Friday, December 28, 2018

Springsteen on Broadway (Netflix) - Review

Springsteen on Broadway (Netflix)

Imagine an almost completely unadorned stage in, for Broadway, an almost small theater, seating only 960 people, an audience Springsteen says is about as small as any venue he's played in the past forty years. Bruce comes on stage in a t-shirt carrying a guitar. He talks, he sings, he plays guitar, harmonica, and piano for nearly two hours, and never loses his audience, either in the theater or in front of their ROKU TV set, not for a second, as he weaves his story in songs and narrative from his many recordings and lovely, evocative writing. 

Springsteen isn't an actor, yet strength, character, passion, and warmth come through in almost every word he speaks. His singing is already known to his millions of fans as evocative, raw, rich, and true. As a solo singer, without the richness of his band behind him, the words take on even more power and conviction as he sketches out his life from his awkward and difficult childhood through his long musical adolescence, to his emergence as a true rock star and then the voice of a generation. 

Patti Scialfa Springsteen makes a brief appearance, for two songs, about two-thirds of the way through the one act show. Springsteen talks about his youth, his discovery of rock and roll, the power of Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, his discovery and invention of the Asbury Park music scene, and his growth as a person and a musician. He talks movingly and deeply about his relationship to his parents, his father difficult and distant, his mother able to dance through life...always positive. And these people are brought to life through Bruce's expressions of love and gratitude to and for them. His special tribute to Clarence Clemmons brought me to tears, as did several other sequences. Others, particularly his first experience driving a car cross-country for his first experience driving, with a stick shift no less, is laugh out loud funny. In short this performance of Springsteen on Broadway provides bang-up entertainment with Bruce Springsteen often opening up in ways seldom seen in concerts and impossible in books. 

Bruce & Patti Scialfa Springsteen

With ticket to live concerts by top rock, country, and pop bands in many venues having posted prices of up to several hundred dollars and scalpers asking and getting over $1000 a seat, the future of streamed major concerts seems to be in the future for many music, and theater, fans. With subscription plans in the $10.00 - $12.00 per month range, and the variety of programming seemingly almost unlimited, streaming seems to be the entertainment value of the present and for quite some time into the future. If you haven't discovered streaming yet, you have a happy surprise in your future, reaching way beyond what's on commercial or even premium cable television. 

I can't recommend this concert performance any higher. It offers one of the most entrancing and enjoyable two hours of music and talk I've ever heard. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Kominsky Method - Netflx Review

We haven't watched a half hour situation comedy on television for years. I don't know how many it's been, but the cuts and ads we've seen simply haven't motivated us to be willing to endure the increasing number, rate, and time taken up by endless, repetitive commercials. A few months ago, knowing for sure we were going to spend increasingly less time on the road, we dipped our toes into streaming television, and a new world opened to us. I'll have more to say about this part of the journey in another post. Suffice it to say that our viewing habits have had a remarkable change worth writing about extensively on this blog. 

The Kominsky Method, starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as two aging friends living through the crises affecting to old men, is a half hour laugh out loud comedy/drama which captivates almost immediately while encouraging the viewer to keep on watching until the season ends leaving us waiting eagerly for season two. Nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, the series, which only debuted in November of 2018, has yet to be reviewed, so one can only hope.

Michael Douglas

Alan Arkin

The eight episodes currently available on Netflix tell the story of Sandy Kominsky, one hit wonder actor who has become a drama coach in Los Angeles, and Norman Verlander, a crotchety semi-retired agent, whose wife of fifty years dies in opening episode. Their relationship forms the core of this always engaging program as they negotiate their own relationship along with their trials and tribulations with their daughters, lovers, and work. The dialogue is snappy, often profane and off-color, laugh-out-loud funny, and real. The drama is often touching as these two fine character actors open themselves, wounded as they may be, to each other while seeking to find meaning in their lives. For me, each episode ended too soon. As episode eight ended, I was already looking for more.....

Part of the fun in The Kominsky Method comes from the use of guest cameos, sometimes larger than the ordinary guest appearance of a major actor, like Eliot Gould and Ann Margaret, with Gould playing himself reading an Alex Trebek commercial, and Margaret playing a close friend of Verlander's late wife. Both appearances touch the heart while challenging the memory. 

Chuck Lorre

Produced by Chuck Lorre, often called "The King of the Sitcom" has produced and/or directed many commercial situation comedies which have been major hits on network TV as well as long-running money-makers for the networks. Shows like The Big Band Theory, Grace Under Fire, Two and a Half Men and others have broken boundaries to expand the limitations of the genre. Moving to streaming television on Netflix has increased his ability to broaden his scope and given him a larger pallet of language, nuance, subtlety and courageousness to explore. He accomplishes this with infectious glee.

All of season one of The Kominsky Method is currently available on Netflix, a subscription television service available through your favorite streaming device. We use ROKU, with which we are pleased and thankful to have as the quality of commercial television continues to decline, reaching its low during the weeks during the Holidays, dominated by parades and sports. Great buys in smart TV's will be available as the post season shopping may be even better than the seasonal period just past. Enjoy!

