Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival 2010 - Saturday

Granite Hill Campground, just outside Gettysburg, greets first timers with a tasteful sign and a paved road leading back to the campground and new stage.  Saturday dawned slightly overcast, but the flags hung limply from their poles, forecasting a hot, sticky day, which we received in full measure.  Fortunately, there's plenty of shade for those who seek it out, the pool beckons from right beside the stage area, making it simple for people to take a dip and soak in the pool while listening to some of the finest bluegrass bands available.  The pond, available for children who want to fish, is looked over by an old farm house now turned into a bed & breakfast, and a series of barns and farm buildings converted to campground usage.  The rolling campground provides plenty of variety for campers seeking the kind of setting they like best.  This is simply a great place to hold a bluegrass festival.

Scene from Stage Right

Canucky Bluegrass Boys

The Canucky Bluegrass Boys are long-time attendees and field pickers at Gettysburg.  A hole in the lineup provided them with a main stage opportunity.  Their opening performance on Saturday was greeted enthusiastically by their many friends and supporters from the regular Gettysburg crowd as well as the growing audience for this early part of the day.

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad is the onliest band to have appeared at all sixty-one iterations of The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival.  I've begun to realize that Ron Thomason, the band's leader throughout its history, is a sort of Forest Gump of bluegrass.  He's been THERE from the start at Fincastle and seems to have been involved in many of the most important moments in bluegrass history, either as a spectator or participant.  He also represents the closest thing bluegrass has to offer to a genuine Will Rogers, Mark Twain kind of humorist.  Ron describes himself as a conservative in the deepest sense of the word, clinging to the most important values that have helped to forge the strengths of our nation.  His patter often hits home with pinpoint accuracy on elements of our society worthy of attention.  Many hit home while others zoom right over the heads of those who could most benefit from understanding.  Social commentary coupled with song choice from the oldest traditions of music to new and catching lyrics make Dry Branch Fire Squad one of the most important and entertaining bands in bluegrass much deserving of wider recognition.

Ron Thomason

Brian Aldridge

Danny Russell

Tom Boyd

Ron's Ham Bone Routine
Photo by Irene Lehmann

Country Current - The U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band

 Country Current is one of the many service bands available in support of government activities in any number of venues and also appearing as a part of the military's recruiting apparatus at schools across the country.  They serve up a pleasing and effective mix of traditional and original bluegrass along with a medley of patriotic tunes guaranteed to get people's blood rushing.  I've always regretted that Country Current doesn't record and sell its wares at merchandise tables where they appear, but recordings of their material are available through schools and libraries, which receive them free, and may be burned to fans' hearts' content.  The band is highly accomplished and tight as might be expected from members whose full time billet is preparing, practicing, and performing from local schools to the White House, to U.S. embassies around the world.  Former members Wayne Taylor (Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa) and Frank Sollivan (Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen) are currently making waves on the bluegrass circuit.  Veteran member Keith Arneson is one the finest Munde style banjo players around.

Keith Arneson

Joe Friedman

Kenny Ray Horton

Pat White

Jeremy Middleton

Dailey & Vincent

The Dailey & Vincent show has, over the almost three years it has been touring the country, become increasingly popular as well as being a more finely tuned instrument.  When they first hit the trail, I objected to a sense of their being too finely scripted and not sufficiently spontaneous or responsive to the moment. As their acclaim has increased, so has their sense of confidence in their own immediate showmanship and stage judgment.  This has led, over the past year, to their picking up on moments presented by comments from the audience or other occurrences and going with him to their benefit and, often, much to the amusement and pleasure of their audiences. The spectacular addition of basso profundo Christain Davis has made a significant addition to the band.  Their present program, heavy on numbers from their Cracker Barrell Statler Brothers album, has met with the same acceptance as previous tours despite being still heavier than usual with southern gospel and non-bluegrass material.  By challenging the conventional wisdom of what makes a bluegrass band successful, they are filling concert halls, energizing festival audiences, and spreading bluegrass music to audiences hitherto unaware of our music.

Jamie Dailey & Darrin Vincent

Jeff Parker

Joe Dean, Jr.

Christian Davis

Jesse Stockman

The Acapella Gospel Quartet
Dailey, Vincent, Dean, Davis

Jamie Dailey

Darrin Vincent

Garland Gobble - Bluegrass Photographer

Kids Academy

I wandered up the hill to visit the Kids Academy site and found the most elaborate set-up I'd ever seen for the youth effort of a bluegrass festival.  Kids Academies have been springing up at bluegrass  festivals everywhere, offering young pickers the opportunity to learn from professional musicians and talented amateurs the skills necessary for making bluegrass music.  Since the core of bluegrass lies in developing ear skills and learning to improvise on melodies rather than on reading music, these two or three day events represent a crucial alternative to school approaches to teaching and learning music.  Under the direction of Ira Gitlin, the Gettysburg Kids Academy was humming along, the kids seemed happy and animated, and it was clear that by Sunday there would be a rousing performance.  More to come tomorrow.

The Steep Canyon Rangers

The Steep Canyon Rangers is another young band that has been successful at bringing more-or-less traditional bluegrass music to new audiences through its association with Comedian/Musician Steve Martin.  When not touring with Martin, who's been a serious though closeted banjo picker for more than forty years, the Steep Canyon Rangers tour with their very good combination of excellent picking and singing along with great new songs largely composed from within the band.  The members of the Rangers met and started playing together while students at the University of North Carolina.  They were early recognized as Emerging Artist of the Year by IBMA in 2006 and have continued with a record of first rate performance and wide ranging appearances.  There isn't a weak slot in this band.

