The final day of the Palatka Bluegrass Festival completed three days of the warmest and clearest weather we've ever experienced here at Palatka. The lineup featured a range of deeply traditional bluegrass bands coupled with top headliners and a more cutting edge, and highly popular band, to provide the kind of balanced, pleasing lineup Norman Adams festivals have come to exemplify. The Rodeheaver Boys Ranch continued as a genial host, providing good food at the Ranch Concession area, the ranch museum with information about ranch founder Homer Rodeheaver and activities, including a display case about the bluegrass festivals held here. Note: For people who will be in Florida in November, there's a Fall bluegrass festival which has a stellar lineup this year.
The Spinney Brothers
The Spinney Brothers, from the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. While much of Nova Scotia is characterized by a sea-faring culture, the Spinney's home is largely agricultural, known for its apples and local wine. The brothers grew up on country music and bluegrass. They first emerged in the early 1990's in eastern Canada, where they achieved a number of awards for excellence. Their first major American appearance came as an IBMA showcase band in 1996, and have been spreading their visibility and popularity across the United States since then. Recently, they were named the "Host Band" of North Carolina's Big Lick Bluegrass Festival, coming up in early April.
Rick & Alan Spinney
The Gary Waldrep Band
Gary Waldrep is one the few remaining performers who includes claw-hammer banjo, of which he is a master, in his performances, using the rollicking banjo style to rev up excitement in an audience. He'll then follow with a heartfelt gospel song, which also brings his audience to its feet, calling for more. He's an engaging and exciting performer too rarely seen outside the South. Mandolinist Micky Boles also combines manic energy with deep faith, while Mindy Rakestraw's voice is clear, distinctive, and engaging.
Balsam Range characterizes itself as a simple group of hillbillies from Western North Carolina in the heart of the Smoky Mountains who came together, almost by happenstance, to create a band. Since they all come from Haywood County, rural and wood pulp based, the story carries a degree of verisimilitude. However, this band has lots of bluegrass cred, as well as wide-ranging musical influences including rock, southern rock, southern gospel, and hard driving bluegrass. Tim Surrett is a veteran of two of the most prestigious gospel bands extant: The Kingsman and The Isaacs. He's a co-founder of Mountain Home, which has risen to prominence on the basis of its strong catalog of performers. He's a force on both bass and dobro, as well as an engaging band emcee. Mark Pruett has had a long and distinguished career as a bluegrass banjo player. He also has a degree in geology from Western Carolina University, which also conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Music degree for his contributions to music and the region. He won a Grammy award while playing for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Caleb Smith has a strong background in gospel music as well as having become one of the highly recognized guitar builders during this period I have characterized as the Golden Age of Luthiers. More about Buddy Melton on fiddle and Darren Nicholson on Mandolin some other time. Meanwhile, this band has become recognized as one of the most riveting and wide-ranging bluegrass bands on tour.
Darren Nicholson & Caleb Smith
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Rhonda Vincent continues to be one of the major draws in bluegrass music. She has one of the most ambitious schedules around and while spending more quality time with her fans than any other performer. She generates long lines at her merch table, and stays to sign records and pose with her fans until there's no one left. Her band is composed of top side performers, as well as Josh Williams, who's a top bluegrass guitarist and singer in his own right. Now with seven performers, this band still generates enough business to be able to carry the load.
Country singer Daryle Singletary seems to have found a home in bluegrass, bringing his classic country style to the bluegrass audience sitll yearning for the sound of the fifties through the seventies. He plays his own songs and lavishes praise and vocal reminiscences on George Jones, who he claims as his idol. His resonant baritone voice is pleasant to hear, and he is supported by a good country band that keeps the focus on his singing. Please let me know the names of the side musicians so I can properly label them.
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage joined Singletary for a few songs at the end of his set to close out the festival.
Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary
The Palatka Bluegrass Festival was one of the best yet. Five bands playing there have been IBMA Entertainers of the Year, some for multiple times. This represents the strongest assemblage of such musical power we've seen outside the annual World of Bluegrass. Too many instrumental and vocal recipients to list also performed. The bands were varied, entertaining, musically interesting, and strong. The setting is excellent, although the narrowness of the music shed harms visibility. Sound, provided by John Holder's Blue Ridge sound was pristine; all the bands remarked on its quality. Emcee Sherry Boyd always keeps the show rolling along. All in all, this festival continues to be one of the strongest up and down the East Coast.