Friday, December 14, 2018

YeeHaw Music Fest - January 15 - 20, 2019 - Preview

The YeeHaw Music Fest will be kicking off its 25th Anniversary season at the Agri-Civic Center in Okeechobee, Florida on January 15th and run through January 20th with the quality and fan-friendly warmth that has come to characterize events promoted by Evans Media Source. Once again, Ernie and Debi Evans have brought together outstanding national bluegrass bands with high quality regional bands. Highlights will be Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver along with IBMA Entertainer of the Year Balsam Range. The usual round of engaging activities will continue from the moment the gates open on Monday until the last act closes on Saturday evening. Camping facilities are convenient, hot showers available. There will be quality vendors offering a range of festival foods, and plenty of jamming around the Park. Located in southern Florida, warm weather, even in January, is the standard. We always look forward to kicking off our winter season with this historic festival, once located in a pasture about thirty miles north of Okeechobee in YeeHaw Junction and now celebrating its fourth year in the wonderful Agri-Civic Center, located just on the edge of Okeechobee.

Agri Civic Center, Okeechobee, FL

The Agri-Civic Center provides plenty of space for all kinds of RV's including water and electric. The shed provides almost unlimited space for holding a bluegrass festival, offering good sound, space for vendors, including an RV display, and all-season cover along with convenient flush facilities and easy access. Shuttle services help convey festival goers from their sites to the performance areas, including the main stage and the workshop stage.

The Lineup and Schedule:

Doyle Lawson & Quicksiilver (Sa)

With more than fifty years in bluegrass, Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson has played in some of the most important bands in bluegrass history, as well as fronting his own band for decades. Once again, this year, they have been named IBMA Vocal Group of the Year for their solo work as well as their gospel quartet. Fans across the country continue to be captivated by this man and his band. 

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - 

Balsam Range (Fr)
Buddy Melton

Founded only eleven years ago, Balsam Range has established a remarkable record of recording success and high level recognition, with three IBMA Entertainer of the Year awards and fiddle player/vocalist Buddy Melton having scored three Male Vocalist of the Year awards. This year, bassist/band emcee Tim Surrett was named Bass Player of the Year, too. Hailing from the rural mountain county of Haywood, NC, the band features a remarkable repertoire of traditional sounds coupled with driving southern rock covers and fervent gospel music. This band always pleases with its quality and innovative sound. 

Balsam Range - Matthew

Summer Brooke & Mountain Faith (Sa)
Summer Brooke McMahan

Also from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Mountain Faith began its life as a young, enthusiastic gospel band, catching national attention as runners-up on America's GotTalent. The band has continued to broaden its repertoire, while appearing at bluegrass festivals and singing the National Anthem at major league events in football and other sports, making friends for bluegrass across the nation.  They show their versatility in this cover of Lady Antebellum:

Mountain Faith - Milan

Nothin Fancy (Th)
Mike Andes

Nothin' Fancy has been a fixture on the bluegrass trail for nearly twenty-five years, combining songs written from within the band with well-chosen covers, especially of The Country Gentlemen. Their well-loved humor includes both broad farce and subtle musicality. Since signing with Mountain Fever records, their music and humor has received increasingly serious attention and their popularity has spread still further. We always look forward to spending time with this band which keeps the sawdust between their toes while always striving successfully for greater quality and style.

Nothin' Fancy - Simon Crutchfield's Grave

Mile Twelve (Fr)
New Zealand's BB Bowness

Mile Twelve, based in Boston, has emerged from the red hot bluegrass and Americana scene in The Hub and sparked by Berklee College of Music. Candidates for IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year in 2018, they won a Momentum Award in 2017. The band's members have assembled from all over, but the talented BB Bowness on banjo has come the farthest, from her home in New Zealand to study at Berklee. The other members of the band were drawn to the light currently glowing in and around Boston. Mile Twelve is melodic, musical, and personable. Make sure you get to know them while they're at YeeHaw and in Florida this winter.

Mile Twelve - Our Last Goodbye

Monroe Crossing (Th, Fr)

Monroe Crossing hails from that great old time bluegrass state of Minnesota. Each year they magically appear in Florida, usually before heading out on or coming back from a much needed Caribbean cruise. Their music ranges from the deeply traditional to the interestingly progressive, with rock covers and folk music sprinkled through their sets. They're always fun and sometimes surprising. 

Monroe Crossing - Long, Cool Woman in a Black Dress

Dave Adkins Band (Sa)

Dave Adkins loves what he's doing! He squirms like a puppy with his belly being rubbed every time something in his music tickles him. He has a big, deep country voice which helps display his roots and love of music. He's a hard working musician who brings his all to every performance. 

Dave Adkisn - Put Some Grass In It

Don Rigsby (Sa)

Don Rigsby has had a long and distinguished career as a musician as well as having spent some significant time as a college administrator, working to preserve and extend traditional music. He has played with some of the great bands in bluegrass history, including J.D. Crowe & the New South, The Lonesome River Band, and Longview, as well as others. Most recently, he has been featured with Flashback. He is an articulate spokesman for maintaining traditional music as well as one of the great, in demand, tenor singers in the history of bluegrass music. 

Don Rigsby - The Mountain Doctor

Jeff Brown & Still Lonesome (Th)

Jeff Brown has spent much of his life as a working musician, meaning he also has to find a variety of ways to make a living. In his case, this has included work as a bluegrass DJ and concert promoter, among other endeavors. Through the years, he has performed with the likes of Larry Sparks, Charlie Sizemore, Ralph Stanley, Jesse McReynolds and many others, in addition to having been named a Kentucky Colonel. With his current band, including his son Austin, Still Lonesome, he has released two albums, the most recent being on Mountain Fever Records. He has been a regular at EMS events during the past couple of years. 

