Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coot Williams Road Bluegrass Festival - Revew

The Coot Williams Road Bluegrass Festivals, held twice annually, are the signature events of the Catawba Valley Music Revival, a non-profit corporation aimed at encouraging young people to learn to play acoustic instruments and bluegrass music in the a three county area of south-central North Carolina.  Promoters John and Linda Hunsacker have had good results in encouraging young bands to participate in their Battle of the Bands on Labor Day weekend as well as performing at the festival.  They've been less successful at finding a strong customer base for their event, which provides a pleasant day and a half on lovely festival grounds with excellent sound. Here's an account of the event.

Friday: We were greeted with lovely weather for the weekend...warm, slight breeze, sunny with fleecelike clouds studding the late summer sky.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to here the winner of last weekend's Battle of the Bands, Most Wanted Bluegrass, which we heard was quite good.

Mirror Image

Mirror Image is a local band which offered a tuneful introduction to the first day.

Brandon Rowe
James Torrance
Amanda Torrance

Tyler Leonard
Carolina Foxfire

Carolina Foxfire is perhaps the proudest creation coming out of the Catawba Valley development program. Several of the players learned their chops with the group, and Max Neil has provided instruction and encouragement for young pickers in the region.  Mason McConnell and Tyler Leonard are particularly strong young players who we've watched develop over the past couple of years. 

The Harris Brothers
Ryan Harris
 The Harris Brothers come from Lenoir, NC just on the edge of the Smokey Mountains. This duo plays a broad range of music with verve, skill, and commitment. Ranging from blues through country, classic rock to bluegrass and the sounds of Django Rheinhardt, they're both highly skilled and deeply grounded in their music. While they're best known in their region, this duo is as entertaining as they come and deserve much wider attention.

Reggie Harris

The Harris Brothers - White Freight Liner (Video)

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Darin and Brooke were playing on their home turf, playing to the crowd, and having a good time. They were with friends and everyone knew it.  For months we've been watching them grow in confidence, expanding their show, making it more fun and adding more variety to it. Brooke's winsome playfulness and band-mate Rachel Johnson's enthusiasm work to draw the audience to them, enriching every minute of their show. The addition of Dwayne Anderson has been strong from the beginning. This week he sang bass and harmony when called on, doing it with verve and accuracy. Chris Bryant is always as steady as a rock. He's a solid, reliable banjo player who does his job with no flash but plenty of drive. Darin oversees the whole band with something between fatherly bemusement as he maintains a disciplined and forward moving pace. Sometimes, though, Brooke can break him up...and the fun is on.  This band has, deservedly, been nominated as IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year.  

Darin Aldridge

Brooke Aldridge

Chris Bryant
Dwayne Anderson
Rachel Johnson

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - I Want to Be A Cowboy Sweetheart (Video)

The Band

Saturday: Saturday was, again, an absolutely beautiful day in Cherryville.  The lineup presented two strong North Carolina bands, a couple of local youth bands, a popular regional bluegrass gospel group, and headliner Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa, who presented his popular older material as well as many of the excellent new songs to be included in his soon to be released CD.  The small attendance was the only disappointment of this day.  

Dr. Tom Bibey & Friends

Members of Carolina Foxfire joined Dr. Tom Bibey in a set in which he showed that despite his ongoing illness, he can still pick and sing as well as reach out to support the development of local musicians.  Wearing the bright red Converse sneakers he's vowed wear during his battle against cancer, he continues to show faith and courage.  

Dr. B and Irene Heading for the Stage

Dr. B

The Flint Rock Boys

The Flint Rock Boys came in second in the Catawba Valley Music Revival Battle of the Bands, winning a place in the lineup.  They presented a creditable performance of mostly gospel covers despite their nervousness. They should continue to improve.

The Cockman Family

This rousing gospel band plays mostly in North Carolina, where they have established a reputation for tight singing and fervent commitment to their ministry.  They record a good deal and perform at churches and festivals.  

John Cockman

Billy Cockman

Caroline Cockman & David Cockman

John Cockman, Jr.

Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet Potato Pie has grown and developed since we first saw them about five years ago at White Oak Shores. At that time they were developing as a band, learning to play their instruments, and working hard at defining their own sound. They've accomplished all three goals while making significant changes in their personnel and sound.  Calling their music "Sweet Grass" is apt while, at the same time, doing themselves something of a dis-service. Sweet Potato Pie is a bluegrass sound with a unique flavor, bringing solid singing, original song writing, and a pleasant aura to the stage. They're a bluegrass band with an engaging difference. Crystal Richardson on banjo brings a strong bluegrass sound to the band, while founder Sonia Stead's often amusing and slightly edgy lyrics keep the tone contemporary.

Sonia Stead

 Crystal Richardson

Sandy Whitley
Katie Springer

Sweet Potato Pie - Cold Day in Arizona - Video

Promoter - Linda Hunsacker

Kevin Richardson & Cuttin' Edge (KRACE)
Kevin Richardson & Cuttin' Edge is my "band to watch" for this festival. Kevin is better known as a guitarist and singer with Larry Stephenson's fine national band.  Here we find him fronting a very strong local band ready to spread its wings and reach out for a larger audience.  The band combines excellent covers, particularly of Jimmy Martin music, along with contemporary song writing dealing with the concerns and interests of a more contemporary world.  I was struck by what I heard as their "suburban bluegrass" content with an emphasis on some of today's human dilemmas within the structure and context of a more traditional bluegrass sound.  All four members of this entertaining and lively band write and compose new material while remaining loyal to their roots.  Scott Burgess on bass complements Kevin's vocals to a tee.  He does double duty as the band's spokesman as well as injecting useful elements of humor in both his presentation and his writing.  Milam Williams on mandolin is excellent in both his mandolin play and his crisp harmonies.  Chris Ward on banjo is solidly restrained and un-flashy while contributing drive to this very good emerging band.

Kevin Richardson

Scott Burgess
Milam Williams

Chris Ward

Kevin Richardson & Cuttin' Edge - Most of All (Video)

Kevin & Crystal Richardson
Chris Ward with son Graham

Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa
Wayne Taylor has had a distinguished career, first with the U.S. Navy Band Country Current and now fronting his own group, Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa.  Taylor's voice is one of the most distinctive and recognizable sounds in bluegrass music. He's also a prolific and engaging song writer.  Meanwhile, with the addition of Mark Delaney, a flexible wizard combining Scruggs style and melodic banjo, the band's sound has become increasingly tight.  Emory Lester is one of the best mandolin players around as well as a gifted composer on his instrument. Kene Hiatt on bass brings a background of both jazz and rock to the band while never losing tract of the importance of the bluegrass beat. Offstage, Wayne can often be found mentoring young pickers. He's engaging and personable both as his own emcee and with fans.  Don't miss an opportunity to see and hear Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa.

Wayne Taylor

Emory Lester

Kene Hiatt

Mark Delaney

Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa - Old Paint (Video)

The Coot Williams Road Bluegrass Festival is a pleasant, small festival which, sadly, has had a difficult time developing a sufficient audience to continue to develop.  This appears to be largely as a result of inadequate regional and local publicity.  Nevertheless, the event offers a good selection of local, regional, and national bands while continuing to stress the development of younger players from its area through the programs and outreach of the Catawba Valley Music Revival.  Such efforts are to be applauded and encouraged.  

A Note on Videos: Some readers may notice a decline in the quality of videos. Because we are on the road and depend on a My-Fi device to communicate via the Internet, our bandwidth is severely limited. The typical high definition video is between 500,000 and 700,000 megabytes, much to large to permit posting them. I've chosen to upload standard quality videos, sacrificing some quality for immediacy. I hope this doesn't diminish your enjoyment too much. When we return home, I'll be posting additional video material on my YouTube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/KeeneValleyGuy?feature=mhee ) in high definition. Please check in there often, subscribe, and enjoy the additional videos I  haven't posted on this blog.

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