Comments? Suggestions? Requests? Use the Paper and Pen Open Page!

Have requests?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Now you can post them here on the new Paper and Pen page.  To comment on the Pen and Paper page, go to that page (click on the Pen and Paper menu heading, below the picture of the studio at top), scroll down to the end of the Comments, and add yours.  Newest comments are always at the bottom.

You can, of course, also post relevant comments under any individual post./CL

Posted in Administrivia | 1 Comment

“Coming to You by Recording. . .”

Yes, I’m out of town, still in Powhatan, Virginia, visiting with daughter Sarah and family.  Had a full-filling Thanksgiving dinner with her Reilly in-laws, for which Sarah (with Dr Janie’s and her three boys’ help) made “All nine kinds of pies that Harold liked best”; that of course is from Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon.


The National Weather Service has a winter storm warning for tomorrow (Sunday) and Monday in the Boston area, when we’ll be coming back.  Will it affect Amtrak and the drive home from the Route 128 Station?  We’ll see, I guess.  Plenty of time to get back for next Saturday!  /CL

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Here’s the Met Broadcast Schedule for 2019-2020

320px-Metropolitan_Opera_auditoriumOnce again we make room for the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, in the Boston area exclusively on WHRB.  All but three of the broadcasts start at 1:00 PM, with HAH ending about 15 minutes early for the Prelude to the Met.  Remember to stay tuned after the Lincoln Center broadcasts for WHRB’s Post-Met feature, inaugurated by David Elliott, and since last year hosted by WHRB’s excellent Classical Music Department.  Here’s the schedule:

December 7
Glass: Akhnaten
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 14
Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 21
Verdi: Macbeth
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 28
Mozart: The Magic Flute
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 4
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
12:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 11:45

January 11
Berg: Wozzeck
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 18
Verdi: La Traviata
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 25
Puccini: La Boheme
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 1
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 8
Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 15
Massenet: Manon
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 22
Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 29
Handel: Agrippina
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 7
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 14
Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 21
Rossini: La Cenerentola
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

March 28
Massenet: Werther
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 4
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 11
Puccini: Tosca
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 18
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

April 25
Puccini: Turandot
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

May 2
Janácek: Kát’ a Kabanová
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

May 9
Donizetti: Maria Stuarda
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

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Engine 576 Whistles & The Pan-American on WSM in Nashville

In the previous post on the restoration of NC&StL Engine 576 and the Marty Stuart/Harry Stinson song, I drew on a post by ‘jh’ on the Mac Resource Forum.  I left out the part where jh posted a link to a video featuring the whistle that had sat on engine No. 576 in Centennial Park for decades.  Surprisingly, it was never stolen, but it had been damaged when someone went after it with a crowbar.  The whistle was repaired and placed on a different but operating steam locomotive, the former Nickel Plate No. 765 (note the same digits!) so fans could hear it powered with steam.

In the video Nickel Plate No. 765 runs with “the shop-built, three-chime whistle that was unique to the NC&StL J-3 class of locomotives and original to No. 576.”  This past Monday jh followed up with another post, offering “a better video of the engineer (on the former Nickel Plate No. 765) blowing the NC&StL 576’s whistle.”


Now back to Nashville and a different railroad.  The Nashville, Chattanooga & Saint Louis Railroad ran east-west.  It crossed in Nashville with the more famous Louisville and Nashville, which ran north-south, and had owned the NC&StL since 1888 (however, the two roads maintained separate operations).  jh writes:


Undated postcard, attributed to Curt Teich, Chicago (PD, via Wiki Commons)

Speaking of whistles. The Louisville & Nashville (L&N, “The Dixie Line”, “The Ol Reliable”) ran a passenger train between Cincinnati, Ohio and New Orleans, Louisiana from 1921 to 1971 called the Pan-American. The unique thing about this passenger train is its relationship with WSM radio in Nashville. The Pan-American had its own radio show for a few minutes each day. From 1933 to 1945 the Pan American would notify WSM as it was stopped at Union Station in Nashville of the time it was expected to pass the WSM transmitting tower just south of Nashville (the tower is still there and you can see it as you drive by with the now CSX rail line next to it) and the name of the engineer. As the Pan-American passed the WSM tower it would blow its whistle which was broadcast over North America. Later the WSM microphone was stationed on the L&N Vine Street tower.

