Monday, July 18, 2016

Podunk Bluegrass Festival - August 11 - 14 in Hebron, CT - Preview

The twentieth anniversary of the Podunk Bluegrass Festival will run in the Hebron Lions Club Fairgrounds in Hebron, CT for August 11 - 14, 2016. With the legendary Del McCoury band headlining the festival, Podunk offers a broad range of music from highly traditional bluegrass through more modern alternatives to bluegrass offshoots that reflect broad and varied influences. Nationally recognized by performers for its band contest, which has led the way in welcoming up-and-coming bands to the community, to the amazing Americana Stage, now in it's second year, which has expanded its geographic and musical ranges, Podunk's music satisfies and challenges. Hebron Lions Club Fairgrounds provide a broad range of camping opportunities on site with plenty of nearby hotels and motels for people who prefer that option. A range of activities will keep young and old busy and happy. This overview, in combination with the links to relevant places in the Podunk web site, will help guide visitors through the weekend. Let's get at it:

The Lineup
Emcees: Darwin Davidson - Kim Ford - Stan Zdonik

Abby Hollender Band (Th)

Abby Hollander is a multi-instrumentalist whose eclectic music reflects a range of influences including lots of bluegrass. Now based in Woodstock, NY, her song writing has been featured at Podunk. You can here one of her bluegrass songs here

Alison Brown (F)

Alison Brown was named IBMA banjo player of the year in 1991.  Since then, her banjo style, reflecting strong jazz influences, has remained a beacon for those wishing to explore the instrument's possibilities. Meanwhile, her background in business has led hear and husband Gary to found and expand Compass Records, where she has a new CD called The Song of the Banjo

Colebrook Road (Sa)

Colebrook Road comes from Pennsylvania but has had unusual success in band contests from West Virginia to its win in last year's Podunk band contest, which won them this gig. The band plays and sings well, and exudes personality, too, with fast tempos and thoughtful modulations. Here's an example.

Claire Lynch (Su)

Three time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Claire Lynch has become the gold standard for song stylists drawing upon a number of influences to bring them under the umbrella of bluegrass music. Her interpretations of songs like The Wabash Cannonball and Bill Monroe's My Florida Sunshine and nuance to old standards, while her award winning, with Louisa Branscomb, song Dear Sister sets a heart rending Civil War letter into contemporary setting. Meanwhile, another song Claire wrote, Barbedwire Boys, pays tribute to the westward moving farmers who helped enclose former grazing land. Her impeccable ear for change within tradition is a delightful to watch and hear. She both showcases and utilizes band members Mark Schatz, Bryan McDowell, and Jarrod Walker in complementary ways the create a unified whole. 

Del McCoury Band (Sa)

Del McCoury, like a bottle of fine wine, seems to only get better with time. He's currently touring in support of his new CD based on lyrics written by Woody Guthrie called Del & Woody, which he and his band have set to their own music. As his been his pattern in recent years, Del hits the stage with a relatively short set list containing a quick review of many of his songs before opening the show to requests, shouted from the audience. The requests come in volleys, which allows the old master to "hear" exactly the ones he want to sing. The band, filled with members who've received plaudits as soloists in their own right, is perfect to support Del or to tour as the Traveling McCourys. Never miss an opportunity to see Del McCoury, who is seventy-seven years old and still compelling. The band has won countless Grammy and IBMA awards.  

Rob and Ron McCoury

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (Th)

The Jeff Scroggins & Colorado comes from the west, reflecting those influences. Scroggins, who won the Winfield banjo contest once and placed two other times, is an established stylist while his son Tristan is following in his footsteps on the mandolin. 

Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers (Sa)

Joe Mullins, established as one of the premier Scruggs' Style banjo players on tour today, was an original member of the superband Longview. Touring with his own band, he has become one of the busiest traditional national bands on tour from his base in the Dayton area of South-Central Ohio, north of Kentucky, which has contributed so many fine bluegrass musicians. He owns and operates a group of classic country and bluegrass radio stations built by his father, Paul "Moon" Mullins. Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers have been featured on the Grand Old Opry and were named IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year in 2012. This band consistently delivers high quality bluegrass and gospel performances.

