Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Grey Fox on deck

Now that Telluride 2006 is history, our attention turns to the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, which takes place July 13-16 in the rolling hills of Sullivan County NY. It's the 30th anniversary event for this great event, which is somewhat more narrowly focused on bluegrass than was Telluride. Performers include Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury Band, Steve Earle, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, Railroad Earth, Larry Sparks, and lots more.

Tickets are still available but going fast. I hear that the line party is well underway with two weeks to go before the gates open.

Land rush slide show

This is fun. I was inside the festival grounds when the gates opened on Saturday morning. It's my photo essay of the famous TBF land rush.

TBF Land Rush
View Photo Slideshow

FP's Telluride poll is open

Our Strictly Unofficial Best of the Fest survey for the 2006 Telluride Bluegrass Festival is now open for balloting. It includes 30 questions covering the best performances overall and in categories for genre, vocals, instruments, program component, and personality.

So far, we have close to 40 submissions, which is already enough to provide meaningful results. Voting remains open until Saturday, July 1, and the results will be announced here and on the Festivarian email list the following day.

I'm hoping to finish with 60 or more ballots. If you attended the festival and wish to register your opinion, click here to vote.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

John Prine set list

With the help of a Prine-head, who corrected some of my entries.

Spanish Pipedream
Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore
Six O'Clock News
Storm Windows
Grandpa Was a Carpenter
Fish and Whistle
The Glory of True Love
I'm Takin' a Walk
Angel From Montgomery
Long Monday
Sam Stone
Bear Creek Blues
She Is My Everything
Some People Ain't Human
Lake Marie

Commentary later. Barenaked Ladies are on now. I may not be posting again until I'm home Tuesday.

BNL is talking about playing acoustic, not Pete Seeger with an axe, but Bob Seeger backstage trying to plug us back in. Packed up to enjoy the last half of BNL, and signing off from Telluride.

Home stretch

Tim O'Brien is off after a wonderful set and we're getting ready for a night of Nickel Creek, John Prine, and Barenaked Ladies.

I actually kept notes during Tim's set, except I missed the end of it. Highlights for me was "California Blues," the Jimmie Rodgers song, "Sail Away" from Randy Newman, and all the material from Fiddlers Green and Cornbread Nation.

Too bad Del McCoury wasn't available as Tim had hoped to sing his hilarious "Running Out of Memory for You," which is all about technology gone bad. "My favorite is when Del sings 'function,'" he said.

Danny Barnes took the lead with an rollicking "Get Me Out of Jail." The band also had Casey Driessen's tasty fiddle, Kenny Malone's percussion and Mike Bubb on fiddle. Is that a first for me, seeing Bubb playing with O'Brien. I think so. Maybe this is the same band billed at Grey Fox as Cornbread Nation--with drums and occasional Barnes electric guitar.

Joel O'Brien clogged and hamboned as we have seen before. "This is what happens when your kid asks for drums for Christmas and you don't give it to him," Tim said.

Zen's weather photos

To get an idea of the weather here on the opening day, here's a couple great photos from Zen Curmudgeon. The last two days have been back to sunny and beautiful after a chilly first two days.

Green Sky upset

Here's a catchup post from Saturday, an interview with Band Competition winner Green Sky Bluegrass. The news angle is that the band was not even in the competition until Friday morning. They knew the drill having competed two years ago. It is not unusual for one or more of the selected bands to fail to show up. Taking a chance on that, the band drove overnight from Crested Butte to show up in time for the preliminary round. Sure enough, the contest was three short and a group of willing volunteers from Kalamazoo MI was quickly added to the program.

"We got a slot and it ended up working out," said Paul Hoffman, the mandolinist. Then he admitted it wasn't all a fluke. The group is touring all around Colorado this month, and has a Monday night gig at Telluride's Fly Me to the Moon Saloon.

"We decided to take the weekend and just enjoy the festival," Hoffman said. "Anybody you'd be playing to in Colorado this weekend is here anyway."

The all-acoustic band with great original songs is getting ready to release its new album produced by Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth and will be touring in Colorado and California again this fall. It also has an early date on its 2007 schedule, the Telluride slot reserved each year for the winner of the previous year's band competition.

Del from the tent

I'm in the press tent waiting for an interview with Peter Rowan, but Del McCoury is ripping it up on stage. He's already done some favorites: Body and Soul, Nashville Cats. He opened with the Shawn Camp song, Traveling Teardrop Blues.

Each band member gets one solo turn (Ronnie wished Del a happy fathers day). Right now it is new bassist Alan Bartram on his solo vocal.

Backing up, highlights from Rowan and Rice:

The Vassar Clements song with great jamming and audience participation on the chorus. I saw this song performed for the first time six weeks ago at the Old Settlers Festivfal, where Rowan wrote it as a contribution to the Vassar Clements tribute. It was the perfect fit here, invoking another great hero from Telluride's history while giving the band a round of solo shots.

Great jamming throughout but especially on a Tony Rice medley.

Okay, I'm back having missed most of the Del set. I got a Peter Rowan interview and then needed to eat something. I've been hearing about the dumplings all weekend, and now I can vouch for Sisters Dumplings' combo platter, my pick for the best original food at the fest. Munching on those crispy Thai wontons while listening to Del doing 1952 Black Vincent Lightning will a personal memorable moment. The song, by Richard Thompson, is a favorite here as at most other places I've seen Del do it.

Free Mexican airforce is flying tonight

Sunday morning

Linda Tillery's Cultural Heritage Choir, from my hometown of Oakland CA, is onstage now in a jazzy gospel set, appropriate for Sunday morning. Following on Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings amazing set last night, there's a nice blues-R&B mini trend in the Telluride program, and it seems to work well with this open-minded audience. The little-known Dap Kings certainly opened some eyes last night.

