Monday, February 26, 2018

The 14th Annual Palatka Bluegrass Festival - Review

The week of February 12th, 2018 promised a couple of days soaking rain followed by clearing and then sunny days looking forward into the measurable distance. The soak came on Tuesday, requiring that a large tractor be made available to help some of the large, heavy rigs that annually come to this festival to get comfortably parked in their reserved spots. From Wednesday on, however, the weather cleared, becoming sunny a dry to provide the warmest, most pleasant Palatka we've experienced in our thirteen years of attending. 

Meanwhile, enthusiastic jams broke out as Johnny Adams crowd picked together rain or shine, and other jams thrived, too. 

The Bluegrass Brothers

The Virginia-based  Bluegrass Brothers combine classic bluegrass with paying solid attention to early game-changers like The Seldom Scene and The Country Gentlemen in their distinctive country sounding  repertoire. The current configuration, featuring only two members of the Dowdy family, has gelled into a solid, entertaining band, still dominated by Victor Dowdy's rousing bass playing and lead singing. The band has a strong following and is a solid opener for a festival like Palatka. 

Victor Dowdy

Donnie Dowdy

Chris Hart

Kevin Phillips

Jamie Sparks

The Cart Corral

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

Joe Mullins is a busy man. He owns a small chain of radio stations in southern Ohio built by his father, he's currently serving a term as Chair of the Board of Directors of IBMA and, Oh!, he's the leader of a major touring bluegrass band. Over the years, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers have consistently improved, as Mullins has striven to make each replacement count. The current version, with the newest addition being Jason Barie on fiddle, is the best yet, with the only remaining member of the band we first saw being Mike Terry on mandolin and vocals. The band specializes a moving gospel and patriotic tunes along with older classic bluegrass, with Mullins banjo representing well the Scrugg's style he treasures. 

Joe Mullins

Dwayne Sparks

Randy Barnes

Mike Terry

Jason Barie

Flatt Lonesome

Flatt Lonesome has been on an upward trajectory ever since their first appearance at SPBGMA, where they formed as a band in order to avoid paying admission for themselves, and then won the band contest. The tight sibling, even twin, harmonies of the three Robertsons augmented by solid musicianship of all five members have combined with their attractiveness to create a winning combination. Their first set showcased much of what has helped make this band a big hit in bluegrass. Their second set suggested the band is headed in new directions, but not yet certain what those directions might be. This should be an interesting journey as Flatt Lonesome continues to grow and develop.

Kelsi Robertson

Charlie Robertson

Buddy Robertson

Paul Harrigill

Dominic Illingworth

Michael Stockton

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out have been bringing the warm singing style of their leader along with lots of fine instrumentals to the bluegrass trail for over twenty-five years. Wayne Benson, always one of the top mandolin players in the business, has been with the band for twenty of those years. After years of little change, the band has had relatively high turnover in recent years. Russell has added the burden of being his own emcee to his prodigious singing. Jerry Cole, on base is a solid addition.

Russell Moore

Wayne Benson

Jerry Cole

Keith Mackinon

Jamie Harper

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent has been sure-fire box office for years. Her showmanship is top notch, filled with variety, high-lighting the skills of all her band members, welcoming the audience into her performance life, and exuding a wholesome, friendly image. She combines this with insisting that everyone coming to her merchandise table gets at least enough time with her personally to feel that she's acknowledged them and given them some attention. Every musician should take some time to watch her in action. Her band is filled with first-rate musicians who are fine soloists as well as working together very well in ensemble. Rhonda has more than earned her place in the bluegrass pantheon. 

Josh Williams

Sally Berry

Brent Burke

Aaron McDaris

Hunter Berry

Mickey Harris


Dumplin Valley Promoter Joe Soward Watching the Show


Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road

It was good to see Tommy Long back after a long bout with throat cancer, and we wish him well in his recovery. Brad Hudson is currently doing double duty on bass and Dobro, which he plays while Lorraine Jordan, the bands leader, willingly does duty on the bass. This band's versatility is one of its genuine strengths, with Josh Goforth often bringing his vital energy to bear for always good results. The band provided a strong opener on the beautiful Friday morning. 

