Friday, January 29, 2016

Palatka Bluegrass Festival at Rodeheaver Boys Ranch 2016 - Preview

This year's February Palatka Bluegrass Festival, the 12th annual, presents an unusually fine and balanced bluegrass lineup with something for every bluegrass fan offered in support of a worthy cause in a first rate Florida venue. January and February provide opportunities to see re-configured bands with their new lineups for the first time. This year's Palatka has an unusual number in this regard, with at least six bands showcasing recent changes and recordings with new personnel. Many of the changes appear to have strengthened the bands musically.

The Lineup
Penny Creek

Penny Creek made its Palatka debut last year as a showcase band. This year they've made it to the lineup as a scheduled band. This popular local group from Melbourne, FL plays lively, enjoyable bluegrass chosen from a rich repertoire of classic and newer bluegrass. 

Special Consensus

For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has led the Chicago-based band Special Consensus as they have consistently provided sprightly music, often with a contemporary instrumental twist, with quality and dignity. This is a first rate unit. 

Feller & Hill

Two veterans from the mid-west, Tom Feller and Chris Hill bring their years of experience to a high energy, fast-paced show that features music from Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, the days of the Boys from Indiana, with whom they've both done time, western swing, and more. This is an enjoyable show fronted by two personable musicians. 

Lonesome River Band

Sammy Shelor has led the Lonesome River Band for sixteen years since becoming its leader in 2000. They have maintained the high quality of cutting edge sound featured in their early work while building and refining their own banjo-based defining sound. With a new CD just released paying homage to its roots while forging new ground, the band keeps on trooping while never giving less than their best. Shelor, a winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, remains one of the all-time greats on his instrument and as a dynamic leader. Brandon Rickman is an under-rated vocalist as well as a fine guitar player. 

The Spinney Brothers

Rick and Alan Spinney have led the Spinney Brothers as they tour the country delivering classic country and bluegrass. Even their new songs tap into their deep, traditional Nova Scotia roots. They've worked exceptionally hard and earned a loyal group of very supportive fans. 

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent remains the hardest working and hardest touring performer in bluegrass. There have been changes this winter in her sponsorship, and it will be interesting to see how that alters her performance. Meanwhile, no other artist in bluegrass offers a more polished and diversified show or does a better job of cultivating and maintaining fans. Rhonda Vincent & The Rage is a staple of many bluegrass festivals, guaranteed to bring people onto the grounds, entertain them, and then meet and greet them with warm attention. 

Alan Sibley & The Magnolia Ramblers

Alan Sibley is an engaging and earnest performer of bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music from Mississippi. He made his Palatka debut last year and earned a return engagement. Particularly for lovers of southern gospel music and gospel bluegrass, he well worth seeing and hearing. 

Audie Blaylock & Redline

Audie Blaylock and Redline deliver hard driving traditional bluegrass at its very best. Long a disciple of Jimmy Martin's style, he has played with Rhonda Vincent and Michael Cleveland. Long-time fiddle virtuoso Patrick McAvinue is a standout on the fiddle. Onstage, Audie is one of the most intense and hardest working performers you'll find. 

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers bring Mullins' fine Scruggs style banjo and singer Duane Sparks' highly personal interpretations of songs from many eras, this band provides the best in traditional and traditional sounding bluegrass. They also fill the air with fine gospel music. They're based in the Dayton, Ohio area in the southern part of the state, where Joe has long been a signature voice on his own radio station. 

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad has, for over forty years, been one of the most reliable and entertaining bluegrass bands on tour. Ron Thomason is widely recognized as the Will Rogers of bluegrass music, spinning yarns with humor laced with topical and historical references. The band has recently seen major changes with the retirement of long-time members Brian Aldridge and Dan Russell. It  has been joined by former member Adam McIntyre on multiple instruments and bassist Jeff Byrd. I'm eager to see how these new and accomplished musicians add to the mix. The always reliable Tom Boyd remains with the band. Dry Branch Fire Squad appears for two days. 

