Friday, December 29, 2006

Snowstorms & Hillbillies

Kennedy Center: Millennium Stage Artist Details: Bob Perilla’s Big Hillbilly Bluegrass

Blizzards traditionally make for harrowing stories from grandparents, but a broadband connection can sure make Colorado snowstorms easier to bear.

Homebound for the second consecutive weekend, it's nice to stumble across this excellent performance by Bob Perilla's Big Hillbilly Bluegrass Band. About time these folks were invited back to Colorado - after the snow melts, of course.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Experimental Music Mapping Program

Discovery Channel :: News, Photo Zoom :: Music Software Creates Song Islands

This could be very cool, but maybe not so very efficient. The software "listens" to your music collection, groups like-sounding pieces, and generates a virtual landscape that can be navigated with a joystick.

Still too early for public consumption, but I'll definitely be watching for a beta or demo release.

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numly esn 33457-061222-251701-40

© 2006 All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Greensky Bluegrass, The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC 12/14/06

Greensky Bluegrass
Originally uploaded by Zen Curmudgeon.
This talented, Kalamazoo-based quartet took last summer's Telluride Bluegrass Festival band contest (barely edging the resurgent Boulder Acoustic Society), and I'm looking forward to their festival-opening Thursday slot next June. Opening for the genre-defining Del McCoury Band must have been a little bit intimidating, but the boys projected a relaxed, playful stage aura.

Touring behind a CD produced by Railroad Earth fiddler Tim Carbone, Greensky opened with the original "Hoxieville", penned by mando/vocalist Paul Hoffman, who also contributed "These Old Hills" to the setlist. Despite Carbone's mentoring in the studio, Greensky is nimble enough to incorporate Yonder Mountain ("Jesus on the Mainline") and Tim O'Brien's version of the Ola Belle Reed classic, "I've Endured"

Warren haynes 18th Annual Christmas Jam, 12/16/06, New Orleans Social Club02

New Orleans Social Club02
Originally uploaded by Zen Curmudgeon.
Five expat New Orleans funkmeisters have teamed up to blast the December countryside with the genuine raise-the-roof item. In a set that covered essential New Orleans anthems ("Look a Py Py" and "Walking to New Orleans") the NOSC effortlessly absorbed and transcended the contributions of John Popper, Mickey Raphael, Taylor Hicks, and Branford Marsalis before igniting an incendiary "Fortunate Son" that featured slashing guitar by Warren Haynes, impassioned sax lines from Branford, sincere harp work from Taylor Hicks. Considered by many to be the hottest set of the night. Warren's curtain speech, "In all seriousness, this is why we have to rebuild New Orleans!"

Warren Haynes 18th Christmas Jam, 12/16/06, Taj Mahal Trio

Taj Mahal02
Originally uploaded by Zen Curmudgeon.
Taj came, he played, he slayed. (Sorry, irresistible impulse)

This trio followed the John Popper Project, ratcheting the energy level another up notch or three. Highlights included "Annie Mae" and "Mississippi Big Butt Blues".

Taj was the object of some hero worship during the set, and not just by the fans. Mule bassist Andy Hess was spotted taking pix from behind the trio during its set. TMT was also the only band of the night that had no guests sitting in.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How Joe Val became IBMA "festival of the year"

When the 22nd annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival kicks off the 2007 northeastern roots music festival calendar outside Boston in mid-February, it will be the event's first running since gaining recognition last fall as the "festival of the year" by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).

I had a chance to sit down with Joe Val's two producers, Gerry Katz and Stan Zdonik of the Boston Bluegrass Union, for a discussion of how a small event that began as a benefit fundraiser grew to become a world-class festival.

This year's festival runs Presidents' Day weekend, February 16-18, at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham MA, a western suburb of Boston. The lineup presents a potent mix of traditional and contemporary bluegrass stars with a dash of jazzgrass sprinkled in. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands, Chris Thile & The How to Grow a Band, Dan Paisley & Southern Grass, and The Infamous Stringdusters head up the bill.

The festival hotel is already sold out but two nearby overflow hotels have rooms available. Walkup tickets are priced at $80 for a weekend pass, with various early-bird, member, and single-day options available.

Zdonik credits part of the success of the festival, which is structured as a non-profit educational charity, to the passion of the organizers and volunteers that make it happen. "Nobody makes a dime off of it, we're only in it for the love," he said. "We are in a position to create a safe haven for artists to present their craft at the highest possible level," Katz added. "When it works, we walk away feeling we have established a friendship between the artist and audience."

The festival got its start in 1985 as an impromtu benefit and tribute to Boston bluegrass legend Joe Val when he was terminally ill. After securing a venue at a local high school, Zdonik made a handful of calls to musicians to see who could perform. By the next night, he was getting calls from people asking to get involved--bluegrass artists like Tony Rice but also folk singer Tom Rush and rocker Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band.