Jeff Brown & Still Lonesom - Appalachia Is My Name

Roxeen & Dalrymple (Sa)

The face is familiar, but the band may be new to you, as it was to me. Then I recognized Gary Dalrymple, for more than twenty years the mandolin player, harmony singer, and road manager of The Spinney Brothers. With their retirement from the road, Gary has formed this new duo with Roxeen Roberts, who was a bandmate with the Spinney's twenty-five years ago. This duo looks and sounds like an engaging change of pace.

Wildflower - Roxeen & Dalrymple

Scattered Grass (Tu,Th)

Composed of four local musicians from the Okeechobee area, the members of Scattered Grass are all well known to attendees of the YeeHaw Music Fest. The Prevatt sisters (Spider and Moe) bring their perky enthusiasm and sister harmonies to the band, which also features Sean Campbell on banjo. Justin Mason, on mandolin, has become a regular at EMS festivals, bringing his enthusiasm and organizational skills to encouraging jamming in the jam tent and contributing in other ways as needed. Scattered Grass will host the open Mic on Tuesday with the concert release of their new CD  Always energetic and musical.....

Scattered Grass - Little Georgia Rose

Sandy Back Porch (Fr)

Sandy Back Porch is an Orlando-based bluegrass band frequently seen and heard in the central Florida region. Enjoy their bluegrass and gospel music. 

Sandy Back Porch - Sitting on Top of the World 

Sunday Morning Gospel Sing
Jan Ladd

Jan Lass, her husband Larry, and several members of their band offer a non-sectarian Sunday morning Gospel Sing at 10:00 AM on Sunday morning. For many attendees at EMS events, this low key period of song and reflection provides an opportunity for simple worship and helps prepare them for the drive home. 

Les Sears

Radio DJ Les Sears will be hosting the open Mic "In the Spotlight" at the Pot Luck Supper on Wednesday evening.

Pot Luck Supper

Jo Odum

The ever popular Jo Odum returns as the emcee at Evans Media Source events for another celebration of bluegrass. 

Jan Ladd will host a gospel sing on Sunday morning at 10:00 AM 

This year's YeeHaw Music Fest lineup is power packed and diverse. It will prove, once again, to provide a great kickoff event for the winter season of Florida bluegrass. 

The Details:

Dates: The YeeHaw Music Fest will run from January 15 - 20, 2019 with the gates opening for campers on Monday, January 14 at the gate on highway 710 only at 9:00 AM

Call for Tickets, Camping Reservations and Reserved Seats: The New Phone is 386.385.3500!
3 Day Gate Price = $85.00 (Advanced Ticket Sales are  Closed)
Daily Tickets:
     Thursday: $30.00, Friday and Saturday: $35.00 per day
Children 12 and Under 12 Free with a Paid Adult
Reserve Seating: $5.00 per person
Bring a comfortable Chair - No high backs or conventional rocking chairs. The cylinder charis are OK.  - No high back chairs over 35"


Camping: There are a limited number of camp sites with hookups.
Get Your Campsite and Reserved Seat by Calling (904) 886-8378 (Reserve Seats are Limited)
Primitive Sites: $15.00
20 Amp Electric = $20.00/per night (Three night minimum)
30 Amp Electric = $30.00/per night (Three night minimum)
50 Amp Electric = $35.00/per night (Three night minimum)

Food and Craft Vendors: This year's scheduled food vendors include a barbecue wagon, fish & shrimp sausage etc., homemade ice cream, and a hot & cold drink wagon. More are still being added. 

Important Details:
Show goes on Rain or Shine (Music is under cover) - There are no refunds!
Wristbands must be worn.
Park Rules and Regulations are posted and must be obeyed!
Golf carts must have lights and drivers have licenses.
No Pets, Smoking or Alcohol in the concert and food vendor areas.

How To Get to the Agri-Civic Center

The Okeechobee Agri Civic Center 
4601 FL-710
Okeechobee, FL 34974

Place your Address in the Space Marked O
Click to Make a Personalized Map

YeeHaw Music Fest is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. I haven't been told what surprises you can expect, or they wouldn't be surprises, would they? Evans Media Services has rebuilt this festival from near failing a very few years ago into a thriving and growing event. Come and celebrate the re-birth and anniversary with Ernie and Deb Evans.

Ernie Evans

Deb Evans

Monday, November 12, 2018

Darin & Brooke Aldridge Sign with Rounder Records

Rounder Records announces that Darin & Brooke Aldridge have inked a deal with Rounder Records.  Darin & Brooke Aldridge have joined their highly acclaimed roster and will be releasing a new album for the label in 2019. The duo joins former and ongoing greats like Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent,  Béla Fleck, Hazel Dickens, Dailey & Vincent, The Steep Canyon Rangers,The Steeldrivers, and, more recently, Steve Martin. The Gibson Brothers, and The Lonely Heartstring Band, who have graced the label since its founding in 1970, when three Tufts University students (Ken Irwin, Marian Levy and Bill Nowlin) traveled to Appalachia on collecting expeditions during their vacations

Darin & Brooke have been building their band and their reputation, while burnishing their already significant singing and instrumental skills together since releasing their first album in 2010. Darin began his professional career with Accoustic Syndicate while still in high school, later touring with The Country Gentlemen for nine years and forming a band called the Circuit Riders after Charlie Waller's death. Darin and Brooke Justice met in church near her home in Avery County, NC.