The Grascals

The Grascals have been touring for about eight months with new singer/guitarist John Bryan, who brings youth and renewed enthusiasm to the band. Their new CD has just been released and will be available at Palatka. Meanwhile, there seems to be a new spirit and liveliness in this band which has revived its youthful vigor with this addition. Kristin Scott Benson continues as one of the contemporary banjo greats and an effective den mother. 

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers can be counted on to produce top performances, to release chart-topping recordings, to surprise and please with their own unique and uplifting songs. They're simply the most creative, tuneful, entertaining band in bluegrass today. The rumor is that the boys are busily working on new Gibson Brothers songs. We've heard a couple of them. All I can say is that we're all in for a treat. Meanwhile, between songs from their most recent CD Brotherhood, their deep catalog of crowd favorites, and their unique stage interaction they always leave the audience begging for more. 

The Marksmen

A regular Palatka favorite, bluegrass gospel purveyors The Marksmen hit the mark musically and personally with their energy and enthusiasm.

Breaking Grass

In recent years Breaking Grass has broken out of their native Mississippi and begun touring in an increasingly wide radius. Lead sing Cody Farrar, whose infectious smile never fades, has led this band to wider and greater attention. They keep the focus on strong new songs, interesting covers from the New Grass Revival and other contemporary bands, and several novelty numbers. They range from thoughtful, introspective songs to rousing, amusing, sometimes genre busting, ones. Breaking Grass should join an increasingly large group of worthy bands competing for IBMA Emerging Band this year. 

The Little Roy & Lizzie Show

Little Roy Lewis is celebrated by some, misunderstood by others, and a favorite change of pace for many, He remains the last of the old-time vaudeville style entertainers touring in bluegrass today. Since his days with the fabled bluegrass gospel group The Lewis Family in the 1950's, he's been the comedic mainstay of all music Lewis. Meanwhile, Lizzy Long has matured into an effective multi-instrumental and vocal force on her own. Enjoy this band and accept it for what it is, a classical institution representing what, for many, is a lamented, lost entertainment staple. 

The Bluegrass Brothers

Victor Dowdy has remained the musical and familial center of this band, the Virginia-based Bluegrass Brothers, which has experienced numerous personnel changes while still maintaining the repertoire and musical standards Victor champions. Most recently, elder son Steven has departed for another band, but son Donny and Brother Robert, both returned after their own absent periods, remain. Count on this band for crowd-pleasing covers of third generation staples. Their version of "Grandfather's Clock" is a standard as the bass circulates among them. 

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Steep Canyon Rangers

The Steep Canyon Rangers have changed a lot for a band that hasn't experienced the loss of a member for ten years. Since their emergence as undergraduates at the University of North Carolina the band has produced a number of ever-changing recordings. They've become the regular back-up band on many of Steve Martin's tours while continuing to tour on their own. They've adapted their sound to a younger and more hip demographic, often featuring Nicky Sanders flaming fiddle along with Graham Sharp's banjo and baritone singing, Woody Platt's fine lead singing, and Mike Guggino on the mandolin and tenor vocals stand out. Bassman Charles Humphrey III is always there with the beat. In the last couple of years they've added the very effective percussionist Michael Ashworth. Often found, these days, on much larger stages, it's a pleasure to see the Steeps on a bluegrass show this winter. 

The Details

The Palatka Bluegrass Festival runs February 18 - 20, 2016 at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, 380 Boys Ranch Road, Palatka, FL 32177. This year's lineup is superb. Beyond that, there are numerous vendors, including the ranch itself, which offers an expansive hamburger/hotdog stand. Be sure to try the Brunswick Stew they serve. Also, buy tickets for the Martin guitar raffled annually. Support the ranch in ways you can. 