There is an illustrated article about the Pan American/WSM whistle being broadcast. I talked to a gentlemen who indeed said you could set your time to the train’s whistle being broadcast.

The legend on the postcard reads:

On the Air!
Over Radio Station WSM, (Nashville)
5:08 P. M.
Sound AND ITS Whistle
Tune in 650 on Your

In case you were wondering, no, it wasn’t the 576’s whistle; the L&N did not share locomotives with its subsidiary NC&StL (and turned down an offer to buy the NC&StL’s class J-3 engines in 1953, having already converted to diesels).  Doubtless there is a recording of one of those broadcasts.

There were at least three songs written about the Pan-American:

DeFord Bailey: ‘Pan-American Blues’ (1926)

The Delmore Brothers: ‘Pan-American Boogie’ (1949)

Hank Williams: ‘The Pan-American’ (1948)

Thanks to jh for the links, and the opportunity to quote his MRF post.  /CL

Erratum: First paragraph rewritten 26Oct (and divided in two) to make clear that I was not confusing the Nickle Plate road with the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis, as two readers thought.

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Stuart and Stinson Celebrate Nashville’s ‘Duchess’, NC&StL No. 576


NC&StL Engine No. 576 at Centennial Park, Nashville. Photo by Ryan Kaldari, 27Apr05.  PD, via Wikipedia Commons.

Since 1953, Nashville, Chattanooga & Saint Louis locomotive no. 576 has adorned Nashville’s Centennial Park. It was the last of the 20 class J3 4-8-4 (‘Dixie’) steam engines built by the American Locomotive Company (Alco) for the NC&StL (abbreviated ‘NC’) in 1942 and 1943, and devoted to the massive war effort, moving millions of men, and tons of ammunition, equipment, and even oil from the Mississippi to Atlanta. But by 1952, business was down, and diesel-electrics had replaced most of the mainline power.  Trains Magazine editor David P. Morgan described the end of all but 576:

“We didn’t owe them anything and they didn’t owe us any thing,” says [Superintendent of Machinery C. M.] Darden of the J3’s as they neared the inevitable torch. . . Owner L&N [Louisville and Nashville Railroad], busily dieselizing itself by that date, decided not to buy the engines, so they went to the cutting torch. All except No. 576. She was presented to the City of Nashville in 1953 and mounted behind a fence in Centennial Park – just a stone’s throw (or a whistle’s blast) from the former Nashville Shops of the railway.

This year, after long negotiations, a group called The Nashville Steam Preservation Society (NSPS) succeeded in convincing the City of Nashville to permit moving the locomotive to the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, in order to restore No. 576 to operating condition and then to use it for excursions on the Nashville and Eastern Railroad.

576 & Cash Life magRailroading and country music, of course, have a long history together.  Life Magazine even did a cover photo of Johnny Cash leaning on the drivers of No. 576; the NSPS has a print for sale in their Company Store (see right); it’s also available on a T-shirt and coffee mug.

The whole restoration project caught the imagination of Marty Stuart and bandmate Harry Stinson.  They even came up with a name for the locomotive, the ‘Duchess’.  Originally the J3s were known as ‘Yellowjackets’, because of a yellow band down the sides; after that got reduced to a thin line, they were called ‘Stripes’.  But why not The Dutchess, ‘Queen of the Dixie Line’?  Has a nice ring to it.  From the NSPS website, quoting Marty:

“Harry and I both have a long history with this train, as do so many others. Johnny Cash was photographed for LIFE Magazine in front of it, and that guitar he’s holding is now one of my prized possessions. When you think about the soldiers that rode behind this engine to war, or the folks who traveled on it to Memphis and Atlanta, or the kids who dreamed about great adventures while climbing on it in the park – that’s why we wrote this song,” Stuart said. “We call her The Duchess, and she deserves to be honored. I offered myself to the Nashville Steam organization to let me be the hood ornament on the front of this campaign, and I’ll help any way I can to raise the funds and get her rolling again.”

