Friday, October 27, 2006

All about Summerfest

In the future, we'll be recruiting festival-goers from leading festivals to serve as ambassadors to Festival Preview by providing content about the event. Here's an example: a great roundup about Summerfest, Milwaukee's annual musical blowout, submitted by Chris Ellis. Thanks, Chris.

Summerfest runs for 11 days, noon to midnight, around the Fourth of July in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The permanent festival grounds cover an area of about 5 city blocks by 2 blocks on the shore of Lake Michigan. There are seven ground stages for musical acts and the Marcus Amphitheater for headliners. Many food and beverage vendors line the main walks through the festival grounds. In addition to the musical offerings, there’s a play area and a kids’ stage, a Sports Zone, street performers and magicians, exhibits of classic guitars, and the SkyGlider, a gondola ride to loft you over the crowd from one end of the festival grounds to the other. The festival has a fireworks display on opening night. The City of Milwaukee has its fireworks display on July 3, with ground zero in Veterans Park immediately north of the festival grounds.

Milwaukee has an excellent shuttle bus system arranged for transportation to and from the festival grounds. Park-and-rides are located around the city. Last year, it cost $6 to ride the bus to the main gate of Summerfest. The return trip is free, so at midnight, when the festival grounds close and all the money has been extracted from your wallet, you can hop on a shuttle bus for a ride back to your car. Parking for private vehicles downtown is tight, and will cost at least $10 if you can find a space.

Daily admission is $15, but some discounts are available – check the website or the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper for promotions. The admission fee is your ticket to all the ground stages, which are general admission. For the headliner acts at the Marcus, expect to pay typical Ticketmaster charges. Admission to Summerfest is free if you have a ticket to the Marcus for that night. There are beer vendors everywhere -- $4 to $5 for a beer. There is a wide variety of food offerings, but you are in Wisconsin – expect lots of fried food, lots of meat and cheese.

The crowd will vary from 60,000 people on a light day to 110,000 on a Friday or Saturday. The Marcus seats 24,000, with a roof over about 2/3 of the seats. The ground stages have bleacher seats and picnic tables for 500-2,000 people. Only two of the ground stages have roofs, and rain is always a possibility. Daytime temperatures can range from hot and humid to cool and pleasant. After dark, the temperature can rapidly cool, so take a jacket or sweatshirt.

Even though most of the adults at Summerfest are professional beer drinkers, it’s a happy, casual, relaxed, tattoo-laden crowd. The biggest problems caused by over-consumption of alcohol are: (1) drunk drivers leaving the festival; (2) throwing up on the bus ride home; (3) loud talking and laughter during musical performances; and (4) friendly drunks get in the way when you are trying to walk through the festival grounds.

Each ground stage has four to six musical acts scheduled each day. Usually the best musical groups are scheduled for 8 or 10 PM shows. Frequently there will be collisions – more than one “must-see” act performing at the same time, at opposite ends of the festival grounds. For popular acts, the ground stages will be packed with people – get there early if you want a good seat. Often the crowd will be on its feet, or up on the bleachers and picnic tables, for the duration of the show.

Here are some of the musical acts I have heard during the past three Summerfests: The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Derek Trucks Band, The Dead, Willie Nelson, Galactic, Los Lobos, Reverend Raven and His Chain-smoking Altar Boys, Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams, Jr., Rusted Root, Little Feat, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Ratdog, String Cheese Incident, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Elvis Costello and Alan Toussiant, Ray Davies, Marcia Ball, Dark Star Orchestra, The Bel-Airs, Joan Jett, Jonny Lang, Frankie Perez and the Highway Saints, John Hiatt, Sonny Landreth, Lynyrd Skynyrd, moe., Wilco, Daryl Stuerner, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Michelle Shocked, Robert Randolph, Umphree’s McGee, Eileen Ivers, and Those Darn Accordions. Most of the bands that play Summerfest can be classified as rock, blues, or country, with a few world music and hip-hop acts thrown into the mix.

Downtown Milwaukee has hotels, restaurants, and museums nearby. Of special note is the Art Museum, a few blocks north of the festival grounds. It’s a beautiful building, with a wonderful permanent collection and touring exhibits. Miller Park is not far away, and is a great baseball stadium.

