Promoter Mike Wilson seems to have successfully resurrected the Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival with good management, strong bands, and clear behavioral guidelines. While standards of behavior are clear, his leadership is understated and friendly, encouraging people to enjoy themselves while attending to comfort and enjoyment of others. This formula has turned Willow Oak into a truly fine place to spend a spring weekend, especially when the high quality of the music throughout the weekend is considered. Although there was a torrential rainstorm accompanied by plenty of lightning and thunder late on Friday afternoon, the storm passed quickly, the air cleared and the music prevailed.
Tom Peters & Vernon McClendon
I don't write often enough about the volunteers at bluegrass festivals. These are the people who give their time and energy to make a festival run smoothly, whether they're working the gate, the parking lot, garbage duty, the festival merch table, or doing the many other jobs that are necessary before, during, or after a festival.
Volunteer Crew Erecting Merch Tent
Ready to Start
A local band from Alton, VA, Lawson Creek opened the festivities with two well-received sets of mostly bluegrass covers delivered with enthusiasm.
Danny Fitts & Joe Dawson
Joe Dawson & Starlet Austin
Jammin' in the Campground
Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain
Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer Melvin Goins comes from the days when the line between bluegrass and country music wasn't yet drawn. He comfortably purveys a pleasing mixture of both as he shares his many years of experience. At age 81, he's still lively and focused. The contrast between him and twelve year old Kyle Ramey, playing mandolin, couldn't be more real, with the banter between them .emphasizing the age difference.
No License Fishing on the Pond
Constant Change, coming from the vicinity of state capital Raleigh, has been around for over a decade. They have clearly stepped up their game, ready for a wider audience on the national scale. They play a driving traditional style which features their own compositions as well as a fine mix of early covers and more recent work. They will have an official showcase at IBMA's World of Bluegrass in the fall. They've truly become a first rate bluegrass band.
Two Fans Waiting for Balsam Range
Marta Jones & Irene Lehmann
Balsam Range continues to provide some of the very best music in bluegrass today. Working with songs written within the band and chosen from a range of contemporary bluegrass writers as well as turning rock and blues classics into great bluegrass, they bring creativity to a seamless mix of fine music. Who ever imagined the Allman Brothers or Jim Croce as providing fodder for bluegrass songs? But they do, and it works. While the band is fortunate to have four voices singing for it, Buddy Melton and Caleb Smith both stand out for their soulful singing. Melton's very fine tenor fills listeners with emotion while always being held under tight control. If you haven't seen this band live, you're in for a treat. Ask your local promoter to book them...no...pester!
John Holder Runs Balsam Range Sound
with an I-Pad
The Golf Cart Brigade
Cindy & Wayne Murphy
The Country Gentlemen Tribute Band
David Probst, & Mark Clifton
Bill Yates & The Country Gentlemen Tribute Band put in two fine sets on Saturday, and I owe them my apologies for not getting out to hear them at noon, and then resisting returning to the stage after the huge thunderstorm we had. They deserve better.
Emcee Buddy Michaels
Festival Promoter April & Rodney Preddy
Take a look at PreddyFest in the end of July.
The Bluegrass Brothers
Robert & Victor Dowdy
The Bluegrass Brothers have a huge following in Virginia and North Carolina, many of whom came out to celebrate their performance with plenty of loud and lubricated enthusiasm. They play mostly second and third generation covers with a good dose of Bill Monroe and The Stanley Brothers, too. They generate a lot of energy within their band and it's well reflected by their fans.
Old Reb - Frequent Festival Attendee
Part of a Musicians Pre-Performance Preparation
Adkins & Loudermilk
Akdins & Loudermilk is a newly formed band consisting of Dave Adkins, relatively new to the national bluegrass scene, who's a powerful, soulful singer projecting huge energy. Edgar Loudermilk, is a deeply experienced bluegrass bassman as well as a talented singer/songwriter who spent the last seven years with Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out after stints with a several other bands. Showing promise of accomplishing much in music, the band is still finding its way, but has succeeded in getting many bookings, and introducing itself to the bluegrass world. On this day, Edgar was suffering hugely from hay fever, and did not feel capable of doing his best singing, so Adkins performance dominated. I look forward to seeing them develop over the next few years as they work to find their own unique sound.
Linda Dilling & Irene
A Quiet Moment
Alan Bibey is a distinctive mandolin stylist who has performed with some of the best, including being a founding member of IIIrd Tyme Out, New Quicksilver, as well as his previous band, Blueridge. Grasstowne has had some difficulty finding an audience as its composition has been in flux. Now, with the addition of the very good singer/guitarist/songwriter Shannon Slaughter, the band seems to have found its groove. Slaughter brings fine musicianship as well as a quick sense of humor to the band. Anchoring at either end are Kameron Keller on bass and Justin Jenkins on banjo. Each is a virtuoso on his instrument. Listen to their duo of "Little Darling Pet of Mine" to hear them at their best. Meanwhile, Bibey is one of the few musicians recognized with both a Gibson signature mandolin and a style of play named after him. Catch them.....
