Strings & Sol Bluegrass Festival 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
The Infamous Stringdusters - Greensky Bluegrass - Yonder Mountain String Band
And so, it was our last day in paradise once more. However, there could be no sadness among us due to the simply phenomenal line-up in store for the final evening. The Dusters, Greensky, and Yonder? Not a bad way to round things out whatsoever! And, certainly, with a head and heart filled with so many excellent memories at that point, everything to come was going to be icing on the bluegrass cake! First up, it was time for some sunset action with The Infamous Stringdusters, main stage. Kicking things off with “Light and Love” the band launched into their show with fantastic energy from the very beginning. Not that that should be a big surprise to anyone familiar with a Dusters show. So animated, so talented, so well-polished. Suffice it to say, they deliver quite the performance every time and this one was no exception. A little down the set, they catered right to this author’s heart by playing some delightful Pink Floyd in the form of “Fearless” which sounded absolutely fantastic. And the inclusion of Andy Hall’s dobro in some Floyd? Forget about it! Incredible! Travis Book summarily nailed down the vocals, clearly in very fine voice that evening. An altogether excellent cover of an old favorite of mine. Yet another bluegrass band that can really put together a wonderful cover experience for the audience. Bravi, fellas! Further into their set, the Dusters invited their good friend Nicki Bluhm out on stage to sing a couple of numbers with them. The first of these was “Big Road Blues” which, true to form, was bluesy and funky and fun. Really enjoyed this one. Nicki sounded mighty fine on the lyrics, her voice so suited to this kind of music. Between Hall’s dobro and Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle there was no shortage of flourishes and grace notes floating around this groovy musical texture. Then Andy Falco’s guitar solo…my goodness. Just how adept is that man at his instrument? Insane! What a rush of a good time — really dug this selection!! They followed this up with one of their standards as of late: “Run to Heaven”. Man, did it ever sound good on the beach at sunset that evening. Garrett’s fiddle and Hall’s dobro once again did a dance around one another all counterpointing Chris Pandolfi’s banjo excellence. Ensemble-wise, there are few other bands out there better than these Dusters. After Nicki left the stage to much applause for her lovely contributions to the show and a bit on down the line, the boys played some Grateful Dead for us all. What a gift! “Jack Straw” proved to be one of those pivotal moments of the fest when everyone just seems to lock into the experience. Luckily, we captured that very experience on film for you! Please enjoy the Dusters’s S&S version of “Jack Straw”:
Chills, right? Talk about tearing another cover up! We were being treated to such incredibly great music…what luck and we all knew it! Then, Jake Jolliff (Yonder Mountain String Band) joined the fellows on the main stage for a couple of pieces, packing his mandolin like a side iron. “Wheel Hoss” proved to be one speeding freight train of string band magnificence. So many notes from all those instruments for this tune. Whether it was banjo or dobro or mando or fiddle, guitar, or bass it was a never-ending litany of note after precious note, melting into our ears, melting our faces. Jake was on fire, of course, enjoying playing alongside ISD, clearly written on his face. Garrett, of course, had to answer on fiddle, throwing down some serious solo work with his bow. I mean, Falco, Panda, Book…all killed it. Just killed it. One of the more fun “Wheel Hoss” renditions I’ve been privy to. Massively great job, guys! Another cover was waiting around the corner and later on in the set: the Police’s “Walking on the Moon”. I really enjoy this one from the Dusters, always have. Travis Book always does an excellent job with the vocals, really bringing this song to life. Love those duet slides from Garrett and Hall in the beginning — what a cool sound, what a timbre! Damn, were they in great form that night! But, isn’t that what we’ve all come to expect from ISD? Amazing shows each and every time? I mean, right? And this one fit the bill to a “t”. It’s interesting to map out how shows make you feel…and I know how this one was making me feel. Utterly happy. Stupendous music will do that to you. They finished up this stellar show with “Long Lonesome Day” and “Getting Down the Road”, quite the double-whammy closer. Panda was all over the intro to “Lonesome Day” laying down some serious notes on his banjo which provided the perfect lead in for Travis on vocals. Andy was a monster that dobro, showing just how incredible he is on his chosen instrument. And, my goodness, do I love me some dobro! Such good solo work from all the gents, to be honest…Falco dominated on guitar as usual, Jeremy made his fiddle sing like a well-trained soprano, it all sounded phenomenal. This trend continued into “Getting Down the Road” which proved a very strong finish. The band took the high energy of the night all the way to the end delivering one memorable show to be sure. And the crowd loved it to the very last note. How couldn’t we have? It was just so good! So many big thanks to the band and the folks that support them. So happy to have had them at Strings & Sol this year!!
Greensky Bluegrass. Just the name alone, right? Exactly. Darkness had fallen all around the brightly lit stage by that point, all of us having supped and refreshed and donned our party gear to help take this entire affair to a happy close. The band walked out to great applause, all of us ready to get our groove on, Greensky style. They opened the whole shebang with “Merely Avoiding”, Paul Hoffman sounding recording perfect straight out of the gate, both on vocals and mandolin. And there was no denying the omnipresence of the sweet sound of Anders Beck’s dobro as he filled the song with bar after bar of delightful notes. Mike Bont’s banjo duet with Hoffman’s mando a few minutes in was really tight from a musical texture perspective as well — really enjoyed that combined sound from those two adept gentleman. Fantastic start and the crowd thought so as well. This was followed by Dave Bruzza jumping up to the mic for one of the fine standards of the GSBG catalog: “Worried About the Weather”. Lots and lots of notes were coming from Bont’s side of the stage throughout this one counterpointed by Beck’s own lovely contributions coming from the opposite. Of course, Bruzza’s own guitar chops are very much in need of mention — his solo at the two minute mark was absolutely gorgeous. The more I hear that man play the more I want to hear that man play. And talk about your sing-a-long crowd pleaser! They took this directly into some more Pink Floyd for the evening, just warming my heart to no end. “Time” from Floyd’s incredible and timeless Dark Side of the Moon album. Man, do I just love GSBG’s version of this song! From Hoffman kicking some serious ass on the vocals and making them his own to the stupendous ensemble sound coming from the entire band to the phenomenal solos from everyone that illuminated this music in such new and exciting ways, this one proved a huge favorite for the entire audience. And how couldn’t it have been? I mean we’re talking Greensky doing Floyd, my friends!! How much better can it really get?? Bont was a madman…a madman I tell you all song long. You could only see a blur where his fingers were supposed to be — so many freakin’ notes. So excellent! Bruzza certainly threw down his share of crazy good soloing following up Anders who had just delivered some lengthy and masterful melody work himself. All around, I’d give the fellas an A+ for their mighty fine efforts here. Might fine, indeed! Thanks for catering to this long time Floyd fan, you guys! Friends Andy Goessling (Railroad Earth) and Duke Davis joined the band for their next song, “Miss September” which was proved to be a pretty groovy damn time. But, you needn’t take my word for it when you can see for yourself right here!!
Not bad, right? Not bad at all! Pretty groovy damn time, indeed, right? Well, that groove kept right on a-going when The Infamous Stringdusters and Nicki Bluhm joined the fellas on stage for some seriously good supergroup action. Sadly, Travis Book didn’t make it out with ISD, but you could tell he was there in spirit for this big rendition of Clapton’s “After Midnight”. As such, Mike Devol was working double overtime to provide that baller bass sound…no worries, my friends. He did an outstanding job. As always. That man, the consummate professional. What a steamroller of a song this one turned out to be…obviously. So many excellent musicians on stage at one time. My goodness! It was almost too much. Almost. But not even remotely…I could watch that show for hours. The Greenfamous Stringgrassers? Yeah, I’d buy that ticket. I can’t even begin to accurately describe for you all the stellar music that graced my ears during this song. Banjos and guitars and mandolin and dobros and fiddle, oh my!! Needless to say, it sounded like heaven. And what a great song choice, too! We were all very much into the entire vibe and loving every minute. Lots and lots of happy faces in that crowd. A little on down the set, the band welcomed Larry Keel and Danny Barnes up to join them for a fun version of “I’d Probably Kill You” which, as you guessed, morphed into “I’d probably Keel you” during the course of the number. Nothing like getting the combined awesome grit of Keel and Barnes out there with GSBG — really makes for quite the necessary musical experience to witness. Bruzza and Hoffman sang their duet in fine fashion, providing that melodic and lyric complement to the band and their pals. Danny was, in a word, nasty on the banjo, really throwing down in only the way that he can. So very good. Larry, well, Larry was Larry, through and through. Just shredding on guitar, owning every note. It certainly can be said of both guests that they are true wizards on their chosen instruments. You could tell how much the band truly enjoyed sharing the stage with them. Finally, a little later on, they closed things out by playing a fantastic S&S version of “Living Over”. It proved to be a perfect closing song for the night of music they had delivered to us, dancing on the beaches of the Now Sapphire in tropical and gorgeous Mexico. So many cheers to the boys from Kalamazoo! They did it again! Bravi, fellas!!
Unfortunately, due to some technical issues, most of my note files for Yonder Mountain String Band’s performance were corrupted. As such, I can only report on a couple of songs. My sincerest apologies for this, my friends. And my sincerest apologies to the band. My memories are all happy ones, though — Yonder really put on a fantastic closing show for Strings & Sol. “Complicated” was fantastic and Ben Kaufmann really sounded amazing on the vocals. Classic YMSB sound for this one, with the added bonuses of the newer recruits, of course. Adam Aijala gave us a beautiful solo on guitar a few minutes in that was just lovely to behold. Allie’s fiddle was also a gorgeous addition to the mix of this song, doling out a truly fine solo run of her own. All in all, it was mighty pretty version of this Yonder standard. The encore from their show was pretty phenomenal, too. Lots of friends joining them: Bruzza, Devol, Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon), Beck, and Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth) — what a cast of characters to close down the fest’s last song. Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” was on the menu and Dave Johnston was on the lead to take us all home. What a version of this one, too! Especially with all the various folks on stage doing the back up parts. Pretty hilarious but pretty amazing, as well. Certainly a great way to end things on a high note for this unparalleled festival experience. Many thanks to Yonder for closing it all so well and keeping the energy going until the last note. Fantastic!
And, so, we said good-bye to another four days of music in the lovely Riviera Maya on the coast of eastern Mexico. Cloud 9 had outdone themselves once again — this had been my favorite Strings & Sol thus far. It really is such an incredible festival with so much going so right all around the bend. The line-up was stellar this time just as always, the staff at the Now Sapphire and the resort itself were wonderful and charming…truly I have no notes for Strings & Sol whatsoever. Except maybe one: please don’t change a thing! A huge round of applause to everyone who had a hand in making this year’s S&S go off so very well! It was, as always, the experience of a lifetime and I know I cannot wait to get back in 2017! Thanks for reading, everyone, and get yourself to Mexico this year!