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk lives along Virginia's Crooked Road, the other end of which is where Ralph Stanley comes from. Taking his inspiration from The Stanley Brothers and The Johnson Mountain Boys, Junior is the standout example of a traditionalist who finds new songs that sound old, serving to retain the essence of traditional bluegrass without resorting to endless repetitive covers. Junior was IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 2013. His song A Far Cry from Lester and Earl written with Rick Pardue and Tim Masseu was named Song of the Year in 2012.

Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition (F)

Ronnie Reno is, perhaps, best know as the television personality and executive behind Reno's Old Time Country Music, which can now be seen on RFD-TV. Meanwhile, he maintains a relationship with RenoFest, held each year in early April in Hartsdale, SC, which is named after his father, one of the most important banjo pioneers. The band tours lightly, but can be seen on television show. Banjo player Mike Scott helps enliven this good traditional band featuring lots of music from Reno & Smiley and the Reno Brothers' Band. It's always a treat to see Ronnie Reno away from his entrepreneurial desk. 

Mike Scott

Sideline (F)

Sideline, formed as, you guessed it, a side project by several North Carolina bluegrass pros seeking a little fun and a few convenient off-season gigs, has blossomed into the hottest hard-driving traditional bluegrass cover band in the country. Steve Dilling, despite some health problems which forced him to leave IIIrd Tyme Out after many years, remains the top band emcee in the business as well as a first rate banjo picker. Jason Moore is one of two or three top, go-to bassists around. Bryan Aldridge (mandolin and lead vocals) and his Younger brother Nathan (fiddle), little known outside North Carolina, deserve much wider recognition, and Skip Cherryholmes has been familiar for over a decade. The band has been joined by Brad Hudson, on Dobro, adding musical depth and vocal versatility to an already fine band. This is the band's first appearance in southern New England. Here's a performance video.

Skip Cherryholmes

Sierra Hull (F)

Sierra Hull was early recognized as a mandolin prodigy and played with Alison Krauss at the White House when she was eleven years old. She was selected to attend Berklee College of Music as a Presidential Scholar where her music began to reflect the broad range of interests and colors found in that roiling musical environment. Her interests have continued to expand as she explores herself and the potential of her instrument. Her voice has matured and deepened along with her outlook. 

The South Carolina Broadcasters (F)

The South Carolina Broadcasters, located, ironically, in North Carolina, labels its music as Primitive Bluegrass from the Foothills. Ivy Shepherd, lead singer and banjo player, is an indefatigable student of old-time recordings, often found in the large collection of WPAQ which can be found on 770 AM on the radio dial in the area of Mt. Airy, NC or streamed at four days a week for fifteen minutes at 2:00 PM. Host Jimmy B., who can be seen emceeing this festival, reads the advertisements and adds to the fun. The music of their live show reflects the fun and the impact of their Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday show. Catch their show festival show at Podunk, too.

Southern Raised (Sa/Su)

I had never heard of Southern Raised before they appeared in the Podunk lineup. After studying their web page and listening to a couple of their videos, I'm eager to see this sibling group of fine musicians who put a new spin, at least for bluegrass, on the relationship between faith and music. 

Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam (Su)


A Quiet Jam

Telefunken Band Competition 

For several years, Telefunken has sponsored the Podunk Band Contest, which has grown in band quality and stature. While I've only heard one of the bands, if their quality is an indication of the general level of performance, being at the band contest on Thursday afternoon might give attendees a chance to be able to track the upward path of several bands from near the beginning. The band contest is judged by three music industry professionals, and all bands receive a feedback session with the judges after their assessment, designed to help them improve their performance. The winning band receives a Telefunken microphone worth approximately $1200 and are invited to perform at the festival the next year. 