You can download a printable copy of the Palatka Bluegrass Festival Flyer and Schedule here

Tickets and Camping may be purchased online at or by calling (706)864-7203. The prices below do not include camping, which may be arranged by calling (386) 328-1281. The camping area is large with over 500 water/electric sites available. There are still plenty of sites remaining at a cost of $25.00 per night. If you have a specific request for a site, ask to speak to Jeff King when you call. Rough camping costs a single charge of $30.00 to cover the costs of showers, free toilets, and other amenities. 

Several hotel/motel options are available. I'm told the Sleep Inn is offering an attractive bluegrass special rate, as is the Crystal Cove. For slightly more luxurious accommodations, there's also a Holiday Inn Express. There's plenty of day parking. 

Sherry Boyd - Emcee

The Rodeheaver Boys Ranch

The Rodeheaver Boys Ranch is a residential facility founded by Evangelist Homer Rodeheaver in 1950 on over six hundred acres of land adjoining the St. Johns River about ten miles south of Palatka, Florida. It's fitting that the Ranch should have become  home to a major bluegrass festival, as Rodeheaver himself was Billy Sunday's musical director during the early years of the twentieth century and a pioneer in the recording of gospel music. The Palatka Bluegrass Festival is held to benefit the Ranch, helping supply funds to support the roughly fifty boys and ten families who live there and provide homes for them. Visitors to the festival should remember that the Ranch was established on religious principles and behavior showing due respect is expected. Do take some time to chat with the boys, particularly when they're not in school on Saturday or to meet and get to know members of the staff of this closely knit community. They're worth taking the time to make their acquaintance. While you're at it, visit the small ranch museum, which now has a feature about the bluegrass festival. 

The Ranch Kitchen Serves
Breakfast and Dinner

The Performance Shed

Getting to Rodeheaver Boys Ranch
Build a Personalized Map for yourself by inputting your current 
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The Campground

Norman & Judy Adams 
Relaxed Breakfast at the Ranch

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner - Book Review

In the Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley (Simon & Schuster, 2016, 368 Pages, $26.95/12.99) author Eric Weiner visits seven cities located around the world during different eras. In this amusing and interesting journey, he seeks to unearth, sometimes literally, the factors that have led to the emergence of great waves of creativity in places that might seem unlikely in retrospect. Weiner asks what factors do ancient Athens, Hangzhou China, Renaissance Florence, 18th century Edinburgh, turn of the 20 th century Calcutta, Vienna in two periods, and contemporary Silicon Valley share the helped create periods of great creative genius? It's as if something in the air, the social/cultural environment of place creates the conditions for genius to flower in such a way that it has an effect rebounding down through history. Wiener has a nice turn of phrase, the ability to make pungent comments that make a reader stop in mid-page to savor the remark. Along the way, he visits the contemporary cities he's writing about, getting in contact with local scholars and high level tourist guides to help acquaint him with the culture and ambience of the past.

As Weiner wanders around the cities which proved themselves to be birthplaces of ideas and art, he also refers to contemporary psychology and sociology where studies have carefully examined the processes of creativity and innovation. By applying the criteria and standards of contemporary studies to ages past, I suspect Weiner may be making cross cultural errors himself, but the tentative conclusions he finds still carry the ring of authenticity. For instance, he suggest that creativity doesn't flourish in an atmosphere of too much plenty or too many choices. With too much wealth, life becomes easy and a person can satisfy needs through buying stuff. Many materials choices, for an artist, make it too easy to make do with what's available, rather than find new ways to achieve a creative goal. He makes a strong argument for restricted space, too. Therefore, cities like Athens, Florence, Edinburgh flourished when they were relatively small and striving to develop.