I caught most of the Mike Marshall-Edgar Meyer set earlier today. A virtuoistic tour through jazz, classical, choro, fiddle tunes filtered through "the harmonic specturm between the bass and mandolin," as Marshall described it. The titles for the original compositions seemed to follow a theme: Green Slime, Flight of the Fly, and something about frogs. There was a great jazzy piece with crowd participation yelling out the title, "Bananas."

Like many of the artists here, Marshall paid tribute to the festival and his long association. "We love playing here. There isn't a hipper music audience in the world," he said.

Tillery is introducing a Alfred Brumley song. Mike Marshall is on stage. She says nice to have some hometown support--Marshall is also from Oakland. Then they fly into "I'll Fly Away."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sam from the pit

It's late in the set, Sam hard into The River Take Me, and I'm in the pit and can see the screen for a change, but my fingers are freezing. Brain dump on earlier moments: Julie Miller song, his New Orleans-inspired I Want to Do Right, then the Randy Newman Have Pity on the Workingman, a fun instrumental Bananas,

The band includes Scott Vestal banjo and Byron House bass. The guitar player is new this year and this is his first Telluride. I didn't catch drummer's name, but Sam made a big deal about him.

He just explained his medical emergency on Thursday. Chest pains. Was rushed to Mercy Hospital. "There's nothing like riding in an ambulance listening to KOTO and hearing Bonnie Raitt calling you to the stage," he said. Everlything checked out fine. Thanks to the emergency crew and to the hospital nurses and docs. Two of the nurses are here tonight.

Back in the Good Old Days, second John Hartford song, remembers all the greats who aren't with us anymore. Long list with Charles Sawtelle and most recently Vassar Clements. A lot of good people done passed and gone. Fiddle solo is spacey, to show jam banders he knows how? There was a jammy number early in the set too.

Now a jazz fusion thing with Sam bowing very fast. He tahnks his road manager and sound man, and special thanks to Planet Bluegrass. Huge applause. No other festival like it, he says.

Dog drinking water in 7/4 time. Ozzie the dog. Pastor Mustard leads a parade of people around stage, while band rips into high-energy rock 'n roll. All the stops are out on his electric mando.

Chris Brown and drums of renown, steven mogen on guitars. waiting now for encore.

Peter Rowan comes out, Drew Emmitt, Yonder Mountain, pretty crowded on stage. Lots of friends but not lot of time. Just do one tune. Pedro. we met in 64 at the ryman, he was playing with mr. bill monroe. waht its all about--we're going to jam

roll in my sweet babys arms. lay around the shack. drew first, peter sings another verse, Jeff is next. adam from yonder, then vestal, electric guitar from emmitt band, house on bass, then three way mando madness with sam, drew and jeff, great encore.

Some Saturday photos

Green Sky Bluegrass

Shawn Camp

Sarah Jarosz with Tim O'Brien

Jeff Austin and Ben Kaufmann of Yonder Mountain

Missy Higgins

Missy Higgins with Josh Cunningham

The wave of talent from down under continues with singer-songwriter Missy Higgins, who is finishing a strong set on the main stage. One pleasant surprise was to see The Waifs' guitarist Josh Cunningham supporting Higgins' strong voice and keyboards. A quick check online confirms that Cunningham has been playing with Higgins all the past year, while Vicki and Donna Simpson both had maternity leaves.

By the way, the Waifs will be back from hiatus with a quick North American tour in August, including Planet Bluegrass' Folks Festival in Lyons.

Stage shots

Missed interview chances

Bummer. I took a few hours away from the press tent for Yonder Mountain and visiting a group out in the crowd. Wouldn't you know it, I missed chances for interviews with Tim O'Brien and several others. Lesson learned for tomorrow when I hope to get a few more interviews done.

For now, I've just been given a two-minute chance with a couple of other photographers on the main stage during setup between sets for shooting photos from the stage. I'll upload today's pictures now and see what I got. Back soon.

Wild blue Yonder

Just back after the Yonder Mountain Sring Band set. A lot of excitement over a very good band. It was my first time and they mostly lived up to expectations. The highlight was probably when Drew Emmitt joined Jeff Austin on stage for a double mandolin attack.

"Without a band called Leftover Salmon, we wouldn't be here," he enthused. Austin also warmly thanked the Telluride audience for giving us a home for the last seven years, and vowed to return every year. The audience ate up the compliment and a happy buzz reflected back toward the stage and seemed to fill the bowl.

Right now, the Troubador contest winner, Nels Andrews from Brooklyn, NY, is taking his 15-minute turn on the main stage.

Zen C's first-half photos

We'll be posting some of these directly on the site, but for now here is a link to Zen's Flickr page. Great shots of the mandolinians workshop, several of the stage shows, and some really arty weather shots.

Sarah Jarosz' tweener

Very sweet duo with Tim O'Brien featuring young Sarah's powerful vocals on "Deep River Blues" and a Gillian Welch song I didn't recognize. Tim supported her with harmony vocals and fiddle and guitar, while Sarah played mando and guitar. I chatted with Sarah yesterday and she said she was just here at the festival with her family but was hoping for a tweener.

She got it and a fill-in slot in the mando workshop, picking up with Mike Marshall where they left off a few festivals back at Old Settler's. Actually, I didn't catch the workshop, but Zen Curmudgeon caught it and has some great images in his Flickr library. More on that in the next post.

