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David Grisman

10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass - Big Sky, MT - Saturday/Sunday

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10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass - Big Sky, MT - Saturday/Sunday

10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Saturday

The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience - Sam Bush Band

    Late night Friday was a sea of pickin’ parties, libations, and great conversations.  Those wee hours of the morning really breakdown all the remaining barriers between musicians and festival goers to create something truly unique and special.  And tiring after a couple of nights in a row…sleep is always at a premium at Big Sky Big Grass.  But, hey, we’ve plenty of time to sleep in our graves, right?  After catching a few important hours of sleep and pulling ourselves together for another evening of music, it was time for Saturday to get going in full swing.  And, trust me, with the likes of David Grisman and Sam Bush in the mix, it promised to be quite an evening.      

    Sadly, I have to report that there were some severe sound issues for David Grisman’s set.  In the fact that the audience couldn’t really hear much of anything.  I am not sure if there were mic issues or soundboard issues, however, the point remains that if I cannot hear the music, I cannot report on it.  What we did hear of favorites like “Walkin’ the Dog” sounded potentially wonderful.  However, the technical gods were against us that night, it seemed.  A real tragedy for such a bluegrass legend as Grisman.

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience

    Luckily the techs fixed the sound for the next act, the Sam Bush Band.  And thank goodness for that!  Sammy and crew came tearing out of the gate with a fiddle tune care of Mr. Bush.  This one turned dirty good by tune’s end, nice and gritty with a driving bass line from Todd Parks.  Really quite a baller way to get things all riled up in the Missouri Ballroom that night.  “This Heart of Mine” followed with Sam back on mandolin and featuring some really tight vocal harmonies and some truly fine guitar work from Stephen Mougin.  This, in turn, led to an excellent “One More Love Song” with Sam getting tender in the lyrics all the while absolutely jamming out on mandolin.  “I wanna sing you one more love song…why leave it this way?”  Why leave it that way, indeed, right Sammy?  Really liked that one.  The next one in line that night was the instrumental “By Stealth” which was a riveting run through some serious hard drivin’ fast pickin’ with each musician stepping up to show their skills.  Simply sizzling solo from Scott Vestal on banjo — definitely of note.  This kind of tune is precisely the perfect space to observe some intense musicianship in action.  And the Sam Bush Band did not disappoint on this front whatsoever.   This led to the foot-stomping good time that is “East Virginia Blues” with Sam, of course, on the vocals and mando.  Incredible guitar stylings from Stephen Mougin in this one — they really kept the drive of the song going full force.  Then Sam and company took us for a ride on “The Bluegrass Train”.  Nothing like a good train song, right?  And nothing like hopping on the train that is the Sam Bush Band for one helluva musical ride.  And what a ride it was, too!!  Nasty, nasty excellent mando solo from Sam here, just amazing.  Thanks for that one, Sammy, fellas!  Later on in the set came the touching and soulful “Circles Around Me” (“High in Telluride…”) and later still came a little Jerry Lee Lewis with some “Great Balls of Fire”.  And what fire there was, let me tell you!!  Grassing up a version of this one was definitely the right move — it was fast, fun, and full of up energy for everyone.  Especially that incredibly hot banjo solo from Scott.  Damn can that man play!  So quick!!   Another great cover came after in the form of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” which instantly had the crowd tuned in and singing along.  A lengthy and lovely “Same Ol’ River” clocking in at 16:01 followed — talk about something you can really sink your musical teeth into!  What a journey!   Later on in the show, they closed with another fiddle tune, care of Sam.  Rollicking and rolling this one was a great way to end things for the evening.  But wait, they weren’t done yet!  There was a multi-song encore set on its was with lots of special guests!  The cast of characters you ask?  In addition to Sam and band we have Cody Kilby (The Travelin’ McCourys), David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury (The Travelin’ McCourys), Bela Fleck, amongst a few others gathered for some encore fun.  The first song up was “Little Girl of Tennessee” with Sam up on the vocals.  So much star power on one stage — how couldn’t it sound pretty damn amazing?  Which it did, of course.  Such great music.  And just stunning, stunning playing from everyone.  After two (yes two) more numbers it was time for the really big finish with “Bluegrass Breakdown”, a heart-palpitatingly quick race through some severely impressive fast pickin’.  One and all these gents threw down in superbly fine fashion bringing the main stage of the Missouri to a whiz-bang of a close for the night.  So very many thanks to Sam, his band, and their guests on stage that evening.  What a ride, what a rush!  Certainly only whetted the appetite for more bluegrass joy to follow on Sunday!!

