Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rocky Grass publishes complete lineup

While Telluride is still in flux (see earlier item), stablemate Rocky Grass today announced its complete lineup, including dates. Adding to big names such as Yonder Mountain and Steve Earle that had been previously announced, there is a bounty of bluegrass and roots music talent for festival-goers to look forward to.

Among the newly announced names are these bona fide bluegrass legends: Earl Scruggs, Sam Bush, Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, and Peter Rowan & Tony Rice.

The complete list by date follows:

Friday, July 28: Yonder Mountain String Band; Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, Edgar Meyer; Mountain Heart; The Stringdusters; Tony Trischka Bluegrass Band featuring Roland White; Richard Greene & the Brothers Barton; Bearfoot Bluegrass; Town Mountain

Saturday, July 29: Steve Earle & The Bluegrass Dukes; Jerry Douglas Band; Peter Rowan & Tony Rice; Blue Highway; Uncle Earl; Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings; Crooked Still

Sunday, July 30: Earl Scruggs; Sam Bush Bluegrass Band; The Tim O’Brien Band; The Wilders; Darrell Scott Bluegrass Band; Blue Highway gospel set; Abigail Washburn

Ferg "comes clean" on promised Telluride surprise

Telluride fans are absorbing a mild disappointment after Planet Bluegrass chief Craig Ferguson sent out an apology for setting off speculation with a hint of a big name that would have been paired with Emmylou Harris at the June 15-18. Now he has acknowledged that "the big one got away just as I was reaching for my net." Not only that, but Emmylou has reluctantly cancelled her date to undertake a European tour with Mark Knopfler.

Meanwhile, Ferguson emails that he is still working on booking several more acts to supplement the already impressive announced lineup.

Strawberry fills out lineups

Strawberry yesterday announced lots of new acts for the Spring and Fall fests. I'll have more analysis later; for now, here are the new names (not including any previously announced). For any fence-sitters, both festivals are moving into the not-to-be-missed range.

Spring: John Hiatt & The Mississippi Allstars, Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band, Los Lobos, The Stairwell Sisters.

Fall: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Incendio, Blame Sally, Way Out West, Grupo Fantasma, Witcher Brothers, Big Sandy & His Fly Rite Boys, The Jerry Douglas Band

At this point, assuming Strawberry sticks with its 21-act schedule template from recent years, the Fall lineup has three acts yet to be named; Spring has eight more to be announced.

Wintergrass memorable moments

For this first-timer, Wintergrass was an awesome event. As this week goes along, I'll be posting a few more artist interviews and vignettes of some of the memorable moments. However, with five venues in addition to suites and workshops and much more, there's no way I could cover it all, so I'm asking others who were there to contribute their memorable moments.

If this format works, I am considering making this a standard component of Festival Preview's post-event coverage for upcoming festivals.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Uncle Earl personnel change

I haven't seen this reported anywhere, so it may come as a surprise to learn that Sharon Gilchrist is no longer one of the Uncle Earl g'earls. At Wintergrass, Hit & Run Bluegrass bassist Erin Coats was sitting in on the stand-up bass. At first, I figured she was filling in for this gig while Gilchrist had a conflicting date with one of Peter Rowan's bands. But then I asked Abigail Washburn about it, and learned it is a permanent change.

According to Washburn, "We all love Sharon, but it was becoming harder to coordinate our schedules with her other commitments. We were getting tired of having to book around Peter Rowan's dates, especially since he was often late in setting his schedule. Besides that, Sharon really wanted to play mandolin--and who could blame her, considering her talent. But her role with Uncle Earl was as the bassist."

With the jam-packed Wintergrass schedule, I was able to catch only about half of one Uncle Earl set, but on first glance it seems that Erin Coats will be a terrific replacement on the bass and as a vocalist. No word on whether she'll continue holding down the low end for Hit & Run, but we'll get an idea how all the changes play out at upcoming festivals. Uncle Earl and Peter Rowan are both on the bill at Old Settler's, while Uncle Earl and Hit & Run Bluegrass both will play at Grey Fox.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Old Settler's official lineup

Old Settler's Music Festival posted the official lineup for its April 20-23 event near Austin, Tex. As reported earlier at Festival Preview, it includes names like Rowan and Rice, Eddie From Ohio, The Waybacks, Uncle Earl, and Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez. The major new additions are jamgrass standout Keller Williams, Texas singer-songwriter Todd Snider, and Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman in a special appearance.

