Monday, April 30, 2007

New Grass players on one stage at Merlefest

By Dancin' Dave

Merlefest 2007 is history and it was history-making in my view! Since 1989, I have been waiting for a New Grass Revival reunion of any sort, and it finally happened, sort of, during the 20th Anniversary Jam at Merlefest Friday evening. Sam Bush was the jam host and many of the artists in attendence had joined in, when all of a sudden Sam introduced John Cowan and Pat Flynn. I turned to Lynn and exclaimed: "If Bela rejoins the jam I just may start crying........"

Sure enough, Bela rejoined and Sam responded to a call from an audience member who yelled "New Grass Revival..!" by announcing: "Well, a matter of fact we're about to play an old New Grass song." He introduced the "White Freightliner Blues", and I thought I was dreaming. As the song started, Sam and Bela and John and Pat kind of made their way to the middle of the jam and the lights kind of started focusing on them and my dream started coming true! Sam and John nailed the vocals and they all of course nailed the solos.

Never mind that the stage also held Stuart Duncan, John McEuen, Peter Rowan, Bryan Sutton, etc.......that was the closest I've been to an actual NGR reunion and I was definitely having a magical musical moment.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Celebrating tradition with Hippie Jack

New festivals are sprouting up all over--each with its own reason for coming into being. The genesis for Jammin at Hippie Jack's, set for Memorial Day weekend in rural Tennessee, was set in motion when photograpy supplier AGFA discontinued selling a particular specialty paper that lensman Jack Stoddard used to achieve a trademark look in his photos of traditional farmers and fisherman.

Changing technology in his own craft mirrored the subject of his work--how technology was driving out traditional ways of living and working. His award-winning work had attracted the attention of central Tennessee public television station WCTE, which worked with him to create a television series celebrating traditional, old-timey music--another endangered folk tradition. To film the televised concerts, a sound stage was constructed on Stoddard's farm outside Monterey TN.

Once the stage was set, it was just a small jump to decide to produce a full-fledged Americana music festival. So now the first Jammin at Hippie Jack's is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, with a full lineup of jamgrass, bluegrass, folk and blues--as well as creekside camping, gourmet barbeque, crafts gallery, and (no surprise) a display of Stoddard's original photography.

MerleFest—Thursday night

MerleFest kicked off Thursday afternoon and evening with main-stage sets from the Steep Canyon Rangers, Waybacks, John Cowan Band, Cherryholmes, and a kickoff jam featuring Cowan, Uncle Earl, Pete Wernick and others.

Our bloggers on site are sending in photos and reports as they are able to snag Internet connections. We'll post things here as they come in and update as the festival moves along. This first batch of photos comes from LuAnna Peck with some commentary by her and by Abduhl Mashoon.

The Steep Canyon Rangers came on stage fully decked out in slacks, nice shirts and ties, the whole package. I had not been familiar with their music but thoroughly enjoyed it. The band was weighted perfectly, allowed each member to showcase their musical ability without taking away from the whole. They kicked off the set with an energetic number and never let up, except to intersperse some stirring gospel and even a capella. Humorous banter filled the time between songs.—AM

Merlefest loves the Waybacks! Another excellent performance by my favorite band. Enough old stuff and enough new stuff to satisfy us all...and even a Grateful Dean piece for the people who may have been sad that they didn't have Bob [Weir] with them this year. The only disappointment is that the set had to end!—LP

Ridiculous virtuosity by James Nash (right) and Warren Hood are a highlight of the Waybacks' act. The band used their late afternoon one-hour set to try out a lot of new material. They'll be back on stage Friday and Saturday, so stay tuned for more recognizable tunes and possibly some special guests on stage.—AM

[Sandy Lee (left) and Cia Cherryholmes]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Newport Folk lineup headed by Linda Ronstadt

In more than four decades of a career spanning multiple musical genres, pop icon Linda Ronstadt has never appeared at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. But she will open the 2007 festival in a special "Evening with Linda Ronstadt" full-length concert on Friday, August 3.

