Friday, February 26, 2016

Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2016 - Satuday: Review

Saturday dawned warm and sunny at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch with a whole new set of buses in the parking lot and lots of good music to come. While some bands didn't quite live up to their reputations for quality entertainment, they still provided plenty of highlights and variety for bluegrass fans.

The Marksmen

The Marksmen are a well-known bluegrass gospel band.

Earle Weaver

Other names of current touring band not available on web site or Facebook page. If you know their names, please let me know. 

Mark Wheeler

Darin Chambers

Breaking Grass

Breaking Grass came to Palatka with a new banjo player, Jody Elmore, who is still working into the band, but will be a fine addition. I was sad to hear of Thelton Vanderford's continued health difficulties and wish him well. Meanwhile, Zach Wooten has begun singing. The band continues to write excellent new songs and incorporate interesting interpretations of earlier bluegrass. I should think that Breaking Grass is in the hunt for this year's recognition as IBMA Emerging Band.

Cody Farrar

Tyler White

Jody Elmore

Britt Sheffield

Zach Wooten

The Rodeheaver Ranch Museum

Rodeheaver Boys Ranch has built a delightful small museum just across the street from the performance pavilion (needs a name). It contains historical material about Homer Rodeheaver and the Billy Sunday ministry, the ranch itself, and a pretty little cupboard taking a look at the Palatka Bluegrass Festival. This year, it also functioned as the Ranch's point of contact with attendees and the site for selling tickets for the guitar raffle as well as festival t-shirts. Next year, stop in, look around, and buy plenty of tickets on the beautiful guitar they always raffle off.

Bluegrass Cupboard

The Little Roy and Lizzy Show

Little Roy Lewis remains the clown prince of bluegrass music, a remnant of the earlier days of bluegrass where a comic figure wore costumes and played tomfoolery. Younger people, coming new to a bluegrass festival might wonder what this is all about. Fans of the great Lewis Family gospel band, which flourished from the nineteen fifties into this century recognize a nostalgic view back to a simpler day. At seventy-three, Little Roy Lewis can still make a banjo ring. His once protege and now partner, Lizzy Long, plays a many instruments and has developed a sweet singing voice, when she is allowed to use it. The band is all about supporting these two performers. Recently, Haley Stiltner has joined the band on bass.

Little Roy Lewis

Lizzy Long

Nathan Stewart

Tyler Biddix
Haley Stiltner

Little Roy on the Autoharp

Little Roy & Lizzy

Janet & Lamar Moss

The Bluegrass Brothers

The Bluegrass Brothers have been changed with the loss of son Steven to another band, reducing family membership to only Donnie on mandolin and patriarch Victor Dowdy playing bass, singing, and acting as band emcee. This weekend, their new banjo player was ill. The Bluegrass Brothers stand as proof that a band can still move from parking lot picking to success on the bluegrass stage through perseverance, grit, and hard work. Their work is drawn from the first three generations of bluegrass, ranging from Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers to Seldom Scene and The Country Gentlemen. Chris Hart on Dobro worked hard, as he always does.

Victor Dowdy


Donny Dowdy


Chris Hart

The Steep Canyon Rangers

The Steep Canyon Rangers (Steeps to their fans) have not been to Palatka in some years. Last time they were here, they were a pretty much conventional contemporary bluegrass band. Today, they have become a high profile band seen as representing bluegrass in a number of high profile, varied venues. They've toured as Steve Martin's back-up band and recorded with him. On tour, Martin always makes sure they get to play several numbers as themselves.  They joined him on the Tonight show. This year the Steeps will be playing selected dates as part of a comedy tour Steve Martin and Martin Short have created. They'll be performing at places like Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, the Wang Theater in Boston, and the Rama Theater in Canada. In addition, they'll be seen at bluegrass festivals like Gettysburg, Strawberry Park, Grey Fox, and Delaware Valley as well as arts centers and theaters across the country. For many people, as one of the commenters on my Facebook page put it, they represent bluegrass for many people. While some attendees at Palatka may have left the performance, not finding them to their liking, the majority stayed to enjoy or at least seek to appreciate their performance. 

The Steep Canyon Rangers are consummate musicians and thoughtful interpreters of the fine covers they do as well as new material they write. Nicky Sanders stands out as a serious violinist reaching new heights on the fiddle while also being a lively whirling dervish. Woody Platt's singing is a clear and well-modulated lead singer. Graham Sharpe sings fine bass and plays an excellent banjo. Mike Guggino has emerged as a polished and persuasive mandolin player. Since we'll be seeing them a lot this summer, I'll reserve more comments for later. 

Nicky Sanders

Mike Guggino

Graham Sharpe

Charles R. Humphrey III

Michael Ashmead

Woody Platt

Graham Sharpe & Mike Guggino

Nicky Sanders

This year's Palatka Bluegrass Festival was one of the best designed Norman Adams festivals we've ever attended. It contained excellent balance between traditional bluegrass along with more contemporary and cutting edge bands. The partnership between Adams and the administration of the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch continues to be productive for both. Next year's dates: February 16 -18, 2017.

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