Milwaukee has been hosting Summerfest for 35 years now, and it’s the best street party I’ve ever attended. Thick crowds in the evening on the weekend can be a hassle, so pick the acts you want to see and get to those stages early. Bring lots of money – especially if you are buying rounds of beer for friends. Use the shuttle bus system, but try to sit or stand near the front of the bus on the way home. The Amtrak station is within walking distance of the festival. There is no camping allowed on the festival grounds, although limited camping is allowed in Veterans Park prior to the July 3 fireworks display. Marcus headliners will be announced gradually, starting in the spring. Popular acts will sell out quickly. If a Marcus show does not sell out, sometimes they will hand out free tickets early on the afternoon of that show.

If you like to drink beer and listen to good rock, blues, and country, this is the party for you!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dancin' Dave at MagFest, part 2

For me whenever Sam Bush is on a festival lineup I'm pretty sure that that will be my favorite set; and he didn't disappoint once again! He really cracked me up this time....some customers of mine were talking about our musical tastes earlier in the day, and when they asked me if I was a Led Zepplin fan I had to admit that yes indeed, I had bought their two first albums. (after that I lost interest).

Anyhoo, at the end of the set Sam and the boys got into an extended jam that included all sorts of musical tidbits, including a tune from one of those two albums...I think it is called "Gotta whole Lotta Love". or something to that effect. I recognized the tune right away, of course, and we sure had fun laughing about that after the show. Byron House sure did a stunning vocal renditon. Sam is the Man...

I also was blown away by the Waybacks again. To me they are about the hottest band out there and I can't wait to hear and watch them as much as I can. Superb musicianship, superb stage presence and they all are nice fellows besides....a great combination.

The Greencards are also one of my favorite groups at the moment. I loved their sets and hope that they are at all of the festivals I go to next year. If anyone is not familiar with them I can highly recommend that you check them out. Very high energy progressive bluegrass, with amazing musicianship.

This was my first time seeing Old School Freight Train. I was aware that they were doin' gigs with David Grisman so I figured they had to be talented....and I was right. I was going to purchase a cd of theirs but got waylayed on the way to the cd table and forgot to get un-waylayed. I will be checking out their website.

First time also for the Steep Canyon Rangers. I know that they've been at some of the same festivals I've been to, but the timing apparently wasn't right for me to check them out. What a great bluegrass band! Now I know not to pass them up again.

The Duhks were hot, Tony Furtado is always a treat, and of course Peter Rowan and Tony Rice with Bryn Davies and Sharon Gilchrist are always sweet. The Bluegrass Jam headed up by Peter on Sunday was a highlight also. And Donna the Buffalo with lots of guests closed the Magfest in an uproarious fashion on Sunday.

It was a great festival, with great weather and great old and new friends and it was a wonderful capper to a great festival season! Can't wait to start all over in 2007....>g<

And the definite highlight of the Magfest was the phone call I got on Friday morning from my lovely daughter Erica, telling me that I'm going to be a Grandpa again!
Peace, David

Dancin' Dave on MagFest, part 1

Hello fellow music lovers...Just got home last night from Magnoliafest, in Live Oak, Florida, and it's always good to be home!
Superb festival as usual, with some of the usual musical suspect highlights; along with some mind-blowing new musical experiences! Two of these new experiences (for me, anyway) were the Futureman String Quintet and the Joe Craven set.

I didn't know what to expect from the Futureman it turned out it was amazing and I suppose I wasn't even surprised! Futureman conducted his orchestra of five from a podium on which he kept rythmn going on a box with his various drumsticks, and the entire show was theme driven, although I can't remember much about that part of it. I do remember the virtuosity of the three violinists and two cellists! Plus, he had a banjo player join the group at was simply awesome.

And then there was Joe.... I have seen Joe make music on all sorts of objects, including his shoestring, a pick-axe, and a pumpkin; and when I saw a six foot aluminum step ladder on the stage I just thought: "lordy...".

Sure enough, at one point the bass player layed down his instrument and climbed the ladder, sat on the very top and became a human statue....the dude just wouldn't blink an eye! So, of course Joe started drummin' on the ladder, making his way up and down the rungs and all over. He was joined by another percussionist, and all the while the bass player never moved... Finally, Joe went over to the bass laying on the stages and proceeded to drum all over that. Again, he was joined by the other fellow so both of them were hammerin' on that dog house!

