Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strawberry Park 2010 - Returns and Old Favorites

 Kid's Academy

 All weekend at Strawberry Park we looked anxiously at the sky and watched the radar on our computers as rain, heavy thunderstorms, and even tornado watches circulated around the site in Preston, CT.  Except for a pretty good storm early Saturday morning and two brief moments of very light rain, the festival basked under mixed clouds and sunshine with warm evenings allowing us to sit comfortably for the exciting evening performances and giving jammers the chance to continue their picking late into the morning hours up on the ball field.  Today's post will look at bands who have graced the Strawberry Park stage over a period of years and who keep their fans returning for more.

The Gibson Brothers

 New England and New York have long been the personal province of the Gibson Brothers, whose national acclaim of recent years is no surprise to their long time fans.  With their most recent CD "Ring the Bell" having joined their four previous releases at the top of the Bluegrass Unlimited charts, their consistent record of placing modern song writing and contemporary sounds within the context of traditional bluegrass and country music remains un-matched in the past decade or more.  Noted for their tight brother harmonies and soulful songs of lost love and the joys of simple life, the Gibson Brothers are a band whose stage performances, if anything, exceed their recordings in immediacy and impact.  Their songwriting workshop suggested clearly that upcoming songs they've written will continue to match or exceed the quality of their current crop.  Don't miss this band at a festival near you and be sure to complete your collection of their CD's.  There are no holes in the band as Clayton Campbell on fiddle, Mike Barber on bass, and Joe Walsh on mandolin are each masters of their instrument who do everything necessary to highlight the songs.

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

 Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Joe Walsh

The Gibson Brothers

Peter Rowan

While I must continue to confess that I'm not a huge Peter Rowan fan, I must say his performance at Strawberry Park this year showed him in a new and much more positive light for me.  Both in his solo afternoon set and in his evening set backed by members of the Farewell Drifters and Kimber Ludiker of Della Mae, he showed himself to be a consummate performer.  Especially in the evening set, playing with a group not fully familiar with his work, he was charming, supportive, relaxed, and tuneful, turning what was essentially a jam of old Bill Monroe material and his own compositions into a class for his young band and a pleasure for his audience. 

Peter Rowan with Farewell Drifters

Peter Rowan

Kenny & Amanda Smith

Kenny & Amanda Smith have been steadily strengthening their performance over the past several years.  Kenny has long been established as one of the premier flat pickers in the guitar world.  His fast, clean, inventive picking never ranges too far from the melody, but plumbs its depths and discovers new subtleties to expose.  Amanda's clear and direct singing represents an ideal for a bluegrass voice.  She deserves serious consideration for Female Vocalist of the Year at IBMA this year.  They've surrounded themselves with young and enthusiastic side men who serve to complement them well.  

Kenny Smith

Amanda Smith

Zach McLamb

Trent Callicut

Spencer Strickland

The Greencards

The Greencards brought a new level of maturity to their fourth year at Strawberry Park while welcoming two new musicians to join the well-established original pairing of Carol Young and Kym Warner who came to the U.S. from Australia some eleven years ago and settled in Austin.  Young, whose voice caresses a song while playing a deep and sensuous bass at the same time, manages to be sexy and sultry without being sexual, a great trick.  Partner Kym Warner, who once seemed more frenetic than substantial, has brought his mandolin work to new heights of virtuosity, emotion, and maturity.  Carl Miner on guitar puts more meaning between his notes than many guitarists find in the notes himself.  New fiddler Tyler Andal draws marvelous tone from his full-throated fiddle while also finding a deep growl somewhere within it for his throaty chop.  The relatively small group staying for the Greencards' closing performance were treated to a long set that displayed the level of commitment this group always brings, as strong a performance as you would expect before a thousand fans with the added benefit of an unusual level of intimacy.  The Greencards never completely forsake their bluegrass roots while soaring into the realms of Americana music with comfort so great it welcomes all who wish to come with them. 

Carol Young

Kym Warner

Carl Miner

Tyler Andel

The Boston Boys

This fusion band composed of present and former students at Berklee College of Music in Boston presents a sound that is sometimes pleasing and melodic while at other moments seems more noisy than musical.  Using non-traditional instrumentation for this setting (twin saxaphones, full drum kit) they bring energy and inventiveness to their performances.

Eric Robertson

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad played Strawberry Park for the thirty-first consecutive year.  The deeply experienced band combines traditional bluegrass gospel and Monroe style picking with leader Ron Thomason's topical humor in a program that has pleased and amused bluegrass audiences for a generation.  Thomason's pointed message sometimes hits with such swiftness that viewers aren't certain they've been skewered before he's on to the next comment.  His sidemen, professionals to the end, manage to appear surprised and amused while hearing his tales for the umpteenth time.  Fans have favorite bits Thomason has used for years that they insist on hearing, and Thomason obliges while still striving to keep his riffs fresh and on target.  His singing is filled with emotion and genuineness; the band is a treat for old fans and new converts.

Ron Thomason

Brian Aldridge
Danny Russell

Tom Boyd

Kim Cyr - Emcee
Jim Beaver and Glenn Huffer (emcees)

The highly professional emcee work done by Jim Beaver, Glenn Huffer, Kim Cyr, and Lisa Husted deserves special recognition.  It's rare that four emcees are so successful at keeping the focus on the music and the festival without calling attention to themselves.  Sound by Cobra Sound was of extremely high quality.  It's not unusual for a sound company to receive kudos from the stage; bands hardly dare do otherwise, but this band was universally acclaimed back stage as well.  They know what each kind of music on the Strawberry Park stage is supposed to sound like and achieve precisely the correct mix.

 Strawberry Park Bluegrass Academy for Kids

Each year Tim St. Jean and his wife Vickie Baker direct the Strawberry Park Bluegrass Academy for kids, giving young and enthusiastic pickers a chance to learn more about making music and a an opportunity to perform from the main stage on Sunday.  This  year's performance was augmented by the event of moving the Travelin' People's Mandolin to its new carrier, who will pass it along to someone new in about a month.  

Here's a link to a more extensive set of photos from the Kid's Academy.  Help yourself to any of these you wish:

Vendors Row

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