Lorraine Jordan

Tommy Long

Ben Greene

Josh Goforth

Brad Hudson

Matt Hooper

Emcee - Sherry Boyd

Dry Branch Fire Squad

It's difficult to tell from its name whether Dry Branch Fire Squad is seeking to light a fire on or in a dry branch (wood or creek) or extinguish one. Whichever choice you make, they succeed. Ron Thomasan can light the fire of insight and understanding with his dry wit and deep commitment to America's core values. The band's renditions of old and beloved tunes can slake the thirst of the driest fan. Combining the music and the patter, Dry Branch Fire Squad has persisted for over four decades because it exemplifies quality and endurance. Ron's erudition hides behind a calculated fracturing of the English language all can appreciate. This band is perhaps the most contemporary of any traditional band on the bluegrass circuit. 

Ron Thomason 

Tom Boyd

Adam McIntosh & Jeff Byrd

Adam McIntosh

Penny Creek

Susan Pounds has built Penny Creek from a local beer and barbecue band playing background music to a rising band on the bluegrass circuit. This year they have moved from showcasing at one Norman Adams festival up to a higher spot in the lineup at two of them. This progress has been propelled by the addition of John Apfelthaler playing first rate banjo and adding excellent harmony and lead singing. Adding Trevor Klutz (who isn't one) on fiddle has helped, too. Meanwhile, Chris Paganoni continues to provide excellent singing and guitar work, while Fritz Kraemer on mandolin offers solid harmony vocals. The band is in the process of adding more new material to its excellent covers.

Susan Pounds

Chris Paganoni

John Apfelthaler

Trevor Klutz

Fritz Kraemer

Steve Pounds Helps John Holder

Balsam Range

Balsam Range's members all come from rural Haywood County in western North Carolina, but from a much wider world of experience in bluegrass, gospel, rock and beyond. They hit bluegrass about nine years ago with a powerhouse wall of sound, a variety of contemporary songs chosen from top writers, and fine bluegrass covers of songs from other genres. They've been well rewarded with IBMA awards and large, enthusiastic crowds. The band is strong from end to end. If you haven't seen them, watch for them at a festival near you.

Mark Pruett

Buddy Melton

Tim Surrett

Darren Nicholson

Caleb Smith 

Helicopter Rides for All

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have become more than popular, more than respected for their singing, song writing, and work ethic, more than fine singers and song writers. They have become beloved to bluegrass audiences. One couple flew from Texas to see their performance at Palatka. Another drove from Louisiana. People come to the Christmas show in the cold and lonely reaches of northern New York to fill the auditorium of their high school, braving sparse accommodations and guaranteed nasty weather to experience their warmth and authenticity. For authenticity is the element of their music and their relationship that has driven their rise to the top of the bluegrass world. Their brotherly bickering relationship between the songs is never squirm-worthy, enriching their show.  They have also assembled a band that contributes mightily to their effectiveness. Jesse Brock, twice IBMA mandolin player of the year is, as far as I know, the first non-Gibson brother to sing in public with them, and he adds an important touch in many songs. Clayton Campbell, quiet and unassuming, adds sweetness and soaring melody to their songs. And Mike Barber is the least recognized and most valuable bass player in the music, a road warrior with the same band for twenty-five years. They remain, simply, the best. 

Clayton Campbell

Mike Barber

Jesse Brock

 Leigh Gibson 

Eric Gibson 

At the Merch Table

With a WWII Vet


Dailey & Vincent

While it's early in the bluegrass season, Dailey & Vincent seemed tired.  It can only be hoped that what we saw represents the effects of a long, difficult winter, the nasty flu season, and the early manifestations of a new program that will emerge as the season progresses. 