More Shawn Camp

N oam Pikelny introduced during his solo on Traveling Teardrop. I'm not sure who the fiddddle is. Will find out soon. Wow, that should win over anyone who thinks he's more dountry than bluegrass.

shawn is getting the hook. one last quick one. reintroduces all. it is shad cobb sitting in today on fiddle. My Love Will Not Change. Another hit for Del. No encore, too bad.

Shawn Camp onstage

Second song is Love Crazy from Fijreball. Shwwn says first Telluride, very happy to be here.

Third song is ragtimey I don't recognize. Mike Compton solos and is introduced. Don't give me no sugar, baby, I'm already sweet on you.

continental luggage lost his luggage, but guitar just arrived. he is wearing wlmart stage attire.

wating for the day to break, it is his video that is getting some play on GAC.Band rocks out. Bryn really thumpting that bass.

Hot wire. lHonky tonk. That hot-wired woman hot-wired my heart.

He introduces bassist someone you probbly know, Bryn Bright. She corrected him, it's Bryn Davies. Shawn apologtizes and then interdocues song co-written with Jim Lauderdale, who happens to be Bryn's current fiancee. Tomorrow ain't no trouble now.
I really like Camp as a throwback country crooner. With his curly hair and yes-maam manner, he has more than a little of Elvis in him.

rabbit hunting with jimmy martin. Beagle hound has Jimmy Martin's foice yelling at the beagle.

ballad footloose lad ran of with the circus, trapeze girl had just broken up with the clownorgan grinder sound. lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllimitating kazoo is cheper than flying an organ to telluride. goodbye, cruel circus, I'm off to join the world. True story, o=folks.

The way it is is the way it iwas. The way it was is the way it's gonna be again.

Brand new shoe's they're hurting me. wil the lord recognize him without his overalls and mule. that aint the grandpa that I know. I won't commit this day to memory. All I see is a cold dark hole.

Sis Draper. How it came about. first of many about sis and charactgers in my family. Magnolia Wind is a response to Sis Draper.

Josh Turner's hit Will You Go With Me, Shawn wrote it and here it is.

Soldier's Joy is the other one in the Sis Draper suite. civil war song. give me some of the soldiers joy, you know what i mean. bear down on that fiddle, son. or is it the hacksaw?

I'll post now and carry on in the next one.

Not before mentioning Traveling Teardrop Blues is on now. When he wrote it he dreamed of hearing Del McCoury sing it. Dream came true.

From the pit

They are about to annoounce the winners in the band competition. I've brought my poweerbook out into the pit. I think the connection is live.

Poor Man's act didn't sell for the judges--4th place, $100 and strings. Thanks for playing. Voted off the island. Next in third, Widow Maker. Good try for Festivarians making it to the finals.

And now, in second place...Boulder Acoustic Society ..That means the winner is..GREEN SKY from Kalamazzo MI. Thanks for the kazoos. See you next year.

I thought it was a fair result. Green Grass and Boulder were definitely the two.I think Boulder may have suffered from the local effect, in which local bands are discounted just becasue they are local.Boulder also worked the Town Park constituency, having played in several campground shows this week. They also paid tribute to the Town Park crowd in their comments.

Not for those reasons, but objectively, I would have given the nod to the throwback jug band, Boulder Acoustic Socuettm byt Green Sky was certainly a worthy winner as well.

Land rush

We're underway Saturday morning with the band contest in the second act, Widowmaker, from Calgary. Just before, I was situated with my camera to document the gate opening. Never have I seen hippies run so fast. Something like the running of the bulls. Look forward to that photo sequence to be posted later.

Back to the stage. Poor Man's Whiskey was a hoot in 40s getup and some very clean bluegrass. I'm rating them a 9. Widow Maker is sincere and folksy. I watched their third song and liked it a lot. I rate them a notch under, at 8.8.

Green Sky Bluegrass didn't have the shtick other than what-an-honor-to-play-on-this-stage humility. But they have some great chops and original songs. I like them a lot and have them about equal to PMW going into the last set. The door is open for the Boulder Acoustic Society.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Falling further behind

Friday night is wrapping up with the Drive-By Truckers doing their three-guitar Southern rock thing. Not bluegrass by any stretch but not bad actually. Hey, I used to listen to the Marshall Tucker Band.

Bela and the Flecktones were great in their return after a year's hiatus. They put out some amazing sounds with just four musicians--sometimes it's hard to tell who's playing what. Bela acknowledged the honor given him the night before for playing his 25th Telluride. "It's hard to believe it has been 25 years since I first came here with New Grass Revival, and what a chance that was at the time. Now we've been here with so many lineups, it really feels like home."

This year, unlike most, Fleck will not be on hand for the second half of the festival. With Bonnaroo also underway in Tennessee this weekend, the Flecktones are flying out first thing in the morning.

On the subject of reunions of veteran Telluride players, Jerry Douglas mentioned during his set earlier that four-fifths of Strength in Numbers played in the house band set the previous night--only Mark O'Connor was missing. Evidently, it was not for lack of trying on the part of Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass, who had hoped to score a coup with a reunion concert.

Douglas was still glowing from his guest shot during the Bonnie Raitt set. "I hope my wife won't ming if I tell your that Bonnie must have kissed me five times last night."

It may not be possible to get caught up on set by set blogging. One post that I never got to today was my impressions of the Band Contest preliminaries. I'll just say that all of my picks for the top 3 bands of the prelims made the cut--Green Grass Bluegrass, The Boulder Acoustic Society, and Poor Man's Whiskey. A fourth band, Widowmaker, will join them in the finals first thing tomorrow.