We first met Darin and Brooke in 2008 at a local Cherryville, NC jam held in an quietly well-known weekly jam held in an old, cinder block Bomb Shelter. She was sporting a new engagement ring. Soon after, at a rehearsal of Darin's then current band, The Circuit Riders, who were preparing to open for the James King Band, we first were captivated by the strength and sweetness of this emerging duo and romantic couple.They were married in 2010   Over the early years of their career, we traveled with them at some length, as they sang at a tiny storefront church in North Carolina, as well as a variety of concert halls and bluegrass festivals up and down the East Coast. Long drives, late nights, and hard work turned them into a sublime duo. Brooke's haunting, magical voice, Darin's brilliant instrumentals and strong harmony, along with his vision for a band that didn't yet exist combined with their deep faith and commitment to each other dominated their life.

Local gigs turned into national performances as changes in the band improved it each time they were made, and people noticed their music and their love story. They found new songs, new fans, new musical partners who helped spread the word. They toured with Jimmy Fortune, long-time singer and song-writer with the Statler Brothers,  and, more recently John Cowan, lead singer for many years with the New Grass Revival,  whom they tour with when he's not performing with the Doobie Brothers. Each album opened new doors, helping them find better ways to showcase themselves as they grew into new roles, performing with grace and charm.

Award nominations began to come as well as performances at the Grand Old Opry. This year, Brooke was awarded her second consecutive IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, a recognition widely popular and richly deserved. Darin was recognized as Mentor of the Year at the IBMA Mentor Awards for his work as a teacher and with the development on ongoing educational efforts of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC, near their home. In the past year they have been featured on the Grand Old Opry over ten times as well as on RFD-TV's Larry's Country Diner. Their work has charted regularly.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Someday Soon

Rounder co-founder Ken Irwin said, ""Darin and Brooke are two of the most gifted and hard-working young artists in bluegrass. Their soaring vocals and extraordinarily beautiful harmonies really make them stand out. After being fans for years, we're excited to have the opportunity to work with them." 

Darin Aldridge added, "As artists, there aren't adequate words to describe the feeling when you realize you get to be a part of a label that has done such extraordinary things within the music industry for so many years and still continues to do them today. We are honored to embark on this new adventure with Rounder and look forward to sharing new music with ALL of our friends in 2019!"

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Tennessee Flat-Top Box

Brooke wrote to me saying, "It's neat to sit back and think of all we've worked for, the goals we started out with, and the many we've accomplished. We feel extremely blessed."

The move to Rounder Records marks a significant step for Darin & Brooke Aldridge and their band. Rounder's history and their personal journey and love story are a natural fit. What comes next should add luster to their continuing tale. 

Darin & Brooke

Monday, November 5, 2018

Nighttown by Timothy Hallinan - Book Review

If you like your crime fiction detectives smart, funny, complex, and insightful and haven’t yet met Tim Hallinan’s Junior Bender, Nighttown (Soho Crime, 385 pages, November, 2019, $26.96/14.99) you’ve been missing a rising star whose latest outing, the seventh in the series, takes him to new heights of risk while continuing to grow and evolve as a character you will quickly come to treasure. Bender’s first arrival in Herbie’s Game won the 2015 Lefty Award for best comic mystery novel. Hallinan’s humor is character and plot driven, rather than built on the wisecrack. His characters are quirky and real, while protagonist Junior Bender, sometimes clueless about the characters he loves the most, earnestly works towards solving the problems of the problematic.

Bender lives mostly at night in the shadows, befitting because of the shady nature of his clients themselves. You see, he is the go-to detective for criminals who can’t seek help from the police to solve their problems. Junior, at once a deeply moral person and an accomplished thief who has never been caught but is always on the police radar, must navigate the dark world between people who have no compunction against killing him if he fails, and his own strong drive for stability and true love. Out of these internal conflicts emerges a fully-rounded person capable of both compassion and deviousness. His sense of justice is superb, fitting perfectly with the conscience he must battle all the time along with maintaining his ethical sense of responsibility.

Nightown Opens with Junior in a 1908 house once owned by a recently deceased isolate, one of Hallinan’s typically wounded women. Junior’s been paid $25,000, half of his offer for this job, to steal something, but he’s not certain why it has value. He does, however, know that he’s not the only person in the hunt. The book opens with Junior casing the house filled with Hallinan’s unique smells, creaking stairways, and off-beat observations of the world that only Junior Bender can fully inhabit. Furthermore, it soon emerges that Ronnie, Junior’s latest love, has a two year old son whose father has kidnapped him and kept him away from her. That’s the secret she’s been keeping ever since she was introduced to the plot line several books ago. I wonder though whether Junior’s ex-wife and daughter, her boyfriend, and the two computer wizard girls have disappeared to in this volume. I can only wish they return later in counterpoint to Ronnie.

Hallinan’s language sets him aside from every other contemporary fiction writer I’ve encountered. Especially with Junior Bender, the literate, sometimes off the wall imagery, similes and metaphors fly out of Juniors mouth or race through his head as if such a brilliant rif were immediately available to the rest of us, too. His dialogue sparkles as it defines class and character, combing with descriptive language to present a whole picture. There’s a joy in reading Hallinan, in simply taking in the breadth of what appears to be casual knowledge but must actually reflect the distillation of hours of careful research and wide, inclusive reading. As Hallinan manages to pack away two one hundred thousand word novels a year, most of it must come from some easily tapped internal source, but its breadth is enormous, suggesting deep familiarity with a wide range of literary material from outside his genre. How many detective fiction books mention Hieronymus Bosch?

