Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rockygrass 2007 - Friday

Day One at Rockygrass.

Rain threatened rain all morning, and made good most of the afternoon, usually at the beginning of must-see sets. This didn't deter attendance or the crazed hippie dancers, who seemed to relish their mud-spattered dance hall.

Rain Dancers

Miscellany -

T Shirt of the Day - "National Sarcasm Society - Like We Need Your Support"

Booth of the Day - The Carbon E-Racer is a demonstration booth designed to show how much carbon emission can be reduced by bicycles instead of cars. Using a ratio of 5 gallons of gasoline for each 100 miles biked, this interactive booth runs a tally board showing how much carbon would not have been added to the atmosphere for the number of miles their stationery bike was pedaled. Watch for daily updates.

Carbon E-Racer Tally Board

My day began with a the debut set by Sierra Hull & Highway 111. This talented teen is the current holder of the "Wow-She's-So-Young-And-Talented" vibe in the acoustic string and bluegrass world. And she does deserve a certain amount of awe for natural gifts and mature stage presence. She played a straight-up traditional set complete with perky stage banter, traditional arrangements, religious references and nasal vocals. Her bassist, Edgar Loudermilk, played his last set this morning, departing for a slot with IIIrd Tyme Out.

Sierra Hull and Highway 111

Brian Simpson of Cadillac Sky

FP favorite Cadillac Sky fired up the afternoon schedule with a frenetic set charged with incendiary fiddle, snugly-fitting high speed harmonies, excellent songcraft and relentlessly upbeat patter. No longer just another radio-friendly bluegrass band from Texas, CS has now taken on a unnecessarily gimmicky persona, dressing in green flight suits that lead to the inevitable joke, "Hi, we're Kenny Loggins and the Danger Zone." Perhaps the association with Skaggs Family Records had something to do with the infusion of schlock, but in any case these guys are too talented and too improved to play the clown card. A highlight of the set was an extended bass-and-banjo classical interlude that lead into a beautiful "Blind Man Walking". Judging by the partial standing ovation at set's end, Cadillac Sky gained a new popularity.

Next up, the Kruger Brothers returned to the Rockygrass stage for an impeccable set of classically-oriented tunes and suites. The Swiss-born Brothers (hey, it's still mountain music) are excellent technical players with a low-key but thoroughly entertaining vibe. Every time I've had the pleasure of seeing these guys, the Brothers have made new friends. Today certainly was no exception.

Uwe Kruger

As the afternoon drew on toward evening, Chris Thile and How to Grow a Band took the stage for their farewell performance. As I noted in my review of their Telluride set, HTGAB has an uncertain feel to its sets, as if the band is still trying to realize its immense potential. Any unit matching the unquestionable talents of Chris Thile with guitarist Bryan Sutton, banjoist (is it banjo-IST and BAN-joist?) Noam Pickelny, and his fellow Leftover Salmon alum Greg Garrison on bass has an embarrassing surplus of raw talent. And yet HTGAB can't seem to quite jell, resulting in a manic-depressive set that soars way, way up and sinks way, way down.

Chris Thile & Noam Pickelny Play Their Last Set as How to Grow a Band

Sadly, we won't see this potential realized. This afternoon's set was the swan song for this theoretical super group of young pickers. In an unintentional irony, Thile introduced a tune from his solo CD, "The Deceiver" saying, he "clearly should have recorded with these guys." Yeah, he probably should have. If he had HTGAB would have time to become a much better band.

Although billed as the Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet, Bryan Sutton remained on the stage after the Thile set, to replace a mysteriously-missing Tony Rice (still no explanation for the substitution). This turned out to be an auspicious replacement. The Quartet delivered an impressive set, vastly improved over their Telluride performance. New bassist Catherine Popper seems to have settled into her role, replacing Bryn Davies with a pure rhythmic technique that complements mando player Sharon Gilchrist's chops very effectively. The single sour note came when Rowan launched "Cold Rain & Snow", which heralded the start of the afternoon's rainfall (the power of music, huh?). The band has clearly been rehearsing vocals, too, as their vocal harmonies now boast a soaring weightlessness, particularly in the iconic "In the Pines". Sutton's guitar style, distinctly different from Rice's, nevertheless raised the bar to a level of excellence that should daunt the rest of this weekend's acts.

Peter Rowan and Catherine Popper

Returning to the Rockygrass stage after an unnecessarily-long absence, David Grisman brought his son, Sam, on bass, and an eclectic ensemble to exhibit his Bluegrass Experience. Much as I like the Quintet, I have to say that Grisman returning to his bluegrass and old-time roots is very welcome. Gris' knowledge of roots music informed a wide-ranging set that included Carter Family originals and dawg music standards. For the encore, Grisman orchestrated a massive clusterpluck involving Chris Thile, Sara Jerosz, and numerous others.

David Grisman's Clusterpluck Encore

Friday's finale featured the excellent Del McCoury Band, still, by anyone's standards, the best traditional bluegrass band performing today. Del doesn't change much, preferring a winning set list and stage style. "Traveling Teardrop Blues" made an early appearance, followed by DMB standards "Never Grow Up Boy", "Blackjack County Chain", "Cheek to Cheek with the Blues", and "1958 Vincent Black Lightning." If you've seen one Del show, you've probably seen them all, and yet his performances, backed by sons Ronnie on mando and Robbie on banjo, never go stale or cliche. There's a goofy energy in Del's banter that offsets the typically-tragic subjects of his tunes. Del McCoury always reminds me of Rev. Jeff Mosier's description of the first time he heard bluegrass, describing it as people "playing happy music with sad faces." Throw in an encore featuring David Grisman and Chris Thile and you have three of the best mando players alive on stage. It's hard to get much better than that.

Ronnie and Del McCoury

(Props and credit to The Stone Cup, who provide fine dark-roasted coffee and free wifi. Thanks, Mindy & Sam. Remember, Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Powered by ScribeFire.

No comments: