Big Country Bluegrass
Inertia, more than anything else, has kept Dr Janie and me from the annual Lowell Folk Festival. It’s free (well, after you pay for parking), festive, with a great variety of music and food (the music is free; the food isn’t). Usually they have one or two bands that we might play on Hillbilly at Harvard. This year a listener alerted me to the appearance of one of my favorite traditional bluegrass bands, Big Country Bluegrass. They were formed by Tommy and Teresa Sells in the late ‘80s, and we’ve been playing them for most of that time. I don’t recall ever seeing them live, and don’t think they’ve been up here in New England very often. The Sells live in Mouth of Wilson, which is near Galax, acknowledged today as the heart of traditional mountain music (as some of us knew in 1960). Tommy Sells learned from Jimmy Martin (and may have even worked with him); Big Country Bluegrass takes its name from a Jimmy Martin instrumental.
BCBG has had many fine musicians in the band over the years, but I was especially fond of Jimmy Trivette’s lead singing. I got a chance to ask Tommy Sells about Jimmy, who seems to have disappeared from the scene. Tommy said, “Oh, he’s around. Singing mainly in churches, I think.” Didn’t get a chance to talk further, but Jimmy Trivette’s role in BCBG in recent years has been assumed by an amazing tenor singer, Eddie Gill, who really ought to be ranked among the top vocalists in all of bluegrass-style country music. I was fortunate to hear Eddie sing “One Loaf of Bread” in the first of their two sets Sunday, and don’t think even the late, great Dave Evans could have done his own song any better. It was stunning. I hope they record it soon.
All told, it was a treat for me to hear the current edition of this band I’ve admired for decades. Here are a few shots (click to scroll through larger versions; for higher resolution images, go HERE). The band: Tommy Sells, mandolin; Teresa Sells, guitar; Eddie Gill, guitar and lead vocals; Tim Laughlin, fiddle; John Treadway, banjo; Tony King, bass:
Kyle Huval & the Dixie Club Ramblers
Big Country were playing their next set at a different stage, so there was time to get over to hear an excellent hot (and very loud) cajun band I had never heard of: Kyle Huval & the Dixie Club Ramblers. These folks are from southwest Louisiana, and feature twin fiddles, accordion, and pedal steel, which gives them a rich, vibrant sound with a Texas flavor. They kept the large crowd entertained with up-tempo cajun breakdowns and traditional waltzes, but even the waltzes kept things (and dancers) moving. The Festival notes say Kyle Huval has a 2017 album out, called Straight Allons. It’s on Valcour Records, and as it turns out, the proprietor of Valcour is Joel Savoy, known for his work in cajun, old-timey, and country music, and Joel was one of the two fiddlers on stage with Kyle. I wanted to say hello, but we left before the end of their set. Maybe next time!
I got a few photos, though (click to scroll through larger versions; for higher resolution images, go HERE). The band: Kyle Huval, accordion, steel, vocals; Chris Stafford, accordion, steel, vocals; Joel Savoy and Mitch Schexnayder, fiddles; Jo Vidrine, guitar; Cody Lafleur, drums:
Strolling Through the Festival
We caught Big Country’s second set of the day, and then took the trolley (part of the Lowell National Historical Park) to Boardinghouse Park, where we stopped to hear a little of a Celtic quartet, performing with accordion, mandolin, guitar and percussion. After the rousing French of Kyle Huval, which required no translation, slow songs in Gaelic seemed tedious, so we moved on, ending up back where we started (Market Street, I think). There a mariachi band in fancy dress outfits were entertaining an enthusiastic crowd. The trumpets blared, and ladies spun around in white festive gowns, and then, for their closing number, the band announced they were playing a ‘bluegrass’ song. They lined up, and launched into. . . ‘The Orange Blossom Special’, complete with trumpets and strings! That was enough for me, so we rescued the Green Expy from the parking garage and headed home. Here are a few more shots (click to to scroll through larger versions; for higher resolution images, go HERE):
Getting to Saturday events (the big day at most bluegrass festivals) is hard for me, so it was fun to spend a sunny Sunday with a crowd of music lovers. Word to LFF folks: more country and bluegrass, please! /CL