In the end, 23 bands performed from more than 1000 attendees, and $12,000 was raised for Joe Val's family. Val passed away two days later.

For the next few years, organizers repeated the event as a free event on a small scale, but then Katz and the BBU came into the picture. The BBU ran a bluegrass concert series in Cambridge, Mass., and it seemed like a natural fit for the association to take on the fledgling festival.

Katz brought a new sense of professionalism to the production. For the next several years, it continued to be run as a summer outdoor one-day festival, but now it was a paid event. Even so, it wasn't thriving.

Then, after attending an IBMA conference and meeting one of the producers of the Wintergrass festival, Katz surprised Zdonik with a new idea. He suggested moving it indoors during the winter season and expanding it to a full weekend event. "I said, 'You have to be crazy,' but it turned out to be the perfect decision," Zdonik recalled.

It turned out that there were multiple advantages to moving indoors. On President's Day weekend, it would face little competition, provide a outlet for pent-up demand for entertainment, and would not be subject to uncertainties of weather. The three-day weekend would allow a full schedule of Sunday performances.

Also, the costs and logistical complications of running an indoor event are greatly reduced over outdoor festivals, Katz said. Since the host hotel makes its money from guest room sales, the ballroom and other festival facilities are free to the promoter. Setup and breakdown is easy; unlike an outdoor event where there are a host of special needs, an indoor event may need only staging and lighting.

On the other hand, an indoor festival limits the potential size of the event. The Sheraton ballroom holds 935 chairs and no more, Katz said.

The first several years, the indoor version of the Joe Val Festival was held at the Dedham Holiday Inn and later moved to the Framingham Sheraton. In short order, it became the premier winter bluegrass event in New England, attracting fans from all over the Northeast.

With the festival's educational charter, the program is packed with learning opportunities, including a kids' program, jam camp, and more than 40 workshops. Since the workshops are held in smallish rooms, there's a greater likelihood of meaningful learning than with festivals holding workshops on a large stage, Katz said.

According to Katz and Zdonik, a sizable percentage of the audience are musicians themselves, and the lobbies are filled with picking jams. Most attendees, even locals who want to enjoy a full festival experience, stay onsite or at a satellite hotel and stay for the whole weekend, though single day passes are available for Friday and Sunday (but not Saturday).

Like many long-running festivals, Joe Val faces a challenge in maintaining its musical personality while adapting to newer trends. Joe Val's program leans toward traditional bluegrass, though the presenters mix in some progressive styles to attract younger festival-goers.

For example, this year's booking of Chris Thile's jazzgrass How to Grow a Band is designed to to appeal to younger music fans, with the hope that they discover they also like the traditional sound.

Joe Val himself was a high-lonesome traditionalist, and the festival seeks to keep his spirit alive through reunions of his band, sales of his CDs, showing of a performance film, and disseminating information about Val on the festival website and at the event. They also encourage performers to play some of his songs, and share any memories they may have.

Katz said that receiving the award represents a recognition by the bluegrass community. "It demonstrates that we are not just the best winter festival in New England, but that we measure up to any bluegrass festival for the quality of presetnations, workshop activity, the vibe, and the overall cultural experience."

In a practical sense, the recognition will also help in attracting sponsors and high-end vendors to the event, and is also a great validation for volunteers and patrons.

It is also a recognition that indoor winter festivals are a growing trend. With Wintergrass (which won the IBMA best festival award in 2005) and Joe Val leading the way, other promoters are putting on indoor events, notably the California Bluegrass Association, which launched its high-profile Supergrass festival in Bakersfield, Calif., last year and will hold its 2007 event February 1-4.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Best 100 of the Year

The great WNCW - listener supported radio in North Carolina - has begun its top 100 records of the year list. Drop by their site and let 'em know what you think. Their list isn't the definitive one (I'm not sure there is a "definitive"), but if often includes acts that otherwise would be overlooked.


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Dancin' Dave posts 2007 schedule

Festival Preview readers will recall the great experience we had using Dancin' Dave's campsite setup service last year at MerleFest. If you are traveling long distance to attend one of the festivals Dave serves, it is a convenient and friendly way to enjoy the benefits of festival camping without having to haul your own gear.

Today Dancin' Dave announced his 2007 schedule, which is unchanged since last year. Supported festivals are Suwannee Springfest (Live Oak FL, March 22-25); MerleFest (Wilkesboro NC, April 26-29); Lake Eden Arts Festival (Black Mountain NC, May 11-13); Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (Ancramdale NY, July 19-22); Floydfest (Floyd VA, July 26-29); Lake Eden Arts Festival (Black Mountain NC, October 19-21); and MagnoliaFest (Live Oak FL, October 25-28).

