Monday, July 31, 2017

Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival - September 1 - 3, 2017 - Preview

The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA) Event of the Year award in 2016, will run from September 1 - 3, 2017 (Labor Day weekend) at the Salem County Fairground in Salem, NJ, just a few miles north of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and within a convenient distance for, perhaps, fifty million people on the East Coast. Founded by Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley in 1971, Delaware Valley is owned and operated the the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music. Boasting the most varied yet cohesive lineup and approach to a festival of any event we attend, Delaware Valley remains the only one built on a theory and consistent to its governing principals while presenting music from the most traditional to the cutting edge. Well run by its Board and a large enthusiastic group of volunteers, our only regret is that this will be only the third time we've attended. 

The Lineup
While billed as a three day festival, Delaware Valley is jam-packed on Labor Day weekend, beginning on Thursday and running through a full day schedule on Sunday ending at near 6:00 PM. The lineup remains true to the charter established by Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music, representing the roots of bluegrass, the best of bluegrass, and a generous sampling of the variety of music that have given bluegrass its prominence influencing every element of American roots music. Each band is carefully selected to present the best in bluegrass and associated music representing the many strands that have contributed to its development.

Junior Sisk

Junior Sisk, 2013 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, sings traditional bluegrass songs, with a particular love for the Stanley Brothers, as well as contemporary songs that have a distinctly traditional ring to them. His high, tenor voice often distracts people from recognizing that he's one of the finest rhythm guitar players in the business. During the last few years, his band has jelled as members have stayed with him and grown into a tight, cohesive group. With fine musicians across the line, this Virginia band is a perfect choice to kick off a festival that presents high tradition and the newest of the new.

April Verch

April Verch comes from Ontario's Ottawa Valley, in Canada, where she was nurtured on old-time fiddle and dance music in her traditional style, but leavened with having attended Berklee College of Music along with over twenty years of touring. Enlivening her fiddle play with step dancing and singing, she's a one person whirling dervish supported by Cody Walters on Bass and Alex Rubin on guitar, she offers a lively and enjoyable show. 

Danny Paisley

If there's a host band at Delaware Valley, it's Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass. With echoes of Ashe County North Carolina, the vibrant post-WW II bar scene in Baltimore, and two gone but not forgotten nearby venues New River Ranch and Sunset Park, Paisley comes from Chester County in Pennsylvania, but his music reaches back to the dawn of bluegrass. Recently joined by his son Ryan on mandolin, this band represents three generations of bluegrass royalty. It's always a pleasure to see T.J. Lundy on fiddle keeping the two family element of this band intact. Danny appears on both Friday and Saturday.

Gibson Brothers

I've never written, "This band needs no introduction" but....The Gibson Brothers, with a new CD, In the Ground, comprised completely of Gibson Brothers written songs, comes pretty close to that intro as one of the hardest working and most visible of the top touring bands. Their tight brother harmonies, songs that are becoming almost an autobiography, and witty stage by-play have moved them to the pinnacle, while their creative energy continues unabated. 

Asleep at the Wheel

Almost fifteen years after seeing Asleep at the Wheel at Merlefest, we get to see once more this iconic Texas Swing band, whose music is fashioned after the great Bob Wills. Ray Benson, standing impressive at 6' 7" Philadelphia born musician who moved to Texas at the suggestion of Willie Nelson, has celebrated this 1940's sound. To get a sense of Ray, his history and personality, read this interview in a 2007 issue of Texas Monthly. Texas swing has had a huge influence on bluegrass fiddling, including, especially, Byron Birline, recognized by IBMA with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Becky Buller

Becky Buller has been a mainstay side musician, composer, and humorous side-kick in bluegrass for well over a decade. After years in this role, she stepped up to fronting her own band three years ago, and emerged full-fledged with IBMA awards as Emerging Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year in 2015 as well as last year's Awards as Female Vocalist of the Year and Fiddle Player of the Year. Her songs reflect her home-grown Minnesota faith as well as her complex knowledge of Appalachian ways nurtured at ETSU. 

Charm City Junction

A look at the Delaware Valley history shows that few bands appear there in successive years. Therefore, the appearance of Charm City Junction, for a second year in a row, signals, as it did with Sister Sadie last year, the emergence of a new and exciting band with a unique sound. Patrick McAvinue, a founding partner, still manages to perform with Charm City, despite the fact he's also the regular fiddler now for Dailey & Vincent. Specializing in old-timey, hard driving bluegrass, and Celtic music with it's own particular instrumentation, including the Irish button accordion, this band breeds excitement and generates fans wherever it goes. 

The Grascals
Adam Haynes

The Grascals began life, about a dozen years ago, as a band of Nashville touring and session musicians who wanted to make music together when not on tour. They became the house band at the World Famous Station Inn, the go-to musical hangout for bluegrass and traditional country musicians in Music City. As a band of side musicians, there have been changes, but the basic Grascals sound, comprised of heavy doses of Osborne Brothers music, bows to Dolly Parton, and a series of top-notch originals, continues up-beat and fast paced. Adam Haynes has been a mainstay on fiddle for quite a while. John Bryan, with his fine tenor voice and very good flat picking, helped rejuvenate the band when he joined them three years ago. Sit back and enjoy!

John Bryan

Tuba Skinny

Of course, a Dixieland band! Both years we've been to Delaware Valley, there's been a band the defies logic...until you think about it. Whether it's Steve Reilly & the Mamou Playboys in 2015, or the Malpass Brothers in 2016, there are bands that play music that has influenced bluegrass or been influenced by it included in this festival's lineup. Tuba Skinny, from New Orleans describes itself as a "loose collection of street musicians" which has traveled over much of the world bringing the rich musical culture of its home town to new audiences. In some sense New Orleans can be seen as the Appalachia of jazz, traveling up the Mississippi to cast its influence even on Bill Monroe. The mixing pot of American music is rich. This band belongs because of its connections as well as giving a change of pace. 

Del McCoury

Sometime, if you are sitting close enough to see it, shut out the famous high lonesome voice, the incredible band, the songs that come from the deepest heart of bluegrass history, and all the awards. Just watch Del McCoury's right hand. The pick seems to be moving as if it were held between a bunch of little fingers lodged somewhere between Del's thumb and forefinger, changing angles, capturing a note, brushing over others, and always, always contributing to the complex rhythms of bluegrass. In fact, Del McCoury may be the best rhythm guitar player ever. The Del McCoury band will perform in one long set closing Saturday night. Again, as he usually does, Del will call for requests and then sing the songs he wants to sing, while people can say, "He heard my request and played it."


Sunday at Delaware Valley traditionally opens with performances by the Kids Academy, which has worked throughout the festival to produce its show, and a demonstration by Crab Grass, a project of the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in nearby suburban Wilmington. The rest of the day's program, with one show per band and closing with the rapidly rising young band Flatt Lonesome at 5:00 PM. Since there's another day left in the long weekend, those attending often stay for some surprises as well, this year, with two important and highly recognized national  bands. In many ways, Sunday's schedule presents a history of the development of old-time and bluegrass music in the eras covered and modes of performance. 


The Delaware Valley Kids Academy is directed by veteran teacher/performer Ira Gitlin with help from the professional and supportive staff. Linked here are details about the program as well as an application to fill out and return. Open to all kids age 6 - 18.

Kids Academy at Work

Cab Grass

Cab Grass is a club at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, a magnet school of Red Clay Consolidated School District, located in Wilmington enrolling nearly 1000 students.  Directed by Steven Field, who also works with the Delaware Valley Kids Academy, this talented group of young people has appeared on Sunday morning for several years. 

Tuesday Mountain Boys

Tuesday Mountain Boys Big Spike Hammer from Walter Burke on Vimeo.

The Tuesday Mountain Boys is a Bluegrass band whose members are associated with the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music, the sponsor of the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival. It embodies the enduring qualities of bluegrass as a grass roots participant, folk music so loved by its adherents that they get together regularly for fellowship and to make music.