Here are Marty and Harry:

There’s lots more information and videos on the NSPS website.  The restoration of No. 576 is a large and expensive project.  They estimate it will take about two million dollars;  they’ve raised about a quarter of that, so there’s still a long way to go.  Marty and Harry’s song will doubtless help.  You can download it HERE.  They’re asking $5.76 (of course) for the download, and they won’t object if you add a few bucks.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to see that engine running under steam before too long.  Watching it run would be a good excuse to go to Nashville!

Oh, and here’s the song:

Hat tip to ‘jh’ on the Mac Resource Forum.   /CL


Posted in Country History, Country News, Songwriting | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Harvard Football vs. HAH: Call It a Draw

Harvard AthleticsWHRB Sports is asking for only 15 minutes before the games, so most Saturdays this fall we’ll be going until 12:45 PM.  Can’t complain.  The two games in September will not affect HAH.  The Penn game is scheduled to start at noon, so we’ll be ending at day at 11:45 AM.  Surprisingly, game time for the Yale game has not yet been determined.  Usually we have to end early for The Game; will update this post when I learn more.  /CL

  • Sat, 21 Sep:  at San Diego: Game 4:00 PM; no effect on HAH
  • Fri, 27 Sep: vs Brown: Game 7:00 PM; no effect on HAH
  • Sat, 5 Oct: vs Howard; Game 1:00 PM HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • Sat, 12 Oct: vs Cornell; Game 1:00 PM; HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • Sat, 19 Oct: at Holy Cross; Game 1:00 PM; HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • Sat, 26 Oct: at Princeton; Game 1:00 PM; HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • Sat, 2 Nov: vs Dartmouth; Game 1:00 PM; HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • Sat, 9 Nov: at Columbia; Game 1:00 PM; HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • Sat, 16 Nov: vs Penn; Game 12:00 noon; HAH ends 11:45 PM
  • Sat, 23 Nov: at Yale; Game 12:00 noon; HAH ends 11:45 (Yale game)
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Photos from the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival

I don’t get to many festivals, as the biggest day is always Saturday, and I have radio business then.  But I did arrange for a pre-recorded Hillbilly at Harvard on June 29th, so Dr Janie and I took the Green Expy and our little molded-fiberglass Casita travel trailer (click that link for the tale of the Casita) up to tiny Tunbridge, Vermont for what proved to be a delightful four days, marred only by a nasty thunderstorm that curtailed the Saturday evening showcase for The Earls of Leicester midway through their set.  But that was exciting, too.

Following are some photos from the Festival, a ‘slide show’ of sorts.  I used my aging Canon Rebel T2i and Tamron 18-270 zoom lens.  The photos here are reduced for bandwidth, but full-resolution versions are available on Flickr, HERE.

We arrived Thursday evening in time for The Malpass Brothers, who of course don’t play bluegrass.  But they do play traditional, honky-tonk country music, of the kind you don’t hear on the commercial bro-country stations any more, and that appeals to a lot of bluegrass-country fans, like me.  Their set was mostly covers, though they do write and play originals as well.  The Brothers are Christopher and Taylor Malpass.  I don’t have the names of the rest of the band at Jenny Brook, but if I find them, I’ll add them here.

Click on one photo to see larger photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

From northern New York state, Beartracks, originally founded by the late Junior Barber, consists of siblings Julie Hogan, bass, and Tom Venn, guitar; plus Harry Ralph, fiddle; and Steve Light, banjo.  Missed most of their dinner-time set, and then unfortunately on Friday, too, but did get a few photos:

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

If you’ve been following the radio show, and this blog, you’ll recognize Rock Hearts: see ‘Rhode Island’s Best-Kept Secret?’ and ‘The 2019 Joe Val Festival—Photos!’   They played live in sumptuous Studio B in February, before they appeared at the JVF.  Rock Hearts are: Alex McCloud, guitar; Billy Thibodeau, mandolin; Joe Deetz, banjo; Danny Musher, fiddle; and [didn’t get his name], bass (replacing Pete Kelly, who had to leave for personal reasons).

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

The Feinberg Brothers were new to me.  From Long Island, NY, they have an urban feel, being both well-dressed and well-rehearsed.  But they’re a family band that plays straight-ahead bluegrass with finesse and powerful vocals.  They are: Rourke Feinberg, fiddle; Patrick Feinberg, mandolin; Ronnie Feinberg (their father), guitar; Terry McGill, banjo; and Pete Elegant, bass.

