Friday, March 31, 2006

Cornbread Nation

Festival lineup leaf readers have been wondering why Tim O'Brien's band is billed at Grey Fox as "Cornbread Nation" while on other lineups it is labeled more generically as the "Tim O'Brien Band." Now we have word from Tim himself that the band comprises Danny Barnes (banjo, electric guitar, vocals), Casey Driessen (fiddle), and Dennis Crouch (bass). That still leaves the naming mystery unresolved since it's same configuration that will play Telluride.

Our hunch is that Tim is using a naming convention that matches his two recent CDs, in which Cornbread Nation used electric instruments and Fiddler's Green was all-acoustic. If so, we might expect the Telluride listing to be updated and other O'Brien dates (such as Kate Wolf, perhaps) to be billed as "Tim O'Brien & Fiddler's Green."

But maybe that is just too much navel-gazing, since the official Tim O'Brien site makes no distinction on its On Tour page, listing all dates as just "Tim O'Brien" (except for those with sister Mollie). Another explanation is that the Grey Fox marketing people are just being creative.

Grey Fox link

Welcome to Grey Fox attendees who may be new to Festival Preview, courtesy of the very prominent link to Festival Preview from the artist page of the Grey Fox web site. And kudos to the festival management for the very attractive redesign of the site (and for providing the link).

To provide news for Grey Fox-goers, we've resurfaced our GFBF lineup preview article on the FP home page, and we expect to provide more Grey Fox-specific content in the near future. You'll also want to check out our interview with Del McCoury, who will be back on the hill this year.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dancin' Dave at Suwannee

Three festivals that are high on our wish list but not yet on our schedule are events produced by Magnolia Music & Events--Suwannee Springfest and MagnoliaFest in Live Oak, Fla., and MagnoliaFest Midwest in Bean Blossom, Ind. Springfest ran last weekend with a great lineup of artists. Since we don't have our own report to post, I'll pass along some impressions that Dancin' Dave Versch posted today to several bluegrass mailing lists.

By the way, if you don't know about Dancin' Dave's Festival Camping service, he offers to set up fully equipped camp sites for festival-goers at major roots music festivals, including MerleFest, Grey Fox, Floyd World Music Festival, and Lake Eden Arts Festival, as well as the Magnolia events mentioned above. For those traveling long distance to attend these events, Dancin' Dave's service makes the logistics much more manageable. Get the details and pricing for this useful service at the Dancin' Dave web site.

Now here's an excerpt from his Suwannee report:

"The Suwannee Springfest was both hot and cold! After a small cold front that produced a little rain came through early in the festival, the weather turned cold for northern Florida in the springtime. Lows were in the low 30s and being from the north and being acclimated to this type of weather sure was handy. There were many a Floridian festivarian bundled up to the hilt during the evenings! During the day the highs were in the mid-60s, which under a bright blue sky was just fine, thank you.

"And the music was hot! I of course had my favorites: The Del McCoury Band on Thursday night were smooth, to say the least! It's always a pleasure to see Del and the boys. I really enjoy the Mammals! Caught both of their sets and get a charge out of the enthusiasm they pull from the crowd. High energy good stuff. Uncle Earl! What a riot...and about the best dancin' sets you can get. Their sets could be twice as long and I'd never tire of them. And Abigail Washburn is a gem! I loved her solo set and look forward to seeing her often.

"Verlon Thompson is smoother than smooth, witty, laid back, and a great songwriter/musician. He makes a person feel right at home during his does Roy Bookbinder. It was a treat to see Peter Rowan join Roy on stage. Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet combine the two old pros with a couple of foxy young women who are excellent musicians and the result is a real treat! With Bryn Bright on bass and Sharon Gilchrist on mandolin, this quartet can play Peter's music sweetly, no matter how many times I've heard all of his tunes.

"Then of course there was Bela. After a year off, he and his Flecktone buddies are back at it! Bela never ceases to amaze me... since I first saw him with the New Grass Revival and I can't foresee him ever stopping. Darol Anger's Republic of class music put together by one of the coolest cats around. I love Darol's music, no matter what genre he happens to playing at the moment. It is always a treat to see and hear him in a bluegrass jam.