Ronstadt is a 10-time Grammy winner, and has recorded three #1 albums, a chart-topping single, ten Top 10 albums and ten Top 10 singles. Her performance at Newport opens a folk festival that will stretch the boundaries by embracing roots rock, electric and acoustic blues, alt-country, and bluegrass, adding to its traditional strength in presenting singer-songwriters.

Notable acts include the Allman Brothers Band, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, Alejandro Escovedo, and the North Mississippi Allstars. Krauss is a long-time festival favorite after having first appeared at Newport more than 20 years ago at age 14.

The festival's trademark "song circle" sessions feature two members of the musical Wainwright clan, Martha and Sloan (with another to be announced), and a pairing of Appalachian singers, the great Hazel Dickens and up-and-comer Diana Jones.

Also on the bill: Amos Lee, Cheryl Wheeler, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, John Butler Trio, Assembly of Dust and many more.

“This is a landmark year for us because we’re able to explore so many different styles of music,” said Associate Producer Nalini Jones. The festival runs August 3-5 on four stages at the Tennis Hall of Fame and Fort Adams State Park in Newport RI.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Winding down at Old Settlers'

Beth Swindle made it only for getaway day at Old Settlers' Music Festival, which she found to be more of a family campoout than a formal fĂȘte.

Throwing a bag of snacks and six-pack of bottled water into my old Beetle and bumping out to Driftwood TX in the misty morning, I expected the typical festival: tall stages and throngs of gyrating revelers, $6 sodas and fried bread on a stick, much like the pics on the Old Settlers web site promised. And that may have been the case on Friday and Saturday, but this was Sunday.

Camp Ben McCulloch was a squatters' community: nests of colorful tents and party lights, kids with hula hoops and at least one mom rolling up the family teepee. Dads pulled on their tie-dyes and ten-gallons as they popped the first beer of the morning and dragged up to hear the Gospel Project hold church. In bag chairs and on old benches, generations deep in peeling paint, families collected to clap along to the modern inspirational music. The fine drizzle incantated a mystic intimacy, pressing everyone under a tin roof elevated by ancient cedar posts.

By one o'clock, Sarah Borges' magnetic rockabilly Broken Singles band drew in the second wave, which overflowed the shelter. Dressed in contrast to the weather, a straight black skirt and converse high tops, Sarah's grace and energizing stage presence lured the dreadlocked twenty-somethings and their first-generation hippy ancestors. Fragile women with flowing gray hair wrapped themselves in gauzy shawls and danced along, chanting to Sarah's intoxicating request for audience participation. We could have seen her in a more "festival" setting — she played on a big stage Saturday afternoon — but her off-mic kindness would not have touched every attendee as it did on Sunday.

During a lull, as they dismantled the Broken Singles' borrowed equipment — "They wouldn't let us bring amps or drums on the plane!" — I wandered among the live oaks to discover Honkytonk Homeslice warming up. In t-shirts and jeans this fast-pickin' trio impressed with their close harmonies and beaming smiles. Embroidered snap shirts and a larger audience may have dampened that sense of joy they exhibited, when caught by accident.

By mid-afternoon I was missing the food vendors only a little. I considered a walk across the road to the Salt Lick – the hill country's famous BYOB, all you can eat barbeque oasis. Nobody else noticed: they were all chomping on sandwiches and swiggin' canned beer carried over from their compounds. I wonder if this wasn't what the Old Settlers themselves had imagined 20 years ago when they organized the festival: parents and kids spending picnic time together and enjoying their American musical birthright under the oaks. You can experience it too: call the caretakers of Camp Ben McCulloch (512-858-2084) and reserve your spot!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wabes and HoJo to converge on the river

The Festival Preview database lists five festivals with "on the river" in their titles. Probably the best known are Reggae on the River (Aug. 3-5, Piercy CA) and Jam on the River (May 26-27, Philadelphia PA). There's also a Bluegrass on the River, Jazz on the River and Roots on the River.