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing

Bob Amos, leader of the widely popular band Front Range (1990 - 2003) has moved home to northern Vermont and created a new band, Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing, which has become well-known in New England for its crisp bluegrass originals as well as its renditions of classic bluegrass from the traditional repertoire, with an emphasis on Ralph Stanley's music. The band features Bob's daughter Sarah on vocals. Bob also has built Stark Brook Studio in far northern St. Johnsbury, VT which is becoming a go-to studio for its high production qualities and Amos's work with developing bands. 

Big Country Bluegrass

Founded in the 1980's by Tommy and Theresa Sells, all the members of Big Country Bluegrass come from SW Virginia and North Carolina, along the Blue Ridge. They embody the traditional sounds and values of the culture and music of this region where the traditional gatherings on back porches, cracker barrel general stores, and churches that became bluegrass music were handed down by generations of Scots-Irish people who immigrated to this region in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Perhaps no other national band better emphasizes this tradition than this one does. 

Foghorn Stringband

What do you get when you take stringband music from the first half of the twentieth century (think Charlie Poole and Fiddlin' John Carson) and present it using contemporary sound recording equipment and a modern sensibility? You get the Foghorn Stringband from Portland, Oregon. With fifteen years of successful national and international touring and eight albums, they have set a standard for the emerging string band movement in Americana music. 

Blue Highway

Blue Highway has been together for over twenty years with only one major change in their lineup, as young Gaven Largent has replaced the legendary Rob Ickes in the band. Pictured above are four original members (Shawn Lane, Jason Burleson, Wayne Taylor, and Tim Stafford) in their conformation as an acapella gospel quartet. Their repertoire runs from old time harp singing through the traditional repertoire, to a seemingly never-ending flood of original songs from this band whose thirteen CD's have established them as one of the most creative and popular bands in bluegrass. Their list of IBMA awards is simply too long and varied to list here. Original Traditional, their most recent recording was nominated for a 2017 Grammy award. 

Flatt Lonesome
Charli Robertson

Flatt Lonesome has risen quickly in the bluegrass world, where longevity is often as important as brilliance. Coming out of the small Florida/Georgia border town of Callahan, they were first noted for their tight sister harmonies and fervent gospel singing. They have emerged as a full-fledged bluegrass band offering music from across the board, with lots of traditional country influence in their singing and playing. They have chosen their mentors carefully and worked hard to advance. Today, most members of the band are located in Alabama, close enough to Nashville to be readily available, but not close enough to be infected by its destructive elements. They received a strong boost from multi-day appearances at Musicians Against Childhood Cancer in Ohio. This year, they're scheduled for performances at the Grand Ole Opry as well as venues from Maine to Florida. We believe we saw their first festival appearance at the Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival in Folkston, GA. Their trajectory has been directed nowhere but upward since then. 

Paul Harrigill & Kelsi Robertson Harrigill

Other Actvities

It's a festival, not a concert. Make sure you allow plenty of time to stroll the fairground streets and visit the pavilions, some of which are used by vendors, for performances, as an artist's merchandise store, practice area for Kids Academy, instruction for Jam Camp, a permanent vending area for complete meals, and a covered camping area. Make sure you stop at the t-shirt vendor or for some fine ice cream and much more.

Kids Academy provides kids ages 6 - 18 to gain experience playing bluegrass style music and appreciating what it has to offer as well as enjoying the fun of playing together.  Registration materials and additional information can be found here

Kids Academy Staff

Early Session

Jam Camp: A Wernick Method Jam Camp will be offered again by certified Wernick Instructor Heidi Olson running for all three days in the morning from 10:00 until noon. The Jam Camp carries an additional charge. Participants who wish to learn to jam find these experiences build confidence as well as being good fun. Heidi has extensive experience working with Pete Wernick (Dr. Banjo) whose camps are known and presented world wide. During hours when the Jam Camp is not in session, the space becomes Jam Central Station, a place where novice jammers can gather to make music together.

