Shelby is the county seat of Cleveland County, located about 50 miles west of Charlotte and 70 miles east of music hotbed Asheville in south-central North Carolina. It's musically distinguished by having been the home of Earl Scruggs and country singer Don Gibson. Most of the activities of Art of Sound are centered around the courthouse square, but this year the three block distant Don Gibson theater also served as a venue, but I'm getting ahead of my story. Our visit started off on Thursday afternoon when our friend Marta Jones performed at Jefferson Elementary School in Shelby with her band In Cahoots. Irene substituted on mandolin, her first gig. Bluegrass in the Schools is an important concept supported by IBMA as well as local bluegrass associations and bands. Taking acoustic and bluegrass music to young children exposes them to new and different instruments, instrumentation, and an approach to making music quite different from that usually taught in school music programs.
300 Pre-K Through 3rd Graders
The Band Members
Elementary Music Teacher - Justin Harper
Dr. Robert Jones - Ringer
Art of Sound
Art of Sound is an eclectic music festival largely taking place around the courthouse square of Cleveland County in Shelby, NC. This year, music was played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night with some of the music taking place in the Shelby Arts Center on the square, while other performances took place at the beautifully refurbished Don Gibson Theater, about three blocks from the square. Scheduling at the Gibson was controlled by a separately ticketed event held on Saturday evening, leaving bands performing on Saturday afternoon with shortened set times and performing music that did not necessarily suit the hour. I trust that with the change in management at the Gibson, this will be changed next year. We heard lots of good music at The Don Gibson Theater, but the clash between a solo rocker and an excellent "girl" bluegrass band was a bit too much, costing the bluegrass band audience. What follows is an account of what we saw and heard. As in all such events, others certainly had a much different experience.
The Don Gibson Theater
Megan Peeler is a young, country singer who grew up in Shelby, attended Appalachian State University, where she majored in Music Therapy, and now lives in Nashville, where she's trying to forge a singing career. She has a pleasant, strong voice and writes some interesting and imaginative original songs. She accompanies herself on piano or guitar.
Reaves is a singer/songwriter and guitar stylist whose genre is mostly rock ballads. Her placement in the lineup found her playing to an audience not well-prepared for her delivery.
Five women based in Boston playing traditional bluegrass music with a bit of a feminist twist, just enough to be entertaining and interesting are what makes this very fine band tick. Della Mae (Hey, Hey) sounds good and looks good. They are in no way a novelty act. Each person is solid or better on her instrument. Kimber Ludiker on fiddle is a contest winner whose fiddle solos scream out at willing ears. Jenni Lynn Gardner, having recently relocated to Boston from her former Nashville residence, plays and sings well on mandolin. Amanda Kowalski, on bass, dances with her instrument while pulling a great beat out of it. Avril Smith is solid on rhythm guitar. Grace van 't Hof plays a wicked banjo and sings straight and to the point. This is a band worth watching as they continue to improve from already good to much better soon.
Jenni Lynn Gardner
Grace Van't Hof
The Trio - Smith, Van't Hof, Ludiker
The Harris Brothers
The Harris Brothers, Reggie on guitar and Ryan on bass, are an endlessly entertaining duo who play a range of music from blues through country, jazz, and pop to almost anything with a tune. Whether its Johnny Cash, Django Rhinehart, or anywhere in between, they're sure to please.
The Harris Brothers - Russian Lullaby
Around the Courthouse Square
New Plowed Ground
This trio, consisting of Al Dunkleman on guitar, Karen Dunkleman on bass, and Dr. Bobby Jones on mandolin plays a very pleasant mix of older music combined with Dunkleman's own compositions. They played in the Gibson Theater's banquet room between auditorium set, creating a pleasant and enjoyable background.
Balsam Range has just released their third CD, which will have a hard time exceeding their previous effort in quality, but seems to be doing just fine. I've included a video, the title song from the new CD, below. Nominated for Emerging Band of the Year at IBMA this year, this band from Asheville has great drive, wonderful songs, many written from within the band, and fine pickers. Tim Surrett on Bass is a great emcee, and there isn't a hole in the band. See them if you can.
Balsam Range - The Trains I've Missed
Leva, Knicely & Baugus
This old-time trio presented authentic old-time music with a raw verve that recreated a kind of mountain music seldom heard these days. Each was a master of his instrument and the singing style. Riley Baugus, on the open back banjo, was a particular revelation. I've never heard the instrument played with such strength and conviction. This rarely heard old-time style was a true pleasure.
Knicely Buck Dancing
Darin & Brooke Aldridge
This band, drawn together only two years ago co-incident with the marriage of Darin and Brooke has been good right from the start. The chemistry between Brooke Aldridge and new addition Rachel Renee Johnson on fiddle raises the band up another couple of notches, adding depth and nuance to an already excellent band. Darin Aldridge is a seasoned touring bluegrass musician, having spent seven years with The Country Gentlemen during Charlie Waller's last years. Perry Woodie on Dobro (and stand up humor) and Chris Bryant on banjo are excellent, supplying the backup the featured singers need. Eddie Biggerstaff is well known on bass as well as harmony and solo vocals. Rachel Johnson brings dead on fiddle and excellent harmony vocals. Brooke Justice Aldridge's powerful voice is a force of nature. Whether she's singing a deeply mournful gospel song or a heartfelt love song, Brooke brings commitment and strength to her singing. The band's outreach has been increasing over the past year. Look for them in concert and ask your local bluegrass festival promoter to book them.
Rachel Renee Johnson
The Harris Brothers and Friends
A Tribute to Django Rhineheart
Darin Aldridge, Danny Knicely, Ryan Harris
James Leva & Reggie Harris
Darin & Brooke Aldridge
St. Paul's Baptist Church - Casar, NC
St. Paul's Baptist Church
We capped off this fine weekend of good music and time spent with good friends by going to the small town of Casar, NC (pop. 308) to attend Sunday evening services at St. Paul's Baptist Church, where Darin & Brooke Aldridge were singing. It was a lovely, spirit-filled evening. Darin & Brooke sang with support from Eddie Biggerstaff on bass and Dr. Bobby Jones on mandolin.
Darin & Brooke Aldridge - "I'll Wear a White Robe"