In Front of the Main Stage - Early Evening

Acoustic Music Stage

Last year the Acoustic Music Stage was placed at a fairly long distance from the main stage. Despite being somewhat difficult to reach, each time I went out there, a number a people had assembled to  hear and see the performer. This year, the location has been improved as well as the accessibility of information about the bands, which look interesting and exciting to me. I see my biggest problem, during the festival, as getting back and forth between seeing bands I know, like, and want to see on the main stage and experiencing new bands and music that look like I might really enjoy them, too. Furthermore,this year the bands selected to perform all have ways for you to learn about them, listen to their music, and consider heading over to the Acoustic Music Stage for a change of pace, or vice-versa.

  •                              Andy Wakeman (F)               Video
  •  Special Kids show on the Acoustic Stage! 
  • Nancy Tucker (Sa)       Video

Fairgrounds Map - PDF File
Download for Help in Exploring the Park
Click Here for pdf version

Beyond the Music

Workshops - A variety of workshops will be presented in the Better Living building. They include opportunities to talk to bands and performers about their music, movies, special focus professional workshops on social media, legal issues, best practices for marketing, a FaceBook Meet & Greet, and more. A highlight will be a song writer's workshop conducted by Rick Lang on Saturday and Sunday.  Check out the schedule here.

Seldom Scene Conducts Band Q & A

Family Fun Activities take place on Windham Street (see map) with a variety of activities planned for each day of the festival. Crafts, games. face painting, and other activities are planned for each day under experienced supervision.

Song Writers Competition - The annual song writing competition is over by the time the festival arrives. Information about entering and judging is contained here. The winning song from the previous year is presented to each band in the band contest. They must each arrange the song and present it as part of their half hour show. Among the judging criteria is an assessment of their success in achieving this. Meanwhile, composers of the top three songs win tickets to the next year's Podunk Bluegrass Festival and a cash award. 

The Voice of Podunk Kids  provides an opportunity for young people ages 7 to 17 to sing in a vocal contest for a cash award. Singing can be done in any genre with accompaniment by only one instrument. There's a $5.00 entry fee with a limit of ten contestants. There's more information here.  

Podunk Bluegrass Kids' Academy has been a valued adjunct to this festival since the beginning. Young musicians, ages 7 - 17 can get individual and group instruction while preparing for the Kids' Academy performance on Sunday morning. Kids' Academy provides young musicians with a structured activity under the direction of experienced bluegrass musicians while also keeping them busy for a couple of hours a day. Kids programs at festivals across the country provide an entry level experience for many future bluegrass enthusiasts. The instructional staff is drawn from members of the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance.

Podunk Bluegrass University under the leadership of Dean Tony Watt, has been offering classes in playing bluegrass instruments calling upon of some of New England's best known and most accomplished musicians. The classes last 2 1/2 hours on Saturday afternoon, meeting in small groups (maximum of nine people) usually the teacher's camp-site. The level of expertise is between beginner and intermediate picker. You can get further information, see the answers to questions you might have and access an application form here.

Rest Room/Shower Complex

Camping: The grounds of the Hebron Lions Fairgrounds are varied and flexible. Rough camping is available with a four day festival ticket. There's a lovely shaded hill behind the rest room/shower complex, another shaded area set aside for quiet camping and what appears to be almost unlimited RV camping for rough campers. Premium sites can be rented with 20 amp and 30 amp electric and water hookups. A pumper truck comes buy to pump out rigs. Order your camping with your tickets online here. You can also make reservation at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Glastonbury through this order form at a truly preferred rate (I checked it out!).  While there are shaded areas, it's a good idea to bring your own shade along with you.

Covered Rough Camping

Tent Hill

Views from Tent Hill

Remember: The differences between attending a festival and going to a concert lies in the total immersion possible at a festival and the choices available. Once you arrive at the Hebron Lions Fairgrounds, there's almost no serious reason to leave, if you've prepared well. You can't see and do it all! You can go to two stages to see and hear new bands, jam all day and all night at your site or visit other jams, choose a variety of eating alternatives, shop, take a nap in a hammock. play with your kids or let them attend activities or the Kids Academy, and more. You have four days of respite from the world. Be Festive!