Hopefully, I get you a timely report. Good night for now. I think I'll catch the Truckers' encore and off into the chilly night.

Greencards interview

I just had a chance to interview the Greencards, who were basking in the afterglow of their great set earlier today. We talked about the weather, their Telluride experience, and the directions they are exploring in a new record. I'll probably wait till tonight or tomorrow to listen to the tape and get it written up. Stand by.

Steven Kellogg was very entertaining in a Dan Bern sort of way. The highlight may have been when Kellogg's bass player Goose stripped down and ran through the crowd in his boxers, to prove to Kellogg that he won't make it if "you can't dance in your underpants."

Jerry Douglas is just coming up now on stage. Be back later.

A hard rain falls for Steven Kellogg

It sprinkled some during The Greencards, but the skies really opened up just as Steven Kellogg & The Sixers were introduced. The band played through it with their hard-driving set opener. The rain then let up a little, but the wind is pretty gusty.

The rest of the day goes like this: After the Sixers, the Jerry Douglas Band, The Decembrists, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, and Drive-By Truckers. There will probably be more rain showers later, but now Kellogg is in his groove and the sky is temporarily clear.

Friday morning catchup

It's already past 1 pm on Friday, in the break between Mike Compton-David Grier duo set and The Greencards coming up. Casey Driessen and Noam Pikelny are up in a tweener now. I just snapped a few photos that I'll post later. I spent the morning at the band competition at Elk's Park, and will report on that later. I also have a post on last night's great closing set by Bonnie Raitt.

I'm excited about seeing The Greencards and will probably have a chance to do an interview later. They're being introduced now. Back later.

Bonnie Raitt shoots lights out

Bonnie Raitt's Thursday night closer at Telluride was very nearly the perfect festival set. I've seen so many leading singer-songwriters not close well that I am almost expecting a letdown from big name solo performers, as opposed to bands, in the late-night slot. The most recent example was Patty Griffin at Strawberry, where her spare vocals on a cold night failed to electrify the crowd.

Working under similar shivery conditions, Bonnie asked for her scarf and proceeded to nail it. Here was the perfect combination of bona fide roots superstar with a hot backup band and A-list guest stars working her magic for an adoring audience. I was seatied up-front in the VIP pit, which was packed, but the wave of positive energy extended far back into the dancing rows behind.

The show had terrific pacing, alternating among slow signature ballads, rootsy blues, to full-out rock and roll. She offered up her many hits, from her early career as a folk-rock blueswoman ("Don't Advertise Your Man") to her more recent hits like "Nick of Time" and "Let's Give Them Something to Talk About."

After finishing a fully satisfying main set, Raitt pulled out all the stops in a four-song encore set, including guest appearances from Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Tim O'Brien (see photos), and ending with "Angel From Montgomery" followed by "Louise." Throughout it all, she looked and sounded terrific and kept the audience engaged with an ongoing monologue.

Next time I see a Patty Griffin or Tift Merritt or Alison Moorer serve up an anticlimax in a closing slot, I am going to remember Bonnie Raitt at Telluride as a example of a solo singer-songwriter who really lit up the night.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Telluride house band

The all-stars of newgrass reprised the sounds that made Telluride famous. Introduced by festival impressario Craig Ferguson as the "Telluride house band," master musicians Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, and Bryan Sutton tore up the stage.

Before the set, Ferguson honored Bela Fleck for his 25th consecutive Telluride appearance.Here's a quick selection of images.

Casey Driessen tweener

As I'm posting these items from the press tent, I can hear but not see all the interesting action on stage. Right now, Casey Driessen and his new band, Colorfools, is starting an unannounced tweener miniset before the newgrass all-stars come on next. I'm going to run out and catch Casey.

Hit & Run at Elk's Park

That was about what I did--hit and run. I wanted to preview Hit & Run Bluegrass because they'll be at Grey Fox next month. Here at Telluride, they are on the workshop stage only so I took the six-block walk to catch a few songs. I arrived just as they lead singer Rebecca Hoggan broke into their hit "Any Day Woman," a really great contemporary bluegrass tune. The band showcased new dobro player, David Richey, on a vocal. There is also a new bassist replacing Erin Coates, who is playing with Uncle Earl this summer.

Overall, for my short three-song drop-in on their set, I was impressed with Hit & Run Bluegrass. They are maybe not at the same level of The Biscuit Burners but they have a somewhat similar sound.

Sun comes out for Neko Case

The chilly weather let up a little this afternoon. Just now, Neko Case is on stage and said how sexy it was when the sun came out from behind a cloud. Just for fun, here's a snap of Neko from about seven minutes ago. I'll have more photos for the sets to come.

Shawn Camp's first Telluride

Getting a little bit of a late start on Telluride coverage, I'm all set now in the press tent at the festival with Internet access. It's going on three on Thursday afternoon. Drew Emmitt is on stage with Sam Bush guesting on fiddle, and I'm supposed to be over at the Elk's Park Stage for Hit & Run Bluegrass.

Catching up on an interview I did with Shawn Camp on Tuesday before flying into Telluride. We had been trying to hook up for a chat since meeting at Wintergrass earlier this year, and with Camp scheduled for a Saturday afternoon set at the TBF main stage, this seemed like a good time for it.

Camp said that this will be his first appearance at Telluride. "I've played in Colorado quite a bit and I've heard about it for years, but this is my first opportunity to play here."

When Camp plays bluegrass festivals, he always seems to assemble a pickup band of acoustic players from other acts playing the festival. At Telluride, it will be Mike Compton, Noam Pikelny and Bryn Bright. "You never know who is going to be in the combination or how it will come out," he said. "We'll just let it fly."