At the end of this they handed the bass up to the fellow on the ladder who broke into a big smile, laid the bass on his lap and proceeded to pick away! It was something you just had to be there to fully appreciate, I realize; but suffice it to say that Joe Craven is a musical genius and always a pleasure to watch and listen to!

More conventional music to follow....>g<
Peace, David

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Saturday at HSB

Damn, running late again. Rather than post my artist observations from Saturday, here's a quick rundown on my Saturday route and Sunday plan, with comments to come after the festival.

With a late start and heavy traffic getting to the festival, I blew it and missed Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison. Well, we all know you can't see everything at HSB. That's the point of it. Here's what I did see.

Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands--about three songs.
Almost all of the Todd Snider set.
A bit of the Pine Leaf Boys, a new-to-me zydeco outifit.
Austin Lounge Lizards--some of there well-known numbers plus a couple I hadn't heard.
Chatham County Line--very impressive contemporary bluegrass
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver--4-5 songs
Billy Bragg--first half of the set
Jerry Douglas--a couple of songs
Steve Earle & The Bluegrass Dukes--most of the set.

Here's today's rough plan:
Ramblin' Jack Elliott
T-Bone Burnett (bluegrass set)
Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez
Flyiing Other Bros.
Tim O'Brien
Coward Brothers (Elvis Costello & T-bone Burnett)
Richard Thompson (solo acoustic)
Waybacks with Bob Weir
Emmylou Harris

Dogs welcome at HSB

Each year, I'm surprised by the large number of dogs in attendance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Very few festivals allow animals, but HSB is governed by the rules of the San Francisco Park District, which allows leashed dogs in Golden Gate Park. The interesting thing is how few problems seem to created by the presence of dogs. It makes me wonder if more festivals should consider lifting the ban on canines.

Blue Angel stunt flights buzz HSB

For several hours Saturday afternoon, the U.S. Navy elite aerobatic team, the Blue Angels, took multiple flybys over the site of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park, drowning out the music on the five festival stages. The air show was a part of the Navy's Fleet Week celebration, a long-held event in San Francisco.

For many artists and attendees at the event, it appeared that the flights were intentionally routed over the festival site, though the planes were no doubt visible all over the city. "I've never done a gig before where at a key point in the set, six fighter planes in formation fly right over the stage," said British folk-rocker Billy Bragg during his set.

Considering the likely prevailing political bent of the festival audience, the fly-bys seemed to me to be either very ill-considered pro-military PR or an intentional provocation. It will be interesting to see if there is a repeat performance today.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

HSB opens with Elvis and friends

Here's a very quick report on yesterday's special Elvis Costello set. I wasn't there but put this together from notes from my sister Joanne. The friends were Emmylou Harris, who has toured with Costello, and her close buddies Gillain Welch and David Rawlings.

Joanne missed the beginning, but when she arrived Costello was on stage with his band, The Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods. She heard Walk the Line, War of the Roses, and Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes. Then she was much taken by the piano players vocal on Satisfied Mind.

Dressed in cowboy shirt and sunglasses as the late-afternoon sun broke through, Elvis said since it was a bluegrass festival he would play his "cowboy song," Jerry Garcia's Loser. Then the band rocked out on Mystery Dance before the special guests were invited up.

Elvis and Emmylou dueted on her I'll Still Miss Someone and Gram Parson's classic Love Hurts, which Joanne found especially moving. She felt that Gillian looked cold and anorexic in her old-fashioned dress, but she was much impressed with David Rawling's guitar work and stage presence.

Elvis said some more nice things about playing in San Francisco, which he said was the first city he ever played in the U.S. According to Joanne, the Banjo stage meadow was surprisingly full for a workday concert, and the audience cheered loudly for Costello's Scarlet Tide, including a new antiwar verse sung acapella.

He closed with When I Paint My Masterpiece before bringing his guest back out for a couple of encores.

Strictly speaking, hardly possible

Okay the big weekend is here, before I'm entirely prepared. I hoped to get organized and out the door by 9 to be able to set up a tarp and some chairs at the Rooster Stage. For me Rooster is the most strategic for chair placement. Because it sits between two hills, it's the hardest crowd to work your way forward in.