Social conditions seem to help with the development of creativity. Freedom is important, but democracy is not necessary. Athens achieved its heights under the rule of Pericles, a leader who encouraged art and ideas to flourish. On the other hand, Sparta, a closed society surrounded by walls, was powerful, but not the seat of great creativity. Weiner comments that the Spartans “walled themselves off from the outside world, and nothing kills creativity faster than a wall.” Apparently, the greater a country's openness, the greater its creative achievements. Similarly, in the Vienna of the late 1700's, the Emperor Joseph II ruled, while Mozart and then Beethoven thrived. Later, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jews flocked to Vienna, where they were discriminated against, yet geniuses like Einstein and Freud emerged and flourished, although both were forced to leave, eventually.

Making/seeing connections between elements that seemingly don't go together leads to great creativity. Borrowing ideas across cultures helps to continue to stir the pot of innovation. The Greeks stood at a cross roads where cultures mixed and roiled about, taking the best ideas to incorporate into their philosophy, art, and playwriting. Language shapes creativity as well. The fact that Chinese language is difficult and not based on an alphabet, made developing ideas within their culture more difficult. Conversely, English and German are supple languages. English contains elements of its language from Latin and Germanic roots, and incorporated Asian as well as Amer-Indian vocabulary into its flexible language. German allows its speakers to create appropriate words from others within the speech process. Plato pointed out that “What is honored in a country get cultivated there.” Hence, Greece became the seat for the development of government and philosophy.

Under the Medici family in the 16th century, Florence flourished as a center of art and culture. Florence thrived as a trading city, and Weiner attributes the growth of its power to the development of international currency. During the brief flowering of Florence's great power, a period of around fifty years, art and architecture was encouraged and developed. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others made incomparable contributions to art. Leonardo is used as an example of a great genius who often failed to achieve his goals. Failure and risk are hallmarks of great creativity. Today, in Silcon Valley, which is seen as the center of a great flowering of technological world-changing innovation, many more efforts to develop game-changing ideas into electronic devices and programs for them fail than succeed, but the environment is strongly conducive to a fluid, open society where failure is the result of wide ranging, big thinking but leads to the great next steps that drive it on.

Eric Weiner

Eric Weiner comments, “I’m an author, speaker and former correspondent for NPR, but I prefer to think of myself as a philosophical traveler. My interest—my obsession, really—is the intersection of places and ideas. It is at this intersection, I believe, where the most fascinating aspects of life unfold, be it our search for happiness, spiritual fulfillment or creative expression.” He is the author of Man Seeks God and The Geography of Bliss, both books incorporating his obsession with travel and ideas. He has reported from over 30 countries. Weiner writes a travel column for BBC and his essays and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, The New Republic, and many other publications. . While with NPR, he has also served as a correspondent in New York, Miami, and Washington, DC. In his free time he enjoys cycling, playing tennis, and eating sushi. Weiner is married and together he and his wife have one daughter. The family resides in Washington, DC

The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner (Simon & Schuster, 2016, 368 Pages, $26.95/12.99) combines witty, insightful travel writing with the exploration of how locations and time periods lead to great leaps forward in creativity and innovation. By walking extensively through cities which became great cultural and creative centers while spending time with local historians who happen to be interesting characters, too, he seeks to recreate in his own imagination the culture leading to such creativity. He then incorporates smoothly, and with good humor, contemporary studies of the conditions which help creativity to grow and flourish in both individuals and societies. The mix stimulates as it teaches, like the good walks he recommends as stimulative of good thinking. This very readable, amusing, and informative book builds ideas about creativity as it entertains. I read The Geography of Genius as an electronic galley supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss on my Kindle app. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

YeeHaw Music Fest 2016 - Review

The Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center lies just to the east of the center of Okeechobee, FL on U.S. route 70. The new home of the renamed and re-imagined YeeHaw Music Fest is nearly an ideal venue for a bluegrass festival. The grounds are spacious and well laid out. The Center itself provides flexible space for a large and varied event. In barely three months from being approached by the City of Okeechobee to bring YeeHaw to the convention center, Ernie Evans, along with his wife Deb and partner Don Miller, pulled off a successful festival that promises to grow and prosper in coming years.