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

On the way back across the river to the ‘boondocking’ field where we were camped, we stopped for a minute at the Sugar House Stage, dedicated to late-evening jamming, where the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys (with Laura Orshaw on fiddle) were holding forth.  More photos of the Po’s later, but here are a couple:

Friday morning we got a chance to listen to Vermont-based Beg, Steal or Borrow; I had heard the name, but never the band.  They were quite a revelation, with one fascinating new song after another, with excellent songwriting, backed up with inventive but still traditional picking and singing.  I’ve been playing their new (and first) album, called Old Mountain Time, on HAH, and highly recommend it.  Beg, Steal or Borrow (no Oxford comma) are: Jeremy Sicely, guitar; Geoff Goodhue, mandolin; Roland Clark, violin; Fran Forim, bass; and Luke Auriemmo, banjo.

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

We heard a little bit of The Price Sisters, but then got up to take a walk around the festival fairgrounds and the high street (it is higher than the fairgrounds).  I must admit I haven’t played the Price Sisters’ first Rebel album much, because while they sing beautifully, I find their harmonies quite outside of the country tradition.  Obviously, many fans don’t agree with me.  The sisters are twins, but wear their hair and dress differently: Lauren plays mandolin; Leanna plays fiddle.  Others in their band are Scott Napier (guitar); Bobby Osborne, Jr, bass.; and Lincoln Hensley, banjo.

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

Musical intermission:  We walked around, admiring the many varieties of trailers and motor homes, not to mention tents, crammed into every available space.  The first photo features a Casita like ours on the right, and a small, vintage Airstream on the left.  Then a potpourri of RVs, from a pop-up trailer to a couple of large buses:

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

Here’s the historical marker describing the Tunbridge World’s Fair, held annually, and the 1839 Tunbridge Church from both back (visible from the fairgrounds) and front (from the high street):

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

It was a hot day, so the river afforded many some cool relief:


Back to music: Old friend Jim Rooney was at the festival.  Turns out he lives only a few minutes drive away.  He was hanging out with some local radio folks, but he was also enticed to play some music with Beg, Steal or Borrow at the ancillary Weston Stage in the afternoon.  It’s a nice, up-close-and-personal venue; here are a few shots:

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

That’s Michelle Canning, at the end of that sequence, doing the MC work at the Weston Stage.  Once she remembered me, she gave me a copy of her new album, The Next Eleven Miles, which I’ve been playing on HAH.

Some campside pickin’:

Click on one photo to see large photos in sequence.  High-res versions are in Flickr.

Continue reading

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Not to Mention the old Shade Tree. . .

Jalopnik news item of interest to some of us:

Sacramento County Says It’s Illegal to Work on Your Own Car in Your Own Garage

Jason Torchinsky

There’s an interesting discussion happening over at the Grassroots Motorsports forum right now, and presumably at many other places off-line. It’s about laws in Sacramento County stating, essentially, that almost any auto repair you do on your property is illegal. . .

The code states that conducting “minor vehicle repair” or “minor automotive repair” is legal at a residence, and defines “minor automotive repair” as:

Brake part replacement

Minor tune-ups

Change of oil and filter

Repair of flat tires


Other similar operations

And while you can do those things at residences. . .

. . . it is unlawful for any person to engage in, or permit others to engage in, minor vehicle repair or maintenance in any agricultural, agricultural-residential, residential, interim estate and interim residential zones under any of the following circumstances:

1. Using tools not normally found in a residence;

2. Conducted on vehicles registered to persons, not currently residing on the lot or parcel;

3. Conducted outside a fully enclosed garage and resulting in any vehicle being inoperable for a period in excess of twenty-four hours.

Here we have some issues. How exactly do you define “tools not normally found in a residence?” A socket set? A torque wrench? A brake drum puller? This feels like a rule that’s dangerously open to interpretation with pretty minimal supporting evidence.

