Deep Roots Mountain Revival 2016
Marvin’s Mountaintop, WV
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Bill Rudd
The festival vibe was alive and well around Deep Roots Mountain Revival on another gorgeous pre-autumn morning with the sky full of welcome white clouds to shield some of the sunlight we felt pretty intensely on Friday. The smells of camp stove breakfasts began to waft throughout car camping and we knew it was time to hike to the hilltop grove for some pickin’ on the Highland Outdoors Roots Stage. Appropriately Grand Ole’ Ditch began their set with “Pickin’ for Breakfast” altered from yesterday’s edition by Jody Mosser’s decision to lead things with the dobro instead of his acoustic guitar. The band blended the sleepy instrumental directly into “Sugar Grove,” a song about finding yourself in the West Virginia woods written and sung by mandolinist Lucas Mathews, that was highlighted by an extended jam which hinted at many of the Mountain Revivalist’s activities the previous evening. Hear for yourself here:
A Lionel Ritchie “All Night Long” tease? Fiesta forever, indeed gentlemen. The fellas followed that up with “This Time,” a straight up rock song where the string band dialed in distortion to get heavy with the backing of Todd Hocherl’s drumming. Things got weird with Craig Miller singing “Pigeon Eatin’ Catfish,” a song written by bassist Jacob Mathews about an alcoholic wels catfish with a preference for squab. It was time for a bluegrass breakdown with a “Dear Old Dixie” that had the folks who had trekked up the trail to the Roots Stage getting down with Ditch. The pickin’ turned progressive with Craig’s original from Unwind called “Copper Kettle Coal,” an incredible song that demonstrates the diversity of the group, switching tempos and genres throughout. Luke was back singing lead on the traditional bluegrass classic “Rocket Man,” by Elton John, which the band followed with an “Allegany Sun” for the ages. The song written by Jody’s friend-of-a-friend Matt Hamilton, details the experience of driving over the westernmost Maryland mountains and got diverted into Phishy territory with an appearance from “First Tube” during an exploratory detour. Grand Ole’ Ditch punctuated their final Deep Roots performance with “Rocky Island” a jovial Stanley Brothers cover which perfectly foreshadowed the traditional bluegrass masterclass that was about to take place on Main Stage B later that afternoon.
We broke for lunch back at camp to gear up for the impending Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder storm that approached and headed towards the Main Stages just in time to catch the end of The Black Lillies’ rocking Americana set. Ricky Skaggs’s septet began soon thereafter and blasted out of the gate like a thoroughbred with a “How Mountain Girls” that was blazing hot from start to finish. Thankfully the mountaintop temperature hovered in the mid 80’s, which was perfect for dancing to one of the country’s best bluegrass bands. Ricky announced that next was "a mountain love song" before Russ Carson kicked off “Pig in a Pen” with a blistering banjo roll. They paid tribute to the father of bluegrass with a pair of Bill Monroe tunes, “Toy Heart” and the aptly named “Bluegrass Breakdown” an instrumental lead by Skaggs’ mandolin that rages just as much in 2016 as it did when the Bluegrass Boys were first pickin’ it in the 40s. Ricky dedicates a significant portion of each set to the Stanley brothers, having been raised on their material by his mountain mother who he says sang like Ralph, the man who hired Ricky as a Clinch Mountain Boy when he was still a teen. The first Stanley song was the mournful “Your Selfish Heart” about the popular bluegrass theme of being cheated on. Later they covered the classic country hymn “Rank Stranger” as well as “Home in the Carolina Mountains,” a song Ricky called “deep catalog Stanley Brothers.” Russ attempted to emulate Dr. Ralph’s banjo on an instrumental that showed off the picking prowess of the entire collective. This is a magnificent seven of bluegrass, with seemingly constant solos from folks like sizzling fiddler Andy Leftwitch and newest member the amazing lead guitarist Jake Workman, who follows in the footsteps of modern masters Cody Kilby and Bryan Sutton that had previously held the position. It’s important to specify “lead” with Kentucky Thunder because Skaggs keeps three guitarists in the band, with Eddie Faris on an archtop and Ricky’s long time friend Paul Brewster on rhythm guitar in addition to marvelous tenor vocals. The next couple of covers were coincidentally both recorded by Hot Rize, brilliant renditions of the McGee Brothers’ “Blue Night” and Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues,” the latter sung by the band’s talented bassist Scott Mulvahill. Then, it was time for “Tennessee Stud” a song about an incomparable racehorse made famous in bluegrass by Doc Watson. Ricky closed the impressive set with a raucous “Lil’ Maggie” where rapid instrumentation was accentuated by his embellished vocal segments that embodied that essential Stanley sound. The captivated crowd called for an encore, a request granted with the legendary Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen." Please enjoy Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder’s old school encore for yourself folks:
Music to our ears too Ricky, thanks for a truly magnificent set on Marvin’s Mountain Top!
