the crowds when they were quite young?

The Lewis Family has been touring as a bluegrass gospel band for more than fifty years.  When Little Roy Lewis speaks about Pop from the stage, it is always with the deepest love and respect.  The family’s song, “One Rose,” a love song to their departed parents, is eagerly awaited and appreciated by their faithful audiences.  Recently, age and infirmity have forced this storied family band to dissolve, while the youngest sibling has continued to tour, perhaps knowing no other life.  The sad decline of the three sisters had been on display for all to see for several years as have some other corrosive family dynamics.  Nevertheless, this band had an enormous impact on people, particularly those who love southern gospel music, for several generations.  Staying together as a family provided them with a core for their popularity. My respect and affection for Little Roy has grown from puzzled bewilderment when I first saw them perform, to a deeper understanding and appreciation for his art and the place of the character he created in the history of bluegrass music. The end of this band as a touring group represents the end of an important era.

Kids grow up and family bands come and go.  Ricky Skaggs has continued to grow musically and within the industry and has become a major force in the bluegrass and country music, the winner of fourteen Grammy Awards, in addition to Country Music Association and IBMA recognitions galore.  Alison Krauss has won twenty-seven Grammy awards, the most of any woman.  Where would these people be if their parents had not put them out to perform at an early age?  And what has their success cost them…and others?

A good analogy lies in the world of big time sports. Think of the arms that have been ruined, the careers cut short or never born, the happy lives left un-led because so many kids were unable to live up to their parents’ unreasonable expectations or to fulfill the self-image developed by parental worship and drive. Even when hall-of-fame success ensued, how many lives have been effectively destroyed.  One only has to think of what appears to me to have been the tortured life of basketball hall of famer Pete Maravich to find an example, and there are many more. One of our own sons might have become an excellent and joyful tennis player, had we not sent him to a high-powered tennis camp and then put him out on the junior tour way before he ever became interested on his own.
Where does motivation to perform come from?  How is a virtuoso performer born and developed?  What are the costs and benefits, particularly psychologically, for the drive, single-mindedness, perhaps even monomania, that lead to greatness in any field of endeavor? Think of Bobby Fisher! Do prodigies develop without the support, encouragement, and drive of their parents?  What’s the difference between these three qualities and cynical exploitation?

In recent years we’ve become close friends with a family band who live in the southeast.  When I first saw them, my reaction was, “Oh, no…here we go again.”  But as we’ve watched them closely, been visitors in their home and been taken into their lives, we’ve discovered that making music together and performing as a family provides the glue for a rich and lively existence. The key, it seems to me, is the parents’ insistence on keeping their values clear to themselves and to their children.  The kids attend(ed) public school and, when the time came, the older one has gone  to college.  The family priorities have clearly remained God, family, school, music, and performing, in that order.  It’s clear to both parents that the kids will grow up and create their own independent lives.  It’s quite certain that music will remain a part of the kids’ lives, although whether that’s as professional musicians is pretty much up in the air.  It’s also clear to me that this is a happy and well-adjusted group of people.

I have no idea how many kids’ lives have been ruined or made full and happy by their association with making music and performing. Some find themselves in it, and others lose their souls chasing it.  Parents seeking to encourage their children to find pleasure in music need to examine themselves as a part of the equation.  Nevertheless, families and music, for good or ill, will continue to go together, to the dismay and pleasure of those who get to see them perform.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Florida State Bluegrass Festival - Perry Florida - April 1 -3, 2010

The 8th annual  Florida State Bluegrass Festival begins on Thursday afternoon, April 1 and runs for three days at the Forest Capital Museum State Park in Perry, Florida. Sponsored by the Perry-Taylor County Chamber of Commerce, this festival is one of the great bargains in bluegrass music, offering an array of first class national and regional bands for a three day ticket price in advance of $10.00 or $15.00 at the gate.  The lineup for this year's festival ranges from the relatively far-out progressive band Cadillac Sky to the bluegrass/country sounds of Marty Raybon, and the more traditional music of Kenny & Amanda Smith.  Regional bands like The Wilson Family and Pure & Simple Bluegrass explore more traditional terrain.  This event, set in a pleasant, shaded area with one of the most beautiful stages to be found anywhere should provide a great three days of bluegrass music.

Cadillac Sky
Bryan Simpson

Cadillac Sky has established itself as one of the most innovative and progressive bands in bluegrass music. With the release of its new CD "Letters from the Deep" scheduled for this summer, it declares itself to have moved from traditional bluegrass to being "a band without boundaries."  Since it's earlier incarnation has lived within few musical boundaries, it will be truly interesting to see where this exciting band is going.  While I haven't seen C-Sky since guitarist David Mayfield joined them, his performances have been said to push the envelope quite far.  The band has been distinguished by its innovation, musicianship, and song-writing.  I'm eager to see their newest work.