Sam Bush Band & Friends

Sam Bush Band & Friends

Sunday

Billy Strings - Drew Emmitt Band - Jeff Austin Band - Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys

    Sunday had found us once again but were still fresh and frosty and ready for a monster of a great time care of some premium bluegrass music.  It had been a long and luxuriant weekend as we basked in bluegrass clear up to our grinning faces.  And the best part about Sundays, my friends?  More music!!  That’s right.  More of that specific brand of awesomeness that we all thrive upon, that we yearn for.  The surprise TBD set ended up going to Mr. Billy Strings and we were all glad that it did.  Due to the Superbowl, the place was empty.  And I mean criminally empty — but, whatever.  Roll with it, right?  Private show?  You bet!  Billy started out solo crooning some songs and pickin’ tune for us.  He began with Doc Watson’s “Nashville Blues”, a perfect selection to show off the great balance between Billy’s amazing guitar playing and his lovely baritone singing.  Fantastic fast pickin’ and classic bluegrass singing.  What more could you ask for?  Continuing in that theme, we got a mighty fine “Brown’s Ferry Blues” care of Mr. Strings.  Sure didn’t seem like Billy had the blues to me, but, hey, you’ve gotta go with something on your setlist, right?  Plus he simply killed the first two songs.  Which made us eager to hear the minor and slightly morose “Wild Bill Jones” which was next on the docket.  A cautionary tale doled out in a gentle but powerful singing voice and counterpointed always by the ever-moving fingers of this young man’s magical hands as they fly over strings and fretboard.  A light and lively guitar tune medley followed comprised of “Give the Fiddler a Dram” and “Whistling Rufus” and “Ragtime Annie”, highlighting for one and all that skill plus talent plus hard work that is the musical might that is Billy Strings.  Billy credited Doc Watson for the inspiration for this medley.  Continuing with some more Watson, he next played a superb version of “Hold the Woodpile Down” which featured some blistering, blistering guitar action.  Not that we were surprised.  Just in awe as always.  Tyler Grant (The Grant Farm) came out and joined Billy for what he termed “guitarmageddon”.  Love it.  “Lost Indian”, a fiddle tune, was to be their first number.  And my goodness…two guitar greats such as these pickin’ away at the same time, on the same stage??  Forget about it!  Seriously.  It was mind-meltingly excellent all the way around.  So many incredible guest spots and collaborations at this fest!  I love it!  And then it was time for a vocal duet…sweet.  Another Doc Watson selection (am I sensing a theme?) and this time “Way Downtown”.  Super fine harmonies from the get-go — really great blend between the two gents on stage.  And the seemingly effortless intertwining of their guitar lines was just beautiful to behold.  Most certainly a great pairing here.  Would love to see more of this very act in the future.  Such good guitar work from both fellas.  So good!  A little later in the set the two of them gave us a a rousing “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” especially given the guys singing this very song.  The thought of either of them laying down their guitars is almost anathema.  Listening back to my notes all I hear is just how much guitar is present at every point throughout these songs.  So many notes played with such skills and acumen.  It is so impressive — just makes me so very grateful that there are those of us out there who can and do play as such for all the rest of us to so thoroughly enjoy.  “My Rose of Old Kentucky” that stalwart standard and favorite came after, all of us still being treated to the joy of those double guitars.  This certainly was a Watson-heavy affair.  And I couldn’t have been happier.  Finally, as an encore, these two fine gentlemen played us an energetic and moving instrumental tune which had the growing crowd dancing and hopping to the rapid beat.  A truly lovely way to end a lovely set.  Bravo to Billy for all that he is and does!!  Bravo to Tyler for providing the perfect duo companion to share the stage with Billy!!  Bravi to them both for such exquisite music and a fabulous show!!