View of the Stage

While the northeastern part of the country was enduring the largest snowfall ever recorded in many cities, cold northern winds and some significant rain couldn't put a damper on this first bluegrass festival to be held in the Agri-Civic Center. A crowd that appeared larger than the past two years at the old site in YeeHaw Junction, thirty miles to the north, bundled up against the cold but remained dry in the building while enjoying more amenities and more solid ground than they ever would have had at the former site. There was little or no nostalgia as people enjoyed themselves and looked eagerly forward to the strong lineups and better weather coming in the future. 

Ernie Evans

In recent years, promoter Ernie Evans has built a concept for his festivals modeled after the design of a cruise ship. Once people begin arriving at the grounds on Monday, he tries to make sure that there's organized activity of some kind every day throughout the week. This year, with standout group The Lonely Heartstring Band heading through the area, he arranged for them to stop for a previously unscheduled performance in the conveniently placed activity tent on Tuesday evening. Despite the chill wind cutting across the fields, a small, but enthusiastic, crowd enjoyed a stellar performance.

The Lonely Heartstring Band

As the week progressed, there were formal and informal opportunities for jamming, including an open mic, a festive covered dish supper on Wednesday, and plenty of opportunities for socializing as old friends greeted each other and people new to YeeHaw enjoyed the scene. The city of Okeechobee is located beside Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida. It is the county seat and center of a vast agricultural and retirement region. There are plenty of nearby motels in a variety of price ranges (remember - it's "in season") and sufficient shopping for necessities, and lots of chain restaurants. I never heard anyone yearn for the days in an open field with a circus tent in the center. It appears that those days are pretty well gone when a more convenient and comfortable alternative exists.

As usual, bluegrassers showed that they know how to eat and how to provide plenty of food for each other at a pot-luck supper. Ernie will probably need to provide a somewhat larger auxiliary tent for next year's event.

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy is fancier than their name suggests...and more serious, too. They're especially serious about their comedy, which maintains a sense of sponteneity and humor while always being careful not to exceed the bounds of reasonable good taste. The addition of Caleb Cox, now with nine months spent with the band, has proven itself to be an inspired choice. He offers fine flat picking along with excellent rhythm guitar as well as both harmony and lead singing. This weekend, with Mitchel Davis sidelined by a knee injury, Gaven Largent of Blue Highway, filled in superbly on banjo. It's rare to see a musician who's unfamiliar with a band's repertoire pick instrumental jokes within a song as aptly as  Gaven did. Nothin' Fancy has stepped up its game to complement its new association with bluegrass recording company Mountain Fever Records. Balancing excellent bluegrass from the first three generations of bluegrass history with Mike Andes' contributions of serious and novelty songs, their work is solid and thoughtfully designed. Nothin' Fancy has worked hard for twenty years, with very few lineup changes. They've developed a large and appreciative fan base and are always reliable. They can, without stretching present two days of varied sets, never repeating a song, while obliging the promoter with interesting and useful workshops. 

Mike Andes

Tony Shorter

Chris Sexton

Caleb Cox

Gaven Largent

Tony Shorter & Mike Andes

Chris Sexton

The YeeHaw Band

A fixture of many Ernie Evans festivals has become the pickup festival band on Thursday evening. Made up of good local pickers and band members who have come to the festival, they function as a popular filler band that regular attendees look forward to hearing and seeing. This year's version featured plenty of guests to keep the interest high. In the future, look for an increase in the number of touring bands on Thursday which might have the effect of pushing the YeeHaw Band back to a performance after the covered dish supper on Wednesday. 