In that I haven't covered the jam band scene so far, I'm especially excited about getting my first look at Keller Williams, who is among the top stars on that circuit. His presence at the top of the bill may bring in a crossover audience of jam followers. Also, if you're like me and can't keep straight all the configurations that Peter Rowan is playing these days, you'll get a chance to see how his Skydancer Trio compares with the Rowan-Rice quartet, since both are on the bill.

Wintergrass on tap

Better late than never! The Wintergrass festival kicks off tomorrow in Tacoma, Wash. (Festival Preview will be in attendance, of course), and I just managed to get my preview interviews posted today. Check them out at the Festival Preview Interviews page. We'll be posting a wrapup and more interviews after the event.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Telluride podcast debuts

Planet Bluegrass became the first festival we're watching to produce a preview podcast with today's release of its first audio program--a 15-minute interview with mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall, who will be appearing with bassist Edgar Meyer at the June Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

The interview covers Marshall's impressions of Telluride, his collaboration with Meyer, his interest in cooking and regional restuarants, and his love of Brazilian choro music. Definitely worth a listen. You can also subscribe to the promised series of Telluride podcasts, which are available at no cost through iTunes and other podcast distributors.

If you are not a Telluride regular but an attendee of any of the other festivals we're watching, there's one controversial point in the interview when Marshall remarks that it is Telluride's "care to the little things puts it over the top compared to any of the other festivals in the country."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sleep when you're dead

It's the usual comment one hears at the big showcase events: "I'll sleep when I'm dead." In my case, after four days of late nights and early mornings at the Folk Alliance conference, it could be "I'll blog when I'm dead." So apologies for not keeping up with events at this site.

Now that it's over, I'm backed up with other work, so I won't try to share my many thoughts and observations right away. I will be writing up the interviews I did with John Cowan, Abigail Washburn, Leonard Podolak, Jo Miller, and Travis Jones, as well as with some of the business-side people I talked to, so stayed tuned to Festival Preview for upcoming articles.

For now, here's a report on the Folk Alliance Awards presented on the last night of the conference. Although such awards events are a standard feature of music industry associations, this was the first year that the Folk Alliance produced such a program (excepting the Lifetime Achievement Awards it has presented for many years). Despite a fair number of glitches in the program, it was a well-produced event that reflected well on the genre, honoring both long-time veterans of the folk music movement as well as some of its up-and-coming stars.

The night's big winners were Eliza Gilkyson, who won for Best Album (Paradise Hotel), Best Song (Man of God), Best Contemporary Artist, and Best Solo Artist; and The Duhks, who were named both as Best Band and Emerging Artist of the Year.The award for Traditional Artist went to Quebec traditionalists Le Vent du Nord.

Accepting the award for "Man of God," a song lampooning the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Gilkyson noted that folk music "is the one genre where a political song could win." If so, next year's nominees in that category could include any of the dozen songwriters competing in an impromtu contest held concurrently with the awards show in which writers showcased compositions about Vice President Cheney's shooting accident, which had first been reported less than 24 hours earlier.

Lifetime achievement awards were presented posthumously to zydeco master Clifton Chenier and ground-breaking folklorist Kenneth Goldstein, while 60s folk legend Tom Paxton was on hand to be honored with a lifetime award. Each of the three was featured in well-produced films covering their work and accomplishments. To me, the films were probably the most interesting part of the program.

Country outlaw artist Ray Wylie Hubbard handled the emcee duties with humor and a few forgivable flubs (for example, forgetting to read the names of the nominees in several categories before announcing the winners). The award presentations were punctuated with live performances by Danny O'Keefe, Jonathan Edwards, Susan Gibson, and Eliza Gilkyson.

Business-side awards were presented for Festival of the Year (Winnipeg Folk Festival), Record Label of the Year (Red House Records), Best Club (The Ark in Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Best House Concerts (tie between Fox Run in Sudbury, Mass., and Rouse House in Austin).

Perhaps the biggest winner was the Folk Alliance itself, along with its executive director Louis Meyer, who also produced the program. With this awards program and the association's new permanent home in Memphis, where future Folk Alliance conferences will be held, the organization has a strong foundation for promoting the musical genre to the wider industry and to fans of traditional roots music.

Tim O'Brien "blown away" by Grammy

I reached Tim O'Brien for comment after he won his first Grammy award last week. Here's the interview:

What is your reaction to winning the award for best traditional folk album?
I didn't realize how much I wanted to win a Grammy. I've been nominated three previous times but not won. My mode has been to work toward it but try not to be attached to winning or losing. Basically, it knocked the wind out of me. I turned into a blubbering fool. I even hugged [Austin City Limits producer] Terry Lickona backstage and I hardly know him!

