Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tennessee Fall Homecoming 2015 - Saturday & Sunday: Review

It rained in East Tennessee on Friday night, but the forecast for the weekend was promising. The weather would improve during Saturday with little further accumulation, and Sunday would be clear, sunny, and...dry. One of the hazards, and pleasures, of attending live music festivals is that they take place in the real world. Coming prepared for wet days and chilly nights only serves to increase the sense that music takes place in a real world, that each day presents gifts along with some risk. With the promise of a wonderful day of music to come, the Saturday crowd increased as the weather improved.

The Tennessee Fall Homecoming excels at celebrating its roots while featuring some of the biggest draws in traditional and contemporary bluegrass music. On the five stages of the festival, you can see shape note singers demonstrating gospel music as it was sung in days when literacy was low and faith high. The pre-cursors to bluegrass and country music, especially as it was played, sung, and danced in the mountains of Appalachia, remain alive here. The bluegrass music that developed during the migration of mountain people to the industrialized south, midwest, and northeast during the Great Depression and World War II is also showcased. All this is presented in the context of a recreated Appalachian farm village, brought together in East Tennessee by John Rice Irwin over the past half century.

The Appalachian Harmonizers

In the Green Room

The Geezers Bench

The Tenos

 Blue Moon Rising

Chris West has consistently been recognized as a fine song writer/singer, but Blue Moon Rising has been unable to attract continued attention. Nevertheless, it was delightful to see both Keith Garrett and Brandon Bostic performing with a band where they both started and to hear Chris sing many of his fine songs.

Brandon Bostic

Chris West

Dale Ann Bradley

Dale Ann Bradley has consistently been one of the finest singers in bluegrass music. She has won the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year five times with her wonderful interpretations and compositions. It was especially gratifying to see Phil Leadbetter, currently continuing his now years-long fight against cancer playing Dobro and looking animated and full of energy both on and off stage.

Phil Leadbetter

Dale Ann Bradley


Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk is one of the finest interpreters of the Stanley Brothers' music as well as a singer who successfully makes contemporary bluegrass material sound old. His distinctive tenor voice is always recognizable.  His current band is probably the best group he's had backing him since he reconfigured Ramblers Choice after the breakup of Blueridge nearly a decade ago. 

Junior Sisk

Jamie Harper

Balsam Range

Balsam Range is an excellent example of a contemporary band coming from a rural Appalachian setting (Haywood County, NC) which fuses deep rural roots with a hip, driving, bluegrass wall of sound using the ancient tones while containing rock and country sounds and sentiment galore. The band was named IBMA Entertainer of the Year. Bassist Tim Surrett was elected Chairman of the IBMA Board at its September meeting. 

Tim Surrett

Buddy Melton
2014 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year

Darin Nicholson

John Rice Irwin - Founder
Museum of Appalachia

Emcee - Freddie Smith
WDVX-FM Knoxville

Del McCoury Band

Nine time IBMA Entertainer of the Year, the Del McCoury Band is probably the most recognized and rewarded bluegrass band of all time. The band has also won two Grammy awards. This year, banjo player Rob McCoury was named IBMA banjo player of the year for the first time. It's always a treat to hear and see the great Del McCoury.

Del McCoury

Rob McCoury

Ron McCoury

Alan Bartram

Dancing Breaks Out....

Only Kyle Perkins Can Make a Bass
Look Like a Guitar!

In the Green Room

The Stewart Family


Sunday dawned bright and cool without a cloud in the sky, a perfect fall day to conclude a fine event. 

Barefoot Movement

The Barefoot Movement is a genre busting band from Nashville presents high energy material with conviction and thoughtfulness.  

Hasee Ciaccio

Ashley Leadbetter & Grayson

The Tractor and Old Motor Display

Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain

Melvin Goins is a member of The Bluegrass Hall of Fame as a member of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. He continues to tour singing old country and familiar bluegrass tunes in a friendly, folksy way. A touch of history.

Melvin Goins

Legal Moonshine
Is that an oxymoron?

Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier

I've become a fan of Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier. Jimbo was the lead singer of Pine Mountain Railroad during the most active period of that band before leaving the road to work around his home in Pigeon Forge. Greenbrier is only a part time band by choice. Whaley is a terrific story teller and entertainer and has surrounded himself with first-rate musicians. Matt Leadbetter is a worthy successor to his better known father, and Roger Helton, with banjo, plays everything well.

Jimbo Whaley

Peter's Homestead House

Stage One, Store, Restaurant

Bark Grinder

Irwin's Chapel Church

Larry Sparks

Larry Sparks has had a long, distinguished career beginning more than fifty years ago as lead singer and guitarist with Ralph Stanley. He was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame this year. 

D. Sparks

Larry Sparks

Wilson Barn - Stage 2

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers held the crowd late into Sunday afternoon's second performance. Mark McClashan, who was their first mandolin player lo these many years ago, now lives in Knoxville, made a surprise appearance with them and doesn't seem to have lost his chops. IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year Jesse Brock graciously stepped aside, saying, "I'll be your snare drum."

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Leigh Gibson, Mike Barber & Mark McLashan

Mark McClashan

Irene at the Gibson Brothers Merch Table

The Fruit Cobblers Are Always a Big Hit Here!

Russ & Becky Jeffers at Stage 4

Bill & the Belles

Bill & the Belles are a new band out of Johnson City, TN, home of ETSU, featuring Chris Truelson, Grace Van't Hof, and Kalia Yeagle singing old style country music. Worth another look!

Grace Van't Hof

Cliff Truesdale

John Rice Irwin
Founder - Museum of Appalachia

John Rice Irwin has created and developed a fine museum and pioneered an event built to help support it. For some years, his daughter, Elaine Irwin Meyer, has served as President of the Museum. Recently John Rice's grandchildren, John, Will, and Linsey have become active in all elements of running the Tennessee Fall Homecoming. This year's Homecoming maintained its traditional allegiance to mountain and old-time music while presenting the strongest lineup of traditional and contemporary bluegrass it has ever had. It appeared to me that the strengthened lineup led to increased attendance, despite a day of threatened rain. While sound at the Tennessee Fall Homecoming remains problematic, I'm certain that problem will be addressed next year. Overall, Tennessee Fall Homecoming has been improved by keeping it in the family. The commitment to the museum's homegrown tradition is coupled with thoughtful growth to make sure it maintains and improves itself. We had a wonderful time and look forward to next year.