He said the set would feature the material from his Station Inn record, some bluegrass standards, and acoustic versions of songs on his new electric album, Fireball.

"Although the songs are more rockabilly, I don't pay much attention to genres. You can take a hard-core Bill Monroe song and lay it alongside a Chuck Berry tune and there isn't much difference. All of it holds hands and it is just a matter of how you want to color it. "

Fireball came out in March and is doing well on the Americana charts. One of the songs," Would You Go With Me," is climbing the country mainstream charts as a single for Josh Turner.

A notable part of Camp's acoustic act is the three-song Sis Draper suite, songs he composed with Guy Clark that are based on classic fiddle tunes and tell the story of Camp's Arkansas roots.

He told me that there are five or six more of those. "We've talked about putting it together as a musical play. We're pretty far along now with the songs and need to bridge the gap between them with dialog."

Okay, we'll see Shawn again on Saturday. Now I'm off to the workshop stage. More later.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Margarita Tour of Telluride

Telluride regulars, and that means pretty everyone at this fest, have habits and traditions. I mentioned some of the Town Park camp traditions in my last post, but we condoids have dveloped a few, too. In our case, it's the Margarita Tour of Telluride.

The Tour is intended to get us reacquainted with the local watering holes and rate each one's quality. Our measurement tool is a lovely, refreshing adult beverage, the Margarita. The process is simple: we order a pair of margs at each stop on the tour, and assign a rating of one to five stars. We consider several factors in our scientific survey.

1. prompt, friendly service
2. formula, especially the balance between mix and fresh lime
3. degree of tequilativity - the number of molecules of tequila compared to the number of taste buds
4. tartness of the finish
5. price

Each stop on the tour must first and foremost be a bar, not a restaurant that also features mixed drinks. In the case of bars that also offer food, our application of the eligibility rule leaned to the alcoholic side.

The results of this year's Margarita Tour of Telluride were somewhat surprising. Here they are.

New Sheridan Hotel Bar ($13.00)
In past MToT's the New Sheridan Hotel Bar was a frequent winner. This year, not so much. The New Sheridan's daytime bartender was prompt enough but the margs were hobbled by a weak, unbalanced formula that produced an overly tart finish. There was virtually no tequilativity, and as one of the pricier rounds on the Tour, we expected a little bit more. ***

Floradora ($14.00)
There's always a bar named "The Floradora" in Telluride, but the frequent changes in management have prevented recent owners from developing consistency in bar staff. This year, we're pleased to report a surprisingly agreeable experience. The decor has been upgraded and the bartender was pleasantly efficient. We found the formula more balanced than the New Sheridan's with only a slightly tart finish. However, its degreee of tequilativity was subpar. ***1/2

The Last Dollar Saloon ($11.00)
The Last Dollar is a TBF standard, favored for low-cost high-octane fare and possibly the best people-watching in town. The Dollar's entry in the Tour was a reasonably priced pint that featured a delicious formula equally poised between the sweet and tart. These margs boasted a balanced tequilativity at a reasonable price. And they have Steve Earle on the jukebox. ****

O'Bannon's ($10.50)
In a surprise ending, the Margarita's at O'Bannon's easily claimed first place in this year's Margarita Tour of Telluride. Bartender Travis served a pair of no-holds-barred drinks that relied more on the brute force of their superb tequilativity augmented by the precisely balanced formula. Fresh lime supported rather than supressed the Suaza. The finish was dry and crisply sour. Steve Earle AND Rufus Wainwright on the jukebox.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Grey Fox stage schedule

Grey Fox posted its jam-packed stage schedule. What a weekend of bluegrass that is going to be!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rocky Grass sold out

While we're posting Telluride news, here are updates from some other Planet Bluegrass events.

Rocky Grass is now completely sold out. Planet Bluegrass will resell a limited number of returned tickets on July 10. Also, keep your eyes peeled on the Festivarian email list, where people will likely be offering their unneeded tickets over the coming weeks. In a News From the Planet email, management also recommends changing you vacation plans and attending Telluride instead. Tickets remain available at the Planet Bluegrass online store for pickup at will call.

Meanwhile, the lineup for PB's August 18-20 Folks Festival continues to take shape, with Guy Clark recently announced to join a strong bill that includes Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Tweedy, Ani DiFranco, The Waifs, and many more.

FestivaLink download sampler

I finally got around to downloading the three gift songs from FestivaLink's MerleFest collection. Included are "I'm A Givin' Way" from Laura Love, "Honky Tonk Habit" from The Wilders, and "River Take Me" from Darrell Scott, all excerpted from their complete main stage shows at last month's MerleFest.

The recording quality is excellent and download process is exceptionally easy. The MP3s imported into my iTune library with full metadata included, a nice extra that is not the case with many online downloads. Of the three, the Darrell Scott track is a must-have, an inspired 10-1/2 minute version of his classic song.

The downloads are a teaser for FestivaLink's catalog of 20 or so complete performances from MerleFest. (Register with the site to qualify for the gift.) The full performances are available at a per-download fee of $15.95 in FLAC format or $10.95 in MP3 format. Each download includes a CD label and booklet in PDF format with complete performer and song information.

While I like the idea of of making festival performances available in a system that compensates both the artist and the festival, the prices seem too high to generate substantial business. I'd be much more tempted if a package deal was offered that let me select, say, three performances for about $25 or all festival recordings for $100.

At the current price, the only downloads I might buy would be unique collaborations that are not duplicated elsewhere. In the FestivaLink catalog, the one such performance would be the Waybacks set with special guest Bob Weir. That show is listed in the catalog as "coming soon" but not yet available.