Number two is clearly there to prevent people from running off-the-books repair shops, but what if you’re working on a friend’s car? And number three means you can’t do anything unless you have an actual garage, and whatever you’re doing you better get it all wrapped up inside of one day, which, as most of us who’ve dealt with one stubborn, time-sucking, hard-to-reach bolt know, is not always possible. . .

Read the whole thing.  Even when I did something as minor as an oil change, I always used the side yard or the driveway; there was never room in the garage.  I do remember using the garage to adjust the valves on my little ’81 Toyota Corolla wagon.  Is a feeler gauge a tool “normally found in a residence”?

I know that modern automobiles, with all their computerized gizmos, are increasingly hard for the average owner to work on.  But there is still a lot that the mechanically-inclined can do.  Last I heard, my brother was still doing brake jobs in his driveway.  Fortunately, he doesn’t live in Sacramento.  But California claims to lead the nation, and I guess they do, if you count obsessive regulation.  Lots of home-owners’ associations already forbid more than Sacramento does.  So is the Shade-Tree Fix-it Man doomed?

Don’t tell Merle Haggard:

[Hat tip Instapundit.  Also posted on Walking Creek World.] /CL

Posted in Random Stuff | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Pickin’ on Ninnies


Hank Snow (P.D. via Wikipedia)

Saturday a listener named Liz posted a comment on the Paper and Pen page. I was going to respond there, but then decided that the question was important enough to merit a post. Liz wrote:

“When the pickaninnies pick the cotton” eh?
I will not try to figure out why anyone would play those Lyrics on the radio in this day and age.
Hank Snow, “Peach Picking Time in Georgia” from your
July 6, 2019 show


Jimmie Rodgers (P.D. via Wikipedia)

Liz has a point, given present-day sensitivities. Yet Hillbilly at Harvard is a program that samples nearly 100 years of country music, and tries to be faithful to its historical contexts. It is inevitable that words and phrases once current but no longer common or innocuous will turn up. Jimmie Rodgers recorded ’Peach-Pickin’ Time Down in Georgia’ in 1932, in the depths of the Depression, and near the end of his short life (truncated by tuberculosis). Jimmie was riding a crest of popularity spurred by the spread of phonographs and radios across the land, and a large part of his appeal was his synthesis of white ‘western’ styles with the black blues. While his recordings were not marketed as ‘race records’, it is very unlikely that he would have recorded a song that might offend his black listeners on radio.

Bill Monroe Sings Country SongsThe song has been covered many times by many musicians. Bill Monroe’s version from 1964 uses Jimmie Rodgers’s original lyrics. The Hank Snow version I played was from a 1969 album, though he may have recorded it earlier. That same year, the much younger Merle Haggard (in his wonderful double-LP tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, Same Train, Different Time) changed the line to, “When all the pickers [are?] picking the cotton, that’s when I’ll pick a wedding ring.” He changed it again in his Peer Sessions CD album in 2002: “Now after I’ve picked all my cotton, I’ll pick a wedding ring.” Same song, different times, but I don’t think Merle would have had us stop playing the original. The history is important; indeed it is essential.


Merle Haggard, 1971 (P.D., via Wikipedia)

If you look up ‘pickaninny’ in Wikipedia, you’ll find that it’s derived from a Portuguese term meaning ‘something small’, and came to be used, in the English-speaking world, of small children, and in the American South more particularly of black children. Historically it was not a slur, but was also used affectionately, among both blacks and whites. That it accrued a disparaging sense in some elements of American popular culture is an unfortunate consequence of the Jim Crow era, but I don’t think Jimmie Rodgers, who spent all his life with both white and black railroad men and musicians, would have entertained any negative connotations. Children, of course, did still pick cotton in those days, but I expect the great singer and songwriter, latterly known as ‘The Father of Country Music’, liked the alliteration even more. /CL

Posted in Country History, Program Notes, Songwriting | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pre-recorded Shows April 6th and 13th

I’m in Powhatan, Virginia, with daughter Sarah and family this week; Sarah and husband James are dual-handedly building a new house in the woods. Here is the view of distant maple blossoms from the back of the house, on the now-framed second story:


We drove in the Green Expy to Powhatan, but Sunday we are heading to Tampa/St. Petersburg on Amtrak’s overnight Silver Star, where we’ll visit my cousin Spike and his wife. Amtrak took the dining car off the Silver Star a few years ago (not on the companion Silver Meteor, but that doesn’t go to Tampa), so we’ll pack sandwiches (and beer) for dinner. We’re returning to Powhatan after a week of playing tourist in Florida, and thence back to cold New England (it’s been off-and-on cold here, too).