Hallinan’s children, as odd, broken and twisted as they may be (Anime, Lilli, Eaglet, and his daughter Rena in the Bender series as well as Poke Rafferty’s wife Rose, daughter Mia and her street and school friends in the Bangkok-based Poke Rafferty thriller series) are real and seem alive. Junior may be the only character in the genre, at least the only one I’ve met, who likes nice kids, and talks to them as if they were humans. Robert A. Heinlein did that in science fiction a lifetime ago, but children are rare in genre fiction. Hallinan creates believable, quirky children today, developing Junior in whole, over time, as a man to whom family is real and matters, despite his own issues with personal reliability in relationships.

Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan has led an interesting and varied life, working in public relations, in the film industry, and doing corporate consulting on media and outreach. He is the author of three detective series. His first, the Simeon Grist novels were mostly published in the 1990’s, with a revival this year in a new and inventive (almost fantasy) manifestation. The Junior Bender series and the Poke Rafferty series have each been running at the pace of one novel each per year for the past several years. Hallinan lives in Los Angeles and Bankok, both of which add color and variety to his writing.

The convoluted plot of Nighttown (Soho Crime, 385 pages, November, 2019, $26.96/14.99) includes many of the characters that have appeared in previous Bender tales. As usual in series fiction, it’s not necessary to have read the previous versions to “get” this one, but I defy you not to go back to pick the earlier ones up and read them, too. I don’t think Hallinan’s characters emerge fully drawn from the head of Zeus, but they maintain an inner consistency, while growing, too. Nighttown is a particularly strong entry, deserving your attention and demanding your respect for the character and the mind creating him. Hallinan throws insights away that others, both writers and readers, would spend a lifetime seeking to discover. I read Nighttown in a galley version sent to me by the author, who, while I’ve never met him, is a frequent correspondent whom I consider to be a friend. I highly recommend the book.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Bill Monroe: The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man by Tom Ewing - Book Review

Tom Ewing’s Bill Monroe:The Life and Music of The Blue Grass Man (University Illinois Press, 2018, 656 pages, $34.95, 19.95) is a huge piece of Monroe scholarship bringing together a range of sources testifying to the hard work and thoroughness of the author. At this point, and until further work is done, it must stand as the definitive biography of the Father of Bluegrass, whose long, complicated life, background, musical genius, along some of his flaws, are carefully, thoughtfully, and exhaustively documented.

Perhaps the strongest portions of the book are the painstakingly assembled history of Monroe’s genealogy, the account of his difficult childhood during which his development was affected by his poor eyesight, and the transformative power of music in his life. Along with this, Ewing establishes a picture of the hardship and hard physical labor which helped to establish Monroe’s legendary stamina and work ethic. The author is always careful to place the arc of Monroe’s life within the context of important national news events of the times as well as milestones in music’s development and change through the decades. This practice helps provide context and texture to the story as well as, sometimes, explaining choices that Monroe made or was forced to accept.

Organized into ten chapters with each but the first covering a decade of Monroe’s life, Ewing has gone to great lengths to detail appearances, recording sessions, members of the band and the hazards of travel. For many readers these almost day-by-day accounts of where Monroe was, the difficulty of getting there, the fluidity of members moving through the band, and other massing of detail will provide the literary fodder they crave. Many important mileposts are signaled by boldface headings within chapters, but turn out to take a paragraph or less to cover before Ewing moves on to greater masses of detail. Some readers might prefer further analysis of how events may have influenced decisions and actions Monroe took.

The book contains extensive evidence of Bill Monroe’s efforts to both protect “his” music and to encourage musicians influenced by his music to find their own mode of expression. For instance, in 1941 the first case is described of a mandolin player being told to not play like Monroe, but rather develop his own style. Stories from every era afterwards repeat this story in one way or another as Monroe taught, changed, and protected his music. Many fine and, later, well-known musicians, got their start with him, while others were initially drawn to his style of music from seeing him or hearing him on the radio and in recordings. He came, however, to view many of these emerging bands, which would become iconic in their own right, as competitors of “his” music.

Monroe was always careful to seek to protect his own music while, simultaneously being aware of changes in popular music. The longevity of his career speaks to both his stubborn insistence on his own vision along with a willingness to bend to changes in popular music when times demanded it, at least until he began to institutionalize his own music as he grew old and became recognized as the Father of Bluegrass Music. At one recording session in 1958, Red Cravens remarked to Bill that he ought to play more old songs. He reported Bill as saying, “That’s in the past...You got to keep looking forward….Don’t look back.” (200) Monroe appears always to have been watching what was happening in music, adapting to current styles and trends, and reflecting them in his music. His adopting Elvis Presley’s interpretation of his Blue Moon of Kentucky is perhaps the best example of this.

Monroe’s complex and varied relationships with women are dealt with extensively, but not with any particular depth of understanding or analysis, which they deserve. Similarly his feuds with Flatt & Scruggs as well as others he seems to have thought were riding on his reputation deserve further analysis. Monroe’s successful efforts to keep Jimmy Martin from being made a member of the Grand Old Opry, perhaps because of his pursuit of Bill’s daughter Melissa, deserve further explication. Similarly, Bill’s relationship with his son James is complex and costly to him.