Promoter Mike Wilson
The Darrell Webb Band
Darrell Webb is so filled with energy he can hardly contain it. This weekend, he played six sets with three different bands and hardly seemed tired when he finished filling in with the James King Band on Saturday night. Despite all this hard and effective work, what stands out it his appearance with the band he has developed over the past few years and leads effectively through a selection of terrific songs, well chosen to fit his emotionally charged singing and world class mandolin playing. Songs like "False Idols" by Harley Allen and his own song "Coal Miner's Son" would be reputation makers for others performers, but his catalog of excellence is becoming so long, they just fit in with the rest. Meanwhile, Webb has surrounded himself with a group of fine musicians who give his work depth and tonality. Often known as an interpreter of bluegrass classics, he's chosen to risk making newer, and more challenging, material, which can already add to his already substantial acclaim. He's earned his signature mandolin, and they don't make visible signature voices.
Sideline is the best cover band playing bluegrass music today! Started as a mid-week local band that just wanted to get together to play music, Sideline plays familiar bluegrass songs with an energy and commitment other bands can only envy. We get to hear lots of bluegrass, and we make a real effort to listen to the many local and regional bands promoters hire to help fill their lineups. Most of these bands play the familiar bluegrass repertory, and many people enjoy these performances. Now a band comes together composed of five longtime professionals to remind us of what the bluegrass standards should sound like. And it's a real pleasure to hear and watch them. Steve Dilling brings his remarkable talent as an emcee and is joined by a merry band of top notch pickers who really know how to make music together. Despite the fact they all have other gigs, promoters should be filling the phone lines (are there any of these any longer?) to put this band together with the established national bands they perform in as a two-fer.
Guest Vocalist - Mike Wilson
Guest Banjo - Tyler Jackson
Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Junior Sisk, blessed with a fine singing voice and a whole bunch of talent, has had to overcome nearly terminal shyness to rise in the bluegrass world to his current state of eminence, reigning IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, not to mention a significant number of fine songs he's written. The band is strong and disciplined, with first rate musicians across the stage, all dedicated to supporting the songs Junior Sisk loves to sing. The accomplished fiddler Jamie Harper, who has played in Still House and in Carrie Hasler's band, has recently joined the band on fiddle, replacing Billy Hawks who has been forced to leave the road. While Billy will be missed, the band is holding up very well by adding Dawson. He's a strong singer as well as a fine fiddler, which will add versatility to the band. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice is a very strong band to pick at any festival, whether traditional or Americana, he'll add a crowd pleasing quality that's truly unique.
Jonathan Dillon, Jason Tomlin, Junior Sisk
The James King Band
Through the years the James King Band has had its ups and downs, but for the past couple of years his career has been on an upward trajectory that makes it one of the best and most entertaining bands around. James' voice is as good as I've ever heard it. He looks fit and happy. He has a band surrounding him that likes him and his music and can deliver it. He still wears his heart on his sleeve, and, while it costs him, it's also a great asset to join his distinctive voice and style. No one sings story songs any better. While he says, from the stage and privately, that April has been a difficult month for him, he continues to troop along, and he's even learning to use a smart phone and has his own Facebook page. James King, despite many successful years on the road, is still a work in process. It's about time IBMA recognized his talent and hard work.
Darrell Webb - some sub!
Let's Get Really Good Seats!!
The Malpass Brothers
The Malpass Brothers present a country music show in which they sing impressions of the great country music stars of the fifties, sixties, and seventies. They do such a good job of it that they've been opening for the great Merle Haggard, who is also featured in their show, along with Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, and other greats of a bygone era. And they do a good job of it, crowd pleasing and reminiscent of the period they have studied and revere. Furthermore, their act is a sure thing at most bluegrass festivals, where a change of pace band is almost always welcome. They sing and play well, and are quite enjoyable.
Taylor Malpass, Mike Wilson & Chris Malpass
Buddy Michaels - Emcee
Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out
Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out has recently gone through some lineup changes after demonstrating remarkable stability over the years. Reports have been drifting in for a few weeks that the band was as good as ever, but I've wanted to see for myself. Well, the reports were right. First, Russell Moore is in fine voice and a terrific frame of mind, as he's taken on emcee responsibilities as well as the heavy load of singing he's always carried. The addition of Keith McKinnon on banjo and Blake Johnson on bass have proven to be excellent choices. Keith is a fine, driving banjo player and a good harmony singer. Blake is a strong bass player and an even stronger singer, blending well with Russell's voice as well as being a good soloist. Wayne Benson has taken on some of the band emceeing, although it does not really come naturally to this magnificent mandolin player. All fans of IIIrd Tyme Out can rest assured that they will continue to hear the best in bluegrass music when they appear near you.
Sound Men - Doug Crabtree
IIIrd Tyme Out's Donnie Carver
Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival provided just the right combination of music and a fine location for heading out for a weekend of music. Despite a dangerous and scary thunder storm and driving rain for an hour or son on Saturday afternoon, everyone had a fine time. Come on out next year. There should be plenty of happy surprises as well as the bands you treasure seeing at Willow Oak Park.