You were present in Los Angeles to accept the award. What was the gist of what you said?
I said I was blown away and that I guess you spin the wheel enough times you might come out on top. I thanked my fellow nominees and everyone that helped with the project, especially engineer Gary Paczosa, who in his capacity also won with John Prine and Alison Krauss. Then I thanked my late mother for her unconditional love and support.

What does winning the award mean for your career?
It validates it. You run around the same track with other people who are going a lot faster, and sometimes you wonder if you're making any progress. I know I am, but this is one thing that really underlines that. I think a few more people are coming to the shows already.

Do you see it as a recognition of the excellence of Fiddler's Green or of the body of your work?
I think it's mostly notice of the body of work, though the record stands up to the competition I think. I'm lucky I didn't compete in Bluegrass, because I think lots of those folks I'd normally competing with in that category voted for me in Traditional Folk. It feels legit, though, because I beat the Chieftains, and they have a lot of corporate votes.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

John Cowan interview

I got a chance to chat with John Cowan after his performance last night. I'll be posting a full article at the Festival Preview web site, but I thought I would pass along this tidbit on the New Grass Revival reunion speculation. I noted that all four members of the band would be performing at Merlefest and at least three of them will be on hand at several other fests. The natural question is whether there is a possibility of a planned or impromtu reunion.

Cowan said that while that is always a possibility, he tamped down any expectations that it would happen. Without going into detail, he said there is "some bad blood" between two of them that made such a reunion unlikely. He said that he was not one of the two, but didn't divulge any more than that. Too bad.

On the scene at Folk Alliance

I'm attending the International Folk Alliance conference in Austin this weekend. Hundreds of artists are showcasing here. I hope to post a few blog items over the weekend, but there's so much going on it could be kind of spotty. Last night, I caught Caroline Herring, Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan, Lost Bayou Ramblers, John Cowan Band, Blame Sally, Houston Jones, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, The Biscuit Burners, Jo Miller, Darrell Scott, Laura Love and the Duhks. And the weekend is just getting started. I'll post some observations on the artists later.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Krauss shuts out mainstream country artists

The big night for festival favorites rolled on with Emmylou Harris, John Prine and Alison Krauss scoring significant wins, in addition to the earlier announced awards for Tim O'Brien, Del McCoury and the ubiquitous Ms. Krauss. The near shutout of mainstraeam country artists from many of the major country music categories leads to some inevitable quibbling about the Grammy voting procedures.

I don't know enough about how the voting is done to fully understand (here's a Billboard article" that sheds some light), but I presume that academy voters from other genres tilt the results toward rootsier artists at the expense of the Nashville mainstream. Not that I am complaining, but that could explain the discrepancy in the results in the country music categories in the Grammies versus, say, the winners at the Country Music Association awards, where Gretchen Wilson, Rascal Flatts, and LeeAnn Womack won the corresponding categories.

By the way, with her three awards last night, Alison Krauss now has 20 Grammies in her collection, seventh among all musicians on the all-time list. She is quoted today by Reuters as unable to explain her success with Grammy voters. "It's amazing. We make records for ourselves and we send them in (to the label) when we're done. We don't have any meetings with anybody."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Festival favorite Tim O'Brien nabs Grammy

The early returns are in for some of the lesser Grammy awards, and festival favorite Tim O'Brien has walked off with the statue for best traditional folk album for his 2005 release Fiddler's Green, beating out The Chieftains, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Tom Paxton, and Jo-el Sonnier. Fiddler's Green, featuring traditional songs such as Pretty Fair Maiden in the Garden and originals such as Look Down the Lonesome Road, was one of a tandem of albums released last fall on the Sugar Hill label that were meant to explore the roots and branches of American folk music.

Alison Krauss and Union Station won two awards for best vocal by a duo or group and best country instrumental, both for Lonely Runs Both Ways (Rounder). The Del McCoury Band picked up the Grammy for best bluegrass album for The Company We Keep (Sugar Hill). Congratulations to all the winners.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bluegrass Dukes tapped for Rocky Grass

Steve Earle's acoustic outfit, The Bluegrass Dukes, typically play just a few dates a year, but the group is now scheduled for two of the "festivals we're watching," Grey Fox and Rocky Grass (where they were announced just today). Usually that means that one or more of the backup musicians (Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Casey Driessen, and Dennis Crouch) will also be on the bill in other configurations. Sure enough, O'Brien will play with his own band and also as a duo with his sister Mollie at Grey Fox, but none of the Bluegrass Dukes is yet named for Rocky Grass as a solo act.

