Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rockygrass 2007 - Saturday

Another night of rainfall gave way to a partly-clearing sky Saturday morning. After the monsoons of Friday, though, the crowd was able to lightly laugh off the chances of precipitation. Although people arrived prepared for weather, there was an expectation of sunshine, one that Saturday's schedule promised to fulfill.

The Carbon E-racer continued to gives sugar-fueled kids a chance to burn off calories and learn about going green. Today's total pounds of carbon avoided:

Bearfoot, known in their "younger" days as Bearfoot Bluegrass, is an Alaskan band making its six appearance on the Rockygrass stage. Fronted by a twin fiddle threat, this touring unit has matured nicely and now boasts a diverse repertoire that easily spans genres, classics and original tunes. And any young band that tackles the eighty-year old Carter Family classic "Single Girl" deserves a nod.

Angela and Annalisa of Bearfoot

If you can't book Tim O'Brien, some of former band mates might be willing to come along. Multi-instrumentalist and ham boning clogger Mark Schatz brought along a few friends, including fellow O'Brien alum Casey Driessen for fiddle support. Round out your list of friends with Missy Raines on bass and Jim Hurst for guitar and vocals. Schatz has always had a fondness for roots, and his set list dug pretty deep, finding such gems as "My Last Gold Dollar's Done and Gone", and "Bosco Stomp". Chris Thile was invited on stage early, and his mando definitely added to the string band aura.

Mark Schatz

When Rockygrass retained its traditional flavor, it opened a Colorado avenue for exploration of the deep roots of bluegrass and old-time. Friday's set by David Grisman's Bluegrass Experience certainly took listeners back in time to a Pre-Monroe era chock full of influences, but this set really set the dial of the Way Back Machine to the left. There may not be a single more important mandolinist in this genre than Jesse McReynolds. Celebrating 60 years in the business, his sit-down set with acolytes Sam Bush and David Grisman was an ear-opening explanation of the depth of innovation that Jesse, a "frustrated guitar player", brought to acoustic string music. His "split-string" technique gave Jesse and brother Jim a unique mando sound and fuels Jesse's career even today. With Sam Bush providing detailed technical commentary ("we have to use open tuning - Jesse just uses split-string"), the set list dug deep into the Jim and Jesse catalog and imported a wide range of standards and pop/rock tunes. Where else could you expect to hear three mandos sizzle on "Johnny B. Goode" followed by the deep traditional "Get Up, John"?

Jesse McReynolds

Claire Lynch returned Missy Raines and Jim Hurst to the stage for her relaxed, easygoing set. Avoiding the technical pyrotechnics of others on the bill, Claire mixed original pop-flavored bluegrass numbers with swing and Cajun tunes that kept a sizable number of dancers busy. Ably assisted by Jason Thomas on mando and fiddle, her set was a refreshing breather that coincided with a clearing of the skies above Planet Bluegrass.

Claire Lynch

If it's Saturday at Rockygrass, it must be time for the annual appearance by the Sam Bush Bluegrass Band. When the King of Telluride makes his first mando chop on the Lyons stage there's an undeniable excitement that quickly accelerates to bluegrass bliss. Maybe there's something to that "power of positive thinking" thing - minutes before Bush's anticipated opening, the clearing skies allowed spectacular views of a perfectly full moon rising over Planet Bluegrass in what Sam called "a curly maple sky".

"a curly maple sky"

But it's always the tunes that keep the crowd on its feet. Running through a catalog of his solo work, featuring "Ridin' that Bluegrass Train" and "Georgia Mail", Bush mixed in classic sources such as The Dillards and the Country Gentlemen. Even five-stringer Scott Vestal added a touch with his instrumental, "By Stealth".

Sam Bush

This 17 tune set had some incredible peak moments. Guitarist Steve Mougin repeatedly nailed solos and contributed a fine vocal for "They Tell Me Your Love is Like a Flower". Byron House proved beyond all doubt that he is a rhythm master with his bass dominating and uniting the eccentric tempos of John Hartford's "On the Road". And finally, "Howlin' at the Moon" could not have been played at a better time, place, or pace.

Of course, with any Sam Bush festival experience there's bound to be crowded encores. Chris Thile, Casey Driessen, Gabe Witcher, David Grisman, Mark Schatz, Sean Watkins and an unknown Dobro player crowded the stage for dual encores, "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms". An extra-length set closed what has to be the climax of Rockygrass 2007.

Until tomorrow, that is.

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