Sunday, January 29, 2006

Season leaders

Oops. I made an error in my previous post by erroneously including some Merlefest dates from 2005. With those removed and the Old Settler's sneaks and a few other adds included, here are the current season leaders:

Del McCoury Band (4), Uncle Earl (4), Jerry Douglas Band (3), John Cowan Band (3), Mountain Heart (3), Peter Rowan Band (3), Sam Bush Band (3), The Grascals (3), The Wilders (3), 21 tied with 2.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Old Settler's sneak peek

We got an early peek at the preliminary schedule for the newest "festival we're tracking," Old Settler's Music Festival, and there's much for festival-goers to look forward to. Among the highlights: The Rowan-Rice Quartet, the ubiquitous Uncle Earl g'earls, The Waybacks, Eddie From Ohio, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, and Chris Stuart & Backcountry.

There's plenty of regional talent on the bill as well, including a return engagement of teen mandolin sensation Sarah Jarosz. The festival runs April 20-23 just outside Austin in Driftwood, Tex. For more on the festival visit the Old Settler's website.

On another note, it is great to know that Eddie From Ohio is touring again, after vocalist Julie Murphy Wells's bout with breast cancer last fall. If you haven't heard EFO before, you are in for a treat.

Grey Fox Academy video

Here's a very cool example of Google's new video service, a three-minute clip of a band from last year's Grey Fox Academy for Kids. You can view it at Google or check it out right here at the Festival Preview blog. The band is Hot Pink Bread playing on the Grey Fox main stage.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Updated standings

With the addition of the Grey Fox lineup, here are the updated season leaders of artists appearing at 2006 tracked festivals.

5 Appearances
Del McCoury Band

4 Appearances
Uncle Earl

3 Appearances
Jerry Douglas Band
John Cowan Band
Mountain Heart
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Sam Bush Band
The Grascals
The Wilders
Tim O'Brien Band

Grey Fox poised to announce

The lineup is not yet posted at the Grey Fox site, but a reliable source is listing these names. Impressive!

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Del McCoury Band
Steve Earle & The Bluegrass Dukes
The Jerry Douglas Band
Tim O'Brien & Cornbread Nation
Railroad Earth
Larry Sparks
Austin Lounge Lizards
Seldom Scene
Mountain Heart
Tim & Mollie O'Brien
John Cowan, Darrell Scott & Pat Flynn
The Grascals
Danny Paisley & Southern Grass
Uncle Earl
Crooked Still
The Lovell Sisters
Nashville String Dusters
Red Stick Ramblers
Chatham County Line

Update: It's official.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jamfest gets theatrical

In an effort to stay up with festival developments in other genres, I plan to check out the "world premiere" showing tonight of "Coachella," a documentary film about the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, featuring leading indie and jam rock bands. The film is showing one night only in 115 movie theaters around the U.S., though it is logical to assume there will be other showings to be announced later. Here is where to go for schedules and reservations.

The movie includes performances by Morrissey, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The White Stripes, Oasis and The Pixies, among others.

The New York Times previewed the event in today's edition, describing it as a strategy to give older rock fans access to music that they may not want to experience live, as well as an opportunity for movie theaters to fill seats on an otherwise slow night. The producer, Big Screen Concerts, expects to offer similar access to other concerts and festivals in the future.

The 2006 Coachella Festival is set to run April 29-30 in Indio, Calif. No lineup has yet been announced.

NGR reunion in the works?

With all of the former members of the Newgrass Revival playing widely on the festival circuit this summer, there is plenty of speculation on the Merlefest, Telluride, and Strawberry discussion boards that a reunion tour of the seminal jamgrass group may be on tap for this season.

All of the NGR cast--Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, John Cowan, and Pat Flynn--are scheduled for appearances with their individual bands at Merlefest, and to date three of the four have been named for Telluride (all but Flynn) and Strawberry Fall (all but Fleck). Since disbanding in 1989, the group played one reunion concert in 1996 but has resisted other efforts to get the band back together. Could this be the year?

Strawberry adds five acts (and a mea culpa)

Strawberry Music Festivals today added five new names to the mix for its two 2006 festivals--all performers who have played previous festivals one or more times. For Spring, Misty River, an all-female quartet from Oregon, and Ruthie Foster, a gospel and blues belter out of Austin, are the new additions. Misty River played the Fall 2001 festival, while Foster appeared in Spring 2003. Both played Sunday Revival sets in addition to their main stage gigs.

