Monday, March 3, 2014

Roscoe Canaday Memorial Bluegrass Festival - Review

We drove into Dixieland RV Park last Monday in a pouring rain after a short drive west from Palatka, Florida. By the time we had parked and set up on the newly renovated site, with a broad concrete patio and new gravel added, we were drenched through our rain gear. Promoter Ernie Evans told us people were cancelling after having been pulled out of the mud at Palatka by the boys ranch's fine staff, saying they just couldn't face another week of bad weather. Too bad, because they missed a fine week filled with lots of activity and good music at the Roscoe Canady Memorial Bluegrass Festival in Dixieland RV Park in Waldo, FL one of the state's most notorious speed traps. 

Park Owner Greg Griffis, along with his pleasant wife Melissa, has lavished huge amounts of time, effort, and care into upgrading the facilities at Dixieland. Gone are the ever-present Confederate flags, replaced with a new logo that represents an almost new campground. The facilities are clean, there has been much planting of palm trees, giving the place a new look, and the rest rooms are kept spotlessly clean. Yards and yards if gravel and sand have been devoted to raising low spots and improving drainage. The enclosed music shed provides for excellent shelter from the somewhat unreliable weather often found in northern Florida in late winter. Located between the home of the University of Florida in Gainesville, a sprightly and lively university town, and the home of the Florida State Prison near Stark, Dixieland RV is a good place to spend a bluegrass festival week.

 Monday Night Barbecue

Clogging Demonstration

...and Square Dancing

Promoter Ernie Evans has re-conceived the bluegrass festival along the lines of a cruise ship. People coming to the event can look forward to finding plenty of activity each day to keep the busy and interested, or can choose to use the time for their own purposes. There's lots of jamming throughout the campground, but not so much that a person can't get plenty of quiet. The activities include bingo, a Facebook2Face activity in which people who know each other on Facebook can become better acquainted, a fishing tournament, and evening activities provided by group meals including a barbecue fully provided by the campground, a covered dish supper with meat provided, and a corn bread and beans supper. Each night there's a music activity after supper with either jamming or open stage performances.

Quiet Jamming by the Lake

Corn Bread and Beans

Rosalie Canaday

Evening Jam Led by Ernie Evans
The Fishing Tournament

Martha Sheperd Came for Half an Hour...
and Stayed for Two 

The Big Winner

The Awards Ceremony....

Covered Dish Supper

Hungry Campers
Darlene and  Ron Gilliam 

Friday Morning Workshop

The Palmetto Ramblers

The Palmetto Ramblers opened the festival on Friday afternoon with a set of traditional bluegrass covers performed with good fun and earnest concentration.

Billy Swinson

Doug Tucker

Donnie Lott

Donnie  Lott, Jay Padgett, Charlie Hoskins

Hard Road Trio

The Hard Road Trio, from New Mexico, offers a very pleasing mix of folk, Americana, and bluegrass featuring strong harmonies and solid singing, particularly of their own singer/songwriter material. The band provides a wonderful change-of-pace at a bluegrass festival. Steve Smith on mandolin, also plays with Alan Munde and Country Gazette, is both energetic and skillful, a fine mandolin player. Chris Sanders, on rhythm guitar, has a very pleasing voice and personality. I'd like to hear a little more from Anne Luna whose bass work and harmony singing added to the mix.

Chris Sanders

Steve Smith

Anne Luna

 Julia Gardner, Rosalie Canaday & McRoy Gardner

 Marty Raybon & Full Circle

 There's a grin constantly tugging at the corners of Marty Raybon's mouth that wasn't always there, but it sure is now. And he deserves to smile. His show is filled with energy, and he has a very good, young band providing terrific support, filled with energy and commitment. We had seen Marty Raybon last week at Palatka performing for a large crowd. On Friday, he came to the stage with about two or three hundred people in the audience and gave them a rousing performance without a trace of difference in attitude or showmanship between his presentations at the two vastly different locations. Marty Raybon is a thoroughgoing professional who delivers each song with style and energy.

