Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Podunk Bluegrass Festival 2015 - Thursday & Friday: Review

Last year Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival found a new location at the Hebron Lions Fairground in Hebron, CT. This year the Fairgrounds became a home as all the elements fell together to re-create and enforce the qualities that have characterized Podunk's character for nineteen years and garnered it the IBMA Event of the Year in 2010. Noted for programming wonderful young bands before they break out, established bands that have been touring for more than a generation, the greats and the near greats, wall-to-wall jamming, thoughtfully conceived workshops, excellent vendors, and superb performer and volunteer hospitality, Podunk has found a new home which can accommodate continued growth while providing an intimate experience. Under the guidance of Executive Director Roger Moss and implemented by a dedicated and knowledgeable board, Podunk has, like this year's Phoenix on the t-shirt, risen from the ashes to again assume its place, not only among New England festivals, but with national ones, too. 

The Setup
Camping Headquarters

Characteristically, we arrive at a venue early in the week to acclimate ourselves, set up camp, get the lay of the land, and settle in. As the week moves ahead, we watch the setup, participate and help where we can, and enjoy a couple of days of relative quiet before the hustle and bustle of a busy festival begin. It's a good time to touch bases with old friends or get to know new people. 

Toilet and Shower Building

Our Home for the Week

License Check?

Tenter's Hill

Roger's Office

Roger Moss Directing Vendor Setup

Stage Manager Jim Beaver

The Band Competition

The Podunk Band Competition has provided a helpful boost or a launching pad for bands seeking to rise in their professional visibility. Winners in the past have included Joy Kills Sorrow, Gold Heart, The Packway Handle Band, The Zolla Boys, and Travers Chandler & Avery County. This year, four bands from three states were selected to compete. Each band is given performance criteria to meet in their thirty minutes, including set-up, introductions, and songs. Judging was by a professional musician, a promoter, and a radio dj. One of the judges told me that this year's competition was the closest in his experience. Fans attending the contest are encouraged to vote in a "Fan Favorite" competition with the proceeds ($1.00/vote) going to support the Kids Academy. 

The Podunk Band Competition is sponsored by Telefunken. The winner is awarded a paid gig in next year's Podunk lineup, and takes home a pair of Telefunken microphones. 

The Winner - Colebrook Road from Lancaster, PA

 Colebrook Road is a very solid bluegrass band from Lancaster, PA. During their segment of the Band Competition, they played six songs, five of which were written by band members with the sixth being the required winner of last year's song competition. Colebrook Road's schedule shows them playing in a four state area around their home in Lancaster, giving lots of people a chance to become familiar with them. This is a very promising, solid band deserving a wider hearing. When you hear them, you'll be impressed!

Wade Yankey

Mark Rast

Joseph McAnulty

Jesse Eisenbise

Jeff Campbell

Fan Favorite - Michelle Canning & Rough Edges

Michelle Canning & Rough Edges won the Band Favorite portion of the Band Competition by garnering more dollars in the donation pot. Michelle is a figure quite familiar to New England audiences, having grown up playing in kids academies and graduated to her own band several years ago. She's currently enrolled in the bluegrass and traditional music program at Morehead State University in Kentucky.
Michelle Canning

Cory Brodsky

Rick Brodsky

T. Shaun Batho


Detour has been around for several years. We first saw them at IBMA in Nashville, and I was less than impressed, although the hour and setting could have accounted for some of my reaction. We heard the band again at Gettysburg this May, and I was more enthusiastic. Last weekend at Podunk, Detour put on three very strong sets, and Missy Armstrong emerged as a fine lead singer and band spokesperson. As her confidence and strength have grown, her always pleasant voice has opened up into a powerful, expressive instrument. She supported by a fine, able band. Their repertoire ranges from solid traditional bluegrass through a dynamite version of the Tennessee Ernie Ford standard Sixteen Tons. Detour is a rising band presenting an enjoyable program.

