Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Florida Bluegrass Classic - Brooksville, FL: Review

As we drove into the Florida Classic Park, previously noted as the home of numerous large dog shows, we realized this site was almost ideal for a late winter Florida bluegrass festival. Built on a gentle hill sloping away from the performance pavilion, the site is mostly wide open, although there are a couple of small groves of live oak trees under which campers may park, the grounds contain over 200 water and electric sites, a four hole dump station, a cinder-block flush toilet and washbowl building and plenty of parking. As with other festivals Ernie Evans promotes, there are organized activities beginning Tuesday with something happening each through the rest of the week.

Tuesday Evening - Soup Beans & Cornbread

Rosalie Canaday 

Rosalie Canaday prepared a range of ways serve soup beans and cornbread into a southern gourmet dinner proving more than satisfactory to all who were there.

Followed by a jam by local musicians already assembled.

Followed by a demonstration and introduction to square dancing techniques led by one of the best callers I've ever heard.

And the featured entertainer for the evening, singer, storyteller, and songwriter Michael Reno Harrell, one of the finest of that combination of entertainment I've ever heard. Harrell spent more than an hour weaving songs and stories of his upbringing in rural western North Carolina that would find a place in the heart and experience. of any person, rural or urban who looks back at his childhood with awe and understanding. He's a deeply evocative, wonderfully skilled performer. While I remember hearing his singing on the radio and seeing him once at Merlefest, years ago, this is the first time I had ever experienced the immediacy and poignancy of his stories and songs. I can't wait for the next time.

Michael Reno Harrell

Here's and example of his work, not from that night, but representative:

Michael Reno Harrell - Southern Suggestions - Video

Add the masterful stories connecting his delightful songs and you have a purely wonderful evening!


The weather throughout the week featured warm, sunny days along with quite chilly evenings, typical late winter weather in central Florida. There was plenty of jamming around the spacious campus in the run-up to the festival as well as the customary Wednesday covered dish supper. If bluegrass fans know how to do anything, it's eat and prepare scrumptious dishes for their fellow campers. There was plenty of food and wide variety exhibited on this evening. 

As Usual...the line was long, but quick

Krista Stewart

Happy Pam Warren

Mark Brinkman Songwriting Workshop

Award winning songwriter Mark "Brink" Brinkman presented a songwriting workshop to an enthusiastic, bundled up group. Brink is not only a fine songwriter, but an excellent performer and teacher. His events are worthwhile for everyone attending them. 

Greg Bird - Emcee and Master Karaoke Singer/Host

Gordon & Gail Pike

Thursday's opening band Gordon & Gail Pike offered an enjoyable opening act for the first paid show of the weekend. Their material included classic bluegrass and classic country with a slight Maine accent.

Gordon Pike

Gail Pike

Clarence Canada

Stevette Rehberg

Keeping Warm for the Show

Blue Highway

Blue Highway is a deeply respected and widely loved bluegrass band which has been together with the same members for over twenty years. When Dobro giant Rob Ickes, who has won the IBMA Dobro Player of the Year fifteen times in the last seventeen years decided to leave the band, there was surprise and a question about who could replace him. The hiring on nineteen year old Gavin Largent was a surprise of almost equal proportions. The surprise is now over, and so are any questions about the ability of this young and brilliant Dobro player to fill the big shoes without ever seeking to be an Ickes clone. Gaven Largent contributes plenty of echoes of his predecessor while establishing his own style in the band and helping to re-invigorate their performance. Blue Highway, on a chilly evening in central Florida, put on one of the best performances I've seen from them in some years. Everyone in the band was sharp and enthusiastic, as was their music. I look forward to Largent's making a rich contribution to this storied band.

Gaven Largent

Wayne Taylor

Tim Staffprd

Shawn Lane

Jason Burleson

Pete & Edie

Jan & Mark Brinkman

 Friday & Saturday
Bill Anderson - Guitar Maintenance

Martin Guitar representative who travels, along with his wife Maggie a well-known duo performing bluegrass and gospel music, presents his guitar maintenance workshop.

Wry Whiskey

Wry Whiskey, a local band from west-central Florida, put together by Ed Wybronowski, performs a variety of classic bluegrass and songs written by members of the band. I was particularly pleased to hear Vaughn Monroe's Ghost Riders in the Sky, one of my favorite songs that brought back my childhood. The band performs with zest and good  humor.