In the meantime, enjoy pre-recorded Generic Hours (no weather, no Country Calendar). The Country Masters are at the French Club this Sunday (the 7th); and remember The Seldom Scene at the Belleville in Newburyport on Saturday the 13th. As Frank Dudgeon likes to say, I’ll talk to you on the 20th—live, that is. Where is Frank, anyway? /CL



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The 2019 Joe Val Festival—Photos!

2019-JV-LOGO-V-744x1024Once again, another amazing festival produced and hosted by the Boston Bluegrass Union!  Dr Janie and I got to a fair amount of the shows, but of course there was lots more going on that we didn’t see: workshops, jams, parties, etc.   I’m continuing this blog’s tradition of posting photographs, mostly of the Main and Showcase stages.  My Rebel 2Ti and Tamron 18-270 zoom lens combination is only barely adequate, so for purists a certain amount of forbearance is necessary (the Tamron is fairly slow so high ISO and motion blur are factors).  Nonetheless, there are some good candids, I think.  The photos here are low-resolution; higher-res versions are available on, HERE

Previous Joe Val Festival posts (all but 2015 with lots of photos)—click to visit:

I got over early enough Friday evening to catch a little of Level Best, which features old HAH friend and one-time Charles River Valley Boy, James Field.  James has been living in France for some years, but is back in the States (at least part-time, he said).  Besides James on guitar, Level Best features Wally Hughes, fiddle; Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes, mandolin (she and Wally are also members of Valerie Smith‘s band, Liberty Pike); Terry Wittenberg, banjo; and Joe Hannabach, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Level Best were competing with new Rhode Island friends (see Rhode Island’s Best-Kept Secret?) Rock Hearts in the Showcase Stage downstairs, so I hurried down to catch their set and grab some photos.  Rock Hearts are Alex MacLeod, guitar; Joe Deetz, banjo; Pete Kelly, bass; Danny Musher, fiddle; Billy Thibodeau, mandolin.  [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

On the way down and back up to the Main Stage, caught a few of the many jam sessions that proceed apace, whatever’s going on in the performance stages (did not get any names): [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Back to the Main State auditorium (via some hallway and Green Room schmoozing), where ‘Jesse Brock presents’ Mainline Express were performing.  I had thought Jesse had settled in with The Gibson Brothers for the long haul, as his tasteful mandolin playing fit in so nicely with the Gibsons’ great singing, but band members in bluegrass often seem to be in brownian motion, and elude permanence.  Mainline Express features four established pickers who joined forces a decade ago at the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival and have finally decided to begin touring together.  They are Jesse Brock, mandolin; John Miller, guitar; Rob Ravlin, bass; and Gary Filgate, banjo. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

The band I most looked forward to this year was High Fidelity.  I had gotten an email tip from Rebel Records about their forthcoming album, and Rebel helped me to get copies of their two self-produced albums.  Now the Rebel debut album, Hills and Home, is out, and I’ve been playing all three avidly.  Hi Fi Bluegrass (as I call them) play mid-century bluegrass, country, and gospel songs, with amazing (high!) fidelity, panache, and expertise, yet are making this great old repertoire their own as well.  They got a rousing reception Friday night, proving (as The Earls of Leicester do, too) that bluegrass audiences really appreciate the 20th-century heart of the music—and nobody does it better than High Fidelity.  They are: Jeremy Stephens, guitar (and banjo); Corrina Rose Logston, fiddle; Kurt Stephenson, banjo; Vickie Vaughn, bass; and Daniel Amick, mandolin (and banjo).  Kurt Stephenson was not with the band Friday, unfortunately, so Daniel Amick filled in on the double-banjo tunes. The first two photos show them warming up in the Green Room. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Well, since I mentioned double banjos, and since Kurt Stephenson wasn’t with the band, here he is in a YouTube video playing Don Reno’s ‘Follow the Leader’ with Jeremy Stephens:

How about that?

