Monday, August 9, 2010

Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival - E. Hartford - Saturday

Saturday at Podunk was a perfect bluegrass day.  The sun may have been a little bright for some, but as the evening drew on the line at the gate became increasingly long as people came in for the cooler night and the hotter performances.  No one was disappointed.  Saturday's bands represented a variety of styles and the music all day long was better than excellent.  Promoter Roger Moss deserves lots of credit for keeping this festival moving along, constantly improving the lineup, and always adjusting his system to assure that everything runs smoothly.

The Packway Handle Band

Winners of last year's Podunk band competition, The Packway Handle Band from the Athens, GA area, was awarded a place in today's lineup as well as given a good deal of visibility through the contest.  They have spent the last year becoming tighter and more experienced.  When they kicked off their first song, I thought I heard echoes of The New Grass Revival, but with their next piece they sang a genre bending version of Woody Guthrie's "Worried Man Blues."  Their performance was exciting, varied, and interesting with the audience not knowing what would come next.  Working in a tight, double-mic setup, they grew the audience as their set continued.  They'll be a band to watch.

The Earl Brothers

I must confess to not having been overwhelmed by earlier Earl Brothers music, dubbed goth-grass by some wit, very much, at least from what I heard on XM radio.  Their latest sound is much more pleasing.  The call it "hillbilly mountain music," and that about fills the bill.  All the material is new and written within the band.  There's still the keening quality that was in the earlier version, but it's been polished some without leading it to lose its authenticity.  

Robert Earl Davis

Danny Morris

James Touzel

Tom Lucas

Larry Blansky

The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing is the latest generation in a musical dynasty.  Sally Sandker Berry and Tensel Sandker are Rhonda Vincent's daughters.  Their grandparents sang and hold an annual bluegrass festival in Missouri.  Sally and Tensel are students at East Tennessee State University, which has a storied bluegrass performance program.  Their band has almost completely changed its personnel and matured in the year or so since we last saw them.  Their stage presence has made an upward bound and their singing continues to improve.  The addition of Shane Blackwell on guitar and harmony vocals has strengthened the band considerably.  

Sally Berry

Tensel Sandker

Brent Burke

Shane Blackwell

Haley Stiltner

The Sisters with Special Guest

Tensel and Herb Sandker

 Josh Williams Band

Josh Williams continues to improve and mature as a front man in his own band.  His stage personality has emerged as warm and humorous.  His singing is nearly reaching the quality of his guitar picking, at which he is one of the best in the business.  He had a solid first set of material from his solo projects and, in his second set, took requests and delivered on every one he chose to hear.  His band has been stable for a while, and has recently been joined by Nick Keen on mandolin.  Jason McHendry on banjo and Randy Barnes on bass are sturdy and reliable, old friends of Josh's who work to assure he get the best support.  I continue to look to Josh to start building original material into his shows to make it into a complete package.

Jason McHendry

Randy Barnes

Nick Keen


Rhonda Vincent & The Rage

Last summer at Podunk, we met a young woman named Marta, a visitor from Catalonia, a dissident province in Spain.  She's a member of a bluegrass band near Barcelona and Rhonda Vincent is her musical hero.  She sings many of Rhonda's songs in her band, as was extremely eager to meet Rhonda, which she did last year.  This year she returned with her bandmate, also named Marta for a three week visit in the U.S., with Podunk the first stop in her itinerary.  Marta is a lovely young woman, who finds it difficult to approach a person as exalted as Rhonda, but she came bearing gifts she wished to present to the woman she so admires.  After Rhonda's first set, the two Martas sidled over the the Martha White Boutique, waiting patiently until Rhonda had greeted most of the crowd which always crowds around her.  Finally their turn came and Marta presented Rhonda with a picture book of the beautiful Catalonian scenery, the Catalonian natioanl flag, which is a symbol of rebellion, and  a replica of a national activity, a human castle, a characteristic Catalan activity.  