You may remember that the Bluegrass Dukes were assembled on short notice in 1999 after Del McCoury pulled out of a tour with Steve Earle--apparently in reaction to Earle's demeanor onstage. It is true that the country-rock troubador likes to drop some salty language, but his songs and musicianship always go down easy for audiences, especially if they share his left-of-center politics.

Festival artists vie for Grammies

Popular recording artists Kanye West, Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani may by dominating the pre-Grammy buzz, but numerous performers who are regulars on the roots festival circuit are up for honors in Wednesday's awards program. The categories and nominees we're watching:

Bluegrass Album (Blue Highway, Cherryholmes, The Grascals, The Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage)
Traditional Folk Album (The Chieftains, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Tim O'Brien, Tom Paxton)
Contemporary Folk Album (Ry Cooder, Rodney Crowell, Nickel Creek, John Prine)
Country Instrumental (Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Nickel Creek)
Female Vocal Solo (Emmylou Harris)
Duo or Group with Vocal (Alison Krauss & Union Station)
Collaboration with Vocals (Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris)
Country Album (Alison Krauss & Union Station)
Traditional Blues Album (Marcia Ball)
Recording Package (Ani DeFranco)

Follow all the hoopla onliine at Yahoo Music's official Grammy site.

Festivals pay tribute to Louise Scruggs

Louise Scruggs, wife and business manager of bluegrass superstar Earl Scruggs, was memorialized today at the Ryman auditorium. The obituary in the Nashville Tennessean credits her with moving bluegrass from a niche style to a crossover genre with an impact on folk, rock and other mainstream musical audiences. Among the venues she supported were music festivals such as Telluride and Grey Fox. She is being remembered fondly on both festivals' email lists today.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Preview upcoming folk releases

Tracks from upcoming new CDs by Tom Russell, Kris Kristofferson and Garrison Starr are streaming at JukeboxAlive! courtesy of Village Records, one of the best sources we know of for new and reissued releases in folk, Americana and related genres.

No Elvis sighting

Chief festivarian Craig Ferguson doused yesterday's Elvis Costello speculation in a message to the Telluride email list, but he did provide a new tidbit, offering that "Emmy's band is likely going to be with Starling and the original Seldom Scene gents...." Seldom Scene was not previously listed. He continued to promise forthcoming "exciting news," though nothing as "big" as Costello.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reading Telluride tea leaves

Festivarians--that's what Telluride fest-goers call themselves--are speculating about the identity of a promised special guest who will play with Emmylou Harris at the July event. In an emailing earlier this week, Planet Bluegrass (promoter of Telluride, Rocky Grass and other events) dropped a hint that would be further news involing the band she will be playing with.

There are plenty of guesses on what that could be, but it is notable that Harris did eight dates last summer with Elvis Costello, playing arts festivals like Wolf Trap and Ravinia. This spring, Costello is playing 18 dates on an orchestral tour, which he'll perform with local symphony orchestras. The show will include both a performance of this symphonic work Il Sogno, and a second half of Costello hits with orchestral backing, which is also the format for his new live album "My Flame Burns Blue," due out later this month.

Costello also has another album due in May, a joint project with rhythm-and-blues great Allen Toussaint, partly recorded in New Orleans in what are said to have been the first major sessions in NOLA since the hurricane. Then, just today, he was announced with his regular band The Imposters on the bill at the June 16-18 Bonnaroo Festival on the farm in Manchester, Tenn.

Here's where the speculation gets interesting. Telluride runs the same weekend, June 15-18, in Telluride, Colo. Festivarian Jeff Stampes notes that there are four announced performers appearing on both the Bonnarro and Telluride lineups--Bonnie Raitt, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Nickel Creek, and the Jerry Douglas Band. So it is a short leap in logic for Jeff to guess that Elvis Costello & The Imposters will also do both fests, reprising the Emmylou Harris collaboration from last year.

Of course, this may turn out not to be true, But if you enjoy this kind of sleuthing, here are some interesting links to explore:
Bonnaroo artist information
Telluride lineup page
Elvis Costello news page
Pollstar report on Bonnaroo announcement
liveDaily report on 2005 Costello-Harris tour
liveDaily report on 2006 Costello orchestral tour
Thrasher's Blog review of July 31, 2005 Costello-Harris concert at Wolftrap