Monday, September 29, 2014

IBMA WoB 2014 Kick-Off: Live & Local on Hillsborough Street - Sunday

Billboard Truck Cruises Raleigh

It cannot be overestimated how big an impact IBMA has had upon Raleigh nor the degree to which Raleigh has affected IBMA and it's World of Bluegrass including the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. The actual World of Bluegrass runs from Tuesday, September 30 - Saturday, October 4, including the IBMA World of Bluegrass Business Conference from Monday - Thursday, the Awards Show and Special Awards Luncheon on Thursday, and the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and Street Fair on Friday and Saturday. It's all truly an extravaganza! Here's some evidence about the excitement being generated. Accoring to Cybergrass, a local Pop radio station has changed it's format to 24/7 bluegrass, one of the few all bluegrass FM radio stations in the country. The Mayor of Raleigh, Nancy McFarlane, and her husband are sponsoring the Plaza Stage during Wide Open Bluegrass. At a personal cost of $30,000, this is clearly not a political move, but a sign of love and respect for the music. We've been hearing about IBMA on WRAL-TV during news programs ever since we got here, and back in the Spring when we stayed here for another event. Finally, the New-Observer ran a major piece a day or so ago. Overall, it's simply overwhelming how much Raleigh has embraced Bluegrass and IBMA!

Yesterday, the local merchants on Hillsborough Street sponsored an event they called Live & Local on Hillsborough Street. Located across the street from the main campus of N.C. State University, the Hillsborough Street community is home to lots of restaurants catering to students, small comfortable parks, student housing, etc., a typical and attractive large university setting. While there were four stages within a few blocks of each other, and easy parking, we spent the afternoon at Logan Street stage adjacent to the comfortable and pretty Compegnie Park. Five bands were scheduled from 2:00 until 7:00, and of course we chose to stay where our friends Darin & Brooke Aldridge would be performing as the headliners.

Swift Creek

Americana and bluegrass from across a pretty wide spectrum of highly listenable and enjoyable music. Mellow enough to be just right for an early Sunday afternoon.

Kevin Brown

Dennis Hoyle

Casey Elder

Ann Searcy

Dan Smith

Old Man Whickutt

This local band with a strong bias toward anything NC State and filled with satirical ire against the effete UNC Tar Heels is highly entertaining and amusing. I've been writing for years that you can expect to see punk and hip-hop popping up in bluegrass bands. Well, here it is in a package you really need to be something of a churl not to appreciate. The song of praise for 1983 and Jimmy V along with a rap about the football rivalry between State and UNC were both funny and well-received. If you can only take your bluegrass in its most traditional forms, Old Man Whickutt won't be your cup of moonshine. But if you have a sense of humor, sit back and join in the fun. Their use of language was subtle and their irony deep.

Marcus Hall

Rob Hall

Greg Readling

Greg Tart

? Help?

All the Entertainment Wasn't on Stage

Nixon, Blevins & Gage

This somewhat unusual band is a Doc Watson cover band. Since Doc wasn't much of an originator of new music himself, this means that Nixon, Blevins & Gage does their best to sound like Doc. Since it takes two guitars to sound like Doc at his best, this band, fortunately, features two able guitarists and solid singing. They also offered a fine rendition of Josh White's St. James Infirmary Blues. The band has a pleasant sound and a laid back vibe.

Dave Blevins

Larry Nixon


Rex Williams

The Setting

Lynda Dawson & Pattie Hopkins

Lynda & Pattie first came together when Pattie Joined Kickin' Grass Bluegrass Band as a fiddler and harmony singer where Lynda and husband Jamie Dawkins were the driving force. Now, with the band on hiatus, they have joined as a very pleasing duo. Lynda is a song writer of some experience as well as a strong guitarist. Pattie plays fiddle and violin in a rock band, a symphony orchestra, and this duo, as well as teaching numerous students. They present a very pleasing combination of ancient tone old time and Celtic tunes with some hard driving bluegrass, and traditional fiddle tunes. The whole offers a product of tuneful diversity.

Pattie Hopkins

Lynda Wittig Dawson

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Darin & Brooke Aldridge are well known nationally as a bluegrass band with a special affinity for wonderfully rendered gospel music and uplifting secular singing. They took one look at the audience and moved their emphasis more to the up beat secular side, delivering their show with lots of quality despite the fading light and uncertain sound that lost many of the high and low tones Darin delivers on mandolin and guitar. New fiddler, Carly Arrowood, one day past her eighteenth birthday, delivered a solid performance even though relatively new to the Aldridge's music. She'll fit in just fine.