"There were other fine acts during the festival, too numerous to mention. The cool thing about a festival such as this is that you can ask ten folks what their favorite acts were and you'll probably get ten different answers. For me, two of the fastest hours of my life occurred at the Springfest! The was on Friday night in the Music Hall, where I first saw and heard the duo of Mike Marshall & Hamilton de Holanda. I am a huge fan of Mike's and consider him to be the coolest cat on the planet! He has been researching Brazilian music for some time now, and when he met Hamilton he himself was blown away. And luckily for us, he decided to team up with Hamilton to make some music that is hard for me to describe: a combination of bluegrass, newgrass and Brazilian music that contained more notes than I thought existed, and played with such clarity, tone, tempos and out-of-this-world musicianship that it was mind boggling and jaw dropping. The second fast hour was the set Marshall and de Holanda played on the main stage on Saturday afternoon.

"What a great festival! For those that haven't tried either the Suwannee Springfest or Magnoliafest, I can highly recommend..."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Best kept secret in bluegrass

A few weeks ago I heard from Roger Moss, the promoter of the Podunk Bluegrass Festival in East Hartford, Conn., wondering why Festival Preview is focused on a relatively few number of major festivals. It's a valid question that deserves a good answer.

But first let me give some attention to Moss's outstanding event, now in its 11th year. The lineup for the 2006 Podunk Festival, to be held August 3-6 in Martin Park in East Hartford, includes Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Sam Bush, Cherryholmes, King Wilke and plenty more national bands. That's a schedule that competes in star power with most of the festivals tracked by Festival Preview, and it highlights the irony in the festival's unassuming name. Visit here for all the details of the festival that calls itself "the best kept secret in bluegrass."

And now to Roger's question. Festival Preview is in its first fledgling season as a guide to bluegrass and roots music festivals. We never expect to become a comprehensive guide, since it is probably not possible to accomplish that mission successfully. Some other print and online businesses have attempted to establish themselves as portals to the whole world of festivals, but they have proven to be neither complete nor very rich in the depth of content about any one festival.

It is Festival Preview's goal to provide rich, useful content for a selection of what we consider to be the most important festivals. We think that festival-goers want to learn as much as possible about the artists scheduled for an event before they go or decide to go. That's why we provide interviews, analysis, and artist downloads, instead of just the factual information provided by other festival guides.

Of course, we have limited resources to devote to this project, so we have had to compromise by selecting only a small number of events to cover in 2006. We hope to be able to expand our coverage in 2007 and beyond, both going deeper into the bluegrass category as well as broadening into related genres of music.

There are no shortage of worthy events, as the Podunk example clearly demonstrates. And while we won't give them equal coverage on the main site, I will post items on the blog pointing to other festivals you should know about. And if you are an attendee or promoter of an event you think Festival Preview readers should know about, don't hesitate to contact us by email.

Chris Austin finalists

Besides all being gifted roots music performers, what do Gillian Welch, Tift Merrit, Adrienne Young, Chris Stuart, and Martha Scanlon have in common? They are all past winners of the MerleFest Chris Austin songwriting competition.

The writers listed below were named today as finalists for the 2006 contest, selected from among 1172 entries by a panel of songwriting professionals led by Jim Lauderdale. The final round of the competition will take place during MerleFest on Friday, April 28, from 2 to 3 pm on the Austin stage. Good luck to all.

