Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger 1919 - 2014

We lost a great American today. Pete Seeger influenced generations of American youth, standing for peace and justice for all across the generations without regard for carefully nuanced positions or polls. He followed his conscience and often served as the conscience of the country. Much will be written and shown about Pete Seeger over the next few days and weeks. I'd like to spend a little while writing about what he meant to me during a time when he spoke to a generation of American youth who needed to hear what he had to say.

My earliest memories of Pete Seeger, although I didn't know it was him at the time, was his reedy voice singing "The Golden Vanity" and "Blow the Man Down" with the Almanac Singers on a little remembered collection on 10" 78RPM records from the 1940's. The Almanac Singers, which included Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays, are probably better remembered for their collections of Union Songs. Here's their rendition of "The Talking Union Blues" recorded in July 1941, coincidentally, the month I was born:

Talking Union

I sang and played this song when I was in high school, along with a couple of other Woody Guthrie talking blues, including "Talking Guitar." I owned an LP record of "Talking Union" by Pete Seeger. His loyalty to the labor movement during the late 30's and into the 40's earned him an investigation by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and probably cost him millions of dollars, while cementing his reputation as an American of both conviction and courage.

Pete Seeger was a dynamic, arresting solo performer. I saw him twice during the sixties. Both times were at Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. The first concert was with my friend from Westtown School, Tom Satterthwaite. The second time I went with my girl friend Irene Mulford, to whom I've now been married for nearly fifty years.  As a solo performer, Pete would walk out onto the stage alone and start to sing...no introduction, just Pete.  Here are some clips of a live concert in Australia in 1963. While it's part of a larger advertisement for a complete live concert. This is how I remember seeing him for the first time, perhaps a year or two earlier:

Excerpts from 1963 Australia Concert

Later I bought all the Weaver's albums as well as Pete's banjo instruction recording, which, sadly, I no longer own. When the folk revival really got going, Pete was banned from TV until the Smothers Brothers forced CBS to allow Pete to sing his anti-Vietnam War song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on their hit show.

The only time I ever met Pete Seeger was at the 1979 edition of his Great Clearwater Revival Festival near his home in Beacon, New York, a festival dedicated to restoring the Hudson River by cleaning out the industrial waste.  I was the newly appointed headmaster of a small Quaker prep school in Poughkeepsie, where Pete had appeared several times in benefit concerts. It was a job I wasn't well prepared for and I lasted less than a year there. Meeting Pete the summer before school began remains a highlight of that year for me.

Seeger's greatest success came, perhaps, with The Weaver's. Here's a clip from a 1951 concert catching them at their dynamic best. The group was a huge hit until the HUAC investigation, which, among other things, killed this ground breaking popular folk group.

The Weavers in Concert

My memories of a young, vital Pete Seeger are alive and real. I decided not to see the declining Pete at his 90th birthday show at Merlefest a few years ago, so I retain the earlier pictures in my mind. Take your own trip around YouTube to find lots of Pete Seeger through the years, listen to him on your favorite streaming vehicle, and get to know him better. You'll find the journey worth your effort.

Pete Seeger 1919 - 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

YeeHaw Junction 2014 - Review

With most of the country mired in cold, and sometimes scary, weather, YeeHaw Junction was not immune. The chill northwest wind kept daily highs in the low sixties for the first two days of the event while evening temps dropped into the forties, somewhat restraining the size of the audience as well as keeping the jammers pretty well bottled up during the after hours, which traditionally have featured jamming into the early morning hours. When the temps rose into the seventies on Saturday and the sun kept shining while the wind reduced to a gentle breeze, a goodly day crowd showed up to join the thawing campers, all of whom enjoyed a really fine final day. Meanwhile, the music was good and the enthusiasm of the mixed crowd of native Floridians and snowbirds kept their enthusiasm high.

A pot luck supper on Wednesday evening, with meat provided by Keith & Darlene Bass has become traditional at YeeHaw Junction. Many people made sure that everyone's favorites were available, as they showed up with the sort of gusto only hungry bluegrassers can show. Warning: Don't be late for a bluegrass pot luck!

Monroe Crossing

Just off the boat from the Danny Stewart Cruise, Monroe Crossing, a Minnesota-based band opened the show at noon on Thursday with their characteristic energy, tunefullness, and musical variety.This band, well known throughout the upper Midwest, deserves much wider recognition. They feature a mix of tunes from old time to much newer material, while never losing touch with their connection Bill Monroe, whose name they honor. Mark Anderson, on bass, is a whirlwind of high energy and skill, while his wife Lisa Fugile on fiddles and vocals has a clear voice coupled with distinctive vocal interpretations. Derek Johnson, new to the band on guitar and lead vocals, is a terrific addition, as is young David Robinson on banjo. Monroe Crossing is very much worth hearing and seeing.

Mark Anderson

David Robinson

Derek Johnson

Lisa Fugile

Matt Thompson

Ernie Evans & the Florida State Bluegrass Band

 Ernie Evans is a man of large enthusiasms, ambition, and versatility. His Evans Media Source bills itself as a Full Service Media Production Company, and is just that, offering everything from full festivals through a weekly radio program streamed out of St. Augustine, FL, to weddings and festival appearances in several band combinations. The Florida State Bluegrass Band features everything from traditional bluegrass through swing and some bluegrassed acoustic jazz. When they broke out Fats Waller's 1935 version of Dinah, I could imagine Bill Monroe hearing it as he was seeking his own unique sound and making it his own.