One of the great virtues of Ewing’s book is the connection he continually makes between Monroe and other seminal figures in the history of bluegrass who all seem to come into contact with Monroe at some point, influencing him and being influenced by him. This includes not only musicians, but entrepreneurs (Ralph Rinzler & Carlton Haney), scholars (Neil Rosenberg and Fred Bartenstein), venues (New River Ranch, Sunset Park, Brown County Jamboree, The Grand Old Opry), and so-on. By pulling this all together, Ewing firmly cements Monroe’s place in music history in huge, sometimes tiresome, but always useful, detail. Perhaps the sheer length of Monroe’s life and his vast importance keep a single volume account from ever being entirely satisfactory or a single review from covering it adequately. My own notes contain over 6,000 words.

Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing served as the last lead singer and guitarist in the Blue Grass Boys during the period 1986 – 1996, also appearing on three albums. He attended Ohio State University, earning degrees in journalism and education. He has written extensively about Bill Monroe as well as writing a column for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. He has been a founder or a member of several bands devoted to either playing Monroe’s music or emulating his style.

Tom Ewing has written a comprehensive and detailed, almost encyclopedic, account of Bill Monroe’s life and times, including extensive notes and index. It offers insights into Monroe’s behavior while generally leaving it to the reader to draw conclusions about their meaning. This quality is both an asset and a liability to this book, but perhaps Ewing’s decisions are sound, while much more remains to be written to fully encompass this brilliant, crusty, strong, and needy man whose musical influence continues to be felt, even after nearly one hundred years of its first emergence. The University of Illinois Press provided me a hard back copy of Tom Ewing’s Bill Monroe:The Life and Music of The Blue Grass Man (University Illinois Press, 2018, 656 pages, $34.95, 19.95).

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival 2018 - Review

Held over Labor Day Weekend, the 47th Annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, founded by Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, succeeded, once again in providing the stimulating mixture of old-time, traditional bluegrass, and major popular bluegrass bands along with a few ancillary surprises to slightly stir the soup. Four of the bands in this year's lineup are nominated for IBMA Emerging Band of the Year in 2018, a testimony to the farsightedness of this festival's bookings.  Operated as a not-for profit 501(c)(3) organization by the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music, Delaware Valley, located within relatively easy travel range between Washington, D.C. and New York City, is the most meticulously planned and joyously operated bluegrass festival we attend. The camping facilties, while limited in amenities, provide a vast area for groups to gather together for a camping weekend featuring lots of jamming and good fun. The vendors are plentiful and varied, the available food is a cut above most bluegrass festival food, but doesn't quite reach that of major mixed music festivals, a small criticism considering its other very attractive features. Let's take a look at the show.

Board Chair Carl Goldstein and Board Member George Mercer

David Davis and the Warrior River Boys

David Davis, a native of northern Alabama, and a long-time interpreter of Bill Monroe style mandolin play has reached back to the period before bluegrass was born to precursor Charlie Poole, an early three finger and clawhammer banjo player first recorded by Ralph Peer in the late 1920's, for the content and inspiration of his latest recording on Rounder Records. Along with Robert Mongomery's banjo play, he interprets the early Poole work in a bluegrass idiom that does both bluegrass and old time honor. This is a fine step for Davis, as he tours bluegrass festivals as well as Americana and Folk festivals with his fine sound. I'm only sad that my sound connection failed to yield any usable video for this first day of the festival. 

David Davis

Robert Montgomery

Shadd Cobb

Marty Hays

Stan Wilemon

Emcee Katy Daly with David Davis

The Merch Area is Ready

Setting Up for the Weekend

Dom Flemons

Bluegrass festivals often forget, or choose to ignore, the rich history of African-American blues, field chants, work songs, and prison ballads that have contributed to its repertory since its very beginning. Flemons, an original founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, tours with a show helping the audience to remember this history from harmonica player DeFord Bailey, the first African American to play the Grand Old Opry through a lively program of music he has curated in a manner both scholarly and entertaining. We are reminded that A.P. Carter collected his music not only from white Appalachians but from African-American field hands and gospel groups. Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Brian Farrow, the show was lively, entertaining, and informative. 

Brian Farrow & Dom Flemons

Dom Flemons

Brian Farrow

Southard Audio
Jason Misterka

Southard Audio once again provided pristine sound for each band, managing, as usual, to bring out the very best of each distinctive band in the lineup. Its grueling work with few breaks and requiring constant attention, for which we are all grateful. 

Jesse Stover

Mile Twelve

Mile Twelve, nominated for IBMA Emerging Band of the Year in 2018, is a Boston-based band with lots of connections to Berklee College of Music. So much music has come out of Boston in recent years, that it has been characterized as the Berklee Sound, sometimes derisively at other times with excitement and respect. I tend to come down on the latter side, particularly enjoying this band for their musicianship and their song writing. 

Evan Murphy

BB Bowness

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes

David Benedict

Nate Sabat

Suzy Bogguss & Band Warming Up

Best T-Shirts in Bluegrass

Suzy Bogguss

Suzy Bogguss has had a major career in country music, continuing to tour from coast to coast, Alaska to New Jersey. On stage, her mellow voice and youthful enthusiasm belie her experience. She glows with energy and warmth onstage, backstage, and at the merch table, where she stood and signed until the last fan was satisfied. First rate performance!

Suzy Bogguss

Suzy Bogguss at the Merch Table

With Photographer Frank Baker

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

When I went to the front of the stage to photograph Mike Cleveland, he had broken a string on his fiddle, which didn't stop him for an instant. Those who haven't seen this great fiddler, ten time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year, on mandolin or jamming with a guitar aren't aware of the depth and breadth of his musicianship. The current band, with veterans at every position but banjo, supports Mike's play while making outstanding contributions on their own. Nathan Livers on mandolin and Joshua Richards on guitar and vocals are particular standouts. This band keeps reaching new heights while seeking to match its leader. 