General Category Finalists: “Under My Skin” by Maura Fogarty, Bronx, NY; “Rather Have Sooner” by Billy Deiz, Portland, OR; “Short Time Here” by Scott Pearce, Winterville, NC

Bluegrass Category Finalists: “That’s As Close to Lonesome” by Jimmy Moore, Marlboro, NJ; “Guns, Coins, Jewelry & 2nd Hand Hearts” by Timmy Massey and Rick Pardue, State Road, NC; “Rita Mae” by Connie Leigh, Newport, AR

Country Category Finalists: “Light at the End of the Bottle” by Megan Laurie, Lubbock, TX; “Losing Faith” by Audrey Auld Mezera, Stinson Beach, CA; “12 Gauge Education” by Wake Eastman, Polk Shelton, Jay Cook, and Jill Gilliam, Hamptonville, NC

Gospel Category Finalists: “Hallelujah Time” by John Milroy and C.J. Milroy, Ferndale, MI; “A Little Deeper” by Paul Kelly with Salvador Guida, Jr., Santa Fe, NM; “Truth Cries Out” by Mary James with Dan Barker, Lakeside, CA.

Newsletter corrections

I had a couple of embarrassing errors in the Festival Preview newsletter that went out yesterday. The correct dates for MerleFest are April 27-30, not the midweek dates that were printed. Also, in the Rocky Grass update, I made mention of the Jerry Rice Unit, perhaps thinking of the old San Francisco 49ers long-yardage lineup. In the realm of roots music, the lineup in question would be the Tony Rice Unit.

If you did not receive the newsletter, click the signup link at right or send email to

Friday, March 17, 2006

MerleFest's fresh faces

Each year, MerleFest produces a pre-festival CD of sample tracks from artists either making their MerleFest debut or returning after several years’ absence. The 2006 Fresh Faces release, including previously released cuts from The Grascals, Slaid Cleaves, The Isaacs, The Cottars, Larry Sparks, The Ditty Bops, The Biscuit Burners, Rory Block, The Mammals, Chatham County Line, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, and The Lee Boys, is available now at the MerleFest Online Store.

Gold in California

One of my favorite local (for me) festivals is the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival, held in memory of the beloved California singer-songwriter who passed away in 1986. With FP's busy 2006 season, we probably won't be covering it this year, but looking at the newly published lineup we now wish we were.

Among the scheduled performers: Steve Earle, Bruce Cockburn, Tim O'Brien, Buddy Miller, Dirk Powell, Laurie Lewis, Adrienne Young, The Kennedys, The Roches, Railroad Earth, and The Wailin' Jennys. That's in addition to festival regulars Greg Brown, Arlo Guthrie, Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels, and Nina Gerber. Oh my.

This year's event, to be held June 23-25 in Laytonville, Calif., is the 11th season for this great festival.

OSMF iMix update

I've just posted the final iMix for next month's Old Settler's Music Festival (April 20-23 in Driftwood TX). Don't miss this one even if you aren't attending OSMF. In addition to old favorites like Del McCoury and Uncle Earl, there's a strong mix of jamgrass with Keller Williams and New Monsoon, don't-miss Americana with Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, Todd Snider and Monte Montgomery, two flavors of Peter Rowan (Rowan & Rice and the reggaebilly Skydancer Trio), and nothing but fun with Marley's Ghost and Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman. Not to mention Eddie From Ohio, Susan Gibson and Terri Hendrix. Enjoy the mix!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Planetary phenomena

Planet Bluegrass, presenter of the Telluride Bluegrass and Rocky Grass festivals, is nearly done booking this summer's programs, but continues to parcel out fresh news. On the booking front, the sensational contemporary bluegrass combo The Greencards, has been added to the Telluride lineup. The trio, comprised of two Australians and Brit, has wowwed festival audiences around the country for the past two seasons, and should do the same appearing for the first time at Telluride. Festival watchers are still standing by to see if a new headliner will be named to replace the cancelled Emmylou Harris.

Telluride continues its preview podcast series with this interview with Steven Kellogg.

There are no new bookings for Rocky Grass since the stage schedule was announced two weeks ago (see earlier blog item). However, a fascinating tidbit is that the Jerry Douglas Band set will consist of a song-for-song replay of the groundbreaking Manzanita CD released in 1978 by the Tony Rice Unit. Douglas will perform the set with Tony Rice, Alison Krauss & Union Station vocalist Dan Tyminski, Gabe Witcher, and others. The original recording included Rice, Douglas, Sam Bush and Ricky Scaggs. This will definitely be one for the highlight reel. If you want to do your homework before the festival, here is the iTunes link to the original.

