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