Sunday, September 30, 2007

Will the Blue Angels disrupt HSB?

Last week at Monterey, I remarked on the low flying aircraft coming in over the festival to land at Monterey Airport. Next weekend at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the overhead distraction is a little more spectacular.

Once again, HSB coincides with Fleet Week in San Francisco, including four-hour performances on Saturday and Sunday by the U.S. Navy's elite flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels. Now I am not going to express an opinion about the Blue Angels their air show in San Francisco, but I will say that their act is an unwelcome distraction for several hundred thousand people at a music festival.

Last year, I had the distinct impression that the F18 Hornet pilots, flying wingtip to wingtip, deliberately buzzed the festival on repeated fly-bys. For thirty seconds of so, the sound of the aircraft would drown out whatever performer was on stage. Undoubtedly, a percentage of the 200,000 attendees were delighted by the aerobatics--many, many more were disturbed by the interference.

So the flights are happening again this year--1-5 pm on the same days as Hardly Strictly. I hope there has been some communication among the festival, the city and the Navy such that the Blue Angels avoid low fly-bys over Speedway Meadow. I'm not bothered if their stunts are visible from the festival--but I don't want them disrupting my experience.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Photos

Here are some photos from past editions of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass:

Earlybirds lounging in the park.The Jerry Douglas Band, w/ Jerry getting down on the Dobro (left).
The sound man's view of a set at the Rooster Stage.Bill Kirchen (center), mid-jam w/backup. (Credit: Jambase)HSB founder, producer and host Warren Hellman. (Credit: PBase) Jorma Kaukonen (left) and Jack Casady (right). (Credit: Fred's House) Frequent HSB performer Emmylou Harris. (Credit: Fred's House) Del McCoury (right) and friends. (Credit: Strictly Bluegrass)

HSB questions and answers

Greg Waldschmidt on the Festivarian list posted these questions about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass:

As this is my first year coming to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, I am looking for some background info, such as: what to bring (coolers I know, do they allow alchohol?), how to get there (mass transit I suspect, but what are the other options)?, the best way to get there from San Rafael, where I will be staying with my brother, and is it easy to move from stage to stage, or do you throw tarps at a couple of stages to stake territory?

With its rising reputation as a destination festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is attracting more and more out-of-towners who need to know the lay of the land for this festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Here's some attendee tips from Festival Preview:

First, forget what you know from attending other festivals. Because HSB is a free and open event, there are no admission gates and nobody checking for alcohol or video cameras or other typical festival no-nos. Anything that you can carry in is okay. But you are probably going to have a considerable walk to get to Speedway Meadows, so don't come too loaded down. Of course, you should plan to take out everything you bring in.

On transit, you can drive to the vicinity but parking is miserable. A good solution is to drop off one of your party with chairs and supplies and then go off in search of legal curb space. In the outer Richmond (south of the park) and outer Sunset (north of the park), you won't find many paid lots, either. Your best bet is to cruise three or four blocks away from the park. Persistance will pay off.

Public transit is highly encouraged by the festival and the city. From downtown SF at the Transbay Terminal or other stops, catch the #5 Fulton bus to 30th Ave. in the outer Richmond. That leaves you a short distance from Speedway Meadow. Another option is the #71 Haight-Noriega, which you can exit at Lincoln and 23rd on the Sunset side of the park. Or take the N Judah Muni trolley from downtown to the outer Sunset. There is no shuttle service within the park this year.

Public transit to the city from San Rafael is either by bus or ferry. Weekend service on the Larkspur ferry is limited. Make the 9:40 ferry if you want to get to the festival for a full day. There are more options by bus. Check with Golden Gate Transit for more bus and ferry information

On navigating stages, all five stages are in close proximity (yet there is relatively little audio overlap). If you are hustling, you can pretty much get from any stage to any other within five minutes. Getting up close is a different story. If you arrive early in the day with tarp and chairs, you will be able to stake out some decent turf at one of the stages. The Banjo Stage is considered the main stage and holds the largest audience. Rooster, which hosts a lot of the singer-songwriters, is probably the toughest for nabbing prime territory, because it is set between wooded hills on both sides of a narrow audience area.