Cash and Crowell both set for Strawberry Fall

The Fall Strawberry Music Festival, expected to be a 25th anniversary celebration, will feature various reunions of musicians who have appeared in years past. But the latest emerging reunion may not have been planned. The most recent announcement for the Fall lineup is country-rock superstar Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and ex-wife of Rodney Crowell, who is also on the bill.

No word whether the two will play together, but it is worth noting that such a reunion would not be unprecedented. In 2002, Cash and Crowell, along with John Hiatt (who is on the bill for Strawberry Spring) and Mary Chapin Carpenter, performed a warmly received songwriter circle in Nashville. The two divorced in 1992.

Cash's much anticipated new CD, Black Cadillac, containing material inspired by the loss of her father, mother and stepmother June Carter Cash, was released on Capital Records in January.

The festival producers also announce three new additions for Strawberry Spring: Martha Scanlan, formerly with the much loved but now defunct Reeltime Travelers; Toubab Krewe, an afropop fusion band; and Bay Area bluegrass favorites Homespun Rowdy.

Latest MerleFest adds

The MerleFest 2006 lineup, already too rich to comprehend, gets more so with the addition of two of the finest young bluegrass instrumentalists and a pair of rising female singer-songwriters. Fiddle standout Casey Driessen will lead his own group, the Colorfools, in addition to backing up Darrell Scott. Guitar extraordinaire Bryan Sutton, whose latest Sugar Hill release came out this week, will also appear, though in what configuration is not yet clear.

A pair of Mississippi-bred singer-songwriters, Caroline Herring and Claire Holley, now based in Austin and Los Angeles respectively, will perform as a duo, reprising material from their recent Live at St. Andrews CD. Finally, Susanna & Tommy Abell and Eustace Conway will fill out the bountiful program for some of the outer stages. The full stage schedule has not yet been released.

McCoury added to Old Settler's

Festival circuit mainstay The Del McCoury Band joins the roster for next month's Old Settler's Music Festival. Later this seaon, festival fans can also catch the tireless bluegrasser at Telluride and Grey Fox. Farther down the OSMF bill, two other new adds are Texas acoustic guitar wunderkind Monte Montgomery and Illinois jamgrass ensemble Green Mountain Grass.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A northwest adventure

We won't be covering it this year, but after admiring the great Wintergrass event put on by the folks at Acoustic Sound, it makes sense to give some notice to their summer event, Adventure Bluegrass, which is set for July 28-30 at the Skamania County Fairgrounds in Columbia Gorge, WA. The partial lineup announced so far includes headliners Seldom Scene and the Hot Buttered Rum String Band.

Rednecks & Bluenecks

Sorry about the weeklong hiatus. I meant to mention that I would be down for a vacation period, but didn't manage to post that before leaving.

Yesterday I picked up a fascinating book, Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music by Chris Willman. I'm about halfway through it and am finding it extremely well done. While I haven't found any material specific to the festival market, it is certainly relevant to our segment, where mainstream country, alt-country, Americana, folk, and bluegrass styles mix comfortably and appeal equally to red- and blue-state audiences.

I've always been fascinated with the overlap of the bluegrass and folk markets and will do some posting on that subject in the near future. In my recent interview with Del McCoury, which will be available at Festival Preview soon, he recalls "playing for hippies" the first time as part of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. Ever since, there has been a happy convergence of musical styles that mostly manages to transcend cultural differences among fans and musicians.

Of course, the politics of the Iraq war have frayed some of those relations, particularly after the bruhaha involving the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith, which provides the dramatic fulcrum of the Willman book. I've seen that reflected at festivals on several occasions in recent years as artists have made comments from the stage that elicited positive and negative reactions from portions of the audience. Hopefully, we'll be able to get past that kind of partisanship and get on with creating wonderful music for people with necks of all colors.