My plan for tomorrow is as follows, which will undoubtedly not turn out exactly as planned. My most anticipated set is up at noon on the Rooster stage, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, Austin's Claratin couple. I've never seen either of them except on the allergy medicine commercials. Robison is the promising singer-songwriter who wrote Travelin' Soldier for the Dixie Chick. A few years ago, Kelly Willis was the hot newcomer on the Austin scene.

After that, I'll make a quick stop at Arrow for the beginning of Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands. I got a chance to chat with Laurie in Nashville last week and caught one of her showcases, so I want to see her again. Then it's back to the Rooster setup for Todd Snider, who I have come to love since seeing him here last year and again in Austin in March.

Somebody in my extended party will be happy to take my Rooster seats next for the songwriter circle with Guy Clark following. I'll take this chance to check out some of the newer bluegrass bands back on Arrow--the Pine Leaf Boys and Chatham County Line, who I 've seen before. Then I'll make my first visit to ths Star Stage for the end of old-favorite Austin Lounge Lizards and the beginning of T Bone Burnett's electric set. T Bone is one of the stories of the festival, with an electric and a bluegrass set, plus a duo appearance with Elvis Costello.

There are so many good choices next but I've decided it should be Billy Bragg, which will be a first for me, instead of Gillian or Jerry Douglas. Actually, if I can squeeze in one more, I'd sure like to catch some of Doyle Lawson's bluegrass gospel. Then I'll finish with Steve Earle's Bluegrass Dukes, who I've seen quite a bit and never get tired of.

I'll post what I can tomorrow night, before an even more jam-packed Sunday. Good night.

NEMO deconstructed

Here is a report from the NEMO Music Festival and Conference by guest blogger Peg McDonald from Cambridge MA. Thanks, Peg.

It was a surprise to find myself at NEMO last weekend, NEMO being a sprawling, chaotic, genre-crossing musical smorgasbord and me being a creature of habit sort when it comes to music and clubbing. And it was even more of a surprise to have had a good time once I rolled with the flow.

Going in, few of the 300 odd bands were familiar to me, so I hoped to narrow down my options with some up-front research. Critical material on the bands was largely lacking I found though the “Boston Globe” did make a few recommendations which I ended up disregarding because of the logistical challenges they presented.

While festival organizers apparently made an effort this year (the 10th) to concentrate the 30-some venues in Boston and Cambridge, there was no practical way to casually sample multiple venues on a given night without the ability to levitate. So my strategy became to hit a couple of proximate venues and see what transpired.

On Friday, September 29, I found myself at the Middle East downstairs, a respected club and decent Lebanese restaurant in Cambridge. Performances at each venue were loosely grouped stylistically, and this one was predominately hip hop. I went early (around 9) with Boston’s early bar curfew and my own limited stamina in mind. I had targeted the Middle East because it featured a couple of touted performers, notably the eccentric Dr. Ocatagon a/k/a Keith Kool from New York.

It soon dawned on me that the order of performers was governed by their theoretical status in the pecking order of mostly obscure performers. I caught two sets that I liked at the Middle East: Murph & Stars out of Providence, RI, and local favorites Project Move. The former duo featured mostly straight ahead, squeaky clean hip-hop tinged with R&B. These guys were likable and sincere both on-stage and off, and I found them engaging and talented if somewhat unpolished.

Project Move played next, and their growing cult following is understandable. They played an eclectic mix of hip hop and R& B infused tunes to which they put an original lyrical spin. Their message was both personal and political delivered in high energy style. I will definitely re-visit this band when they appear in local clubs. (Note that both of these bands are unsigned, although Project Move has had decent airplay of singles on college stations).

Moving up the hype food chain, the next set at the Middle East was by Kabir, a self-styled independent rapper, singer and promoter who claims to have played with the likes of the Roots and Wyclef-Jean (and maybe he has). All I know is that the set I caught was both lame and interminanable, culminating (for me, anyway) in a call and response bit of “Wha’s up Boston? Wha’s up Cambridge?” At which point I de-camped to the restaurant for falafel and free Jameson’s (a major sponsor of NEMO), hoping to return to the likes of the vaunted Dr. Octagon or the like. No such luck however as Kabir nattered on well beyond his allotted 45 minutes, while the name bands milled about half-heartedly contemplating setting up.