For Fall, Peter Ostroushko, Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan and Blue Shoes help to round out the schedule for what is shaping up as a great anniversary program. Ostroushko is the versatile mandolinist/fiddler out of Minneapolis who was once a regular on Prairie Home Companion and has composed scores for a variety of films and orchestral projects. He last played Strawberry way back in Spring 1987. Ball and Sultan are a folk-blues duo who have appeared many times, most recently in Fall 2003. Blue Shoes, a duo from the Sierra Nevada foothills who appeared at Strawberry in Fall 2003, plays swing-blues styles from the 30s and 40s.

On a different note, festival management issued an apology to fans for its decision not to release a 2006 calendar as had been previously promised. In years past, this popular mailing featuring color photos of the previous years' fests had been mailed in April along with final lineup announcements. Last year, the promoters announced they would separate the two mailings so that early calendar production deadlines would not shorten the contract season. The calendar was then promised for December, but that date came and went with no mailing. Today, Strawberry put out the word that "unanticipated life and business events that stretched us thin" and that there were insufficient "staff resources to successfully produce a 2006 Strawberry Calendar."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Podcasting with Rockument

I caught up with my old friend Tony Bove recently. Tony is a member of The Flying Other Brothers and also an author and publisher of various music web sites and multimedia projects.

At his Rockument site, he's been producing podcasts and compiling intricately annotated playlists. He has an agreement with Smithsonian Folkways that allows him to post selected tracks from that catalog, and he liberally mixes in contributed tunes from his buddies, who tend to be San Francisco Sound survivors.

Check out this podcast with cuts from the David Nelson Band, the Rowan Brothers and others. Special guests include Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Cassady and Pete Sears.

Wintergrass stage schedule posted

Wintergrass put up its stage schedule earlier this week, You can get download pdfs of either a three-page listing or a pocket-style layout. This will be my first year attending this indoor festival, with its three stages in the Tacoma Sheraton Hotel, one at the Marriott, and one down the block at the 1st Baptist Church.

I recently spoke with Patrice O'Neill, one of the three Wintergrass principles. She's excited about a number of the festival first-time performers, including Guy Clark, Uncle Earl, The Duhks, and the duo mandolin masters Mike Marshall & Hamilton de Holanda. She is especially proud of the expansion of the festival's Kid's Academy, in which 50 or so young people spend two full days working with a faculty of musicians. An instrument lending library is available that will allow kids to take the instruments home with them after the festival.

I'll be posting a full Wintergrass preview article at the Festival Preview site. Stay tuned.

Data mining the festival lineups

Festival Preview has been on hiatus the last several weeks--the typical new blogger syndrome. Truthfully, I'm in beta test mode, so hang in there with me. There is interesting material to come.

I've spent the last week building the Festival Preview database of festivals, artists, and lineups. Yesterday, I got it populated with all of the available lineups for the eight "festivals we're tracking," a subset of the much larger festival database. So it includes full lineups for Wintergrass and Merlefest, and partial lineups for all of the others.

I thought it would be interesting to run a report showing which artists will be appear the most times at FP festivals this season. Keep in mind that these are partial results and that I'll update them later, but here are all the artists who are confirmed at two or more of the festivals.

4 Appearances
Del McCoury Band

3 Appearances
John Cowan Band
Sam Bush Band
The Wilders
Uncle Earl

2 Appearances
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez
Guy Clark
Jerry Douglas Band
John Prine
Laurie Lewis
Mountain Heart
Nickel Creek
Peter Rowan
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Rodney Crowell
Shawn Camp
The Duhks
The Grascals
Tim O'Brien Band
Yonder Mountain String Band

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Houston Jones rolls On

I caught up with Travis Jones last night when Bay Area favorites Houston Jones gigged at Cafe Trieste in Berkeley. The date was part of an aggressive schedule of small venue and local radio appearances in the band's home territory. Last fall, HoJo won a bunch of awards in our Strawberry Best of the Fest poll. Since then, it played the Far West Folk Alliance, and is getting ready for what it hopes will be a breakout appearance in next month's International Folk Alliance conference in Austin.

Travis pointed out to me that the band hopes to follow the same route to national success travelled by their former compadres The Waybacks. Several members of Houston Jones are former Waybacks. The Waybacks gained national notice several years ago after wowwing showcase audiences at Folk Alliance.

Last night, HoJo played with its four-man ensemble in Trieste's tight quarters, which was packed with a good number of the band's regular fans. Travis, Glenn, Chris and Peter sounded in fine form as they played the band's regular repertoire of originals, covers and instrumentals.

'Destination Music' first look

I managed to catch the premiere showing of the Grey Fox segment of the BBC World's new Destination Music series. To bring you up to date, I was at the festival last summer when the BBC crew was filming. It's kind of cool since it tracks my interest in music festivals but with an international angle. In upcoming weeks, the program visits Morocco, Spain, Ireland and Zanzibar.

