Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2017 - Saturday & Final Assessment

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. 

Alan Spinney

Rick Spinney

Gary Dalrymple

Terry Poirier

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.

Gary Waldrep

Mindy Rakestraw

Mickey Boles

Donna Townsel

Travis Wetzel

Balsam Range

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. 

Tim Surrett

Marc Pruett

Caleb Smith

Buddy Melton

Darren Nicholson 

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.

Rhonda Vincent

Aaron McDaris

Mickey Harris

Sally Berry

Brent Burke

Hunter Berry

Rhonda Vincent

Daryle Singletary

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. 

Daryle Singletary

Rhonda Vincent and the Rage joined Singletary for a few songs at the end of his set to close out the festival.

Rhonda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary

The Finale

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. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Palatka Bluegrass Festival 2017 - Friday Review

Friday at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch turned into one of those sublime days that only the combination of a very good venue, fine warm weather, and a great lineup can offer. We awoke with frost on the car windows after Thursday evening's chill, but the day warmed quickly, and soon folks were moving about, preparing for a day many had looked forward to.

...At The Villages Compound

The Villages is the largest retirement community in the world. Located about two hours' drive from the Ranch, it has an active RV Club, many of whose members love bluegrass music, too. Above, they gather for a community breakfast and a jam. The group from The Villages was a welcome and pleasant addition to the week's festivities, without being overwhelming, as can happen when twenty-five rigs from a single organization cluster together.

All Kinds of Rigs Appear at Bluegrass Festivals

Although the bluegrass audience looks like it might be pretty similar, there's actually considerable diversity to be found in those attending the events. Walking about the grounds almost turns into an RV show by itself.

Johnny Adams & Lamar Moss Host Their Jam
Each Morning

Deeper Shade of Blue

A Deeper Shade of Blue is a North Carolina band coming from the area around Monroe, near Charlotte. Founded about a dozen years ago, the band has consistently improved in quality and broadened its performance reach. Like many fine bluegrass bands, it's members prefer to remain near home, job, and family, but bluegrass is really more than a hobby for these men, as all of them have toured, at least briefly, with national bands. They are polished, musically varied, and interesting.  This year their schedule has them ranging from Virginia to Florida with a cruise thrown in. They deserve wider attention.

Troy Pope

Jason Fraley

Jim Fraley

Frank Poindexter

 Scott Burgess

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad is one of the few bluegrass bands continuing to perform with a single microphone. Working with one mic requires a careful choreography, while providing interesting, purposeful movement on stage and maintaining an old tradition for bluegrass bands. Ron Thomason doesn't tell jokes. He's a humorist and story-teller who takes current topical material and puts it through a new and somewhat quirky lens. He's always interesting. The band's music is traditional bluegrass and old-time gospel, creating a unique mixture that many love and seek out. 

Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd

Adam McIntosh

Jeff Byrd

Adam McIntosh & Jeff Byrd

Singing....He's Coming To Us Dead

 Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy is getting fancier without losing touch with either its audience or the material that brung 'em. With their latest album and riding a change to Mountain Fever Records, the band has strengthened itself musically, and concentrated on its musical content. Meanwhile, the humor sometimes verging on silliness has matured, while not getting lost. These changes should result in broadening its fan-base. This weekend, they were trying out a new, young bass player named Jacob Shelton, who was playing his first gig with the band. He did an admirable job, but has yet to learn and fit into the band's routines while finding a specific role to play within the band. My bet: he'll do just fine.  

Mike Andes

Mitchell Davis

Christopher Sexton

Caleb Cox

Jacob Shelton

 The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have ascended to a spot near the topmost bands in bluegrass. With the Friday release of  In the Ground, their second recording with prestige label Rounder Records, they have presented the bluegrass world with their first set of songs written entirely by Eric and Leigh Gibson. Since they have ridden their rise on the backs of their writing, singing, and spontaneous brother humor/bickering, they have put themselves all out. It shows...and its better than very good. As I watched the band this week, one word kept recurring to me...Concentration.  The entire band listens intently to every other member. They work together to produce the best sound they can. They know they are working with exceptional material. I'll be reviewing this new CD in a few days. The new songs were very well received, but the Gibson Brothers' catalog is deep, and their audience holds many of their songs in their hearts. This makes it hard, in just two sets, for the band to cover even a small number of the requests they receive at every venue. 

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock 

Eric and Leigh Gibson

 At the Merch Table

Leigh Gibson & Susan Pounds

...With Red Jones

Dailey & Vincent

Dailey & Vincent appeared at Palatka with a band almost completely turned over since last we saw them...and vastly improved. The addition of bass Aaron McCune, who adds playing guitar well enough to convince the audience he really can play and participating in band skits with conviction. Shaun Richardson has been added as a strong flat-picker, and he can sing, further adding to the band's flexibility. Of course, the big surprise, was Patrick McAvinue's addition. People who have been following Patrick since he began appearing nationally with Audie Blaylock are well aware of his versatility and talent. Patrick is a fixture of the Baltimore scene as a member of Charm City Junction and a force behind the new music festival there. He's a fiery, inventive fiddler with a unique presence, and very welcome. Add these new players to the core of Jesse Baker on banjo and guitar as well as Jeff Parker on mandolin to Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent's leadership, and you have a flexible, active, musically satisfying band comfortable with country music, pop, and lots of gospel music as well as bluegrass. Their recent elevation to membership in the Grand Old Opry stands as testimony to all this as well as putting them into the pantheon of Opry greats. 

Jamie Dailey

Darrin Vincent

Jeff Parker

Jesse Baker

Patrick McAvinue

Bob Mummert

Aaron McCune

Shaun Richards

Shaun Richardson & Jesse Baker

Patrick McAvinue

The Gospel Quartet
Dailey, Parker, Vincent & McCune

Cricket Larson

 Friday at Palatka was a special day with one more coming. See you in a day or so.