Strings & Sol Bluegrass Festival 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Railroad Earth - The Infamous Stringdusters - Greensky Bluegrass
Ah, there is nothing quite like a Saturday spent at the Now Sapphire for Strings and Sol. Saturdays just have that special quality, don’t they? And to couple one with such joy and enjoyment, well, it almost seems illegal. Pretty amazing that it isn’t, right? Precisely! With most folks enjoying the pool or ocean or both all day long, libations in hand and reveling in one another’s company, the vibe was strong and merry down in Mexico that day. That afternoon, it was to be none other than New Jersey’s own Railroad Earth who would be playing one of their famous sunset shows on the main stage, oceanfront, one of my favorite sets of the festival. There is just something about the paring of Railroad with the setting of the sun by the sea that creates a magic all its own, and one very much worth tapping into. I think it is always a real treat to see a band mesh with a venue and setting so well as RRE at sunset at S&S. All of us enjoy being privy to something special, right? They kicked the whole amazing deal off with “The Forecast”, the familiar strains of Tim Carbone’s fiddle heralding in this favorite and crowd-pleasing song. Todd Sheaffer on lead vocals sounded like the trusted voice of a favorite uncle, one heard so often and so well-respected, loved even. There is just something so very comforting about his voice and his approach to vocals. The band sounded crisp and polished in their ensemble sound, each of these men a true master on their chosen instrument(s). John Skehan’s mandolin sounded off like a clarion call, each note beaming forth to augment the whole. I really loved it when things turned to a gritty, funky groove for a spell — excellence!! A fantastic beginning selection and one which they took directly into “Chasin’ A Rainbow”. Certainly another favorite of the crowd, we were lucky to get a nice video of it for you. Please enjoy this slice of Strings & Sol!!
Now you see what I mean about the band plus setting effect you get with Railroad’s sunset show at S&S. What a wonderful vibe, right? A little down the set, they backed things off a bit with “Old Man and the Land”, plugging into that intense mellow energy that Railroad does so very well. Andy Goessling grabbed up his banjo for this one, plucking along in accompaniment to Skehan’s mando and then vice versa. Andrew Altman swapped out his electric for his upright bass as well, opting for that string band sound. As the opening built and built it finally expanded into the syncopated musical landscape of the song proper. I really love all sides of this one, all the faces of the song. And talk about your sing-a-long! So many voices united with Todd in song and joy. What a sound to behold! “For Love” followed, with Goessling on dobro and Altman on electric bass, Carbone’s fiddle once again leading things off for us. Carey Harmon was laying down a serious beat for this one, too…keeping time like a finely-tuned clock. As per usual, of course. And always smiling, that one. Always so happy to be throwing down some mad percussion. What a fantastic set it had been thus far! They ended up winding down and finishing out the set with a big triple play of “Black Bear” straight into “Like A Buddha” into “The Wheel”. What a roller coaster ride it was, too. Once again, they hit us full force with that mellow intensity of theirs with “Black Bear” filled to the brim with classic RRE sound and energy. It proved the perfect set-up for the happy-filled “Like A Buddha” which was a merrymaking rendition of this song if I’ve every heard one. So many smiles on so many faces on that beach as the sun was setting, falling beneath the waves with the dark coming in. It was an honor to be a part of such revelry as this. And then “The Wheel” to close? Really? Are you kidding me? What a show! So many thanks to the band for the fabulous music. I always love a Railroad show, but this one was, indeed, special. So many magic moments…so much gratitude. Cheers, fellas!