It premiered on Friday with the Grey Fox segment, airing at 10:30 GMT in European and Asian markets, but not in the U.S. However, BBC World broadcasts live over the Internet, and is available with a Real Player Superpass. Superpass is a premium service at about $10 a month, but Real offers a 14-day free trial, so I went ahead and signed up.

After installing and launching the latest RealPlayer, I first confronted just the minimized Player window. It took a moment to discover an icon in the upper right that opens the Superpass Home page. There is a tremendous amount of content available there--quite possibly worth the $10. The link for BBC World Live 24/7 is quite prominent within the News block on the page.

I clicked on that and after a short buffer time, I'm watching the live feed of BBC World. I can change the size of the window. Of course it is subject to the usual limitations of Internet video, but I find that it looks and especially sounds good blown up to maximum size on my 19-in. flat screen. Well, it does when it isn't cutting out, which happened five or six times during the next hour or so that I was watching.

The news in on with a report on Ariel Sharon, but the text box reads "Destination Music in 11 minutes." Wow, I hit it just right. Just past noon in Oakland, CA, was Friday night in London, or 2030 GMT to be precise. This would be the first of four airings of the program this week.

I'll give only a few impressions of the program here and write a full review when I watch it again later. The focus is on bluegrass more than Grey Fox, but of course it is all filmed "on the hill" so it's filled with great footage of the festival. Most of the content is of performers, introduced with stage footage and segueing to interviews. We hear from Sam Bush, Psychograss, Tim O'Brien, the Biscuit Burners, the Wilders, Uncle Earl and a lot more. The story line is about bluegrass as a uniquely American fusion of musical forms, the wide range of bluegrass styles, and the high level of musicianship among bluegrass performers. The program runs 30 minutes.

As I say, I'll take notes the next time and write a proper review. If you want to watch it, you have four chances in the next couple of days. Start by going here and clicking on the free trial offer. You'll have to give them your credit card, but you have two weeks to cancel. It's pretty straightforward how to set it up after that. Remember to click the program guide icon once you are in the player window.

Now, here are the times. It will play exactly four more times this week and is not otherwise accessible on demand. Presumably, it will show somewhere on U.S. cable and satellite in the future, but as yet I'm not aware of when that will be. Since most Grey Fox attendees are in the Eastern time zone, I've adjusted these show times to EST.

Saturday, January 7, 8:30 pm
Monday, January 9, 4:30 am
Tuesday, January 10, 11:30 am
Tuesday, January 10, 9:30 pm

Enjoy the show--and don't forget to cancel the free trial.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Berklee embraces bluegrass

Although roots music stars such as Gillian Welch have studied at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, they've previously had to learn traditional music styles on their own, since the school's curriculum has focused primarily on jazz and modern classical styles. Starting next semester, students can get credit for playing in a bluegrass ensemble and even major in banjo or mandolin performance. The Boston Globe has a full report.

Scanning Pollstar

One way to sleuth out performers ahead of a lineup announcement is to consult Pollstar, which tracks artist touring schedules by venue, among other criteria. Here's what's currently showing for Old Settler's and Grey Fox, two festivals that have yet to make official announcements. Register with the site to set your own automated notification service.

Old Settler's Music Festival
Fri 04/21/06 Uncle Earl
Sat 04/22/06 Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez
Sat 04/22/06 Marley's Ghost
Sat 04/22/06 Susan Gibson
Sat 04/22/06 The Grassy Knoll Boys
Sat 04/22/06 Uncle Earl
Sun 04/23/06 Marley's Ghost

Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival
Thu 07/13/06 Red Stick Ramblers
Fri 07/14/06 Red Stick Ramblers
Fri 07/14/06 The Del McCoury Band
Sat 07/15/06 Red Stick Ramblers
Sat 07/15/06 Ricky Skaggs
Sat 07/15/06 The Lovell Sisters Band

Thursday, January 05, 2006

BBC's "Destination Music" features Grey Fox

The premiere of BBC World's new television series, Destination Music, which highlights music festivals around the world, is set to air this weekend in international markets with an in-depth look at last summer's Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. The show is said to include interviews with Sam Bush on "the need to push the boundaries of the bluegrass sound" and Psychograss on their "jazz-like approach to performance."

In subsequent weeks, the show will feature festivals in Morocco, Spain, Ireland, Zanzibar, Mexico, China, India, Norway, and Mali. It is unclear as yet what kind of U.S. distribution of the series will be offered, but careful searchers may be able to find it on their cable or satellite TV systems. We'll keep you posted on future air dates as we learn them.

Update: The program is not airing in the U.S. at this time. However, it is viewable via BBC's online subscription service. A free trial is available here.