Billy Strings & Tyler Grant

Billy Strings & Tyler Grant

    And then it was time some Drew Emmitt Band all up in our lives.  Hells yeah.  Joining in on the fun were Sam Bush on fiddle, Tyler Grant on guitar, and Robbie McCoury on banjo.  Not a bad lineup.  Not a bad lineup whatsoever, my friends.  It appeared that we were in for a real treat.  And that treat got started off with a personal favorite John Hartford song:  “Steam Powered Aereoplane”.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard it better, to be quite honest.  Tyler Grant had a really excellent solo early on in this one…man do I just love his playing.  And what an incredible version of this song.  So happy to have gotten this one.  And as an opener, too.  The ensemble rocked out to a Leftover Salmon fave next with “Breakin’ Thru”, Drew leading the whole energetic gathering threw with his strong, distinctive voice.  And such a great ensemble sound coming from the stage already.  Just a testament to the utter professionalism and intensive skills of these musicians.  Not to mention the beast of an ending breakdown, Sam Bush tearing his fiddle bow apart as we all howled our appreciation and enjoyment from below the stage.  Such an electric finish!   However, it would seem I experienced some technical difficulties with my voice recorder (and best concert friend) for a few songs of Drew’s set.  Corrupted data, garbled playback, etc.  So, my apologies to you in that I cannot report on much of this show.  However, we trudge on, right?  Sorry Drew!  Sorry Drew band!  “Crossroads” by Cream provided the encore selection for the evening which saw Drew on electric guitar.  Sam Bush had an important fiddle solo smack in the middle of this one.  And it all sounded of pure excellence.  Rob McCoury flexed his banjo chops something fierce in this one as well.  A really awesome and fun set from the Drew Emmitt Band and Friends.  A perfect Sunday Funday band if I’ve ever seen one.  Thanks, gentlemen!!

Drew Emmitt Band & Friends

Drew Emmitt Band & Friends

    Jeff.  Austin.  Band.  Hells yeah.  Time for some gritty bluegrass attitude, shaken, not stirred.  A long and building instrumental opening led us to “Reuben’s Train” proper and, in no time, we were all steaming along on this mad locomotive with Jeff Austin at the wheel headed towards some seriously bonkers good music.  Hurling along with JAB down the electrified track that is one of their sets is always a rocking good time.  Seriously rocking.  And they kept right on rocking with a fast picker’s delight, “Time Ain’t Time”.  Such quick and rapid intertwining of instrument lines!  Gorgeous.  Amazing mando solo from Jeff in this one — that man plays with so much conviction.  Damn!  This was followed by an incredible solo from Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo.  A riveting ride from start to finish!  We were off to such a great start!  A mellow lead in from Jeff on mandolin to the next song provided a nice groove for us all to fall into.  “15 Steps” slowly crept up and hit us all full in the face with just that kind of song and feeling we’ve all come to expect from Jeff over the years.  Ross Martin (guitar) and Eric Thorin (bass) chose to get down and funky in the middle of this one, too.  Most certainly a groovy, groovy song.  Hard drivin’?  Fast pickin’?  You want those things huh?  Well, the “Red Haired Boy” that they gave us next was all of that and so much more.  They dedicated it to Billy Strings, too.  Isn’t that lovely of them?  Damn was this a fast one.  Blisteringly quick.  And played so well by all on stage.  Tight.  Nothing like getting an old classic like this from the Jeff Austin Band.  Cavanaugh got down and dirty in this one on banjo, really smoking that melody line.  This was answered by Ross Martin on guitar who funked things up a bit himself.  All in all, another thrilling ride on the JAB Express.  Next up on the setlist was “My Sisters and Brothers” a Charles Johnson song made famous by the Jerry Garcia Band.  Fant-freakin-tastic!  And then it was a lengthy and trippy “Ragdoll” which dominated the set.  Some serious exploratory moments wrapped in there.  It’s just good to see they’re still doing this song.  Love this one…but who doesn’t, right?  After that big entree of bluegrass dinner, dessert came in the form of a rollicking “Sideshow Blues”.  Cruising at top speed right up until end of their set, JAB pulled out all the stops that evening, including on “Sideshow”.  They came, they saw, they destroyed it.  JAB.  Incredible set, fellas…so many thanks for the music!  Very much looking forward to my next dance with the Jeff Austin Band.