Marty Raybon

Zach Rambo

Isaac Smith

Chris Wade

 Jayd Rains

 Zach Rambo & Jayd Rains

Marty Raybon

 Emcee Jo Odum


Saturday was sunny and warm. The crowd swelled in anticipation of a strong and varied lineup headlined by Blue Highway, making one of its rare Florida appearances. The campground had continued to drain and dry out while the music and enthusiasm rose to new heights. The four bands presented on Saturday represented four distinctly different and equally pleasing musical styles, highlighted by Blue Highway, which manages to sound ancient and contemporary at the same time. It was a wonderful day.

Swinging Bridge

Swinging Bridge has established itself as one of the very best local bands in Florida. They've been together nearly twenty years, selling themselves both by the quality of their musicianship and the energy of their performance. 

Chris Bryson

 Doug Rowe

Bobby Martin

Alan Colpits

Billy Swinson

 Fishing Tournament Winner

Newtown Bluegrass Band

New mother Kati Penn-Williams and her vastly improved band is still recovering from a personnel change, and has added new energy to its already strong Kentucky brand of bluegrass. Originating in the Louisville area of Kentucky, the band, as you might expect, is fiddle-centric, but balanced. Junior Williams shares emcee chores with his wife Kati. C.J. Cain is a hot guitar picker with plenty of chops. Clint Hurd plays solid mandolin and contributes good vocal harmonies. 

Kati Penn-Williams

Jr Williams

  Clint Hurd

C.J. Cain

Cody Perrin

Kati-Penn Williams

The Music Shed Behind the Lake

Emcee Jo Odum

Travers Chandler & Avery County

There's a new maturity of both voice and behavior in a Travers Chandler performance that lifts him and his band to new levels. The band retains it raw energy reflecting the Baltimore barroom style of Charlie Moore, a performer Chandler deeply admires and seeks to emulate, while exhibiting a degree of nuance and vocal subtlety it has not heretofore shown. Travers' voice has deepened in tone while increasing in range, eliminating the shrillness and extending its power. They provide a refreshing change of pace while remaining in the pocket of traditional bluegrass.

Travers Chandler

 Matt Levine

Hunter Webber

Steve Block

 Blue Highway

Blue Highway has been together for twenty years and, in that time, has refined and continued to develop as a band and as individual performers. Boasting three fine song writers and a fifteen time Dobro Player of the Year, they are at once a top instrumental band offering contemporary bluegrass within a context of a deep musical tradition. Wayne Taylor's song Lonesome Pine is often mistaken for a classic bluegrass standard. It astounds me that this powerhouse band has won so few IBMA awards through the years.  While once chosen as vocal group of the year (well deserved) they should also have been in regular contention for instrumental group of the year. Intensity, musicality, singing, and songwriting, this band has it all. People came to Waldo on Saturday from as far away as Miami (a five hour drive) just to see Blue Highway.

Jason Burleson

Shawn Lane

Wayne Taylor

Rob Ickes

 Tim Stafford

The Gospel Quartet

Ernie Evans has had some reverses during the last several years. He has come through them by re-imagining his role as a promoter, performer, and musical entrepreneur, developing his Evans Media Source carefully, and with an eye to the future, as a multidimensional entertainment complex. His enthusiasm has never flagged. Along with his wife Deb, who quietly keeps their work on course as a solid administrator, Ernie Evans is compiling an admirable record as a comprehensive bluegrass entrepreneur.  The result is an emerging series of imaginative festivals both at Dixieland Music Park and, starting this year, at a renewed Sertoma Youth Ranch. They're building slowly and with care not to exceed resources while offering terrific bands and good value for bluegrass fans. Ernie has re-energizing what has looked like a flagging bluegrass scene in Florida and has earned respect while deserving strong support. Look for the Claire Lynch Band, Nothin' Fancy, and Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out at the April 13-18 event at Dixieland Music Park. Bluegrass fans seeking a good value can't go wrong by attending events there.

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