Ed Wybronowski




Christie Wybronowski

 Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy is one of the few bands on tour today who can (and will) present two days of shows with four entirely different programs, never repeating themselves. At the Bluegrass Classic they played one repeat, by request, on Saturday, but otherwise were their always entertaining selves. Recently signed by Mountain Fever Records, this hard working band is finally getting the attention they've long deserved, partly because of increased airplay occasioned by Sirius/xm radio's practice of generally playing only titles coming from major bluegrass labels. While the ability of bands to record, produce, and distribute their own recordings has made selection for airplay more difficult, those in a position to help bands obtain recognition need to accept their responsibility to the music, and at least listen to independently produced materials. It was a pleasure to see Mitchell Davis return from his recent injury. The band played lots of songs from it's new album By Any Other Name as well as old favorite from their over twenty years of touring.

Mike Andes

Mitchell Davis

Chris Sexton

Tony Shorter

Caleb Cox

The Trio
Cox, Shorter, Andes

Chris Sexton & Mitchell Davis

 The Gary Waldrep Band

Gary Waldrep is one of the few remaining traditional banjo players continuing to play both Scruggs style three finger banjo and old-time clawhammer (people attending next week's Newall Lodge Bluegrass Festival will see another, Larry Gillis). His enthusiasm and skill are popular and entertaining. His band is skilled and supports him musically and by chiming in with their own solo efforts. Mindy Rakestraw, a long-time member of this band and one of the original Daughters of Bluegrass has a lovely voice and plays excellent rhythm guitar. Mickey Boles is a whirling dervish of energy and intensity, while Donna Townsell, Gary's aunt, plays excellent bass and sings when her quite good voice is needed. If you like old time fervent gospel music and lively bluegrass, Gary Waldrep may indeed be one of your favorites. 

Gary Waldrep

Mindy Rakestraw

Mickey Boles

Donna Townsell

Jo Odom - An Emcee Who Know How to Stay Warm


Saturday dawned bright, clear, and warmer than any other day during the festival. It brought out the largest crowd of the week, drawing people from nearby Brooksville and The Villages, just to the north. Two bands played repeat shows and two new bands were added. It was a great day to end a new festival.

The Crowd Gathering

Classic Car Show

A Full House


Question: Why does Sideline seem so familiar to us, since the band is only a little over two years old?
Answer: Because at least three of its members have been busy with some of the finest and most popular bluegrass bands in the country for years.
After Steve Dilling left IIIrd Tyme Out, he got some rest and a full-time job, then started looking for a little sideline to play some traditional music with friends and family. Thus emerged the hottest traditional bluegrass band on tour today featuring one of the best young fiddlers you'll see. Brian Aldridge, oldest son of the well remembered Mike "Precious" Aldridge of the Bass Mountain Boys, is well-known for his multi-instrumental work with North Carolina bands. His younger brother, Nathan, age 16, has joined the band after reaching an agreement with his high school that allows him to tour as long as his studies are kept up (4 A's and 2B's this semester). Jason Moore is one of the most in demand bass players around, and played with two bands this weekend. Skip Cherryholmes, of the now retired Cherryholmes Band, is married to Dillings daughter, but never think this is a case of nepotism. He can sing and play with the best. Sideline is about to release its third album and is a sure bet for any lineup looking for traditional hard driving bluegrass music. 

Steve Dilling

Nathan Aldridge

Brian Aldridge

Jason Moore

Skip Cherryholmes

Jo Odom & Nathan Aldridge

Lorrain Jordan & Carolina Road

Lorraine Jordan has toured hard with her band Carolina Road for many years moving from traditional bluegrass, into country influenced bluegrass, returning to become the Lady of Tradition and now releasing a CD with a series of former classic country singers seemingly searching for the formula that will fire the audiences' imaginations. Brad Hudson has returned to the group, his Dobro adding a country, slide guitar sound. Josh Goforth is always terrific on both guitar and fiddle, deserving to be featured more. Tommy Long continues to be a competent singer and guitarist, while Ben Greene is always solidly reliable on banjo.

Brad Hudson

Ben Greene

Tommy Long

 Josh Goforth

 Jason Moore

The Florida Bluegrass Classic was a triumph in terms of attendance with more campers and day trippers than anyone expected. The park's design and planned future improvements promise still better days ahead. With the success of YeeHaw Music Festival at Okeechobee and the Florida Bluegrass Classic in Brooksville, Ernie Evans has had two successive festivals which have been well-run and popular, despite being in new venues. Both festivals impressed local tourism and city officials and should be able to attract increasing amounts of sponsorship money as attendance continues to increase. This will allow Evans to continue to improve lineups, while decreasing the number of bands playing for two days. Both venues have extensive space for increased numbers of campers and unlimited day parking space. All this promises a rosy future. There are plenty of fine, somewhat more contemporary national and regional bands which should serve to help attract a slightly younger demographic to both sites. Florida bluegrass is looking up after several years of decline, and Ernie & Debi Evans, carefully crafting a series of improved and improving festivals, are largely responsible.  

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