Woody Platt

Charles R. Humphrey, III

Mike Guggino

Graham Sharp

Nicky Sanders

Ashley Black

The Dixie Bee Liners

The Dixie Bee Liners grew from the coffee house alt. country environment of New York City in the early years of this century when Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward met and discovered their mutual performance and song writing synergy.  They later moved to southwestern Virginia, where they became increasingly involved interpreting local and regional culture in contemporary musical terms, combining an old-time, haunting sound with new and thoughtful lyrics and tunes.  The band is emerging with a non-traditional bluegrass sound that appeals to many audiences in a variety of venues.  The addition of Casey Henry on banjo provides traditional cred with progressive skills.  Sav Sankaran on bass plays and sings with passion and strength.  This weekend, Matt Leadbetter on Dobro substituted for fiddler Rachel Johnson strong instrumental and vocal input.  The Dixie Bee Liners spend a significant amount of time promoting the Crooked Road, the musical highway that runs across the southern edge of Virginia.  They're an interesting and musically pleasing band of thoughtful people bringing a unique sound to bluegrass audiences. 

Brandi Hart

Buddy Woodward

Casey Henry

Sav Sankaran

Matt Leadbetter

The Workshop Tent

The Seldom Scene

One of the most celebrated and popular bands in the history of bluegrass, The Seldom Scene began its history in the Washington, D.C. area as a revolutionary group melding the sweet sounds of the then contemporary music of the popular folk revival with the more traditional sounds of bluegrass music.  What was seen as being revolutionary during the seventies has now become part of the bluegrass canon with songs by those famous bluegrass composers Bob Dylan and The Beatles becoming fully acceptable within bluegrass music.  The only original member of the band is Ben Eldridge on banjo, still agile and funny as well as capable on the banjo as he journeys into his seventies.  Dudley Connell,  renowned as a bluegrass traditionalist from his stellar work as lead singer with The Johnson Mountain Boys, has transitioned to The Scene's repertoire while bringing with him his warmth and energy.  Lou Reid on mandolin and singing high tenor complements Connell perfectly and also sings lead, as does Fred Travers on Dobro.  With Ronnie Simpkins on bass, The Seldom Scene brings unusual versatility to its performances as well as some of the finest musicality to be found.  They've been a fixture at nearly every Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival.

Dudley Connell

Lou Reid

Ben Eldridge

Fred Travers

Ronnie Simpkins

Wayne Bledsoe - Emcee


  1. Great post Ted as always...need to get to Gettysburg one of these years. And BTW, the Scene's resophonic guy is Fred TRAVERS. See you at IBMA?

  2. Really enjoying my favorite festival through your eyes. Great job! And great photos... particularly a good one of Lou.

  3. Great pictures! Good to see you and Irene this weekend.


  4. Why the constant digs at the Bluegrass audience for their inability to grasp the profound commentary of Ron Thomason? It sure seems that you have an arrogant, condescending, elitist attitude toward your poor hapless brethren within the Bluegrass community. Is it at all possible that the audience members do not lack the intellectual capacity to understand what Ron is saying, but rather that they tire of being "preached" at as to their lack of sophistication in understanding the complex issues of the day? That's why we need overlords such as yourself to translate and explain it to us simple-minded hillbillies.

  5. Gosh, Shannon, I don't place myself as anyone's intellectual overlord. It does seem to me that many of Thomason's remarks, which are satirical in nature and pretty subtle in delivery get past some people. I agree that some people would prefer he just sing, but I suggested in my commentary that his humorous take on society approach the level of wit practiced by Will Rogers and Mark Twain. Thanks for you directness. - Ted

  6. WOW Ted! I was at the Bluegrass Festival and reading your blog took me back to it. Your photos are AWESOME and I LOVE your writing. Keep up the GREAT work and I hope to see you at the next Bluegrass Festival as well!

  7. Ted, You have an excellent blog/website here. Everything is first-rate and I share your perspectives. I must agree with Shannon,though. Ron Thomason's stories and observations are ,in my opinion,tedious and many times long winded. I 'get' everything he says and infers and find his 'intellectualism' to be overrated. That said, I like him. I like his music. And I do like his humor. He's just too intent on making sure that we are aware of just how special his views and observations are.

  8. Although it may not be apparent from my previous remarks, I count myself as one of Dry Branch's biggest fans. I first saw them at the Gettysburg festival in 1989, and have seen the band at least 50 times live. I own all of their albums and very much enjoy Ron's commentary. However, over the past few years his humor or satire has seemed to take on a much harder edge. Like Greg stated, Ron seems to want to make sure that you know how "smart" he is and how "dumb" you are if you don't agree with him 100% of the time. I am quite afraid that Ron is steering the band toward one that is booked at concerts solely for his political views rather than the music (although that is certainly not the case at Gettysburg, as they have appeared at every festival since 1979). As a wise man once said, "It doesn't matter how smart you are, unless you stop to think." The best satire leaves the audience with something to ponder rather than trying to incessantly score points. Just my two cents. I do enjoy the blog and especially all the photos from the festivals.

  9. daveelkinton@hotmail.comAugust 29, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    I enjoyed getting acquainted after these many years. Congratulating on capturing Gettysburg with all its details and the really great photos. I'll enjoy you and Irene's traveling this Fall. Dave