This led me bail for home, and to develop my theory of NEMO attendance: be open-minded, be willing to listen, but be ready to bail or move on at the drop of a hat.

Despite the downer that this last set was for me, Saturday dawned fresh, and so on Saturday the 30th I ventured out to Johnny D’s, a comfortable local spot that leans toward folk rock. I caught a set by a band who really rocked: Lomita, from Austin, TX, and The Snowleopards, a Boston band. Lomita’s set was a high point for me, and brought the value of NEMO for the casual but open-minded listener home. They played a swinging mix of SW country rock, with diverse influences such as Sonic Youth and Billy Idol, from their album “Sress Echo” (Indierect).

In a post-set chat with their manager, I asked their manager how NEMO compares with SXSW, from a performer’s POV. He said that NEMO was “much more mellow and better organized…with nicer venues.” I’ll have to attend SXSW to assess this assessment, but bringing along my unfettered spirit, openness to the new and random, and a lot of taxi fare.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fallout from IBMA military salute

It turns out that the jingoistic display during the IBMA awards show disturbed some other people as much as it did me, and has generated a controversy about it on the association's board. According to an official email to IBMA members, the Navy bluegrass band Country Current deviated from the approved program by inserting its salute to the armed services.

As fallout from the brouhaha, IBMA board chairman David Crow submitted his resignation "as a statement of accountability," although the board evidently hopes that he will reconsider.

The email said that the military-themed song had been rejected by the board "in respect of the fact that the IBMA is an 'international' organization." Apparently the band did not honor its agreement to substitute a different song that would be appropriate for the full membership of the organization. The board is now conducting an investigation to learn how and why the program change occurred.

In the meantime, Crow has stepped down and vice chairman Greg Cahill is functioning as acting chairman. The email says that the board has asked Crow to reconsider his resignation.

The other portion of the military salute, with Rhonda Vincent performing a song while American servicemen and woman joined her on stage, went off as originally planned.

In my earlier comment on the program, I discussed the cross-cultural appeal of bluegrass but focused entirely on segments of the American bluegrass community. I wasn't even thinking of the very active membership of IBMA that comes from various European and Asian countries, which of course makes the pro-military display even more inappropriate.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Opinion: Political content unwelcome at IBMA

I'm labeling this "opinion" so it is clear that I am expressing my personal views. The IBMA's salute to the troops during last week's award ceremony represented an unwelcome foray into the political arena by a musical trade association that should seek to avoid partisan displays.

During the ceremony, musical star Rhonda Vincent led a 15-minute-long musical tribute to past and present U.S. troops that included presenting several dozen uniformed servicepeople on stage, renditions of all the service theme songs by the U.S. Navy bluegrass band, and a call for veterans in the audience to rise and be honored.

Like most Americans, I have great respect for those who wear the uniform and serve in the armed forces. However, in this case, the salute was clearly meant as a statement of support for our government's policy of war in Iraq, which is a matter of significant controversy and divergent viewpoints both in the overall U.S. poplulation and within the bluegrass community.

Yes, I know that many individual performers have used their platforms to make political statements both pro and con about the war and about our political leaders. A few months ago at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, I saw many in the audience respond negatively when headline performer Steve Earle used the stage to denounce the war. At that time in this blog, I stood up for his right to express his opinions.

So what is the difference here? Earle is an individual performer. Whether or not I agree with him, I believe he should be free to speak his mind as he chooses. Of course, the venue presenting him may have a different view, I wouldn't object if the festival chose not to invite him back. In this same regard, I had no objection last week when award-winner Doyle Alexander used his two times at the microphone to praise the U.S.A. in a little-disguised expression of support for the current administration.

But the association itself, in my view, should refrain from taking positions on controversial issues when its membership is certain to contain individuals with divergent views. If a poll were taken, I suspect that a solid majority of members would be supporters of the Iraq war and of President Bush. However, I am equally sure that a significant minority would be on the other side.

Despite coming from a Southern rural tradition, bluegrass as a genre has always been remarkable in welcoming musicians and fans from other cultures. In particular, there has long been an accommodation and mutual respect between pickers from Southern states and those from New England and California, for example. Differences in appearances, cultural styles or religious beliefs, for example, have been insignificant compared with everyone's love of the music.