Heidi Olson Leads Jam Camp

Jamming: Delaware Valley is a field picking (jamming) paradise. The grounds are exceptionally spacious and jams can be found all over the place, practically twenty-four hours a day. Pick up your instrument and take a walk. You'll find a jam.  However, all jams are NOT created equal. Pay attention to whether you're welcomed into a jam, tolerated, or clearly not wanted. Act accordingly. For an overview of jam etiquette, Pete Wernick is your best source. Here's what he has to say about etiquette

Kids Activities: On Friday and Saturday The Childrens Stage presents programs aimed at kids starting at 1:00 PM and repeated at 3:00. Songs, Stories, Magic, and Folk Songs will keep  your child involved for a couple of hours, or longer, while you enjoy the show with them. The schedule is here. The stage is covered and there is bleacher seating.

Chris Capehart - Magician

Vendors: No festival we've ever attended, except Merlefest, has as wide and comprehensive a selection of vendors at Delaware Valley. There's a wide variety of food choices with covered seating and a permanent kitchen or from more portable booths, craft vendors ranging from fine instruments to musical gear, CD's and vinyl records (not many tapes these days), crafts, and, of course, the t-shirt vendor, where you can purchase stuff to wear to tell others about the festival. 


At the Merch Tables

Clogging Workshop: FiddleKicks will be hosting a clogging workshop at 3:00 PM on Friday and Saturday. Here's a handout to help you prepare.

The All-Important Details

Tickets: A number of ticket programs are available, with discounts the earlier you order. You can find the complete list here. Tickets may be ordered online or a form for mail order ticket ordering is available for download and printing. 

Camping: There is unlimited free camping in open areas with a few shaded sites on the periphery of Salem County Fairgrounds. There are limited 20 amp electric sites and a few standpipes where you can get water. The grounds do not open to the public until 8:00 AM on Wednesday, August 31st, due to the contract the festival has with Salem County Fairgrounds. Campsites are on a first come - first served basis. Often, areas are lined out to make space for groups to camp together. Most campsites are in the open and it's often hot, therefore, pets should be left homeRead the camping page for more information. Here's a list of nearby motel accommodations available. 

The Most Important Aide-de-Campers

How to Get to Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival
Click on the map, Place you location in the space marked 0

The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is one of the premier festivals in the country. It's carefully designed, innovative in the way it presents traditional music along with themes and variations upon it, allowing bands from the cutting edge as well as related bands that help emphasize the Board of Directors' commitment to old time and bluegrass music. What a wonderful way to close the summer bluegrass festival season!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Danby Olde Country & Bluegrass Festival - Review

Vermont is one of the most rural states in America. Since 1968 billboards have been banned there. Only two Interstate Highways exist in the state, and only one crosses from east to west, it's the only four lane highway crossing the state. Vermont is reckoned to be the second most rural state in America, guarding that designation diligently, despite also being a second home-owners paradise and eastern center for the ski industry. Bluegrass and old country music as well as county fairs still stand as a major focus in the state. The Strolling of the Heifers is a major parade through Brattleboro, the seventh largest town in a state where Burlington, home of the University of Vermont is the biggest, with a population of just short of 39,000. As New York's next door neighbor, few people in the country see Vermont as a leader of rural America.

We drove over to Danby, Vermont on an overcast, but warm and humid, Saturday, through the small town of Wallingford and down U.S. Route 7 along the edge of the Vermont National Forest, which offers a rugged spine running through the middle of the state. The Green Mountains of Vermont, unlike the White Mountains in New Hampshire to the east or New York's Adirondacks to the west, are considered gentle and aged, providing the beautiful background for the many farms and hamlets that dot the state. Our GPS took us to the turn for Tifft Road, which we followed up a long, winding dirt road while Irene white-knuckled it declaring plaintively that "this couldn't be the road," as she continued upward. After a couple of miles of winding, woodsy road the vista suddenly opened up to a  hillside with RV's neatly parked along a terraced hillside. We had arrived! We met promoter Tary Jesmonth, who kindly welcomed us to the 11th Annual Danby Olde Time Country & Bluegrass Festival.

Tary Jesmonth

The Danby festival is sponsored by the Green Mountain Climbers, a snowmobile club, and located on a lovely  piece of land generously made available by the Powers family, who owns it. It's a near perfect location for a small, family oriented, festival featuring a number of local bands along with popular headliners whose music and personality fits the simple pleasures of this event. Most of the license plates were from Vermont, New York, and New Hamphire, but one attendee traveled from South Carolina to attend. It's a warm, welcoming, informal festival with children running around happily.