I'll be watching closely to see what further progress FestivaLInk makes in signing up more festivals (for now, MerleFest 2006 is the only festival available), and to see if there is any downward movement in its pricing. As things stand now, I don't see it having a big impact on the amateur tape-trading market.

Telluride workshops and more

TBF's full schedule of workshops, competitions, and family tent activities is now available. Among the workshop highlights: A mandolin supersession with Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, and Drew Emmitt; a virtuoso instrumental roundtable with Noam Pikelney (banjo), David Grier (guitar), and Shad Cobb (fiddle); and band showcases for rising stars The Greencards, Hit & Run Bluegrass, and Steven Kellogg & The Sixers.

As for the competitions, I'm not familiar with any of the Troubador singer-songwriter entries, but the band competition should be hot with Festival Preview favorties Cadillac Sky, The Lovell Sisters, and Poor Man's Whiskey among the 12 bands vying for the prize. Finalists in both contests will get a chance to show off on the main stage. Good luck to all the hopefuls.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Packing for Telluride

There are regulars who set up camp in Telluride's Town Park campground two weeks prior to the 4 day festival.

2 weeks.

As you might expect, a tradition of events has grown along with this acoustic community. There are particular annual events that occur under the coordination of the Mayor, "Telluride Tom" Heidger. BBQ oysters, rum balls, the slide show of last year's fest, and the Free Box Fashion Show (which involves trips to Telluride's version of the United Way) are of an alcoholic potential, accompanied by epic pickaramas by some of the best amateur musicians you'll ever hear, as well as drive-by pros looking for a good pickin' circle. And much of this takes place well before the other 9,900 ticket-holders arrive.

Bonding is inevitable among the Festival regulars, many of whom have been in attendance 25 consecutive years or more. A kind of folklore about the Town Park camping community has arisen, much of it documented in the correspondance of the Festivarian email list, which has, over the years, nurtured the bonds created every June.

This year a campground regular, James Buchanan, composed a fluid guitar piece called, "Packing for Telluride." You can hear it here. Festivarians will certainly recognize themselves.

Dan & I will be in Telluride next week. Since I'm a veteran condoid, we'll be able to keep laptops and cameras charged. There won't be any WiFi in the fest this year, but we'll think of something.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rubber Band win is a surprise

I have to admit to being surprised that Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band came out on top in the Best of the Fest poll. Not that their act is not polished and professional, but maybe that it was too much so--at least for my taste. While I found the tunes catchy and the musicianship very solid, to me all the choreography and arrangement were a little too slick for what I expect on the Strawberry stage.

I would have thought that many Strawberry goers--especially those active on the discussion boards--might have had the same reaction, but the reality was that about one in five of the ballots picked Shupe's band as the best performer, and almost one in three had it among the top three picks. John Hiatt & The North Mississippi Allstars, who I expected would win in a walk, almost matched those numbers but fell just short.

The other two closers, Los Lobos and Patty Griffin, finished well down the list. I agree that both of them gave somewhat lackluster performances. Los Lobos ran into trouble getting to the gig, and seemed to lack much energy after rushing through their setup. Griffin kept commenting on the cold temperatures and never warmed up to the audience.

Here are some of the other interesting trends I noticed:

* Aside from Shupe, the breakthrough acts of the festival were Bearfoot, Brother, and Martha Scanlan. I suspect that for most attendees the first two were complete unknowns, so their strong showing is attributable directly to their performance (as opposed to reputation). Scanlan was familiar to some attendees as a former member of The Reeltime Travelers.

* It isn't easy to make generalizations about genres, since voters recognized or disdained acts irrespective of musical style. In bluegrass, Bearfoot scored well but Homespun Rowdy did not. In old-timey, Martha Scanlan finished strong while The Stairwell Sisters lagged. In jam music, Brother impressed while Assembly of Dust and Toubab Krewe got less notice. Ruthie Foster's gospel stylings nabbed third place, while Laura Love's folk-funk trailed in the second division.

* Well established bands that might have been pre-festival favorites--Asleep At the Wheel, Los Lobos, the subdudes--all finished out of the money. The Austin Lounge Lizards lived up to expectations, getting some notice for Best Performance and easily winning the Most Entertaining category.

* Willy Porter turned in a relatively strong showing in all three categories. Another singer-songwriter who I thought would do well, Adrienne Young, did not garner substantial support. The jazz and classical guitars in La Guitara earned only modest support. I suspect that Patty Larkin as a solo artist would have been more warmly received.

* Based on these results, first-time performers that I would expect to see invited back soon are Bearfoot, Brother, Willy Porter and Martha Scanlan. Some repeat performers who might not get an early return engagement are Terrance Simeon, Los Lobos, and Misty River.

Of course, these conclusions are based on the input of only 53 attendees. I am not a statistics expert, but it could be that a larger sample would have produced different results. I invite others to weigh in with their thoughts on these results, either in comments on the Festival Preview blog or in either of the Strawberry discussion forums. -- Dan Ruby

Strawberry Best of the Fest poll results

Strawberry Music Festival attendees who voted in Festival Preview's Strictly Unofficial Best of the Fest poll picked Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band as the Best Performer of the festival, narrowly edging John Hiatt & The North Mississippi Allstars. The Alaskan bluegrass band Bearfoot outpolled LA world-jam band Brother for Best Newcomer. The Austin Lounge Lizards comfortably won the vote for the Most Entertaining act.