Next up later on that evening were The Infamous Stringdusters. Man, I just love typing things like that. Especially when the Dusters and Greensky play the same stage in the same night? Forget about it! Hard to imagine such luck! I headed back up to the stage a wee late missing their first two songs (“Sentenced to Life” and “My Destination”) but entered on a great one: “Get It While You Can”. What a quintessential Dusters song, right? It really embodies so much of their energy and sound and everything else that makes the ISD such a fantastic band. Jeremy Garrett threw down a particularly mean fiddle solo a few minutes in, unleashing a sea of smiles from those of us down in the sand. My goodness can that man saw a tune! And these boys were just getting going! A bit further into the set it was time for another fantastic standard from the Dusters in the form of “Peace of Mind”, Chris Pandolfi filling the air with countless banjo notes during the intro, spreading them around for all to hear and treasure. They took this one at a nice clip, imbuing it with some of that tropical energy surrounding all of us and elevating it to a supremely fun dancing song. Andy Falco delivered the lyrics in fine fashion with excellent supporting harmonies, as always with this song. And then there was that dobro solo from Andy Hall. Damn, son. I mean, damn. Sizzling hot. What a great set so far! Certainly not ones to pass up the opportunity to share the stage with some of the other incredibly musicians present, the band invited friend Danny Barnes out for a little fun on his mighty banjo. Panda was visibly excited to be throwing down alongside a giant like Barnes. Makes perfect sense, right? They got things going with a crazy funky number showcasing just that kind of excellent and magnificent musical weirdness and madness that Danny brings to the world of string band music. Really groovy, start to finish. What a treat. Next up with Danny they delivered a marvelous version of “Don’t Think Twice” — but why take my word for it when you can see for yourself, my friend? Please enjoy!!
Pretty darn amazing music, right? Am I right? So very good. Then it was time for another close friend of the group to join them onstage for a few numbers: none other than Nicki Bluhm. Nicki, of course, is no stranger at all to performing with the Dusters — their collaborations are well-known by this point. One of the best of them, in my opinion, is their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”. Nicki’s voice is perfect for this one and she really nailed it this time, there can be no doubt. And the band absolutely killed this one, too…who knew a bluegrass version of this song would be so, well, killer? Garrett was on fire all song, just destroying things on his magic fiddle throughout. And what a thumping bass line from Travis Book! So much foundational energy for the rest of the band to soar from and back down to time and again. And such a stage presence — it cannot be easy moving that upright around all over the place like he does. Love it. Later on still down the set came a huge ending drive that began with Cash’s “Big River”, a huge crown favorite of course. One of those perfect covers for the band in question, in my opinion. It’s just one that seems to fit so very well and the S&S version was no exception whatsoever. Excellent banjo work from Panda about a minute into things set the tone for the round robin of solos to ensue throughout the song. This would include all the members of the band on their respective instruments, showing beyond the shadow of a doubt the overall musical excellence of the Dusters. Falco had a monster solo during their big, bold, badass jam in the middle that searing the very souls of those listening. What a showing! Bravi, boys! Then came the “Blackrock” into Phish’s “First Tube” right back into “Blackrock” closer that melted every face in the crowd, man, woman, and child. So much dobro from Hall!! So much fiddle from Garrett!! So many notes flying from the stage and washing over us in a cascade of merriment and musical joy. “Blackrock” is quite the instrumental ride in and of itself, but when you add some Phish to the mix? Are you kidding me? Plus, we must count the fact that they totally nailed their string arrangement of this jammy oldie but goodie. Truth. Just the plain facts, my friends. What a crazy good jam, too. Holy goodness! Like I said, a face melter, through and through. By the time they made it back into “Blackrock” to close things down we were all losing our collective minds. And then, wham! It was all over. Last note played. Band has taken their bow. Done. And, wow, what a freaking roller coaster! Thank you so much, you Infamous Stringdusters! Thank you for all the smiles and the marvelous music! What a way to spend an evening on the beach!
Cue Greensky. Cue rain storm. Cue dancing in the rain to some baller ass newgrass. And rain it did, let me tell you. Pretty much the entire show, too. Kind of a bummer in some ways after the first several songs and you start to get a bit waterlogged. But, on the upside of things, Greensky Bluegrass tore it up on that main stage in spite of the rain and wind. Professionals, those guys, to a man. Opening things up with a fantastic rendition of “Old Barns” the band showed they meant business from the very get-go. Paul Hoffman was in exceptionally fine voice that evening, which meant wonderful things for all of us with ears in the crowd. That song is certainly one that stirs the soul. They followed quickly on the heels of “Old Barns” with “Leap Year”, throwing out crowd favorite after crowd favorite, apparently. The rain did get to a point where we retreated under cover in a friend’s room, friends like that great to have, of course. However, we could still hear the show from our sanctuary and “Leap Year” sounded phenomenal. Anders Beck slew his well-known dobro line at the beginning heralding in this song in familiar fashion, not to mention all his stylings throughout the number. And that Bont solo? Banjo madness, pure and simple. Worth mentioning as well was just how fast they took it for this version. So much energy. Especially when Bruzza took up the reigns on his guitar and killed a solo of his own. So many freaking notes! How?!? Already this was a stellar show. Not that I was the least bit surprised. They finished up their first set with “Windshield”, taking things to that lower-frequency intensity at the beginning and pumping things up to “eleven” by the end making for an excellent way to end things for a quick set break. So far, so grand, fellas. Magnificence. After a quick set break/rain delay during which we grabbed our rain gear and headed back up to the stage, second set got quickly going in defiance of the rain with “The Four”. Sadly, the rain did a bit of damage to the overall music experience of the evening…there is only so much you can do in those conditions, you know? But the band persevered as did the audience and we were all treated some amazing GSBG music in spite of the delays and storms, etc. I mean, to their credit, they still sounded superb. A bit down the set came a soggy but triumphant version of “Don’t Lie”, Anders’s dobro lines weaving in and out of the musical consciousness on stage like the voice of an old, dear friend. Phoff was a beast on that microphone, styling and profiling his crooning almost as if to each and every one of us personally. Not to mention his lovely mando playing, counterpointing Bont’s every note on banjo…the hundreds of them that there were. That man is a wizard on that instrument of his. And always with such an unassuming smile on his face, bent in concentration and spell craft over the strings. Wowsers, what a solo! It just went on and on and delightfully on. And we were all so grateful. The jam was, in a word, volcanic. It erupted in an avalanche of notes and music and wonderment so incredible!! Replete with “Tequila” teases and so much great instrumental work from every member of the band, it was a mind-bender. Truth. A wee bit later and close to set’s end came Dave Bruzza up the mic for the lead on “Take Cover”. It is almost impossible to see that man’s hands move over that guitar of his — what a picker! Tarnation!! And there’s nothing like a little effect pedal on some dobro, right? Thanks to Anders we got just that! There’s just something I love about his particular dobro style. I think it has a lot to do with him as a person…his overall attitude and personality. Beck just brings something to that instrument of his, something unique. Something very much worthwhile. Finally, the Michigan fellows closed things down with one of their more famous and well-loved covers: Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. They started it all off with a funky, jazzy, groovy intro belying the truth of what was right around the corner. Well-done with the musical deception. Way to keep things fun, guys! I’ve certainly heard them do this one before, but here dancing in the wet sand, the rain still gently falling, the ocean crashing nearby, the stage shining out like a beacon in the damp night, it all took on a new and more poignant meaning, a deeper experience. So much marvelous madness was unleashed in so many forms, all dancing along to this familiar song. Big solos from Phoff, Bruzza, Beck, and Bont peppered the entire affair with Mike Devol, that boss of bass, laying down the funkiest bottom line you’ve heard in a long time. Such a massive ending! So much incredible energy soaring from the stage. And all of us there shaking our fists in the face of that storm, soaking up the music like water in the sand. What a night it had been. Railroad, Dusters, then Greensky? What stupendous luck! What gratitude. What thankfulness. Thanks so much to GSBG and all their people! What could Sunday possibly be like, I wondered at that moment. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
Stick around for Sunday, on the way, friends!!