The Dairy-heirs

The Dairy-heirs can all trace their ancestry back to dairy farming, a claim many native Vermonters can make. Their music is traditional, and they have lots of fun making it. This sort of band lies at the heart of one element that makes bluegrass so attractive. They can't be found online, at least I couldn't find them, but they are players who love to get together to play bluegrass, attend festivals, jam in the evenings, and, sometimes, play on the main stage as an early-in-the-day band. They're not pretentious,  but they know the standards and love to share their enthusiasm with others. 

Rob Robtoy

Freeman Corey

Pete Langdell

Brenda Vitek

Smokey Greene

Smokey Greene, born in 1930, has been performing in New York and New England, as well as Florida in the winter, since the 1950's at his own festival and many others. He says he's now on his final tour. He sings humorous songs as well as old country and heart rending songs from all over. A musical icon beloved by many.

Smokey Greene

Scott Greene

The Cook Shack

Just Passin' Through

Just Passin' Through is the host band of the festival. They love picking together and also appear at a couple of other festivals each season as well as private and local events. Festival promoter Tary Jesmonth (TJ) sings lead for this enthusiastic and skilled group.

Tary Jesmonth

Brenda Brill Vicker & Jim Blevins

Albert Queen

Freeman Corey

 Josh Grigsby & County Line

Josh Grigsby & County Line come from near Richmond in Virginia where they have been experiencing significant success. They were recognized by the Virginia Folk Music Association as the top bluegrass band in the state in 2015. During their two days at Danby, they made lots of friends and one hopes this will not be their last trip to New England. 

Josh Grigsby

Crystal Grigsby

Whitney Perkins

Judge Parker

Robert Kidd

Josh Grigby & Mark Mills

Cora & Pete Bolster - The Sound Team

The Atkinson Family

We first saw the Atkinson Family at Pickin' in the Pasture on Lake Cayuga in central New York a dozen or more years ago. They were a solid band then, and they remain entertaining with strong musical values. Their tight family harmonies, varied and interesting choice of songs, and pleasant stage presence combine to make them a band people enjoy.

Shelene Atkinson

Liza and Sarah Atkinson

Dick Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson

David Bevins

Ron Caster

Devon Jamieson - Guest Artist


Dreamcatcher began it's afternoon set with one banjo player and ended it with another as it transitioned to a new lineup. This is a young and talented band that grew from what was mostly the East Tennessee State University Pride Band a couple of years ago, to become a rapidly rising bluegrass presence at festivals and workshops across the country. The change represents a problem for young bands whose members are in demand to fill openings in better known and higher paying bands. Nevertheless, Dreamcatcher is impressive. Their musicianship is beyond reproach and their singing is improving as their voices continue to mature and they work regularly together. For Irene and me, who have been watching and appreciating Aaron Foster since he was an early teen, this was a happy day. Aaron, unlike many hot young pickers, began a little late and did not immediately impress. However, a decade later, he has developed as a fine guitarist and a true leader in his band.

Aaron Foster

Max Etling

Ben Wattlington

Jordon Roberson

Brady Wallen

Eli Gilbert



Beartracks, coming from Plattsburgh, NY, has established itself throughout New England with forays into Pennsylvania and Colorado, where they are popular for their good music and good-time vibe. With the addition of Harry Ralph on fiddle a few years ago, and banjoist Steve Light in the last year, they have found a combination flexible enough to play their genre expanding music. With their new CD, The Other Side of the Tracks, they have chosen to combine bluegrass with contemporary pop, a rock standard, and Texas swing into an interesting and enjoyable acoustic album. Perhaps not often enough noted or noticed, Julie Venne-Hogan is a fine bass player.

Julie Venne-Hogan

Tom Venne

Harry Ralph

Steve Light

Julie Venne Hogan & Tom Venne

We enjoyed our first visit to Danby Old Time Country & Bluegrass Festival in Danby, VT and look forward to coming back one of these days.