Ernie Evans

John Parrish

Alan Colpits

Jr Davis

Chris Bryson

Alan Rudd


Dave O'Brien

Danny Stewart

Penny Creek

Penny Creek is a local band from Melbourne, FL, which is experiencing increasing popularity with their greater visibility. They have just released their first CD. The musical highlight of this group  lies with Chris Paganoni's very fine flat picking along with Isaac Taylor's banjo work. The band features covers of less frequently played music from all eras of bluegrass music. Chris's work on Ginseng Sullivan was particularly notable. Bo Frazer on mandolin and fiddle is animated and lively. Susan Pounds, is a solid singer, bass player, and band front. They perform weekly in a Melbourne bar and are getting more attention around the state. Look for them as a scheduled act at Palatka on Thursday.

Chris Paganoni

Susan Pounds

Isaac Taylor

Bo Frazer

Jo Odum - Emcee

Jo Odum has become an increasingly important contributor to the quality of Evans Media Source events. She keeps the emphasis on the bands, the festival, the vendors and the sponsors while contributing an appropriate amount of color and good humor. 

Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony featured Nothin' Fancy singing the National Anthem and the introduction of the town officials responsible for bring The YeeHaw Music Fest to Okeechobee. 

 County Commissioner and Fire Department Chaplain
with Center Manger and RV Dealer/Sponsor

Matt Dorreity - Agri-Civic Center Manager

Don Miller

Deb & Ernie Evans

The Atlantic City Boys

The Atlantic City Boys are a national touring group paying tribute to the Jersey Boy bands of the 1960's.  Representing a decided change of pace for a bluegrass audience, their music and performance were, nevertheless, welcomed with enthusiasm. Their close harmony to a recorded instrumental track emphasized their allegiance to Franki Valli and similar New Jersey bands. Their performance included tributes to Neil Diamond, the Beach Boys, the BeeGees, and many other performers of the 60's era, right in the pocket of much of the audience, most of whom enthusiastically threw themselves into the performance.

Proud Mom (Deb Evans) Watching Son Mike(i)

The Gary Waldrep Band

The Gary Waldrep Band doesn't travel outside the South much, and it's a shame. The band offers lots of southern gospel style bluegrass with plenty of fervor behind it. Gary's a strong banjo player, both in three finger and in clawhammer styles. Mickey Boles brings super energy, while Mindy Rakestraw's voice is strong and clear. Gary's aunt, Donna Townsel, plays bass and sometimes Travis style guitar. It's a good, entertaining band.
Gary Waldrep

Mindy Rakestraw

Donna Townsel

Mickey Boles

Hwy 41 South

Hwy 41 South, based on Florida's west coast, have improved all around during the past couple of years. Moving Dave Beaumont from bass to lead guitar has given the band more versatility. Jimmy White does a fine job on bass. Mark Horn spreads the work around, giving everyone a chance to show off his best side. Jr Davis, who sang with three bands this weekend, can be counted on for his fine singing. 

Mark Horn

Jr Davis

Donnie Harvey

Dave Beaumont

Jimmy White

The Trio

Solution to Cold Hands on a Chilly Day

Blue Cypress Bluegrass

Blue Cypress Bluegrass is a local band from Vero Beach, They play mostly classic bluegrass or classic sounding bluegrass. Their rendition of "Thirty Years of Farming" was effective, including a verse that I don't think James King sings. They play a weekly Friday night show at the Marsh Landing Restaurant in Felsmere, FL.

Tim Lynch

Bill Hare

Dave O'Brien

Alan Rudd

Trevor Klutz

Swinging Bridge

Swinging Bridge is also a Florida west coast band which has been existence for about twenty years. They play at festivals around Florida bring good musicianship and lots of fun to their shows. 

Chris Bryson

Alan Colpits

Doug Roe

Donnie Harvey

Alby Lopez

Jr Davis

Sonia Stratton (guest)

Jan and Larry Ladd Gospel Sing

All-in-all the YeeHaw Music Fest, in its debut in a new location on short notice, did a fine job of showing off the site and pointing to a rosy future with plenty of room to grow. Already counting the days until next year. 

Next year, the YeeHaw Music Fest will be January 12 - 14, 2017.