The idea of setting up at all of the stages is smart in principle, but will require coordination with several of your friends to pull off. I'd say if you can get one good setup, count your blessings and figure on sitting in other people's chairs at the other stages. Also, be aware there is no leaving a setup overnight.

You are right that you should expect to be on the move all weekend. If people have any frustration with HSB, it's that there's too much to see and hear. Rather than try to see everyone you want, plan your schedule around three or four sets you will enjoy in full. Then catch partial sets by some of the other artists as you move from stage to stage.

Amenities are pretty good on site. There are food vendors at each stage, along with merch tents and plenty of porto-potties. Most unusual for music festivals, dogs on leash are allowed. You'd think that could get out of hand, but most dogs I've seen at the festival have been well tended and well behaved.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Afro-pop star Oliver Mtukudzi headlines Shakori Hills

The Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance, October 11-14 in Silk Hope NC, added depth to its world music component with the announcement of Afro-pop sensation Oliver Mtukudzi as a headline performer.

Sometimes called “Tuku,” Mtukudzi has built an international reputation since the mid-1970s, when he performed with a band called Wagon Wheels. He later formed Black Spirits, the band that has backed him as a featured performer. Mtukudzi is know for playing a in a genre called “chimurenga,” which is inspired by the hypnotic rhythms of the mbira (thumb piano). Mtukudzi's act also incorporates pop influences, South African “mbaqanga,” the energetic Zimbabwean pop style “JIT” and the traditional kateke drumming of his native Zimbabwean clan.

The fall Shakori HIlls festival, part of the Grassroots festival franchise launched by jam band Donna The Buffalo, which also includes the Grassroots Festival in Ithaca NY and a spring Shakori HIlls event, features a strong mix of world music, jam rock and roots styles. Other artists on the eclectic lineup include Jim Lauderdale, John Jorgenson Quintet, The Duhks, The Greencards, Toubab Krewe and many more.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

White Oak Shores BG Festival, Stella, NC - Preview

The third annual bluegrass festival at White Oak Shores Campground in Stella, NC will be held over the weekend of September 28 – 29. Weekend packages including camping for two nights and tickets for both days are $150.00 for two people. Stella is located almost due east of Jacksonville, NC along the coastal marsh near Camp Lejeune, here. The campground appears to be an attractive one and the location can’t be beat, especially in early fall. It should be warm and pleasant, as well as comfortably uncrowded.

The lineup for the White Oak Shores Bluegrass Festival combines a strong set of local and regional North Carolina bands with two excellent touring national bands. Carolina Junction is a traditional bluegrass band playing a busy schedule, mostly in North and South Carolina. The cuts on their web site suggest they’ll be worth listening to. Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion have been around a long time and give a competent and enjoyable performance. We saw them in Florida two seasons ago, and they perform at a variety of good regional events. Ted Jones and the Tarheel Boys will close Friday’s show. Jones, a young mandolin player, is backed by his father and a full bluegrass band. They are another North Carolina group featuring traditional bluegrass and gospel music. Their cuts on their MySpace site suggest that they will provide a solid performance. All in all, Friday at White Oak Shores promises a pleasant day of bluegrass with perhaps some surprises for folks who aren’t familiar with these bands.

Because I haven’t been to this festival before and can only assess bands in terms of their web presence, some bands in the lineup are totally unknown to me. This doesn’t mean, however, that they won’t be worth listening to. Wherever we go we are surprised by the quality of bands that seem to pop up from the local soil. North Carolina provides more than its share of excellent local and regional bands so groups like The Grassy Creek Band, Mac and Tammy McRoy, and The Jeff Huffman Band can offer a great deal to someone who loves bluegrass and isn’t necessarily limited to seeing and hearing headliners. I have made no effort to provide even minimal profiles as I can’t find an Internet presence for these bands to inform my opinion.

Sweet Potato Pie , which opens Saturday’s event, is an all girl band (Now I know about being PC and actually considered calling this a female band or an all women band or something else but chose to stick with the convention.) They play regional and local events in North Carolina, calling their music “Sweetgrass.” The Boys from Carolina Bluegrass Band is another experienced band whose performance will no doubt be satisfying. Another North Carolina is Roby Huffman & the Bluegrass Cutups. Marshall Stephenson is a local radio personality who has been promoting bluegrass in eastern North Carolina for many years. The band’s name, The Bluegrass Train takes the name of Stephenson’s radio show. According to an article in the News & Observer, where Stephenson was named Tarheel of the Week, the show is reminiscent of bluegrass shows harkening back to the early days of bluegrass festivals in the 1960’s.

