Monday, September 26, 2016

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival 2016 - Friday & Saturday: Review

The heat in Dumplin Valley Farm continued to be oppressive, but that didn't keep people from enjoy the last two days of this fine event featuring one of the best and most varied lineups Joe and Mitzi have ever offered. The entertainment ranged from young, enthusiastic bands ready to expand their audience to one of the most veteran bands touring today, still offering up some of their best performances ever. With a first day that ended with The Gibson Brothers preceded by Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, the lineup would have to be good. Friday and Saturday lived up to the challenge.

Chris Henry & Hard Core Bluegrass

Chris Henry has been around for a while as a very fast mandolin player, song writer, and member of various bands. His official showcase at last year's World of Bluegrass suggested a program that fit its name, Hard Core Bluegrass. Sadly, after shows at two successive festivals, what he delivers in shows is all over the map with too much unfortunate personal history and a relatively un-structured show. Henry shows promise, but he seems still to be in the process of discovering who he wants to be.

Chris Henry

Dustin Benson

Cory Walker with Beth Lawrence

Cody Bauer

Beth Lawrence with Chris Henry


Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle

Veteran tenor Steve Gulley has played with some important bands. A member of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and founding member of both Mountain Heart and Grasstowne, He's also appeared frequently with Dale Ann Bradley. It's recently been announced that he will be awarded an honorary doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, for his contributions to music and the university. His latest band offers a solid bluegrass/country mix bringing together Gulley's longtime musical loves. He's in fine voice and a winning band emcee.

Steve Gulley

Gary Robertson

Brian Turner

Matt Cruby

Steve Gulley & Brian Turner


Sideline, composed of some very experienced national musicians and some well-known regional ones came together to have fun making music and playing a few gigs. They soon discovered they had a band that would fit into a much-looked for neo-traditional niche welcome on the festival circuit. In just a couple of years they've accumulated enough work to be putting out their third CD and to need a (used) bus to travel their routes. They've become increasingly popular, with Steve Dilling, the long-time voice of IIIrt Tyme Out, serving as band emcee. Brian Aldridge on mandolin is a very strong tenor singer and Skip Cherryholmes brings youth and enthusiasm. This band has, and will continue to, excited fans at festivals across the country. Look for their jam to the durable standard, fiddle tune Lee Highway Blues with Nathan Aldridge on fiddle. It's a treasure.

Steve Dilling

Brian Aldridge

 Brad Hudson

Skip Cherryholmes

Jason Moore

Nathan Aldridge

Skip Cherryholmes & Brad Hudson

Johnny & Sheila Adams with Sue Cantrell

Flatt Lonesome

Flatt Lonesome is nominated for four IBMA Awards this year including Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, and Album of the Year. This is a remarkable achievement for a group as young as this band is. In the five years or so since we first saw them at tiny Newell Lodge in Folkston, GA, this group, which originated in Callahan, FL has worked hard and made huge leaps. Their show at Dumplin Valley was polished to a sharp edge, containing lots of traditional bluegrass and classic country tunes, along with some expansion into western swing. The sibling singing of twins Buddy and Charli Robertson, along with their older sister Kelsi Robertson Harrigill is tight and strong.

Charli Robertson 

Kelsi Robertson Harrigill

Buddy Robertson

Paul Harrigill

Michael Stockton

Dominic Illingworth

Kelsi Robertson Harrigill

Charli Robertson

Flatt Lonesome - You Don't Have to Lose Me, If You Never Let Me Go

Morning Jam 

Bacon for Breakfast

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent came to Dumplin Valley with the best two sets we've seen this year. She was filled with energy, humor, and fun. Always the hardest working performer and entertainer in bluegrass, she has seemed, at times, to be struggling this year. She was very much at the top of her game this day. Her band responded well and the audience cheered her show. 

Rhonda Vincent

Hunter Berry

Mickey Harris

Sally Berry

Aaron McDarris

Josh Williams

Brent Burke

Rhonda Vincent & Mickey Harris

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage - Tonight My Baby's Comin' Home

Randy Stephens & Ronnie Davis

Breaking Grass Warming Up

Breaking Grass

Breaking Grass brings an interesting and exciting fusion of contemporary lifestyle to bluegrass forms and sounds, presenting a lively show that reaches back to the founders and New Grass Revival while reflecting contemporary concerns of young love and country living. This is a very engaging group of young men. Lead singer Cody Farrar always shows an infectious smile, clearly both an artifact of a mouth that just can't stop smiling and an inner sunny disposition. Jody Elmore, on banjo, is the only new member of a band that has jelled and matured. There's plenty to like about this band, which deserves much wider exposure than it has received so far.  

