Once 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 Flickr.com, HERE
Previous Joe Val Festival posts (all but 2015 with lots of photos)—click to visit:
- 2015: Thanks to the Boston Bluegrass Union . . .
- 2016: Another Great Joe Val Festival!—Part I
- 2016: Another Great Joe Val Festival!—Part II
- 2017: Another Excellent Joe Val Festival!
- 2018: The 2018 Joe Val Festival
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 Scene! Ben 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