Darin Aldridge

 Brooke Aldridge

Dwayne Anderson

Tyler Collins

Carly Arrowood

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Live and Local Bluegrass offered a successful prelude to the massive bluegrass event that follows this week. We spent a relaxed day in a more intimate environment enjoying the bands, the fun, and the setting. IBMA's World of Bluegrass followed by Wide Open Bluegrass kicks off tomorrow. It's an all involving event, so there will be little blogging. I'll try to keep up with little vignettes, if I can figure how to post from my phone, but serious photo blogging and analysis of the event will have to wait a week.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Chrisite - Book Review

Gutenberg's Apprencticeby Alix Christie (Harper, September 23, 2014, 416 pages,$27.99/13.59) accomplishes what an historical novel ought to. Christie's first novel takes the reader to the mid-fifteenth century German free city of Mainz, where Johann Gutenberg is feverishly seeking to perfect a the printing process and produce the first printed version of The Bible, knowing that his invention will change forever the balance of power between the Church and the rest of society. Christie successfully captures the broken society, the danger of life and death at the immediate point where the middle ages are about ready to give way to the Renaissance in northern Europe. The race to get The Bible published before Church officials find out about its imminent completion provides the framework for a human drama of enormous interest in a time fraught with tension and problems.

The novel begins as wealthy merchant bookseller and publisher Peter Schoeffer is telling the story of the first printed Bible and of Johannes Gutenberg to Abbot Trithemius at Sponheim Abbey in 1485, where the Abbott, noted as an important German humanist historian, is in the process of writing a biography of Gutenberg. In a series of interviews, Schoeffer tells his story to the aging, gentle Abbott. We first see young Peter Schoeffer as a scribe in Paris, dedicating his life to hand copying the sacred works of the church, when he's abruptly called home to Mainz by his stepfather Johann Furst to protect Furst's investments in Gutenberg's project as an apprentice to him. Upon seeing the press, he immediately interprets it as a blasphemy to replace the beauty and reverence attached to hand made manuscripts. As he learns smelting, print design, and pressman skills, Schoeffer brings his organizational skills and inventive genius to bear helping to improve on Gutenberg's primitive process and begins to see the possibilities of printing for making the Word available more widely. He comes to know and care for his fellow workmen and gradually earns their respect and friendship. Eventually, Gutenberg, always short of money and filled with wild ideas and new plans looks towards the next project, making Peter his foreman, placing him in the uncomfortable position of standing between Gutenberg's wildness and his stepfather's cautious investments in the project. Wound into the narrative is the charming love story of Peter Schoeffer and the beautiful and intelligent Anna, daughter of a tradesman that his father, Furst, sees as an unworthy in-law for Peter. Tensions and problems arise as the need to finish the Bible before it is discovered becomes essential.

Set in the late middle ages with the German Renaissance looming just around time's corner in mid-fifteenth century Germany, the story of the invention of the printing press and the production of the first printed Bible is ripe for the telling. The Catholic Church is a voracious, corruupt consumer of all the wealth produced everywhere, selling indulgences, which promise remission of sins in the afterlife, to support the lazy habits and huge organization that have developed over the previous 1000 years. Working men and their masters are divided into guilds which control all the crafts, limiting change and innovation. Constantinople has fallen to the Infidel and another Crusade threatens to draw all the able bodied men away to war, while plague is always near breaking out bringing death and loss. Aristotle is the source of the Church's idea of science, and all awaits two events: the printing press and Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, still seventy-five years in the future, but internal and external reform in in the air. It's a roiling time of tumult amidst the conflict between the conservative Church, hierarchical society, and guild structure just waiting to be portrayed, and Alix Christie does an excellent job of bringing it to life.

Alex Christie

Alix Christie's was born in the Silicon Valley while it was still orchards, and grew up in California, Montana, and British Columbia. A move to New York state to attend Vassar College, where she was a Phi Beta Kappa philosophy major, led to Manhattan and a stint in advertising copy-writing. She returned home to pursue a masters degree in journalism at the University of California and has been a peripatetic reporter and writer ever since. Her articles and commentary have appeared in theWashington Post, International Herald Tribune, The Economist, The Guardian, Salon, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. She is the former editor of the Foreign Service of theSan Francisco Chronicle, a network of freelance foreign correspondents. While raising two children in the 1990's she earned a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction from St. Mary’s College of California. An earlier unpublished work was a semi-finalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, and her short stories have appeared in Southwest Review, Other Voices, and For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn: Six Words, Six Stories, Six Writers, a limited letterpress edition from Foolscap Press. Gutenberg'sApprentice, is her first novel.