Festival Preview received 53 ballots in the poll. The top finishers in each category (with their weighted point totals) were:

Best Performance
Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band 43
John Hiatt & The North Mississippi Allstars 39
Ruthie Foster 29
Brother 25
Martha Scanlan 21
Willy Porter 21
Bearfoot 19
Austin Lounge Lizards 17
the subdudes 16
La Guitara 15

Best Newcomer
Bearfoot 56
Brother 50
Willy Porter 40
Martha Scanlan 31
Toubab Krewe 20

Most Entertaining
Austin Lounge Lizards 42
Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band 27
Willy Porter 24

I'll provide commentary in a later post.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Adrienne Young "dreams real" in her Strawberry debut

Adrienne Young has enjoyed considerable success with her two albums and live performances in the bluegrass market, but now the singer-songwriter and frontwoman of her band, Little Sadie, dreams of breaking out in the broader jam-band market.

And when Young dreams, she "dreams real," as she frequently says at the end of her live performances or writes when signing CDs and merchandise. I spoke to her after her workshop performance at the recent Strawberry Music Festival, and I asked what the phrase means for her.

"Your thoughts create your reality. Focus the energy of your thoughts on what you want to manifest, because it will," she said.

For Young, her new focus on the jam market manifested itself at the Haymaker Music Festival in Spotsylvania VA the week before Strawberry, where she appeared on the bill with acts like Keller Williams and the Drive-By Truckers as well as traditional-based artists such as King Wilkie.

"I feel that you shouldn't try to keep yourself in a genre or a cloak that some people have already identified you by. The jam market has such a loyal fan base that will will be in it for the long ride. It's a good place to nurture a career," she said.

Toward that end, Young will be playing several more California festivals later this summer, including the High Sierra Music Festival and Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival. She has also introduced an electric guitar in the band, and said that many of her newer songs are written around it.

She and the band have also been at work on her third CD, recording at Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock, N.Y. She featured what will be the title cut, "Room to Grow," in her main stage, Amy's Cafe, and workshop performances at Strawberry.

"Theres more heart in this record than there has been in the last two," she said.

For an artist whose songs celebrate simple virtues and preserving an earlier way of life, playing for the first time at Strawberry resonated with her personal ideals. She especially enjoyed a quick visit into Yosemite Park.

"I took a stroll in Tuolumne Grove to see 2,000-year-old trees. It is amazing to think that Abe Lincoln established the park here in 1864, and that at that point in our nation's history there was no thought of preservation, and yet to feel this energy and know that the land has been treated with such respect," she said.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The "next big thing" in bluegrass?

As I wrote in the last post, the breakout act of the Bluegrass on the River festival was Cadillac Sky, which Festival Preview will next be seeing at the Grey Fox festival next month. "C-Sky" (a little too cute, but OK) hails from that hotbed of bluegrass, Fort Worth, Texas. C-Sky's sets, both on the main River Stage and the Pickin' Parlor, were full of brilliant technical musical feats and smooth stage banter. Packed with world-class pickers and vocalists, C-Sky has just signed with Skaggs Family Records. Mandolinist Bryan Simpson acts as the band's frontman and owes a striking vocal debt to Bill Monroe and Danny Barnes. His mando style owes more to Ricky Skaggs than Sam Bush, and that may be the key to understanding the immediate future prospects of this eminently competent unit.

By far, Cadillac Sky is the most radio-friendly band in this fest. Featuring award-winning musicians and clever, hook-laden tunes, Cadillac Sky looks to be the next big bluegrass-to-country crossover band.  If the right video director can be found, the master tapes of C-Sky's last studio effort may, under Skaggs Family Records guidance, be the next Dixie Chicks style breakout.

One measure I have found useful in determining a band's commercial viability is the murder-to-love ratio. This ratio compares the number of murder ballads in a set to the number of love songs. If murder ballads equal the love songs there's probably not much Garth Brooks can do for you. If the setlist has more love songs than murder ballads, there's a potential for radio interest. Commercial radio tends to avoid bands who include more murder ballads than love songs (which may explain why Tim O'Brien is still relatively unknown).

Cadillac Sky has terrific technical skills and impressive stage presence. An undeniably entertaining time will be had. These are polished, professional players who combine instrumental chops and slick vocal harmonies in sets that features tunes about romantic love and nothing at all about murder.

When the new CD, "Blind Man Walking" is released this year, I predict commercial attention similar to the reception the Dixie Chicks enjoyed in their commerical debut year. I fear, though, that the Nashville influence might redirect the energies of this exciting band into channels more palatable to fous groups and video directors. CMT is not a musical medium. GAC is dedicated to drawing advertising dollars.

Whatever happens, C-Sky gets my vote for the Next Big Thing, and I do wish them well - thye are nice guys with astonishing musical chops. Obscurity has its own purity and success doesn't always mean sellout. But I worry - there was a time when the Dixie Chicks won the band competition at the decidedly un-radio-friendly Telluride Bluegrass Festival. -- Zen Curmudgeon

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

The river's rising at BotR

A true festival pleasure is the chance to hear bands both young, up-and-coming and established acts that you might know only by reputation. For me, an additional buzz comes from that early glimpse of a band destined for fame.

They tell me the weather in Pueblo today was hot and dry, but on the river the breezes were cool and the music sizzling.  Anne & Pete Sibley graced the River stage with a pleasant set that found a ready audience in the early day crowd. The Wyoming couple's easy stage manner and well-crafted original tunes fit nicely with their guitar & banjo instrumentation. 

Next in the lineup, fresh from an extended stay in Missouri was Foxfire, a young band featuring siblings and a burgeoning family harmony. The elements for a solid unit are all there - but, typical with young bands, missing only the years of experience needed to cement the musical relationships. 