The IBMA should cherish and reinforce cross-cultural diversity in the music, which adds to the musical vitality and market expansion that are key parts of the association's mission. In my opinion, the over-the-top partisan display at the awards ceremony worked counter to that goal.

A few surprises at IBMA awards

The gala IBMA awards show produced a few surprises, moments of spontaneity and (in my opinion) an over-the-top display of patriotism. It was the first time the show has been held at the Grand Ole Opry House, a fitting location for a resurgent musical genre making an impacdt in the mainstream world of country music.

That was evident in the high-profile presence of some of country's royalty--those with strong bluegrass roots--in the program. Marty Stuart, whose career began as a child playing with Lester Flatt, served as emcee. Vince Gill, who started as a bluegrass picker in Oklahoma, appeared with the Del McCoury band. Ricky Skaggs, who has long-since embraced bluegrass over mainstream country, was recognized with multiple awards.

In past years, the IBMA awards have been very easy to predict, with a few top performers walking off with the same trophies year after year. That trend held true this year in several categories: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder won its eighth overall and fourth consecutive instrumental group of the year award, Rhonda Vincent bagged her seventh consecutive female vocalist of the year honor, while Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver took its sixth straight vocal group of the year win.

Tim O'Brien was the surprise winner as male vocalist of the year, after also nabbing the award for song of the year with his "Look Down the Lonesome Road." Accepting the song of the year trophy, O'Brien acknowledged "it's an upset, but I'm not." Later, picking up the vocalist award, the all-around performer celebrated more for his songwriting and instrumental work than his vocals seemed almost embarrassed to have been picked over vocal specialists like Larry Sparks, Marty Raybon, and Ronnie Bowman. (Actually, O'Brien had once before earned the vocalist honor in 1993.)

The awards for the best recordings of the year went mainly to special projects over standard releases. "Celebration of Life," a benefit for children's cancer research featuring more than 100 musicians was album of the year while "The Daughters of Bluegrass," which brought together many of the top female performers in the genre, won for recorded event of the year. Michael Cleveland won for best instrumental album while Doyle Alexander & Quicksilver picked up best gospel recording.

In my opinion, the awards for best individual instrumental performers got short shrift. Only the winners, not the nominees, were even announced, and all of them were packaged in one program segment. In this case, the winners were all fairly predictable. Jim Mills of Kentucky Thunder won his sixth banjo award. Rob Ickes of Blue Highway notched his eighth win for dobro. Michael Cleveland took home his fourth fiddle honor. Missy Raines won the bass award for the sixth time. Bryan Sutton got his sixth and fourth consecutive guitar trophy. Adam Steffey of Mountain Heart won the mandolin award for the fifth straight year.

It is worth noting that, by and large, these players tend to the more traditional end of the bluegrass spectrum. In the distant past, progressive bluegrassers such as Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Tony Rice were frequent winners, but more recently the IBMA membership has favored the traditional pickers.

The night's top award for entertainer of the year went to The Grascals, who were not my personal favorites, but are a perfectly solid choice for the band making the biggest impact in the genre. In contrast, last year's pick, The Cherryholmes, overstated that band's importance, in my personal view. Like The Grascals, the IBMA's choice for emerging artist of the year, The Steep Canyon Rangers, have had success in crossing over into the mainstream country market.

The night produced a number of notable musical performances. Marty Stuart's duet with Bobby Osborne on the Bill Monroe classic "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul" harkened back to the authentic roots of the genre. I agreed with Stuart's comment that Osborne should have won the emerging artist award, now that the veteran bluegrasser is back on the circuit with a new band.

Along similar lines, the audience also loved Vince Gill's appearance with the Del McCoury Band. There seems to be nothing the IBMA audience likes more than when a big country star plays bluegrass.

The biggest production number of the night was an elaborate musical tribute to the American armed services. I'll give my thoughts on this in the next post.

IBMA festival winners

The IBMA special awards recognized two landmark bluegrass festivals with special awards. Pioneer promoter Bill Grant, who launched the first festival west of the Mississippi with his Grants Bluegrass Festival in Hugo, Okla., in 1972, was named as one of five new recipients of the organization's Distinguished Achievement Award. Also, the IBMA Event of the Year award was given to The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, an indoor event in Framingham, Mass. produced by the Boston Bluegrass Union.

I conducted interviews with Grant and the Joe Val co-producers, which I'll be posting here in the next few days.