The David Grisman Sextet almost immediately appeared on Stage A and started things off with a few of the jazzy instrumentals that the Dawg built to excel at performance. Especially impressive was a swing tune named “The Purple Grotto” which appears on their inventively-titled new album The David Grisman Sextet. Next was a tune Grisman quite literally dreamed up known as “Hornpipe Dream,” or he concluded it could be called “Horn Pipe Dream” too, before guiding the bouncy bluegrass instrumental with his mandolin. The Deep Roots Dead theme was reenergized with “Grateful Dawg” a funkier instrumental that shuffles back and forth between jazz, blues, and jam, written by Grisman with Jerry Garcia soon after they reunited in the early 90s. Ricky Skaggs had been watching from the wings for most of the set and was finally called to sit in on a soulful “Watson's Blues,” Bill Monroe's tribute to Doc Watson. Would you like to witness some of that double mando action? Well, here ya go:
Skaggs left the stage but Dawg continued the tributes with a piece he wrote in dedication to the great Red Allen entitled “Pigeon Roost.” A meandering David Grisman Sextet original number called “Slinky” was next, a true jazzgrass tune if there ever was one. They finished up with “Dawg's Bounce,” a song Grisman mentioned he normally played on the banjolin but this time found flutist Matt Eakle switching over to kazoo for most of the song, despite managing to add in a stellar flute solo as well. A founding father of jamgrass, David Grisman has spent a lifetime dedicated to testing the boundaries of bluegrass and it was truly an honor to be able to experience his outstanding sextet up close and personal at Deep Roots Mountain Revival.
After a well-deserved break back at camp we were ready for a face full of Keel. The Larry Keel Experience was already at work, playing a quirky original called “Lizard Lady” as we hiked up the rocky trail that lead to the Roots Stage. The jamgrass trio from Virginia followed up with “Lil’ Miss” a swampy song about an infallible woman that showcased Larry’s distinctive growl and legendary guitar skills. Larry ended up giving a birthday shout out to Steve Heavner his sound man, road manager, merch guy, van driver, and all-around awesome dude — class act as always, Larry. The Experience slowed down a bit with a pair of love songs, “One” and “Heartbeat Soul Beat,” but things quickened up again with an instrumental that demonstrated the chemistry developing between Larry’s flat-picking and newcomer to the band Jared Pool’s mandolin, with the two dueling and playing off of one another nicely. However, despite Pool’s immense talent it’s hard to escape the void left by the absence of longtime Keel collaborator Will Lee’s banjo. Bassist Jenny Keel announced it was time for “Larry does Jerry,” as her husband sang a “Ramble On Rose” that everyone in attendance was very grateful for. The next song “Miles & Miles,” was co-written with Keller Williams and appears on Keel's new album Experienced. The lyrics mention that “a truthful heart that will light the darkened sky,” much the way the harvest moon again began to brighten the forest we gathered in. Larry made it known he was impressed with the other musicians on the mountaintop, mentioning electric rock guitarist Marcus King and jamgrass act The Rumpke Mountain Boys who were also getting Keeled in the audience. The aroma of Lynyrd Skynyrd entered the sweet southern air with a cover of “That Smell,” an unfortunately poignant song about the deadly dangers of drug abuse. Our “more banjo” prayers were answered when Leftover Salmon’s Andy Thorn came out to get weird in the woods with The Experience, starting with the Keel classic “Culpepper Woodchuck.” The song pulsed back and forth until Larry bursted out the titular line and it exploded into an uproarious jam that included an interlude into the über traditional “Soldiers Joy,” which caused Keel to pause and assert, “It's about morphine,” before the rest of the band joined back with the woodchucking. That left just enough time for “a quick one,” which was a rapid instrumental that allowed Larry, Jared, and Andy another chance for some face-melting shredding. Keel your own face here:
What an awesome way to end an excellent set in the West Virginia backwoods with the Larry Keel Experience!