Cody Farrar

Britt Sheffield

Zach Wooten

Clint White

Breaking Grass - I Think I Love You

In the Barn

The Becky Buller Band

The Becky Buller Band, on the road for for just over two years, has skyrocketed into prominence, thank, at least partly, to Buller's patience in waiting to go out on her own and front a band. After graduating from ETSU, she joined Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike where she remained for ten years, honing her craft as she emerged as a first rate singer/songwriter and a strong support performer. Meanwhile, she developed her hosting style as a radio broadcaster. After a two year stint with the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band, she formed the present band, which has become a model of how to grow a band. Each member of Becky's band has fine credentials of his own; they meld as individuals committed to her support. She has responded by effectively showcasing each of their skills. Her nominations for three IBMA Awards as a fiddler, vocalist, and song writer, follow last year's wins as Emerging Artist, Songwriter of the Year, and Recorded Event. This shows remarkable progress. 

Daniel Boner

Ned Luberecki

Brandon Bostic

Daniel Hardin

Ned Luberecki

Becky Buller

The Becky Buller Band - The Gingerbread Song

The Grascals

The Grascals are a happy band, and it shows, which has not always been the case. These days, however, there's marvelous communication, wherever you look. The left side of the band, anchored by mandolin virtuoso and band emcee Danny Roberts is constantly communicating with looks, comments, and musical comments evoking laughs, sometimes from the whole band. On the right side, Kristin Scott Benson and Terry Eldredge always seem to be sharing some joke. Meanwhile, the vocal trio of John Bryan, Terry Smith, and Eldredge is the strongest ever. Even Smith's bass solo has added some new riffs, adding freshness to it. 

Kristin Scott Benson

Terry Eldredge

Terry Smith

John Bryan

Adam Haynes

Danny Roberts

Haynes & Roberts

Kristin Scott Benson

The Grascals - Road of Life

Dudley Connell & Cindy Pinion Backstage

Seldom Scene

Seldom Scene has been a style and taste leader in bluegrass since it moved from being a basement jam to appearing in local bars in Washington, D.C. to national status, their music has taken the mountains sounds out of bluegrass music, substituting a more urban, more lyrical sound with far ranging appeal to urban and suburban audiences without losing their excellence in singing and playing. While something of a captive of their incredibly deep catalog. New addition to the band, Rickey Simpkins on banjo and, something new to this band, fiddle has been tasked with mining this catalog. He's been digging deep, re-introducing songs that the band may have forgotten through the years. While people may say to us, "You should have seen the band with Duffey, Auldridge, and Starling," this is our Seldom Scene, and we never have stopped enjoying their work. And, thank goodness, their name no longer fits.....

Rickey Simpkins

Lou Reid

Ronnie Simpkins

Dudley Connell

Fred Tavers

Joe Soward Stands In

Seldom Scene - Things We Used To Do

John Cowan with the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band

John Cowan has one of the most recognizable and emotionally charged voices in American music. He first came to prominence with the New Grass Revival in the 1970's, worked with the Doobie Brothers, with whom he continues to tour, had his own band, and, recently, has begun to tour with the Darin & Brooke Aldridge band, a move that has proven to be enormously appealing to Cowan fans as well as those who love Darin & Brooke. When Cowan and Brooke Aldridge sing together, their voices strike fire in the hearts and minds of their audience. Together they create a special sound that takes advantage of their two strong and distinctive voices. Darin's lighter baritone adds a fine counterpoint, completing the trio as well as his virtuoso turns on both guitar and mandolin. Singing from the deep Cowan catalog and Darin & Brooke's mixture of gospel and love songs along with material not so familiar to me, they are on limited tour with what one can only hope will continue. Aided by the wonderful young fiddler Carli Arrowood, no mean singer herself, and Matt Menafee, best known for his work with Cadillac Sky, on the banjo, this is a bluegrass band for crossing periods and styles in bluegrass music that's hard to beat. 

John Cowan

Brooke Aldridge

Darin Aldridge

Carli Arrowood

Matt Menafee

Darin & Matt

John, Darin & Joe

John & Darin

Brooke Aldridge

John Cowan

John Cowan with the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band - Plant Your Fields

This year's Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival featured a wider variety of bands and higher quality than we've ever seen at this festival. From The Gibson Brothers and Larry Cordle on Thursday through The Seldom Scene and Cowan & the Aldridges on Saturday, there was something for just about everyone. If you didn't like what was on stage at any moment, you knew that you could go take a rest or get something to eat before returning for a band you knew you'd love. Meanwhile, there was plenty of jamming, good eating and good company. What more could anyone ask for?