Ernie Evans

 Josh Griffin

 Billy Swinson

Deb Evans

Ernie welcomed three young and promising guests to the stage on Friday evening. The DiGiovanni sisters, recently moved to Florida from Tennessee, impressed. Look for them around the jams and welcome them in. They'll show you something....
 Makayla Hoffman - Age 10

Cara DiGiovanni - Age 14

Frannie DiGiovanni - Age 15

Jerry Butler & the Blu-J's

Veteran bluegrass singer/guitarist Jerry Butler has brought his skills to a number of high profile bands during his career. Jerry Butler &Blu-J's have been together for about four years now, and are maturing into an entertaining and skillful band with this current configuration, unchanged for two years. They work well together, offer an entertaining show, with four musicians who each add distinctive and quality work. Jerry Butler brings a strong bluegrass-country voice with a dead-ringer interpretation of Lester Flatt, which he doesn't overdo. Lanky Barron Rogers on mandolin ably supplements Butler by adding a sly humor to his imposing frame. Derek Vaden on banjo is a fine Scruggs style banjo player as well as finger style guitarist. Lee Chapman is strong on bass and chimes in with good singing. The band offers traditional bluegrass and classic country songs that are always pleasing.

Jerry Butler

Derek Vaden

Lee Chapman

Barron Rogers


What do a bunch of veteran bluegrass musicians with a little time on their hands do? They form a band. Sideline started as lark for a bunch of men centered around the Raleigh area in North Carolina. They were playing periodic mid-week gigs and liked what they were doing. A recording ensued, and, despite pretty regular work with their regular bands, they were able to accept a few festival dates, too. How come? Well, it's pretty simple. These guys can flat out deliver traditional bluegrass material the way it's supposed to sound with high energy and full commitment to the audience and their own performance. Darrell Webb singing lead has been a recognized presence in bluegrass for years. Skip Cherryholmes, retired from his family band and married to Steve Dilling's daughter is easing his way back into bluegrass. Jason Moore, from Mountain Heart, is one of bluegrass's go-to bass players for recordings and fill-ins. Steve Dilling, recently retired from IIIrd Tyme Out and now working in the back office for Jordan (Lorraine) Enterprises is still about the best emcee in bluegrass. They can really bring it. See them...if you can!

Steve Dilling

Skip Cherryholmes

Jason Moore

Darrell Webb

Mike Robinson - Emcee

Lee Chapman - Bass Workshop

Derek Vaden - Banjo Workshop

Generations is a local Florida band which is deeply imbued in Florida's history and commitment to traditional bluegrass. Katie Rogers, the fourth generation of her family to play bluegrass in the state will graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in biology. Her parents LeRon and April can be justly proud of her accomplishment. Bobby Martin is one of the best, and most sought after, banjo players remaining in the state. Ryan Clark is competent on mandolin. If you attend bluegrass festivals in Florida, you'll see and enjoy this band.

Katie Rogers

Ryan Clark

Bobby Martin

LeRon Rogers

April Rogers

Barron Rogers - Workshop

Jerry Butler - Workshop

Jerry Butler


Grasstowne began its career as a superband composed of three fine individual pickers with quite different styles. Only Alan Bibey remains of the original band, which has been in transition for several years. Bibey, who has been a stylistic leader for a generation on the mandolin, continues the band with two now longtime members, Kameron Keller on bass and Justin Jenkins on banjo. Each is an individual virtuoso whose forte continues to be being part of a team.  Alan seems to have been in the business of breaking in young singers who then move on to busier bands. On this trip, veteran singer/guitarist Shannon Slaughter fit into the Grasstowne sound and vibe like a glove while providing his own style. The band was the best its been in a couple of years. Keep your eye on Grasstowne as it continues to evolve and improve. 

Alan Bibey

Kameron Keller

Justin Jenkins

Shannon Slaughter

Shane Bartley - Banjo Workshop

Grasstowne Rehearsing

Highway 41 South

Highway 41 South has sharpened its presentation and added to its repertoire, taking even greater advantage of lead singer Jr. Davis's very fine country/bluegrass voice. They've also added new material to their songs and their act, making them more of a complete package while still presenting the bluegrass and classic country covers that have become their popular trademark.

Mark Horn

Donnie Harvey

Jr. Davis

Dave Johnson

 Robert Feathers

April Rogers & Shauna Horn

Keith Bass & the Florida Bluegrass Express
The Florida Bluegrass express specializes in 2nd generation bluegrass material with an emphasis on Country Gentlemen material. They're a solid band which features good singing and instrumental work. Kathy Stewart on bass has shown remarkable improvement.

Keith Bass

Shane Stewart

Jason Baker

Clint Dockery

Kathy  Stewart

American Drive

American Drive is also a band which has been in transition since re-organizing after J.D. Crowe's retirement and then, a year later, Rickey Wasson decided to leave the road, too. Adam Macintosh joined the group for the first time this weekend and acquitted himself well, while still learning the band's material. Shayne Bartley is an old trooper on the banjo and provided both backup and solo work in a solid, professional manner, while signalling that this is no longer a banjo-centric band. Dwight McCall on mandolin and vocals, Matt DeSpain on Dobro, and Kyle Perkins on bass have been with the band for several years and provide a strong anchor. The band still has some hills to climb to establish itself as an independant entity, but is working hard to do so.

Adam Macintosh

Dwight McCall

Matt DeSpain

Kyle Perkins

Shayne Barley

 On the whole, YeeHaw Junction was a successful outing this year, despite the weather. There's plenty of room for growth on the current site of to move it to somewhere with more amenities. Keith and Darlene Bass are earnest and thoughtful promoters who are working hard to continue building on the foundation they've developed over the past three years. Next year is already shaping up to be an even better year.