Michael Cleveland

Joshua Richards

Nathan Livers

Tyler Griffith

Josiah Schrode

Stage Manger Howard Parker and Emcee Katy Daly

Hot Rize with Mike Cleveland

Legendary band Hot Rize is on its fortieth anniversary tour, highlighting a course of remarkable excellence, continuity, and innovation in bluegrass music. With each of its members leading a busy and successful professional life in music outside the band, Hot Rize tours represent a rare and welcome reminder of how a band continues perform and to grow. It was a particular pleasure to see Nick Forster recovered from his bicycle accident enough to perform. An added pleasure was the appearance of Mike Cleveland in both the Hot Rize and as Elmo Otto in the Red Knuckles segment. 

Tim O'Brien & Brian Sutton

Pete Wernick & Nick Forster

Brian Sutton

Pete Wernick

Nick Forster & Tim O'Brien

What an opening day for this fine festival!


Jeff Scroggins & Colorado

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado calls Colorado its home, but really comes from all over. Talented singer/guitarist Greg Blake originated in West Virginia, Ellie Haskonen is based, I think, in Oregon. Tristan Scroggins lives in New Mexico, and Jeff Scroggins, a Winfield winner on banjo, currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their sound is as eclectic, and interesting, as their background is transitory. The band has emerged in the last three years with an exciting, driving sound that garnered awards and recognition. The great Mark Schatz played bass and clawhammer banjo with them at Delaware Valley. 

Jeff Scroggins

Tristan Scroggins

Greg Blake

Ellie Hakonson

Mark Schatz

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado - Hills of My Home

Bill & the Belles

Bill & the Belles fills a niche not often recognized in the musical history of bluegrass music...the pop dance music of the 1920's and 1930's, music that must have been on the radio and in clubs when Bill Monroe was seeking his ideal sound in the industrial ring around the Great Lakes. Reminiscent of the crooning dance music of the likes of Rudy Valle and others, their sound is filled with melody, and harmony with hints of jazz and the dance music of the time. The creation of Kris Truelson, at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, VA, this is music worth hearing and appreciating. 

Kris Truelson

Kalia Yeagle 

Grace van't Hof

Matt Downing on Clarinet &
Aaron Olwell on Bass

Yeagle, Truelson, van't Hof

Bill & the Belles - Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues

Corn Hole - The National Sport of Bluegrass

High Fidelity

The name of this band subtly tells their story. Fidelity means faithful, suggesting the faith-based nature of this band, which plays lots of gospel music. It also, along with the word High, suggests a quality of sound above the normal, which High Fidelity demonstrates with their instrumental and vocal versatility. 

Jeremy Stephens

Corrina Rose Logston

Kurt Stephenson

Vickie Vaughn 

High Fidelity - We Sat Between the Maple on the Hill

Sister Sadie

Sister Sadie, nominated for IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year this year, has been one of the most appreciated performers at Delaware Valley since their debut there four years ago. Drawing on the deep and varied experiences of its five members and featuring five time Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley, these five women are musically superb, funny, engaging, and interesting. Ask your local promoter to book them. 

Dale Ann Bradley

Tina Adair

Gena Britt

Deanie Richardson

Beth Lawrence

Sister Sadie - No Smokey Mountains in TN

The Quebe Sisters

The Quebe Sisters, three close harmony fiddle players from Texas specializing in western swing music, sing and play impeccably, recreating music reminiscent of groups like the Andrews Sisters of the 1940's and 50's. Traditional swing music driven by excellent fiddle play and close harmony singing have had significant influence on the development of bluegrass music. 

Grace Quebe

Sophia Quebe

Hulda Quebe

The Quebe Sisters - Teardrops from My Eyes

The Earls of Leicester

The Earls of Leicester, put together by Jerry Douglas, succeed in re-creating the look and feel of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys during the period from the late fifties until 1965 with remarkable accuracy and wit. It would be too easy to dismiss this high impact, star-filled band as a Flatt and Scruggs cover band. Instead, they drop in and out of roles, with each member contributing his own character to that of the band the emulate. Attending one of their performances gives at least a sense of the impact the original band had on audiences experiencing it for the first time. 

Jerry Douglas

Sean  Camp

Johnny Warren

Jeff White

Charlie Cushman

Barry Bales

White, Bales, and Camp

Warren, Douglas, Camp 

Earls of Leicester - I'm Gonna Sleeop with One Eye Open

At the Merch Table

Kids Academy Dress Rehearsal

Sunday morning at Delaware Valley is devoted to the kids. Kids Academy, The Cab Calloway  School of the Arts, and this year, Cane Mill Road, a young band of kids who came up in the well-known JAMS (Junior Appalachian Musicians) program of central Appalachia. These serious commitments show results, as demonstrated in the appearance of Uncle Sam, a group of Cab Calloway graduates and upper class student who showed their progress.

Stephen Field with Cab Calloway Students

Kids Academy Staff
Ira Gitlin - Director

The Kids Academy Staff gives up lots of time, energy, and their own jamming to help kids learn how bluegrass works. Everyone who follows bluegrass knows musicians who started in Kids Academy. 