Gutenberg's Apprencticeby Alix Christie (Harper, September 23, 2014, 416 pages,$27.99/13.59) is a first rate historical novel capturing the spirit of the times at both its spiritual and profane levels. The faith it took to undertake the project of developing printing and producing the first printed Bible is set against the ambition, greed, and competitive spirit of the age. Christie successfully captures these rivalries and conflicts in passages capturing the heat and pain as well as the beauty and ugliness of the society. The characters are solidly based in history, and the book kept sending me to Wikipedia to check on its general accuracy. I highly recommend this book to people seeking an engaging introduction to the period and the issues involved and those who like their history in a fictional format. Gutenberg's Apprenctice was provided to me by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read in on my Kindle.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival 2014 - Saturday & Final Assessment

Jammin' in the Morning with Johnny & Lamar

Each morning of the Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival in Kodak, TN dawned clear and warm, only improving (if that's possible) during the day, with Saturday staying warm enough into the evening to allow me not to change to something warmer. I started the morning by going over to the shadow of the silos to join Johnny Adams and Lamar Moss's daily jam. The joy of a jam where everyone is welcome and there's no real expectation that you have to be super provided me with more growth on my new guitar than I've had in a jam before. It's gotten so I feel deprived if I don't spend some time with my new friend each day. I don't think Irene's jealous....

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Darin & Brooke Alderidge have been friends of our since before the were Darin & Brooke Aldridge. We've watched them develop as individuals, performers, and as a band. Brooke's powerful and evocative voice has become an increasingly effective instrument as she gains even further control of it. Darin's vocal range has increased and their harmonies become closer, tighter. Darin is a master guitar player, especially considering he's even better on the mandolin. Their combination of traditional and contemporary gospel and secular music appeals to a wide variety of fans. Dwayne Anderson is a fine bass player and bass singer who is to little recognized.  John Bowman filled in for Becky Buller Haley this weekend on fiddle and contributed his fine tenor voice.

 Darin Aldridge

Brooke Aldridge

Tyler Collins

Dwayne Anderson

John Bowman

Robin & Mickey McNabb with New Offspring

Joe Soward in TV Interview

The Spinney Brothers

 Several years of hard touring in the U.S. have helped garner this Nova Scotia based brother duo IBMA nominations as Emerging Artist of the Year and for Song of the Year. Their combination of traditional bluegrass and classic country is complemented by their own songs which feature a traditional sound. Their presentation is well-rehearsed and moves along smoothly as they negotiate both their presentation and commitment to an augmented single microphone style. Terry Poirier is a welcome addition on bass.

 Rick Spinney

Allen Spinney

Gary Dalrymple

 Terry Poirier

The Spinney Brothers

 Jamming in the Campground

W. a. Pate at his Hospitality Tent

The Bankesters

 The Bankesters continue to be impressive despite youngest daughter Alysha's working after wisdom tooth extraction the day before they came to Dumplin Valley. Their work is melodic and often thought provoking. Parents Dorene and Phil are both in attendance, but background their own considerable talents to focus on their three attractive and able daughters along with son-in-law Kyle on banjo and mandolin. Probably a little more than a third of their material remains gospel or spiritual, while much of the rest of the work emphasizes relationships. You're not going to find a murder ballad (oxymoron?) at a Bankester show. They're wholesome to the bone, and proud of it.

Emily Bankester

Melissa Bankester Triplett

Alysha Bankester

Kyle Triplett

Dorene Bankester

 Phil Bankester

 Fish Fry at Stage B with Elaine & Leon Johnson



 Elaine & Leon


Sideline started out as just that, a side project for the winter down time by some North Carolina guys. Now Sideline looks like one of the best cover bands around, with one record out and another coming up. Still having fun and not taking too many gigs, the band is refreshing, with Steve Dilling, rested and in improved health, resuming his always excellent work as emcee. Brian Aldridge, of the very good regional band Constant Change, has replaced Darrell Webb on mandolin and with vocals, a good addition. Greg Luck, Jason Moore, and Skip Cherryholmes round out the fun. 

Steve Dilling

Brian Aldridge

Skip Cherryholmes

Greg Luck

Jason Moore

 Lonesome River Band

With a new CD coming out in just a few weeks, the Lonesome River Band featured a number of new songs by the talented and versatile Brandon Rickman. New LRB releases are always eagerly awaited, as is this one. Sammy Shelor is always an electric presence on any stage, and the rest of the band helps makes them one of the two or three strongest closing bands around.

Sammy Shelor

Mike Hartgrove

Barry Reed

Brandon Rickman

Randy Jones

It would be hard to overemphasize what a good festival Dumplin Valley has become. While it's an Autumn festival, meaning that younger people are more likely to be tied up with school activities, the energy of the jamming and enthusiasm for the location are high, and the lineup has improved to the point where there isn't a weak link in the weekend. It should become a regular on your early fall bluegrass schedule.