But the just-announced American River Music Festival (Sept. 21-23, Coloma CA) is the first I know of that takes place partly "in the river." The South Fork of the American River has some of the best whitewater rafting in Northern California. The concept of this festival is to combine two days of roots music from performers such as the Waybacks, Laurie Lewis, Joe Craven and others with a day of whitewater rafting.

I've rafted the South Fork several times in the past and once I got to know what it means to be "in the river" when I fell out of the raft shooting the Meatgrinder rapid. Most folks get through without experiencing the full-body dip, though. What a rush!

The music will be notable for at least one reason. In addition to the Waybacks, the lineup includes Houston Jones, a band that includes several original members of the Waybacks. In fact, HoJo's Travis Jones sometimes jokes that Houston Jones has more Waybacks than the Waybacks do. I've never seen both bands together at the same festival and I'll be curious to see if they play together at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Young singers plant their American roots at Old Settlers'

Austin-area blogger Beth Swindle will be on the scene at Old Settlers' Music Festival this weekend. Here's here take on two of the lesser known local entries that will be appearing.

Prepping to attend the Old Settlers' Music Festival next weekend, I asked myself, just what is American Roots Music? Am I just going to hear a host of geezers remind me of when they carried their fiddles up hill both ways?

[Photo: Kat Edmonson at last year's OSMF.]

But strolling through the assortment of styles represented on the stage schedules helped me know it's our past, our present; it's the future of music for every taste. The mind-boggling variety available just south of Austin, Texas, April 19-22, can be exemplified by the diversity of two area bands I've heard at Central Austin clubs this week – both appearing at the festival and both with young lead singers putting down roots of their own in the Texas music scene.

A defining time in American pop was the age of Sinatra. Slim Richey and Kat's Meow revive those days Thursday evening, with the help of breathy beauty Kat Edmonson. Though only in her early 20s, Kat earned the ultimate respect as an American Idol contestant, and her clear, airy rendition of "Fever" could be the standard.

Saturday the Settlers' remind us of our Old Time Bluegrass heritage with another young band: the trio Love Gone Cold. Hearing Beth Chrisman at Freddie's Place in Austin reminded me of Loretta Lynn recordings I heard on the scratchy Victrola at my granny's house in the sticks of Louisiana: thin, distant, but certainly danceable. It's all in the affect – the western suits and vintage microphone together with close harmonies, fiddle, and mandolin pickin' lend to the authenticity that this young group walked out of the mountains to play just for you to-nite only. So don't miss em!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How to Survive Merlefest

Merlefest!! For music lovers of a certain type, the name raises hopes and challenges the imagination. Ask someone along the festival trail if they’ve ever been to Merlefest and more often than not you get a response that suggests wonder, a little fear, concern about the crowds, concern about the expense, eagerness to attend. More people have heard about Merlefest than have attended it. Merlefest 2007 will be our fifth consecutive Merlefest. It represents the single most expensive and engaging week in our entertainment calendar. Each year we are introduced to musicians we have never heard of or never seen and reunited with some of our favorites. Unlike smaller, more intimate and informal festivals we attend, there is much less opportunity to interact with the performers. You don’t get a chance to hang out with people artists you’d like to know better. All that being the case, we still purchase our tickets the day they go on sale and plan our travel year around Merlefest.

First established in 1988 as a memorial to the legendary Doc Watson’s son Merle, who had been killed in a tractor accident the year before, Merlefest started as a modest event on a flatbed trailer with some bales of hay thrown around for people to sit on. Merle’s friends, friends like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brian, T. Michael Coleman, John Cowan, and many others came together to sing and pick in memory of Merle. Now, twenty years later 80,000 admissions (average of a little over 20,000 per day) show up to hear the icons of Americana music, enjoy the scene, and depending on where they stay, to jam ‘til all hours. If 20,000 people are on campus at Wilkes Community College at any one time, there are probably 20,000 different Merlefests. Let’s see if we can bring some sense into how to get the most out of this mammoth festival.

