Saturday, July 29, 2006

RockyGrass 2006 Friday, Part 2

Ordinarily the real heat at RockyGrass is on the stage: this weekend is threatening to set temperature records - global warming on Planet Bluegrass.  But the Planet does offer some neat relief - the St. Vrain River. And as festivarians might expect, playing with the river rocks leads to spontaneous art.

Rock Art

One of the event's main sponsors, New Belgium Brewing, makers of Fat Tire, brings more than just adult beverages to the weekend. Complete mechanical nonsense is also available.

New Belgium Spinner

The afternoon's schedule kicked offf with the Alaskan unit, Bearfoot Bluegrass, followed by the Tony Trischka Bluegrass Band featuring Roland White on mando and vocals. White's presence gave this ensemble an authentic traditional feel, especially with the standards "Molly and Tenbrooks" and "Pike County Breakdown."  But no band boasting Tony Trischka and Darol Anger can always color inside the lines. "Rhumba on the Banjo" sounded exactly what you'd expect from the title. Trischka has also reworked the standard "Salty Dog" by reversing the chords and polishing the arrangement into "Doggy Salt." Watch for a new CD release in January '07.

Tony Trischka Bluegrass Band

A finely-crafted set by Mountain Heart was warmly received by the sun-baked crowd. Always pleasing musicians, they've come a long way since being named up-and-comers in 1999 by the IBMA. Indeed, their stylistic range has broadened to embrace the more adventurous acousticity. But sometimes, instead of eye-opening, ear-popping innovation, MH's extended explorations sounds more like the soundtrack to a Michael Flatley production.

The Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet ratcheted the intensity level up to galactic standards. Tony Rice appears much more at home in the current lineup, while newcomer Sharon Gilchrist demonstrates a welcome sense of self confidence in her solos. Bryn Davies, in addition to sweet harmony vocals, has blossomed into a predominant upright bassist. Rowan himself, looking more and more like Mark Twain every year, sang impeccably throught the band's 11 song set. The quartet was joined by Richard Greene, who added a poignant fiddle break to "Play, Vasser, Play,"  Rowan's tribute to the late Vasser Clements. Perhaps the most intense moments of the set came during an upright bass/guitar faceoff between Davies and Rice during the encore "The Wild Mustang." Watch for a new CD from the Quartet this fall.

Tony Rice and Richard Greene

Winners of the Best Blue Jeans Contest, Sharon Gilchrist and Bryn Davies

As the afternoon waned, the crowd settled back to enjoy the rare assembly of Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg and Edgar Meyer . This gifted trio recreated their 1994 release "Skip, Hop and Wobble" plus a sprinkling of newer pieces by Barenberg and Meyer. The effortless expertise of these musicians is always awe-inspiring.

Douglas, Barenberg and Meyer

The first 'tweener of the weekend featured to precocious Sara Jarosz . Now 15, she changed instruments for each tune on her three-song list, wowing the audience with her skills on mando, banjo and guitar.

All this was merely prelude to the headlining Yonder Mountain String Band, returning to the RockyGrass stage after a 6 year absence. After an extended introduction by each of the Uncle Earl girls, YMSB immediately launched a opening salvo of neatly segue'd tunes culminating in the Hartford classic "Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie." Offical "5th member" Darol Anger shared the stage for the entire set, a presence that always raises the quality of performance no matter which band he plays with. The Yonder setlist included extensive jams on "Easy as Pie" and "Steep Grade, Sharp Curves", which also featured an audience-participation tribute to RockyGrass's late emcee, Buck Buckner. An unrestrained "Keep on Goin' > Death Trip > Keep on Goin' " jam brought out additional guests Casey Driessen on fiddle and the peripatetic Bryn Davies, who literally shared Ben Kaufman's bass in an extravagant solo. The crowd, usually following the "sit down and listen" rule, was on its feet from the first note and danced until the final encore tune, "Troubled Mind".

"Life is way too serious to be serious about . . . Turn off the TV and go out and pick."

Buck Buckner

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