Missy Armstrong

Jeff Rose

Lloyd Douglas

Peter Knupfer

Jack Grant

The New England Bluegrass Band

The New England Bluegrass Band has performed with the same lineup for the past several years, although I was unfamiliar with them, because I hadn't seen the band in a while. The band's composed of highly skilled New England performers under the general direction of Cecil Abels. The band is entertaining and diverse, presenting a range of music from bluegrass standards to an interesting piece accompanied by a tuba. 

Cecil Abels

Zachariah Hickman

Zach Ovington

Mike Testagrossa

Dave Kipthuth

David Talmadge

 Vendors Are Busy at All Hours

Mary Maguire - Harmony Workshop

Events start early at Podunk. Mary Maguire was conducting her harmony workshop as I arrived. She was using visual aids and practice as tools to teach a skill which, to me, often seems way beyond my understanding. I wish I'd had time to stay.

Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers

Larry Efaw's Ohio-based band plays fast-paced, traditional bluegrass with enthusiasm and skill. At least three people came up to me this weekend to remark how much this band, especially with Alex Leech at banjo sounds like and resembles Ralph Stanley's band in its sound and style. Leech, particularly, they said, has many qualities much like Ralph's. This style of mountain bluegrass, growing out of the early radio days of the late thirties, deserves to be preserved and cherished as part of our national musical heritage. 

Larry Efaw

Stanley Efaw

Alex Leech

Anthony Prater

Joe DeLillo

Bluegrass Hill in Front of the Stage

Gold Heart

Gold Heart is, I think, the first winner of the Podunk Band Competition to be rehired after the obligatory appearance they win for winning the contest. And they deserve to be hired, presenting their sold program featuring the three part sister harmonies and band-written songs that is their signature. Since we last saw them in May at Gettysburg, younger brother Kai has improved vastly on the banjo, while the singing of the three sisters continues to escalate. They're good and getting better. 

 Tori Gold

Jocey Gold

Shelby Gold

Kai Gold

Trent Gold

Organized Kids Activities

Hidden Away Camp-Sites

The Acoustic-Americana Stage

This year an Acoustic-Americana Stage with it's own stage and sound system, presented music by largely Connecticut-based bands a short walk beyond the shower area and the rough camping region. Twenty bands were presented in a place where there would be no sound bleeding to the main stage, or vice-versa, with a tent providing shelter from the hot sun. I'm told that, particularly in the evening, they had good crowds come to hear and stay to listen. This approach to presenting more cutting edge bands as well as folk bands and singer/songwriter material has great potential for generating audiences as well expanding the opportunities for bluegrass fans open to other kinds of music at a festival. Highlighting some of these bands in a fashion that could enhance their chances of being heard by more people would serve the festival well. 

On Tent Hill

Picking Together

Emcee Stan Zdonik

Chris Jones & the Night Drives

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers is composed of three multi-talented Nashville veterans, all of whom have distinguished themselves as individuals on satellite radio, as song writers, as performers, and as industry insiders. They are joined by Mark Stoffell on mandolin, a delightful and highly skilled musician himself. Their show contains music representing their own interests and styles as well as the song-writing that sets each one apart as a creative individual. The length of time this band has been together helps create a cohesiveness and quality of communication that comes across well in their music and their humor. 

Chris Jones

Jon Weisberger

Ned Luberecki

Mark Stoffel

Chris Jones

Under the Majestic Tree on the Hill

Emcee - Kim Ford

Special Consensus

Special Consensus has been a top touring band for forty years...always reliable, tuneful, innovative without being cutting edge or radical, and enjoyable. Greg Cahill, on banjo, has led this group for the entire time, and during that time, he has had forty-six people in the band, many of whom have gone on to head their own bands or serve with distinction in others. Cahill himself, is a noted music educator, spreading bluegrass music around the country, as well as an administrator, having served as Chairman of the IBMA Board of Directors and as Chairman of the IBMA Trust Fund. He is deeply respected as a musician and as an industry leader. As the headliner on Friday night, Special C included band members from past years in a reunion show as well as the usual strong show from this edition's group. Great fun for all!

Greg Cahill

Rick Farris

Dustin Benson

 Dan Eubanks

Greg Cahill

More before week's end.

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