Merlefest is held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC in the foothills of the Appalachian range of mountains. It is held the last weekend in April. Weather conditions in the hills are unreliable. It can be quite hot in the sunshine or cold and raw. One thing is almost certain, evenings at the main stage, the Watson stage, can be really cold. Come prepared each day for a full range of temperature and wetness. The college campus is hilly and the twelve sound stages are located all over campus. Hillside is at the top of the campus, but at the bottom of a steep hill providing excellent seating for viewers. Creekside stage is behind the main stage along a creek. It, too, accommodates large crowds and important concerts are scheduled there. The main stage, Watson, dominates the campus. It dominates the flat lower part of the main campus with its sixty rows of reserved seats and a seemingly endless grass field behind them where those without reserved seats set up what become almost camp sites.

Merlefest and Wilkes Community College are serious about alcohol and drugs on campus and security is tight. People at every gate you come through inspect carry-in backpacks, purses, camera bags, and such. They’re looking for alcohol and drugs and very little gets through. In our years of attending this festival, we’ve seen almost no drunks and have seldom smelled the aroma of weed. This leads some people to complain about too many rules and intrusive security. Some people complain the Merlefest is a “police state.” The best way to keep from feeling injured is to obey the rules. The net effect for those attending the festival is that people are well-behaved and young parents don’t have to explain other people’s behavior to their kids. Every day this campus becomes a large community of music lovers who can enjoy themselves without having their enjoyment intruded on by drunks and stoners.

Don’t let the reserved seats intimidate you. Until five in the afternoon, all seats in the reserved section of Watson stage are open to anyone who wishes to sit in them, unless the owners of the seat claim them, whereupon, users just move to another seat. Some people, with strong bladders, have been known to enter the reserved area around 4:00 in the afternoon and, by nimbly changing seats, stay until the evening ends. Of course, if they leave to eat or relieve themselves, they can’t get back in. Reserve seats for new subscribers go on sale around November 1st. We got our by going on-line the minute the box office opened, asking for best available seats, and scored in the twentieth row. We intend to keep our seats and leave them to our children in our wills.

If you’re going to Merlefest to get your fill, assuming that’s possible, of a specific band like Donna the Buffalo, Blue Highway, or Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, John Cowan, or you name it, you’ll need to be prepared to move about the campus. Performers move from Hillside to Creekside, to Walker Center (a lovely indoor theater), to the Ameriana stage, to Watson Stage and you’ll need to move with them. The other alternative is to restrict your movement, enlarge your interests, and wait for your favorite bands to come to you. There are other stages for people with specific interests. The Traditional Stage features a variety of traditional bluegrass, old-time music, hymn singing with shaped notes, and clogging. The Austin Stage, a small stage shoehorned in between two classroom buildings under cool trees is an intimate place where you can hear lots of blues. Choose your poison and you’re likely to find it at Merlefest.

Merlefest is the major fund raising event for every community group in Wilkes County. Under one long tent a range of foods from Pad Thai to barbecued chicken is available. You can order a full meal or a hot dog. You can have a funnel cake if you haven’t had enough of them elsewhere, or you can avoid them and eat healthy. Eating well and happily is, as usual, a matter of timing. To avoid horrendous lines at the food booths, eat away from meal times. Eat lunch at ten or two, dinner at four or seven and you’ll find seats and not wait in line too long. But remember, these food booths are important to the community and you’ll know you’ve supported worthy causes rather than small time traveling entrepreneurs.

Vendors, vendors everywhere, but they’re only where you want them to be and you have to go to them to take advantage of what they have to offer. This year the vendors’ village has been moved to create more green space. I have no idea what that means, but it suggests that you’ll have to do more walking to get to the dozens of independent vendors hawking everything from tie-dies to instruments, stained glass to wooden bowls, juggling kits to jump ropes. There’s lots of choice, and while you will find the usual pre-packaged Chinese imports you see at other festivals and flea markets, careful shopping can net you some interesting and unusual purchases.