Saturday, after a post-radio-show nap and a little dinner, Dr Janie and I made our way over to the Festival.  I came into a group on stage called Appalachian Road Show.  It took a few minutes to figure out what I was hearing, and then I was stunned.  There were Darrell Webb, mandolin (who I had last seen at the Festival a couple of years ago with Michael Cleveland, then playing guitar); Barry Abernathy, banjo; Jim VanCleve, fiddle; Bryan Sutton, guitar; and Todd Phillips, bass.  And what were they doing?  Playing old Appalachian songs, dances, gospel, and ballads, and talking about the history of the music and the region.  This was an all-star band, to be sure, but unlike so many ‘all-star’ pickups, they had a clear program, which they presented with heart and conviction.  They are taking this show on the road, with a new CD, and if you get a chance to see them, you will be enthralled.  [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Sister Sadie are an engaging all-girl all-star band, who started playing as a lark in 2013 at the Station Inn in Nashville, and are now touring and winning awards, turning out some mighty fine pickin’ and singin’.   The band features Dale Ann Bradley, guitar (who has appeared live on Hillbilly at Harvard—and actually remembered when I asked her!); Tina Adair (amazing vocalist), mandolin; Deanie Richardson, fiddle; Gena Britt, banjo; Beth Lawrence, bass.  Our grandkids were amused when Tina managed to pull out numerous items from her ample bodice).  [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

And then, Laurie Lewis!  It was a treat to see her again, along with four Right Hands (Tom Rozum did not come with her), a real trouper and a great entertainer, who holds an audience in her strong, gentle, musical hands.  With Laurie were Brandon Godman, fiddle; Wes Corbett, banjo; and Haselden ‘Hasie’ Ciaccio, bass.  [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Downstairs on the Showcase Stage were The Bluegrass Characters, a band (says the Festival band bios) “assembled in 2011 by the legendary Grammy-winning fiddler and Dobroist Stacy Phillips, and led by him until his untimely death in 2018.”  The BBU this year gave their BBU Heritage Award posthumously to Stacy Phillips, writing, “His contributions to the world of music, especially bluegrass fiddle and Dobro, and especially in New England, are immeasurable.”  In the Bluegrass Characters are Phil Zimmerman, mandolin; Andy Bromage, guitar; Rick Brodsky, bass; Pete Kelly, banjo (also playing bass in Rock Hearts); and guest Sofia Chiarandini, fiddle.  [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Bluegrass: The Band is one of Frank Drake‘s many Boston-area projects, along with Ethan Robbins, focusing on the music of the ’70s ‘roots rock’ group, The Band.  I never listened to The Band, so remained at a disadvantage when listening to Bluegrass: The Band, but members of the audience recognized and enjoyed the songs.  The players: Ethan ‘Robertson’ Robbins, guitar; Frank ‘Danko’ Drake, mandolin; Josie Toney, fiddle; and Paul ‘The Helm’ Chase, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Back upstairs for a bit of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, high-energy exponents of virtuoso jam-grass, Saturday evening headliners, billed for an ‘extended set’, which is appropriate given their numbers are easily twice as long as anyone else’s.  I listened intently for a while, took some photos, and getting lost in all the notes, called it a night and went home.  Even with a nap, it had been a long day.  Dirty Kitchen are Frank Solivan, mandolin; Mike Munford, banjo; Chris Luquette, guitar; and Jeremy Middleton, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Sunday it was time for Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass, long-time favorites at Hillbilly at Harvard.  The Paisleys and the Lundys are transplants from the heart of mountain bluegrass, southwestern Virginia, and they have been the heart of The Southern Grass since the ’70s, now into the third generation with Danny’s son Ryan grown into a first-rate mandolin player.  The band: Danny Paisley, guitar; Ryan Paisley, mandolin; TJ Lundy, fiddle; Bobby Lundy, bass; Mark DeLaney, banjo. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

I didn’t hear much of The Lonely Heartstring Band, who have a new Rounder album out.  They make lovely music and are winning awards, but it’s not hard-core bluegrass, so not my cup-o’-tea.  And I had missed lunch to hear Danny.  But here are some pics.  They are Gabe Hirshfeld, banjo; George Clements, guitar; Charles Clements, bass; Patrick M’Gonigle, fiddle; and Maddie Witler, mandolin. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