Jeff Austin Band

Jeff Austin Band

    I cannot tell you just how excited I was to finally be seeing Keller Williams and the Travelin’ McCourys together on the same stage.  I’d been waiting quite awhile for that magic to strike me and strike me it did in full force that night.  All the boys assembled on stage surely meant some serious business from the very get go.  “I Am Elvis” is how they chose to ramp things up.  Talk about an album-quality show!!  Each song was so tight and so polished, if you closed your eyes it was hard to tell live from Memorex, so to speak (think I just dated myself there a bit haha).  “It’s all in my mind…I live inside my imagination.”  Well, it was certainly not all in my mind Saturday night at Big Sky Big Grass.  It was on the stage and it was bold, brazen, beautiful, and badass.  They took “Elvis” directly into a little Donna Summer with “Hot Stuff” and why not?  It’s not as if this group of stringslingers didn’t have the chops for this one.  Bouncing, lovely energy just cascading off the stage, Jason Carter’s fiddle lighting up the night like a beacon of pure sound, this one pulled the crowd into a merry den of musical mayhem and set us up right for the remainder of the set.  Up next was “Broken Convertible” with its tongue-in-cheek lyrics sung by none other than Keller himself.  Talk about another album-perfect one!  It really is a shame that Keller and the McCourys don’t tour more often together — this is one incredible act to see, my friends!  And with Keller changing the lyrics to reference a Sam Bush presidential bid/win, who could be disappointed?  Modest Mouse’s “Float On” came next in line for us — quite the surprise, but an excellent cover.  And Ronnie McCoury’s mandolin solo was something special to be sure.  Certainly another crowd pleaser for this tiny but voracious audience especially with the Dexys Midnight Runners “Come On Eileen” teaser thrown in for good measure.  After that, Ronnie was up to the mic to croon the vocals on “The Graveyard Shift” and he just nailed it to the wall.  Of course.  As if there could be any doubts as to that.  Simply splendid vocal harmonies in “Graveyard” to boot…always so nice to listen to.  And let us not forget Rob McCoury’s monster solo on banjo or Cody Kilby’s unequalled guitar skills throughout the song.  A stroll with the Grateful Dead followed in the form of a mellow and masterful “Candyman”.  Some Grateful Grass with the McCourys, eh Keller?  Maybe that’s the next lineup?  Maybe?  Would that it could be so.  How marvelous would that be?  An entire show of Dead songs thrown down by Keller and the McCourys??  Magnificence!  “Something Else” came on the heels of “Candyman” and was followed by Mike Doughty’s “American Car” — both of which sounded stupendous.  As you might expect.  Keller was in great voice all night, too…made for a near perfect-sounding concert.  It was Alan Bartram’s turn up at the microphone next for “Messed Up Just Right” one of my very favorite songs from the Pick album.  And Alan has such an awesome voice, too!  He really knows how to burn this song down.  Not your typical love song, but nonetheless incredible.  Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” was our next offering that evening…yes, you read that correctly.  Keller busted out some quality lyrics as the band really embraced this one, Jason Carter’s fiddle line capturing the melodic movement of the original.  And Rob’s driving banjo line was ever-present providing a forward motion to the whole song, grassing it up all the more.  They took this directly into a bluegrass version of Keller’s “Tweeker” which was something else to be sure.  One helluva great treatment of this song.  A whistled Andy Griffith theme song tease helped to keep us all on our toes through this string band whirlwind combined with Keller’s unique dance music.  Ronnie McCoury sure took the opportunity to slay on mando in the middle of “Tweeker” — righteous to a ’T’.  Different that’s for sure.  And fun as all hell.  A little later in the set we got the poignant and feelings-provoking “Price Tag”.  Really love this song and love the way they just own it even though it’s a cover.  Hard to believe that when faced with the gorgeous wall of musical sound that hits you like a velvet hammer.  “…we don’t need your money.  Just wanna make the world dance, forget about your price tag.”  There’s quite a lot of wisdom in those words, my friends.  Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” followed and then a rousing “Mullet Cut” came after.  What a setlist!  So much good music!  And they weren’t done yet!  And how about a little Foster the People?  Just when you thought this set couldn’t get any broader for bluegrass, a little “Pumped Up Kicks” comes along and smacks you around in all the right ways.  And Rob’s banjo solo?  Forget about it!  Just nasty!!  Not to mention his brother’s own brand of nasty on the mandolin to follow.  Talented family…no doubts there.  Sam Bush, Drew Emmitt, and Billy Strings joined the stage for the encore madness and madness it was.  The best kind.  Billy stepped up to the mic to belt out the lyrics to “Freeborn Man” for us as well all danced the night away, never stopping, never wanting to miss a beat, a note, a word…anything!  And how about that phenomenal Billy Strings guitar solo, too?  Hotness of the best kind.  Back to the Dead for a hot minute, the next encore selection was “Men Smart, Women Smarter” which featured a sizzling Sam Bush solo on mandolin.  Always a fun song, no?  Then came the final song of the evening:  a riveting and quick run through some bluegrass goodness.  This one was sung by Sam Bush and, sadly, I didn’t manage to catch the title for you.  Just know this:  it was teeming with incredible musicianship from every gent on stage, just oozing musical awesomeness at every turn.  And one amazing way to close things down on the main stage in the Missouri for the 2016 Big Sky Big Grass.  So very many thanks to Keller and the McCourys for such a superb night of music!!