Three other shopping venues add to the opportunities. The craft tent has juried crafts people selling a variety of high quality crafts including hand made boots, brooms and brushes, several kinds of wonderful bowls, hand made instruments, and other choices. It’s worth a walk through this tent just to appreciate the art. We’ve bought several turned burl bowls through the years and treasure them at home. The music tent sells CDs and other merchandise from all artists appearing at the festival. This tent is sponsored by the Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce and they add a hefty $3.00 charge to the usual $15.00 you pay to support musicians at other festivals. Furthermore, your opportunities to get the CDs signed are limited as there are long lines and short appearances by the artists. Sometimes you get lucky. Finally, there’s a sales tent on the path between the Watson Stage and the Creekside stage which you shouldn’t miss. This tent is where the major instrument manufacturers show their wares and allow you to demo them to your heart’s content. Deering, Ome, Nechville, First Quality Music and other manufacturers have booths. Just outside, Gibson has a large trailer. It’s like being let loose in a chocolate factory.

Accommodations in Wilkesboro offer several choices. Almost all motel rooms are spoken four years in advance and at exorbitant prices. There are several campgrounds available. Closest to the campus is River’s Edge where there is tent camping and round the clock jamming. Another place well-know for jamming and having places for larger RVs is a camp ground near the city’s water purification plant and dubbed “Sewer Fest.” People who stay there love it. The Kerr Reservoir west of town is a Corp of Engineers impoundment with a number of campgrounds around it. The Merlefest web site describes the various venues and you can get more information from the bulletin board on the Merlefest site. At one time there was a large parking lot and hillside on campus that was used for camping at a cost of $150 per site. This space has been reduced and the price increased to $400 dollars without any hookups. The best way is to either show up at River’s Edge or make your reservations early. I gather the scene at River’s Edge is loose and friendly. The younger crowd which inhabits this area seems to enjoy it a lot. Us older folks prefer something more tame.

There’s lots more – a place to take a much needed nap in the shade; a massage tent; Alberti’s flea circus; the Little Pickers tent for kids; jammers tents; a display of raptors; sand sculpture; and a garden of meditation in memory of Merle Watson, which brings us back to where we started. At any venue you’re likely to see and hear Doc Watson, the legendary blind mountain folk song singer who came to prominence at folk festivals in the sixties and continues to sing and pick like a wizard at age 83. The spirit of Doc Watson pervades this wonderful festival. You’ll leave on Sunday afternoon exhausted and exhilarated and waiting for next April to come around.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Springfest roundup 2

More from Dancin' Dave. Thanks, Dave.

In my first review of the Springfest I neglected to mention a couple of acts that also stood out, but somehow slipped my mind.

Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp and Mike Bubb did stellar sets on the Main Stage on both Saturday and Sunday. To me Verlon is one of the sweet gems in the musical world; a more gracious person than most.... On Sunday I had a nice visit with him; he was watching a dance partner of mine and I dancin' and he was all smiles. He told us that he didn't know that folks could dance so well to that kind of music (Tania of the Duhks was playing with Crooked Still and Joe Craven at the time) and I assured him that he also plays very danceable music....and he was pleased.

Also, Roy Bookbinder did a set with Jorma Kaukenon that was bluesy, folksy, and just plain fun! Barry Mitterhoff joined Jorma as well...sweet.

And of course there was Darrell Scott. It doesn't get any better than Darrell! "It's a great day to be alive...." >g<

On the way to the Springfest I had the wonderful opportunity to be able to stop in Nashville for a couple of nights. The first night I went to the Bluebird Cafe, a first for me....and what a night it was! The musicians included John Cowan, Jonell Mosser, Ashley Cleveland, Luke Bulla, Jeff Autry, and two fellows that I don't know (but who were obviously top-of-the-line Nashville musicians...!). These seven musicians sat in a circle in the middle of the club (no stage), and went around the circle, playing whatever tunes that came up in their minds. It couldn't have been more intimate or magical...