Matt Menafee
Ross Holmes
Andy (Panda) Moritz
Kenny & Amanda Smith
The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band offers one of the purest voices and one of the finest flat-picking guitarists to be found anywhere.  Perhaps the story of their first date, which apparently started somewhat awkwardly, but took off as soon as they began to pick and sing together, tells the tale of their partnership.  The band showcases these two fine talents with strong supporting musicians and a tasteful blend of deeply felt gospel bluegrass and fine musicianship.

Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike
Valerie Smith & Liberty Park are familiar to Florida audiences, but they never lose their appeal as they combine excellent musical presentation with high levels of showmanship.  Valerie's background in musical theater combines with Becky Buller's instrumental versatility and song writing to offer a variety of bluegrass and Americana.  The recent addition of Rebekah Long on bass continues to enrich the band as she becomes increasingly comfortable with this band.  Ernie Evans, former President of the North Florida Bluegrass Association, is a multi-instrumentalist and able vocalist who plays an important role in the presentation of this band that always gives high energy, exciting performances. VSLP will perform at Perry on all three days.

Becky Buller & Valerie Smith
 Rebekah Long

Ernie Evans

Marty Raybon & Full Circle
 Marty Raybon & Full Circle comes to Perry with a record of popularity in both bluegrass and country music. As leader of the country band Shenandoah, Raybon charted the Billboard Hot Country list with 22 hit singles.  A native Floridian, Raybon has recently returned to his first love, bluegrass.  Supported by a very strong band  the lively mandolin and fiddle virtuoso Chris Davis and Daniel Grindstaff on banjo, his band will highlight Friday's lineup.

 Marty Raybon

 Chris Davis

Daniel Grindstaff

Featured in the remainder of the lineup will be two extremely able and enjoyable regional bands, The Wilson Family Band from Folkston, GA and Pure & Simple from Dothan, AL.  Each brings experience, high level entertainment, and first rate music to any festival where they appear. 

Pure & Simple Bluegrass
Pure & Simple Bluegrass brings an eclectic variety of traditional first and second generation bluegrass accompanied by some grassed versions of familiar rock music as well as songs from other genres. The band's spokesman and dobro player, Travis Perry, will also be running sound.  Lead singer Steve Kirkland does a first rate job, as do all members of this band.
Travis Perry
 Steve Kirkland

 The Wilson Family Band

 While we had heard them earlier in 2007, we first came to know the Wilson's at Perry later in the year.  Since then, getting to know this band and to watch them develop has been one of the joys of our association with bluegrass music.  To me they continue to stand out as a model for first rate family bands who wish to grow in the music while remaining well grounded in home, community, school, and family.  Watching young Katie grow into her instrument and voice has been a pleasure.  Clint, now nineteen and a college student, has developed into a fine song writer to accompany his emerging voice and fine multi-instrumental talents highlighted by his Shelor style banjo picking.  Father Robert Wilsons resonant soulful voice and solid rhythm guitar ground the band's sound as Melissa Wilson on mandolin and Bruce Sheridan on bass round out this band.

 Robert Wilson

Clint Wilson

Katie Wilson
Other bands scheduled to perform at Perry include The Andrews Family Band from Lake City, FL, a family band featuring teenage brothers Brian and Michael Anderson and fiddler Anna Kallschmidt, which specializes in bluegrass gospel and bluegrass.

The Tallahassee Fiddlers
The Tallahassee Fiddlers is an outgrowth of the Tallahassee Youth Orchestra specializing in ethnic and folk music, which brings young people playing bluegrass fiddle to this event. The Bottom Dollar Boys are a local band from Tallahassee.

On Saturday, a series of workshops led by festival musicians will be held.  Locations and times will be announced.  Kenny Smith will be one of the workshoppers.   There will also be instrument competitions on Saturday morning.  Finally, the very popular chilli cook-off will be held on Saturday, too.  Sounds like a great day.

Mike Robinson will emcee and, with his wife Mary, lead the Bluegrass Gospel Sing and Jam on Sunday morning.

The Forest Capital Museum State Park in Perry can be found here:

There may be a few electric and water sites available for campers.  The last time we attended this festival there were a good variety of vendors. In addition, a chili cook-off held on Saturday (tickets are $5.00 per person) offers some truly interesting and tasty ideas about how to prepare this delicacy.  A variety of instrumental workshops will be held on Saturday, too.  If we haven't met, please stop me to say hello.  

Monday, March 22, 2010

MACC and Grascals at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

In November of 2000 Mandy Adkins died of an inoperable brain-stem tumor.  Her parents, Darrel and Phyllis Adkins, who had promoted a festival called The Bluegrass Classic in Columbus, Ohio for many years, poured their devastation and grief into helping St. Jude Children's Research Hospital find a cure for childhood cancer.  In the years since, Musicians Against Childhood Cancer has donated $530,274.00 to St. Jude and the YMCA.  In the past few years The Grascals, this year's SPBGMA Band of the Year, and Randy Kohrs have become closely associated with the Adkins in this effort, and have visited St. Jude with them to view the facility and participate in the contribution ceremony.

Grascals Donate Takamine Guitars
MACC in July 2009
After SPBGMA the group, accompanied by country song writer and performer Dale Pyatt as well as friends Lynn and Brenda Butler traveled to Memphis to deliver a check for $30,000 as well as two guitars donated by the Takamine guitar company.  In Memphis, they visited with Clea Williamson of Target House, an apartment complex built by Target Stores to provide long-term housing for families whose children are undergoing treatment at St. Jude and research scientist Suzanne Baker, who gave them a tour of her laboratory. The two donated guitars have been placed in the Amy Grant Music Room at Target House for the use of young people who are staying there for treatment or to be with their sick child.

Clea Williamson of Target House
Accepts Takamine Guitars from
Jamie Johnson and Terry Eldredge of The Grascals
Also in Picture - Terry Smith, Randy Kohrs, Dale Pyatt

Dale Pyatt says, "Going to St. Jude's was quite the experience for me and my 11 year old daughter Jenna Marie.  We left Kentucky and drove all night to meet everybody. it was snowing and bad, lots of cars in the ditches, but we made it fine. We met up with Randy and the Grascals at the hospital and toured the chapel with Dr. Baker, and then she took us to her lab where she showed us how they study mice to learn the causes of cancer. She told us that any discoveries are shared with the world and that all the $$ that is raised by the MACC is used only in her lab for start up projects, so there is no waiting for $$. It takes $1,500,000 per day to operate St. Jude, and it was obvious they use that $$ wisely. One sponsor alone donated forty million dollars for a single wing. I had no idea just how big St.Jude is or how many people it takes care of.

Dr. Suzanne Baker in Her Lab
Dr. Baker Explains Microscope Slides to Randy Kohrs

Jamie Johnson, one of two lead singers for The Grascals, was so moved about his most recent visit to St. Jude that he has written a song called "I Am Strong" with his wife Suzanne Mumpower, and fiddler Jennee' Fleenor. Jamie says, "My visit to St Jude changed my life forever in many ways. First, I thank God for my health and my family's health everyday now! It may change tomorrow, but we are healthy today. Second, anyone in this world wants to see STRONG..go to St Jude's and watch these beautiful children fighting for their future! They don't see the end of their lives...they see the end of the cancer...and they see the playground and their friends and their mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters! I looked at the pictures the children wrote on the wall I was so inspired and taken by their thoughts that I translated the best I could in my words and song! Along with Susanne and Jenee, I am so proud and excited about our new song "I am Strong" And to be a small part in [seeking] the cure for childhood cancer!"  Comments like those of Jamie Johnson and Dale Pyatt suggest the depth of feeling and the power of the experience people have on visiting St. Jude, meeting the staff, and seeing the strength and courage of the stricken children.  Losing their daughter Mandy and seeing the quality of the science and compassion of the care given to both children and families has inspired Darrel and Phyllis Adkins to involve the bluegrass community and inspire these musicians to join the battle against childhood cancer through their performances at Musicians Against Childhood Cancer and their testimonials given in performances around the country. 

MACC Donates $30,000 for 2009
Top Row: Lynn Butler, Randy Kohrs, Terry Smith, Terry Eldredge, Dale Pyatt
Bottom Row: Brenda Butler, Phyliss Adkins, Suzanne Baker, Jamie Johnson, Jenna Pyatt, Darrel Adkins 
Photo courtesy of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

We are so thankful to have allies like Musicians Against Childhood Cancer in our battle against pediatric cancer and other deadly childhood diseases,” said Carrie Denning, regional director at ALSAC, the fundraising organization of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Their generosity and dedication to St. Jude helps the hospital continue its unique mission to conduct the groundbreaking research that will benefit children in communities everywhere."

Musicians Against Childhood Cancer will be held at the Hoover-Y Park in Columbus, Ohio this year from July 21st through July 24th.   Information about purchasing your partially tax deductible tickets can be found here.  This year's lineup has not yet been posted, but you can bet on its being one of the best and most interesting lineups presented in all bluegrass music.  Hope to see you there.

My thanks to Brenda Butler for supplying most of the pictures in this post.