Grey Fox names preliminary lineup

Another great season is shaping up on the hill with the announcement of the preliminary lineup for the 2007 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. The Friday and Saturday headliners will be Nickel Creek in one of its rare 2007 appearances and the Sam Bush Band, returning to Grey Fox after a year's absense.

Other big name attractions include Marty Stuart, Mountain Heart, Doyle Alexander, and Michael Cleveland. Several of Festival Preview's favorite young string bands--The Greencards, Crooked Still, and The Infamous Stringdusters--will get prominent roles. Other bookings include Red Stick Ramblers, Dismembered Tennesseans, John Kirk and Trish Miller.

Special holiday pricing ($125 for a full festival pass including camping) is now in effect through December 31 at the Grey Fox online ticket page. After New Year's, the early bird pricing window opens through the end of April.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Strawberry fest announces first bookings

The Spring and Fall Strawberry Music Festival lineups are beginning to take shape with the announcement today of the first nine bookings.

The May 25-28 Spring festival will include Tim O’Brien’s Cornbread Nation, Utah Phillips,, Eddie From Ohio, Iris Dement, and J.D. Crowe & the New South. The August 30-September 3 Fall festival will include Jimmy Lafave, Samantha Robichaud, Harry Manx, and Dry Branch Fire Squad.

Of the announced artists, all except newgrass pioneer Crowe, Texas singer-songwriter Lafave, and Canadian Maritime fidder Robichaud have appeared at Strawberry in previous years. Eddie From Ohio was voted Best Performer in the Festival Preview Best of the Fest poll for Spring 2004.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Stellar lineup set for Telluride

Colorado roots music fans are sure to be pleased by the preliminary lineups announced last week by Planet Bluegrass for its two big summer festivals, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass. Both are packed with some familiar and some surprise performers. Tickets for both festivals go on sale December 6 online at and by phone at 800-624-2422.

At the 34th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, June 21-24, 2007, the lineup features superstars Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris; popular newgrass bands Yonder Mountain String Band and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones; and numerous unique combinations of artists: the genre-crossing of jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo great Bela Fleck; the inter-generational duets of MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile; the cultural-blending of mandolinists Mike Marshall and young Brazilian Hamilton de Holanda.

Unique to the Telluride Bluegrass experience is the long-running cameraderie of musicians who spend the entire weekend together under the shadow of 14,000 foot mountain peaks in the picturesque mountain town of Telluride CO. Frequent performers Sam Bush, John Cowan, Peter Rowan, and Jerry Douglas all return in 2007. Meanwhile a younger generation of Telluride musicians push acoustic music into fresh directions: the indie-rock-meets-bluegrass leanings of Chris Thile’s How to Grow a Band; the technically innovative Crooked Still; the Chinese-American fusion of Sparrow Quartet; the punk-acoustic edge of the Avett Brothers.

Telluride’s more traditional bluegrass-focused cousin, RockyGrass, welcomes many of the most lauded bands in bluegrass to Lyons, Colorado. The 35th annual festival welcomes Grammy-winners Marty Stuart, Del McCoury Band, Tony Rice, Nickel Creek (giving a special farewell performance), and Sam Bush (marking the only 2007 appearance of his Sam Bush Bluegrass Band).

Eleven-time IBMA winners Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver contribute their gospel vocal blend, while 2005 IBMA Entertainers of the Year, Cherryholmes, make their first appearance at the festival. Several of the festival headliners – including Nickel Creek, Del McCoury Band, Kruger Brothers, Claire Lynch Band, Bearfoot Bluegrass – will spend the week leading up to the festival teaching at the RockyGrass Academy in Lyons.

Complete day-by-day schedules will be announced in the Spring. The full listings for the preliminary lineups are:

34th TELLURIDE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL - June 21-24, 2007 - Telluride, CO
* Alison Krauss & Union Station * Sam Bush Band * Chick Corea & Bela Fleck * Emmylou Harris * Telluride House Band featuring Béla, Edgar, Jerry, Sam, Bryan * Yonder Mountain String Band * Béla Fleck & the Flecktones * Chris Thile & How to Grow a Band featuring Bryan Sutton * Jerry Douglas Band * Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile * John Cowan Band * Peter Rowan & Crucial Country * Dougie MacLean Band * Jackie Green * Mike Marshall & Hamilton de Holanda * Sparrow Quartet * Crooked Still * Infamous Stringdusters * Avett Brothers * Greensky Bluegrass * and many more still to be announced...

35th ROCKYGRASS FESTIVAL – July 27-29, 2007 - Lyons, CO
(Preliminary Lineup)
* Nickel Creek * Sam Bush Bluegrass Band * Del McCoury Band * Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives * Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet * Chris Thile & the How to Grow a Band * Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver * Claire Lynch Band * Kruger Brothers * Cherryholmes * Biscuit Burners * Bearfoot Bluegrass * Red Molly * Long Road Home * and many more...