The next night I had every intention of taking in the Station Inn, but in cruising the ol' internet during the day I noticed that Daybreak was playing at another club I wasn't familiar with. I had seen and heard Daybreak four or five years ago....the four young musicians had just graduated from Vanderbilt and I really liked their sound. I got to know a couple of them and had been wondering why I hadn't seen them on any festival lineups since.

Well....they weren't able to make a living traveling as a band and went off to pursue other avenues for their talents: DeAnn Whalen and Dan the bass player both landed jobs on Broadway in New York in a musical play about Johnny Cash. DeAnn has moved backed to Nashville, got a good job promoting musical acts, and has gotten back together with her bandmates to start playing as Daybreak again. She was really excited to see me, claiming it was even more special since this was the first gig for the group in a couple of years. And I still really like their sound and hope that they continue their music....

Besides the music of Daybreak, 12th South Tap is a wonderful club that has great food and many many kinds of micro-brews of which the ones that were offered to me by the two young folks running the place were very tasty!
So much high-quality music around...>g<
Peace, David

Springfest roundup 1

Part 1 of Dancin' Dave's Suwannee Springfest report:

'Tis nice to start the spring off in northern Florida! Especially when there's a gathering of a festival community such as the type that gathers at the Suwannee Springfest. And it's like any other festival....the community is made of ALL kinds of folk, from the silly to the sublime...>g< I love it.

And many many magical musical moments as well! I can't thank all of those musicians enough for sharing their talents. My personal musical highlights were:

Joe Craven!!!! There was hardly a band that he didn't play with and I even ran into him pickin' in a little booth. I read once that David Grisman considers Joe to be the best musician he's played with. Joe played the Main Stage with Bobby Lee Rodgers, a guitarist that I hadn't heard of and who certainly has practised alot in his life! Joe is simply amazing...

Crooked Still....this young band is at the very top echelon of my favorites. The sad thing about the Duhks not making it to the festival 'cause of visa problems was very well balanced by the fact that Tania, the Duhks fiddler, used their stage slots to hold a hot smokin' jam that included Joe, Crooked Still, and Dan Frechette. (a Canadian friend of the Duhks who is a real hoot...) So----more Crooked Still is always welcomed!

Ray Wylie Hubbard....never had heard of him but my good buddy MapleAl told me to be sure to check him out. And Ray is a hoot as well! Great songwriting and a wonderfully humorous attitude and I will be checking him out further by purchasing some cds.
Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks.....another band that has been around a long time and another one that I wasn't aware of. Super music! It was a riot watching the folks in the audiance dancin' around, singing along to the songs that they've known forever. Another band that I have to look into deeper. (like I need another one...>g<)

Sycthian....a rockin' cajun/irish/bluegrassy kind of band with super high energy and one that will get folks dancin'! What a riot....
Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams...who knew? I think I heard that they are from the Philadelphia area? I only caught part of two sets of theirs, and I sure did have fun with the parts I caught....

I wish I would have caught more of the Biscuit Burners. It was just a timing thing....they were up against the Infamous Stringdusters one time and Crooked Still another. What I did hear I was very impressed with.

And the Infamous Stringdusters! Hotter than hot and another young group who is blowing me away. Righteous! I can't wait to see and hear more of them.

And of course there was Peter Rowan and Tony Rice and their Quartet and it seems as if I'll be able to get a charge out of these guys no matter how many times I hear them! Besides their set they also host the Bluegrass Jam on Sunday....(gee, did Joe show up at that? >g<)
The weather was perfect, the dancin' hot and all the old and new friendships precious. I am a lucky guy to be able to have so many wonderful festival communities to enjoy....
Peace, David