Friday, June 06, 2008

Strawberry Park finishes on a high note

By Ted Lehmann

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival finished on Sunday with four very strong performances surrounding the delightful on-stage debut of this year’s Kids Academy. After a short rain delay and some mugginess on Saturday night, the day dawned misty and a little muggy but quickly cleared into a warm, dry, sunny day – perfect for bluegrass.

The morning’s music opened with Dry Branch Fire Squad’s traditional gospel set. Now, considering that it’s Dry Branch Fire Squad and Strawberry Park is in New England, you might expect something quite different than you would find a bit further south. And different it was, although filled with respect at the same time.

Nature and the power of God’s creation remained before the audience with Laurie Lewis’ very fine set. Lewis’ lovely voice blended with Tom Rozum or Scott Huffman in close harmony explores lost love, the beauty of the outdoors, lost friends, and more.

The Grascals have been busy on the festival circuit and in the recording studio for about three years now. They have made a couple of personnel changes, first adding Aaron McDaris at banjo and recently replacing Jimmy Mattingly on fiddle with Jeremy Abshire. McDaris took over with barely a ripple. Abshire is a fine fiddler with lots of life and enthusiasm to him. The Grascals present a lively and fast moving show that’s entertaining and musical at once.

How many festivals save one of the all-time great bluegrass bands for closing on Sunday afternoon? Not many, but Strawberry Park does. What’s left to say about the Lonesome River Band. Sammy Shelor, four time IBMA banjo player of the year, has established his own style as a standard for others to emulate.

These are excerpts from Ted's full report, available here with original photography.

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