All this stands as a prelude to the two national headline bands which appear at White Oak Shores on Saturday. Despite too frequent turnovers in its membership, The Lonesone River Band is simply one of the best touring bands to be heard. Lead by Sammy Shelor, one of the premier banjo players in the country, LRB appears from California to New England and is one of the hardest working bands on tour. The return of Brandon Rickman and the addition of Matt Leadbetter as well as Andy Ball on mandolin and Mike Anglin on bass may become the best LRB band ever. Shelor brings his amazing banjo versatility and personal magnetism along with a mature sensibility which adds depth and thoughtfulness to their music. This is a band calling fans to travel to wherever they appear.

Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road continue to improve with each new change in their personnel. (Disclosure – a number of my photographs appear on their web site, and Irene and I have developed something of a personal relationship with this band.) The addition of singer/guitarist Jerry Butler almost a year ago has warmed this band up, added humor, and helped Lorraine to focus her skill and leadership of the band. In their recent CD and band appearances, Lorraine has sung tenor to Jerry’s lead most effectively. Youngsters Josh Goforth, a first rate fiddler, and Josh Meade on bass bring youthful enthusiasm and a progressive strain to this essentially traditional band, while Benny Greene brings experience and seasoning. This band has entered a mature phase and is establishing its national profile through extensive travel.

The White Oak Shores Bluegrass Festival promises to offer interesting music in a lovely setting. More information about tickets and camping can be found here.

WAMU Upgrades Its Bluegrass Programming

The Grass Is Bluer on the Other Side -

Big changes are coming at WAMU - and its streaming bluegrass programming.
"We've been searching for a way to do right by bluegrass," says Caryn Mathes, general manager of the station, which has steadily whittled away at its once-dominant musical programming over the past two decades. "We believe in HD Radio, and it allows us to give bluegrass lovers not just one shelf in a very big store that specializes in something else, but their own store."

[. . .]For six years now, WAMU has offered, an all-bluegrass service on the Internet, but "we often repeat programs, and by Wednesday afternoon, listeners realize they heard the same program on Monday morning," Mathes says. The new WAMU bluegrass service will include eight to 10 hours a day of live, hosted programs with longtime DJs Ray Davis, Katy Daley and Lee Michael Demsey offering commentary on the music, as well as news, traffic and weather.

About 50,000 listeners a month tune into the online bluegrass stream, and many of them are from outside the Washington area. The new programming will also be available online, and WAMU expects most of the audience to listen on the Internet rather than on digital radios, at least at first.
I've always found WAMU to be a great source for streaming music. Hey, even DC traffic reports sound better with bluegrass.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Johnny C Has Heart Problem

The Bluegrass Blog » John Cowan hospitalized: bluegrass music news

Our friends at the Bluegrass Blog have this item about John:

John Cowan hospitalized

posted by John on 09.13.07 @ 8:40 am

John CowanFriends and fans of noted newgrass vocalist John Cowan have long held that he has a heart as big as his voice, but even the heartiest isn’t immune to health concerns.

After experiencing chest pains last Thursday, John was hospitalized where a partial blockage was discovered in one coronary artery. A stent was inserted, and John is expected to be released from the hospital tomorrow (9/14).

He will take the next two weeks off to rest and recover at home, but the band will be back fulfilling their busy schedule starting with shows on September 28-29.

We all look forward to seeing John back on the road, and wish him well as he recuperates.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Beth Fridinger's Rhythm & Roots photo gallery

Boston-based contributor Beth Fridinger sent in this great photo set from last weekend's Rhythm & Roots Festival in Ninigret Park in Charlestown RI. Great mix of artists, great weather, great event. Click through for more of Beth's photography and her MySpace page (she's also a musician). Thanks, Beth.

The Creole Cowboys

Cajun Kids program

In the crowd

Steve Riley

Los Straightjackets

Susan Tedeschi Band

Paul Cebar

Gandalf Murphy

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

Béla Fleck

& The Flecktones

Going home