Night had officially fallen on Marvin’s Mountain Top, with campfires ablaze throughout the open fields lightly filled with RVs, cars, and tents. A definite haze hung over the encampment which was apropos because country rockers Blackberry Smoke had taken Main Stage A with authority. Fans filled the flattened area in front for their performance, which sounded sort of like a southern rock styled Led Zeppelin. Definitely not a bad thing! The Grateful Dead cover train hit a repeat as the Georgian group also played “Ramble On Rose,” not quite a reprisal of Keel’s Roots Stage rendition less than an hour earlier. Their set ended with great fanfare from the swirling stage lights and fog to the vigorous applause of the hundreds assembled, but our attention soon shifted to Stage B where The Cris Jacobs Band from Baltimore was about to take things for a tremendous blues rock turn. Oh my my! Right at the start Cris busted out an entry from The Bridge’s historic catalogue with a joyous “Heavy Water” that was extended into an elaborate jam that served to introduce the skilled musicians he’d currently surrounded himself with. Cris led on both vocals and electric guitar but was backed by proficient bassist Todd Herrington and the mighty John Ginty, a prominent keyboardist who’s toured with everyone from The Dixie Chicks to Robert Randolph & The Family Band. Dusty Ray Simmons’s drumming was particularly on point driving the intro to Jacobs’s “The Devil or Jesse James,” a rhythmic swamp rock story infused with soul from Cris’s powerfully smooth vocals. At solo shows, Cris always spends time playing a custom cigar box guitar and it was nice to see him rocking it out during “Me Oh My,” with abundant effects and his full band on the mountaintop. Cris is no stranger to Marvin’s, having frequently performed in Masontown at the All Good Music Festival as frontman for The Bridge, the Maryland roots rock ensemble known for their funky jams and a bit of a Little Feat vibe that persists in this project, especially when Ginty is pounding away on his Hammond organ at high volume. While it’s likely Cris Jacobs’s voice that earned him high profile solo gigs opening tours for folks like Steve Winwood and Sturgill Simpson, it‘s his brilliant electric guitar playing that had us in awe all night long at Deep Roots Mountain Revival. The combination of musicianship and passion Cris Jacobs brought to the table also has us anxiously awaiting his album Dust To Gold in October, as well as Neville Jacobs, his project with Ivan Neville due for release 2017. Thankfully for the impatient among us on Marvin’s Mountaintop, there was still more in store from Cris Jacobs that evening.
It may have been the middle of September but it was still festival season and therefore Salmon season. Leftover Salmon definitely lived up to their rowdy reputation at Deep Roots Mountain Revival and their contribution to the Grateful Dead cover collection came early with a “Mr. Charlie” that was elevated to the occasion of the band’s triumphant return to Marvin’s Mountain Top, after being an All Good headliner there several times before. The band’s next song mentioned being “down in the hollow on a cold southern night” which somehow felt appropriate despite nighttime temperatures that had stayed pleasantly in the 70s. Leftover didn't wait long to bring out their good bud Larry Keel who carried out his Collings guitar for an extended portion of the set, beginning with incredible banjoist Andy Thorn’s instrumental “Bolin Creek” that raged more like the roaring whitewater of the nearby Cheat River. Adding Keel to the already combustible combination of Thorn and gifted instrumentalist Drew Emmitt ignited an explosive spacey explorational segment that transitioned to an Alwyn Robinson drum solo before traveling back to outer space via Main Stage A. The Leftover Salmon crew technically calls Colorado home however their east coast ties were unmistakable, especially in “Appalachian Soul,” which was literally a soulful rock song about life in the mountains, sung by acoustic guitarist and party god frontman Vince Herman. Next up was the McGraw Gap firefighting tune “Fireline,” which has been a bright spot burning in Salmon’s setlist on many a night. For those unfamiliar, McGraw Gap was the band Larry Keel was a member of that won the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition in 1995. Fittingly Salmon followed up with a song written by Drew Emmett that McGraw Gap once recorded called “Troubled Times,” which Emmett noted was sadly still relevant because it asked the wind to “blow away these troubled times.” The party picked up some more Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass in the form of “Mama Boulet,” a song that sounded like spicy gumbo smells and featured another predominant solo from the terrific drummer Alwyn Robinson. The sit ins continued when Cris Jacobs returned with his guitar for “Sitting On Top Of The World,” a song frequently chosen for guest appearances but made unique in this instance by a slightly slowed tempo and the shared vocal duties of Herman, Emmett, and Jacobs. Larry Keel was called back out but came empty handed so Vince lent him his guitar and put on a scratch board for an extraordinarily epic version of Led Zeppelin's “Rock and Roll” that had the crowd going absolutely insane over intense guitar solos traded back and forth between Emmett, Keel, and especially Cris Jacobs, who impressed the others to the point where they he insisted he take several elongated breaks. This was a set that exemplified everything great about music festivals, with virtuosic artists from three different acts banding together for a once in a lifetime experience. What a way to wrap up the Mountain Revival Saturday Main Stages. Awesome work everyone involved!
But wait, there's more! It was time for a late night Rumpke Mountain Boys throwdown back up on the Roots Stage. The rough edged bluegrass band from Cincinnati embraces the term trashgrass, naming themselves after the mythical Rumpke Mountain, a nickname for their local landfill which happens to be one of the largest in the country. The boys kicked things off with a song called “Feeling Good” and from the dance moves already being employed among the trees out front, it was apparent the audience was feeling pretty good too. Guitarist Adam Copeland and company wailed the mournful “Make It Rain” which was followed by the traditional bluegrass tune “If I Should Wander Back Tonight,” though nothing coming from these Mountain Boys can exactly be called traditional thanks to their love for effects pedals and rambling instrumentals. Rumpke’s next song mentioned drinking in the morning to forget the night before, something a few of the folks in woods would definitely be partaking in the following Sunday morning. Actually, who are we kidding, this set didn’t even start until well past 2am, we were already several hours into Sunday. And what better time for a David Bowie cover, as a trashgrass take on “Speed of Life” was next. The Rumpke instrumentalists were putting on quite a show, Ben Gourley having a shredding tenor guitar that replaced his mandolin for the majority of the set, while Jason Wolf switched back and forth between his 5-string banjo and a pedal steel guitar positioned at the ready in front of him. “Why can't we all stay young pretty mama?” asked the next song and it was followed with one that said everything would be alright “just as long as that woman stands by me.” We were in the “looking for love” portion of the evening and for good reason, as awesome and beautiful women were all over the place at Deep Roots Mountain Revival. While the next song asked, “Where is your heart tonight?” it was clear that the heart of the festival was definitely in San Francisco with the great Grateful Dead because it was time for yet another cover with Rumpke Mountain’s version of “Dark Star” that felt like it might have been jammed out for 40 minutes. While it can’t be determined exactly how long the somber Dead tune lasted, it is certain that Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman made a prolific appearance at approximately 4:35 am, or, about 5 minutes after this writer made the mistake of heading back down the hill towards camp. Subsequent investigation uncovered that the jovial jamgrass superstar sat in on “Such a Good Idea,” “Murder In The First Degree,” and “Lord Won't You Help Me,” in addition to freestyling hilarious lyrics during a psychedelic version of “8th Of January,” also known as “Battle Of New Orleans.” The stories of festivarians able to persevere into the night told of the pickin’ and drinking till sunrise to be expected from any proper Rumpke Mountain Boys party with festival master Vince Herman.
Those of us who went to bed awoke Sunday morning to grey skies spewing intermittent raindrops that moistened the mountaintop but didn’t damper the good mood generated from three full days of amazing musical mayhem. The schedule for Sunday included more insanely talented acts like WV bluegrassers The Hillbilly Gypsies, the up-and-coming electric guitar phenom lead Marcus King Band, and wooly country crooner Jamey Johnson whose set included a surprise guest appearance from bluegrass icon Alison Krauss, who is tied for the most awarded Grammy recipient alive today. Unfortunately for this reporter, and thereby you the reader, the decision was made to dismantle camp and head from the hills before Sunday’s music began, beaten by exhaustion and the elements after three truly monumental days (and nights) of music. In addition to the multitude of tunes, the festival was fantastic because of the wonderful folks who were in attendance. Yes, their numbers were at times astonishingly small considering the stacked lineup, but those who bought tickets, volunteered, or were brought to the festival by other means, happened to be some of the most passionate and loyal people in the festival community. The spirit of the mountaintop was palpable every moment and we were encouraged and expected to enjoy ourselves with the only limitation being respect for the property. The Deep Roots team certainly succeeded in reviving the great musical legacy of Marvin’s Mountain Top and have assured festival goers that they’ve already begun planning for a return trip in sometime in 2017. The early adopters who attended the inaugural event will tell you: Deep Roots Mountain Revival is an experience that will not be forgotten and should not to be missed going forward. The Lot Scene would like to send our sincerest thanks to everyone who ensured that a good time was had by all!