Aaron McCune

Jesse Baker

Shaun Richardson

Patrick McAvinue

Jeff Parker

Darin Vincent

Jamie Dailey


Saturday at Palatka dawned warm and welcoming. In our twelve years of attending this festival, we have never experienced three such fine days. Sadly, the Moron Brothers, always an entertaining act, were not able to appear, due to a death in the family. Promoter Norman Adams reached into the field to elevate a well-known and accomplished jam group held by Johnny Adams and his friends to the main stage for a performance, while lengthening the sets for the rest of the performers. Meanwhile, both the Gibson Brothers and Dry Branch Fire Squad performed for second days. As usual, I only feature a band once at a festival. 

Amanda Cook & Kennesaw Ridge

Amanda Cook, from Florida's Panhandle region, has worked hard and become increasingly comfortable before an audience. Singing her own singer/songwriter material as well as classic bluegrass, she and her band acquitted themselves well in their first appearance at Palatka. 

Greg Jones

 Carolyn VanLierop

George Mason

Scott Fore

Joshua Faul

Amanda Cook

Johnny Adams & Friends

One of the enduring folk tales of bluegrass music persists - that a band composed of parking lot pickers can be elevated to the stage of a major festival to perform - came true at Palatka 2018. Due to a death in the family, the Moron Brothers were unable to make it. Mandolinist and luthier Johnny Adams, from Ocoee, FL, hosts a popular jam at many festivals. When he was called upon by promoter Norman Adams, he was able to assemble a pick-up band from festival attendees to perform. They acquitted themselves well, entertained the crowd, and were awarded a certificate of appreciation later in the evening. Since many people who attend bluegrass festivals also play instruments, this performance represented a fantasy come true while helping the festival, too. 

Johnny Adams

Pete Harrison

Jill Welsh

Joe Soward

Janet & Lamar Moss

John Apfhelthaler

Geoffrey Keyes of Blue Ridge Sound

The Little Roy & Lizzy Show

The Little Roy & Lizzy Show continues to tour, bringing Little Roy Lewis' comic antics and his fine musicianship to another generation of bluegrass fans. Meanwhile, Lizzy Long has matured as an emcee, bringing order to the performance, and even a little discipline to bear on Little Roy. Terry Poirier has joined the band on bass, while Nathan Steward on mandolin and Tyler Biddix on Guitar provide strong background in support of their ever popular show. 

Little Roy Lewis

Lizzy Long

Nathan Stewart

Tyler Biddix

Terry Poirier

Little Roy Lewis

Red Jones

The Earls of Leicester

The Earls of Leiscester emerged as a side project of Dobro legend Jerry Douglas, who believed that the spirit and importance of the music refined by Earl Scruggs & Lester Flatt from the late forties to the mid-sixties was being lost. He assembled a group of well-known Flatt & Scruggs interpreters along with adding a surprising voice to represent the sound and vibe of Flatt himself. Band members Jeff White and Barry Bales, along with Douglas have all played together with Alison Kraus in Union Station. Johnny Warren is the son of fiddler Paul Warren, who spent many years with Flatt & Scruggs. Charlie Cushman is well known as one of the finest Scruggs style banjo players around. And, in a stroke of genius, Douglas saw and heard Lester Flatt in singer/song writer Sean Camp, who fills the role with conviction and verisimilitude. This year Camp was named IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year while the band earned Entertainer of the Year for the third consecutive year. The Earls of Leicester closed the Palatka Bluegrass Festival with a single long set on Saturday night.

Jerry Douglas

Johhny Warren, Jeff White & Sean Camp - Vocal Trio

...and with Barry Bales

Sean Camp

Charlie Cushman

Johnny Warren

Jeff White

This year's Palatka Bluegrass Festival had a remarkably strong and varied lineup as well as the benefit of near perfect weather. The sound, provided by Blue Ridge Sound, was superb. The people who run the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch have the mechanics of presenting a large festival pretty much down to a science with the entire event running smoothly. Their willingness to provide a heavy duty tractor to pull out stuck big-rigs, and the frequent cleaning of the portable toilets by the GottaGo of Palatka, kept the facilities clean and odor free. Promoter Norman Adams offers nine festivals up and down the East Coast. Bluegrass fans who haven't attended one of his shows are missing a wonderful opportunity. 

Norman & Judy Adams