Meanwhile, at the unplugged Pickin' Parlor, purists High Plains Traditions entertained an appreciative crowd eager for the genuine high, lonesome sound. These guys might not be the next incarnation of the Monroe Brothers but they do add an authentic tone the younger generation of players can't quite deliver.

The day's schedule moved into an alternative acoustic reality with the BGotR debut of the Hot Club of Santa Fe, seriously talented musicians recreating the 1920's Parisian jazz of Django Rheinhardt & Stephane Grappelli interspersed with swinging interpretations of pop classics. "Route 66" sounds natural in swing tempo thanks to Asleep at the Wheel, but "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" might make even the most jaded Dylan fan perk up and pay attention. The Hot Club was also the first band of the day to offer OBC - Obligatory Bluegrass Content - with its set closer, Bill Monroe's "It's Mighty Dark to Travel."

In the Pickin' Parlor, a stellar quartet from New Mexico made its BGotR debut. Raising Cain has been gathering positive reviews from respected musicians and has just released its second CD, produced by the estimable Sally Van Meter.  RC's set in the close quarters of the unplugged tent was a tour de force of  well-crafted original tunes blended with covers drawn from the West Coast school of hippie grass, including "Dark Hollow" and "Know You Rider." (We understand that a China => Rider segue may be in the works). The original songs, products of three strong writers in the band,  stand out as clean, sophisticated works. Guitarist Aimee Hoyt's powerful contralto easily filled the Parlor tent while Greg Daigle's vocals, banjo, and lead guitar embellished inventive chord progressions and Trischka-esque banjo rolls. Mandolinist Don Grieser, although not a vocalist, emanates an engaging stage presence that draws the audience into the sort of relaxed receptivity that makes the band's originals, including the addictive "Tango in Durango", especially effective. Watch for these folks - they are bound to be a powerful and influential unit on contemporary acoustic music.

The River Stage was host to a pair of Festival favorites, the Hot Strings (formerly the Pagosa Hot Strings) and the Hickory Project.

The musicians in Hot Strings have played together nearly a decade, even though  the oldest member is in his early 20's. Yes, this is one of those precocious child bands that seem particularly popular in bluegrass circles. Sometimes this works really well, as in the spectacular success of Nickel Creek. In this case, the lineup has hardly changed, giving the Strings an obvious chemistry and intuitive anticipation, both essential elements in the sort of freewheeling jamgrass these guys seek to create. The problem is that despite their years together, the Hot Strings have not yet found the one clear motif that could unite their impressive but disparate skills and talents. Today's set, for instance, launched with a sprightly fiddle original, "Ghost of the Leopard", but then descended into a grassified version of Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like I Do?" The set revived with the reggae-flavored "We Will March" and then wrapped up with the OBC of "Little Maggie." I like these guys, and I do expect them to  grow into their potential, which is considerable.

I want to talk about two bands that seem, to me at least, representative of twin currents in the contemporary acoustic music scene.

The Hickory Project, of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, delivers an expert, passionate mix of folk and swing salted with driving acoustic breakdowns and perfectly-balanced vocals. Their seamless, professional sets make effective use of a twin guitar attack and exquisitely blended harmonies that take special advantage of fiddler Sue Cunningham's vocal subtleties. There is no doubt in the mind of any listener that the Hickory Project loves its work. Solidly based in the fundamentals of the craft, Hickory Project expands into satisfying original compositions, such as "Satisfaction Guaranteed", and "Run, Rachel, Run." This is the sort of band that can expect a lengthy, artistically rewarding career and adequate revenue streams to support its members. But you sure won't hear them on the radio.

And then there's Cadillac Sky. If any band on this weekend's schedule is poised to "hit the big time", here they are. More on them in the next post. -- Zen Curmudgeon

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Strawberry gallery (Sunday)

Ruthie Foster at the Revival


Austin Lounge Lizards

Willy Porter and Joe Craven

Patty Griffin

Strawberry gallery (Saturday)

Martha Scanlan


Ray Benson of Asleep At the Wheel

John Hiatt

Strawberry gallery (Friday)

The Stairwell Sisters

Eric Merrill and Adrienne Young

Patty Larkin of La Guitara

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bluegrass on the River

Astronomers have some sort of agreement that summer begins late in June each year. They have got to get out more.

Today marks the first day of summer as the 17th annual Bluegrass on the River festival kicked off this evening on the banks of the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colorado. A down home event in my hometown, BGotR emphasizes traditional bands and a family atmosphere. A dual-stage arrangement comfortably accomodates the attentive crowds sheltering from the high plains sun beneath majestic cottonwoods. The River Stage offers the only amplification to performers standing over the fast-running river while the  unplugged, intimate Pickin' Parlor tent seats perhaps 150 music lovers  on folding chairs and hay bales.

The highlight of tonight's opening lineup was Sons and Brothers, a quartet that has found its stride through plenty of solid touring. The setlist included previews of tracks from their upcoming CD, "Count The Score Even" as well as crowd-pleasing standards delivered with classic mando chops and tight four part harmony.  Free Image Hosting at

BGotR has offered a nurturing place for young bands seeking a place to hone their skills, a list that includes Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band, Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, and the brilliant Hit and Run Bluegrass Band. This year will be no exception, as the weekend kicks into high gear tomorrow with Skaggs Family Records artists Cadillac Sky, the youthful exuberance of Pagosa Hot Strings and BGotR favorite Hickory Project.

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Strawberry gallery (Thursday)

Homespun Rowdy

Justin Perkins of Toubab Krewe

Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band