Marta with Rhonda and Gifts

Rhonda Vincent

Hunter Berry

Aaron McDaris

Mickey Harris

Ben Helson

The Martas with The Rage

The story doesn't end here, though, as Rhonda invited Marta and Marta to join her and the band at a friend's house in Sodus, NY for a party and to continue on to visit Niagara Falls, which had been on their planned itinerary.  When last heard from, both Martas had arrived in Sodus, been a part of a pool party and jam session, were planning a day on Lake Ontario on Monday and a trip to see Niagara Falls on Tuesday.  Sometimes dreams do come true.

The Martas

Phil Zimmerman Announcing a New Location and Dates

The Gibson Brothers

In the years we've been going to bluegrass festivals and producing this blog, the most delightful and consistent connection to enjoying bluegrass and knowing its people has come to us through the Gibson Brothers.  Today at Podunk, we heard over and over, "The just keep on getting better and better."  Tina Aridas, who's attached to James Reams and does publicity for his band, wrote this after returning home from Podunk, "And as for Saturday, well, the Gibson Brothers just keep getting better and better every time I see them. I must admit I wasn't a huge Gibson Brothers fan a decade ago (sorry, Judie!), but I'm a believer now (ok?). Their brother harmonies were a bit too, um, easy-listening in their early years (in my opinion, or, um, I mean, "in the expression of my musical taste"). Now they really push, and the result is some of the best live bluegrass music I've heard recently."  'Nuff said.
Mike Barber
Clayton Campbell
Joe Walsh
Another Successful Song Writing Workshop

A Visit from The Honky Tonk Angels

The Angel in Chief Sows Havoc

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

Ricky Skaggs brought his justly acclaimed band Kentucky Thunder to Podunk for one long set closing Saturday night.  The prospect of this great evening had drawn many fans to the gate as dusk fell, and they were presented a real treat, as one great band followed another.  Skaggs, following strong sets by Josh Williams, the Gibson Brothers, and Rhonda Vincent, showcased his band very effectively, played many of his  most familiar bluegrass work, with a particular emphasis on this night on the Stanley Brothers contributions to the genre, and chatted genially with the audience about his background, telling the story of his first meeting with Mr. Monroe with humor and grace.  Skaggs' band has been joined seamlessly by Justin Moses on banjo, effectively replacing the seemingly irreplaceable banjo great Jim Mills.  With Andy Leftwich on fiddle and Cody Kilby's great flat picking, supported by Paul Brewster's fine rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, this veteran band remains one of the best.  Enthusiastically called back for an encore, Skaggs paid the penalty for inviting a bunch of drunks to dance in front of the stage.  His fervent and sincere solo rendering of a powerful gospel song was greeted with a stunning and undeserved lack of respect.

Andy Leftwich
Cody Kilby
Mark Fain
Eddie Farris
Paul Brewster
Justin Moses
After the show, a tired Ricky Skaggs took time to chat with Kelly Gibson, Eric's older son, about Kelly's development as a mandolin player, graciously offering him support and advice.  He particularly pointed out fiddler Andy Leftwich, commenting on the superlative quality of his mandolin work.  He humorously asked Kelly not to forget him, too, as he tried to "keep up" with the new group of young guns on the mandolin.  It was a lovely moment, meaningful beyond measure to a young, star-struck picker. A fitting end to a great day of music!

Ricky Skaggs & Kelly Gibson


  1. FYI. That is not Shayne Bartley on guitar with Next Best Thing. His name is Shane Blackwell. He Played with Marty Raybon for a time.

  2. Thanks a lot, Anon. Welcome to my editorial board. Incidentally, did you know that Anon. is the most frequently quoted writer in history? - Ted

  3. Hi Ted,
    This is Ron Fetner, one of songwriting finalist at Podunk BGF.
    Is there any more pics from the songwriters performances set? I'm always looking for performance shots.

    Ron Fetner

  4. Ron - Please send me an e-mail address at the follow-up address below so I can correspond with you off the blog. I may have a few, but too few as I paid too little attention to the contest. The overall effect of the contest and the band competition got my attention, and next year I'll cover it more closely. - Ted

  5. Nice HP, best regards from Germany,