The jams continued apace in the hallways.  The fiddler in the red shirt was leading a rousing version of the old Spade Cooley classic, ‘Detour’, with everybody singing along in the chorus; I was impressed that he knew (most of) the words.  His name, I found out later, is Bruno Bruzzese[For high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]


In the Showcase room I found Annabelle’s Revival getting started, a Boston-area band billed as playing “a tasteful blend of bluegrass and folk music, with an emphasis on great vocal harmonies.”  They were tasty indeed, though none of them were named Annabelle: John Brunette, bass; Mark Therieau, guitar; Jon Pachter, banjo; Deborah Melkin, guitar; and Alex O’Brien, mandolin. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

Time for the eternal Seldom SceneBen Eldridge has finally left the band, the last surviving member of the original Scene, from back in the ’70s.  But he’s been replaced by the always-amazing Ron Stewart, who plays not only banjo but fiddle (and doubtless anything else you ask him to), now the youngest of this second-generation ensemble.  Still, they have an amazing ability to recreate the unique sounds of the original Scene, at the same time creating new and vibrant music.  Extraordinary, really!  Dudley Connell, guitar; Fred Travers, Dobro; Ronnie Simpkins, bass; Lou Reid, mandolin; and as mentioned, Ron Stewart, banjo and fiddle.  [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

As if a Seldom Scene show were not enough, the BBU continued their recent tradition of closing out their Festival Sunday afternoons with a bang:  The Gibson Brothers—not just the Gibsons, but a new incarnation, their ‘Country Show’.  The first, bluegrass set was lovely as always, though Eric and Leigh seemed a bit subdued. While the stage was prepared with more amps, a drum kit, and a pedal steel, the boys did a ‘brother duet’ set, eminently worth hearing.  Then we were treated to the ‘Mockingbird’ country set, featuring songs from their new album on Easy Eye Sound.

Those songs are pleasant, and the Gibson’s electric stage show (two guitars, steel, bass) offers better production than the album, which harks back to ’70s pop-country flavor.  They even did a Waylon Jennings song, and I iked Eric’s rockabilly version of his ‘Highway’ better than the original on the In The Ground album.   The show was definitely a departure for the Joe Val Festival (we won’t count Red Knuckles last year), but the Bluegrass Powers That Be reassured me that it won’t set a precedent.  The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival won’t turn into one of those generic ‘roots’ and ‘Americana’ weekends.

Jesse Brock was gone; Clayton Campbell, their long-time fiddle player was nowhere to be seen, either.  In their places was Justin Moses, alternating between mandolin and Dobro.  And Mike Barber on bass (both upright and electric) was still their constant companion.  For the country set, Eric, Leigh, and Mike were joined by Sam Zuchini on drums (a college friend, said Leigh), and Eric O’Hara on pedal steel.  Turned out he had taught both Eric and Leigh on banjo and guitar when they were teenagers! [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

The Festival was not yet over.  Time for the Wind–Up Hoe-Down!  Hosting the dance were Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike.  Valerie is a small, friendly, vivacious woman with a great voice. She admitted to nerves before playing a dance, but once she and Liberty Pike got going with a set of upbeat songs, breakdowns, and waltzes, it was all fun and games.  Afterward she gave me her latest CD, Small Town Heroes (there’s a new one coming), and a charming collection of duets she and Becky Buller had recorded back in 2008, Here’s a Little Song.  I’m playing both on HAH.  I hope she’ll be on the Main Stage soon; she’s a crowd pleaser.  Valerie Smith, guitar; Joe Zauner, banjo & guitar; Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes, mandolin; Wally Hughes, fiddle—and, it was a great pleasure to meet a legend in the bluegrass country world, who played bass with the original Country Gentlemen, and then with the Seldom Scene, Tom Gray[Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]

We couldn’t stick around for the second band at the Hoe-Down, Mamma’s Boys, but there were still jammers in the halls and lobby when we left.  Here’s the lobby group, and once again, Bruno Bruzzese with his red shirt and fiddle.  The party never ends!  [For high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]  /LEJ


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