Sara Larsen

Tara Kubgardt

Patsy Cline

Kids Academy

Delaware Valley Kids Academy - Black Eyed Suzie

Stephen Field - Cab Calloway School of the Arts

The Cab Calloway School of the Arts is a public high school in Wilmington DE devoted to fine arts in a variety of forms. Bluegrass is a club offering that Stephen Field, recently retired teacher there, has nurtured and developed through the years. The performances of the large developmental group, as well as a group of recent graduates and current students calling themselves "Uncle Sam" suggest the power of traditional music to motivate students who wish to explore a range of traditional and developmental models of music performance. 

Cab Calloway School of the Arts

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam

Cane Mill Road

Cane Mill Road traces its origins to Deep Gap, NC, the home of Doc Watson, and to the JAMS program, which has supported traditional mountain music in the schools of Appalachia since 2008. While JAMS' goals are not to develop professional musicians, it's inevitable that some participants will be introduced to the program in traditional musical arts and interpret what they learn through the music filling their environment. The magic of Cane Mill Road lies in their ability to remain connected with their traditional roots while bringing contemporary musical idioms into their music.  

Liam Purcell

Trajan (Tray) Wellington

Eliot Smith

Casey Lewis

Cane Mill Road - Sittin' on Top of the World

Po' Ramblin' Boys

The Po' Ramblin' Boys emerged out of the tourist attraction of bluegrass bands performing throughout the day at the Old Smokey Moonshine Distillery in Sevier, TN, whichh  has developed a reputation of developing first rate bluegrass bands to add to the world of touring bands. By playing a number of performances during the day, the bands become tighter, more skilled, and achieve greater polish. The Po' Ramblin' Boys, inspired by the music of the Stanley Brothers, have gained a wider audience during the past couple of years, and are nominated as IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year for 2018. Fronted, by C.J. Lewandowski, familiar for his performances with a number of well-known touring bands, the band was at the top of its game at Delaware Valley. 

C.J. Lewandowski

Josh Rinkle

Jerome Brown

Jasper Lorentson

Lewandowski, Brown & Rinkle

Po' Ramblin' Boys - Late Last Night

Festival Director  Carl Goldstein & Emcee Katy Daley

Mick Kinney & the Hickhoppers

Old Time bands are often quiet and under-publicized. Mick Kinney, from Georgia, is hardly a presence at all, but for aficionados of this genre, he's the real deal. According to the bio in the John C. C. Campbell Folk School web site, "A native of Wisconsin, Mick has made his home in Atlanta since 1977. He currently tours with multi-lingual chanteuse Elise Witt, as well as with his swing string band, the Gypsy Hicks, and his old-time band, the Georgia Crackers. He teaches fiddle, piano, guitar, banjo, and music theory workshops regionally and is a recipient of the Georgia Council for the Arts Folklife Grant."has made his home in Atlanta since 1977. He currently tours with multi-lingual 

Mick Kinney & the Hickhoppers - Stockade Blues

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers delivered one of their better shows at Delaware Valley, offering a mix of themes and textures typical of their varied song choices. Chris's songs are often laced with humor, even a little satire, while bassist Jon Weisberger is one of the busiest song writers in Nashville. Gena Furtado has added her elegant banjo style to this band, helping it create a new, and more pleasing sound. I wished they'd had two sets.

Chris Jones

Jon Weisberger

Mark Stoffel

Gena Furtado

Seldom Scene

There's no time at a bluegrass festival when a single set provides enough time for Seldom Scene's audience to get their fill. This is particularly true this year, with Ron Stewart's addition to this storied band's lineup, which has been pretty well fixed for years, except for the left end after Ben Eldridge's retirement. Stewart brings years of superior banjo and fiddle play, as well as some new interpretive twists to The Scene's sound. The set contained lots of the crowd favorites to a crowd well-acquainted with the sound and spirit of The Seldom Scene.

Dudley Connell
Photo - Pris Warnock

Lou Reid

Ronnie Simpkins

Fred Travers

Ron Stewart

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

It must be difficult to close a big, important festival late on Sunday afternoon of Labor Day Weekend. The crowd is tired...ready to start cleaning up and heading  home. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver stepped up to the challenge, and once again gave a rousing performance to close the event. Nominated for IBMA Entertainer of the Year, an award that has eluded him among all the recognition the band has received, despite having been named Vocal Group of the Year seven times. Doyle, a member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, served his apprenticeship with the best - Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe & the New South, and The Country Gentlemen, before forming his own band, which soon became Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Now in its thirty-seventh year, Quicksilver has seen some of bluegrass music's most acclaimed artists come through the band. The training they received while playing for Doyle has become known as The Doyle Lawson School of Bluegrass. Always fast paced, well-rehearsed, and solidly disciplined, the group is a model for combining classic bluegrass music with lots of gospel and many contemporary songs introduced by the band. It's one of the most acclaimed bands in bluegrass history. 

Josh Swift

Joe Dean

Eli Johnston

Dustin Pyrtle

Stepen Burwell

As the sun began to sink after a Sunday filled with musical variety, the volunteers swarmed the grounds intent on leaving them cleaner than when we had all arrived a few days before. The end of a festival always has a bitter-sweet feeling to it. This festival, however, has an even more poignant atmosphere to it, as this is the last event of the busy bluegrass summer. While there will be some wonderful Fall festivals, the excitement of IBMA's World of Bluegrass, and, these days, indoor events around the calendar, summer is over. The days are growing shorter, but our memories will stretch out over the months as we remember the season, culminating with the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival