Friday, April 30, 2010

Merlefest 2010 - Thursday

The largest Thursday crowd I've ever seen built during the afternoon and early evening in anticipation of the closing performance of the Zac Brown Band, a two hour extravaganza, which, as we began listening on the way  back to our camper, seemed to be a package show featuring several subsidiary acts as they built toward Brown's appearance.  People only arriving for this mammoth country music act missed a lot a the finest music Merlefest is well known for.

The day was warm, dry, and sunny. I had left Pete Wernick's Jam Camp early to be able to get a good set of photos of the camp's appearance on the Cabin Stage later in the afternoon.  I went through the ticketing area with good speed, as the crowds had not yet appeared and strolled toward our seats, until I realized that Balsam Range, the festival's opening act was on.  For them I picked up my pace, rushed to my seat, grabbed my camera and began the day's shooting.  As usual for these posts done during the festival, I want to cover the highlights with, perhaps, less detail and commentary, reserving that for some retrospective looks at the festival over the next couple of weeks.  If opening day is any indicator, 2010 looks like a banner year for Merlefest, in its 23rd iteration.

Balsam Range

Balsam Range is a very fine, rising bluegrass band from Asheville, NC that deserves a much wider audience than it has.  They hit the stage with drive and conviction, which never wavered during their tight, and very high quality performance.

Tim Surett

Buddy Melton

Darren Nicholson

Caleb Smith

Mark Pruett

Cindy Baucom - Afternoon Emcee

Andy May on the Cabin Stage
 The Belleville Outfit

This is an exciting young band which will appear several times at Merlefest this year.  Lead singer Phoebe Hunt is supported by a fine band that is tuneful and lively.

Phoebe Hunt

Connor Forsyth

Jeff Brown

Marshall Hood

Rob Teter

Dancin' Dave - A Festival Institution

Pete Wernick's Jam Camp Staff Band

Pete Wernick's Jam Camp takes place from Monday through Thursday at Camp Harrington, a lovely YMCA facility in nearby Boomer, NC.  I'll be writing an extensive piece about the Jam Camp experience within the next few weeks.  Meanwhile, the culmination of Jam Camp is an appearance at the Cabin Stage on Thursday afternoon where the week's work is put on display for the afternoon festival crowd.

Jam Camp on the Cabin Stage

The Duhks

The Duhks have become a Merlefest favorite over the years.  Changes in personnel don't seem to make much difference.  Casey Driessen substituted for Tanyia Elizabeth on fiddle.

Leonard Podolak

Sarah Dugas

Casey Driessen

Bill Young Tribute 

6:30 in the Food Tent
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage

Rhonda Vincent has been struggling against a case of bronchitis for a couple of weeks and was not in good voice last night.  Fortunately, her strong band and vibrant personality filled the gap well, and their set was satisfyingly strong.

Rhonda Vincent

Hunter Berry

Aaron McDaris

Mickey Harris

Ben Helson

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have a great new CD topping the Bluegrass Unlimited charts, have recently returned from a successful appearance in Germany, and have steadily grown a loyal and large fan base.  This could very well be their year to achieve industry recognition as one of the major winners of an IBMA award.  More coverage of them tomorrow.
Eric and Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Joe Walsh

Taj Mahal

I've never seen Taj Mahal before, and surely wasn't disappointed as the veteran blues singer hit the stage with energy and sustained a fine set.  Great stuff!

Early Stages of the Merlefest Sand Sculpture

The Shoppes at Merlefest

Opening day at Merlefest was exciting and enjoyable.  The mixture of bands, styles, and sounds is always interesting.  We hear blends and combinations that aren't heard anywhere else.  More tomorrow.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cindy and Terry Baucom - A Visit

Cindy and Terry Baucom have been referred to as the power couple of bluegrass music.  The name fits, even though these two warm and friendly people have little about them to suggest capital P power.  They found time in their very busy schedule a few days ago to fit in a visit with us in their cozy home in Elkin, NC, which is for sale as they consolidate, planning a move to Union County, near both of their business bases in the Charlotte area.  We drove to their neat, ranch style home in a pretty neighborhood surrounded by pretty homes with azalea bushes in full bloom.  We had about an hour and a half, which went all too fast, before the real estate agent was due to show their home, which was, unfortunately stripped of the memorabilia of two busy and historic careers in bluegrass due to the demands of the looked for sale.

Cindy is the more animated and chatty of the two, sometimes, in her enthusiasm, speaking for both, while Bauc is more reserved, almost shy, while still being forthcoming and thoughtful.  As host of the syndicated radio program "Knee Deep in Bluegrass," now picked up by around 100 AM and FM commercial radio station around the country, Cindy has worked tirelessly to spread the word about bluegrass music the country in her two hour weekly program. In 2005, Cindy earned a well-deserved IBMA award as broadcaster of the year.  She grew up in a bluegrass family.  Jim Brooks, her late father, was a bluegrass musician who early on took her on trips to the local fiddler's conventions as well as to storied bluegrass venues like the long-gone and much missed Sunset Park near West Grove, PA.  She attended Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC, where her broadcasting career began.  Fittingly, the WCC campus is the home of the mega-festival Merlefest, where Cindy has frequently served as one of the emcees.  When found back stage, she always seems to have her recorder in hand and to be interviewing bluegrass musicians for Knee Deep in Bluegrass.

Terry Baucom has been the founding member of more bands than many other pickers have played in.  Among them are Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver; Boone Creek; Lou Reid, Terry Baucom & Carolina;  Baucom, Bibey & Blueridge; IIIrd Tyme Out.  Having been a member of any one of these bands would represent a high point in most careers.  Known as "The Duke of Drive" for his hard driving traditional style,  Born in Monroe, NC, Bauc has been able to make a living as a banjo player for forty years, and at age fifty- seven is in top form.  Recently, Deering Banjos began producing the Terry Baucom signature banjo.  He will be touring with at least four bands during the coming festival season, beginning in May with his second trip to Japan organized by Maro Kawabata. He continues to tour as a member of the Mashville Brigade and as banjo player with Mountain Heart when they play with Tony Rice.  He will also be rejoining Doyle Lawson for an upcoming reunion event.  With all this, Terry also manages to maintain an active teaching schedule. Terry at first appears to be somewhat reticent and reserved, but his shyness disappears as he talks about the influences on his play, his busy career, and his association with Deering Banjos.

Poster of Early Japanese Tour

Our conversation was wide-ranging as we looked at this couple's separate careers and chatted their backgrounds in the music and sense of responsibility for continuing to spread and develop it.  Both are strong advocates of developing a more professional approach to enabling musicians to make a living in music and are active members of the International Bluegrass Music Association. Cindy currently serves on the Board of Directors of IBMA, and both have been winners of IBMA awards, Bauc as emerging artist in 1994.  Each asserted the importance of continued change and development in bluegrass, maintaining that new, innovative, and creative bands reaching out to a new and younger demographic were hugely important.  They also emphasized the need for continued respect and cherishing for the founding bands, whose efforts created a revolution in country and acoustic music during the forties and fifties. It is this combination of respect for the past and continuing creative efforts of change and development which will assure the evolution and expansion of the music to new audiences and, indeed, new parts of the world.  Bauc's upcoming trip to Japan stands as evidence of the worldwide appeal of bluegrass music.

It was truly a delight to spend some time with this busy and engaging couple whose work stands as a testimony to what the Boomer generation has brought and continues to bring to bluegrass music.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hometown Opry - Main Street Music and Loan - Wilkesboro

Every Friday morning at 7:00 AM you can tune in to WKBC 800 on your AM dial or go on down to Main Street Music and Loan for the weekly Hometown Opry.  On a given Friday, you might see Rhonda Vincent, The Kruger Brothers, Doc Watson or The Local Boys, Wayne Henderson. or the Snyder Family.  On other mornings your likely to hear a pick-up band of local pickers or one brought in from almost anywhere in western North Carolina.  Regardless of the band on the small stage, you'll find Main Street Music's owner Mike Palmer alternating between being genial host, videographer, and taking care of his pawn business.  Radio host for the next two hours will be Steve Handy, the regular morning voice of WKBC and Ed (Edgar Alan or Sherlock) Racey will be adding their own brand of patter, corn pone humor, and wacky drawings. 

The Snake Descends on Steve and Ed

Mike Palmer Recording the Show

While Main Street Music & Loan surely is a pawn shop where you can get a loan against your jewelry, guns, tools, or instruments, it also a fine instrument shop selling high end guitars and banjos as well as mid- and low-priced ones.  It has an excellent choice of Martin acoustic guitars as well as a good selection of electric guitars, sound equipment, and more.  It's also a place where local musicians hang out and ones on their way through town stop in to chat, and maybe trade an instrument.  Mike Palmer, himself, as well as Rick on his staff are accomplished and experienced musicians.  While we don't usually hang out at pawn shops, we always feel comfortable and welcome here.  

Wall of Sound

The audience for the Hometown Opry is composed of an interesting mix of local regulars, periodic out-of-town visitor, and tourists.  All are made welcome in the stage area, which seats about 100 people.  The room provides excellent sound for the visiting bands, and each Friday's show lasts two hours.  The audience doesn't get to hear most of the commercials, except those delivered by Steve Handy or have to sit through the news.  Friday's band was pretty much a pick-up jam band from Asheville, NC calling themselves Iron Station.  Now, make no mistake, a pick-up jam band from Asheville ain't your ordinary field jamming bunch, and these guys were good. 

Iron Station

Jeremy Corbett

Gabe Kirkpatrick

Tracy Kirkpatrick

Will Clark

Everyone at the Hometown Opry is there to have a good time, and they do.  The audience gets in on the fun, with newcomers and visitors getting special attention.  Steve Handy, as emcee is lively and amusing, keeping the show moving along.  Local people drop by to announce special events on the air. On this morning, Dr. T.K. Bryant came in to announce his third annual pre-memorial, claiming he wanted to his memorial while he was alive.  It will be held in the Traditional Tent on the Merlefest grounds.

Steve Handy & Dr. T.K. Bryant

Local Banjo Picker Billy Ray Summerline

The Good Ol' Boys on the Back Row

Finding Main Street Music & Loan

If you happen to be in Wilkesboro, NC on a Friday morning, be sure to drop by for a couple of hours of old fashioned, down home fun on the radio at Main Street Music and Loan.