Keller Williams & The Travelin' McCourys

Keller Williams & The Travelin' McCourys

    And then, sadly, it was all over.  The 10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass had concluded and done so in great style.  We had been welcomed over and over all weekend until we felt a part of the Big Sky family and we so grateful for the experience.  If you’re looking for a unique festival that boasts amazing music and some really cool other aspects then look no further.  Consider a jaunt up to Big Sky…make the trek.  Talk about bragging rights, huh?  Thanks for reading, everyone!!  Hope you enjoyed it!!

Late Night Pickin' Party

Late Night Pickin' Party

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10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass - Big Sky, MT - Friday

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10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass - Big Sky, MT - Friday

10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

    The trek from Colorado up to Montana and Big Sky’s Big Sky Big Grass bluegrass festival was a bit precarious to say the least.  Most of Interstate 25 in Wyoming was covered in a sheet of black ice with gusty winds blowing snow back onto the roads after the plows had gone by.  The landscape was a surrealist’s dream as we crept slowly northward, ever towards our goal.  Keeping it “low and slow” we eventually found better roads in Montana and scurried the last few hundred miles at night and then up into the dark and mysterious mountains and to the resort of Big Sky, finally arriving in a worn-out heap of gratitude.  Happy to be in Montana and happy to be at Big Sky Big Grass for the first time, the immediate excitement set in once we were there given the fantastic line-up and the world-class resort venue location.  We knew we were in for something special…but just how special was yet to be revealed to us.  Big Sky is a festival unlike the grand majority out there in that it is hosted by a ski resort.  This means tearing it up on the mountain skiing or riding during the day and partying your face off at night to some of the best bluegrass music on the planet — not a bad set-up, right?  We certainly didn’t think so, especially once things going in earnest.  The whole of the festival was centered in the resort with the main venue and all secondary stages occupying various conference/ballrooms or restaurants/bars around the resort complex.  This makes for very little walking between buildings which is nice given the obvious cold weather for that time of year and elevation.  Trust me, this makes a huge difference if you are staying at the resort.  Which leads me to another aspect of this festival…just how many locals and Montanans there were peopling it.  Will and I definitely felt like visitors from a foreign land, but, extremely welcome of course.  In fact, we met so many delightful and lovely people and made so many new friends (Ethan and Margo and Scully among them), that we instantly felt an integral part of this little festival (boasting somewhere around 800 people/tickets).  By the time the music started we were already beginning to understand the uniqueness of Big Sky and were certainly getting very into it.  Speaking of music, I think it’s about time we addressed just such a thing, no?  Oh, yeah!

Big Sky Resort

Big Sky Resort

Friday

Billy Strings - Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen - The Travelin’ McCourys

    The one, the only Billy Strings kicked the whole shebang off Friday night on the Missouri Ballroom main stage with a ripping good set backed by the Kitchen Dwellers and Pat Fiddle.  It was a dirty, nasty good showing of some bluegrass favorites, old standards, and all served with a healthy dose of grassed-up attitude.  Billy and the boys started their set with some fast pickin’ and a really fine “Big Mon” (Bill Monroe), Billy himself picking up the melody line at the beginning at then handing it off to Pat Fiddle for an on-the-money solo.  They took this directly into Billy on vocals with the classic “Long Gone” featuring Torrin Daniels on a mighty banjo solo.  Some more excellent fiddle from Pat led us into “Red Rockin’ Chair”, Billy crooning away for us in his powerful baritone.  Speaking of Billy, let’s talk about this gentleman for a second shall we?   Obviously on the younger side of this business, Billy is already a treasure of the bluegrass world.  That perfect combination of talent and skill and dogged determination, this man is clearly destined for great things in this musical realm of ours.  With a voice and singing style to match his other-worldly playing, he is the complete and consummate musician and every inch a professional.  We had a chance to sit down with Billy on Saturday for a fantastic interview (INTERVIEW HERE)…all of this and more came up during our time with our new comrade.  Personable and freely giving of his time, I am happy to call him friend.  And his performances at Big Sky encompassed all of this and more.  Later down the set, Billy belted out the lyrics of “You Won’t Be Satisfied” for us all over his own quick pickin’ as Shawn Swain provided some tasty mando licks to accompany, Pat Fiddle sawing away in style.  They followed this with the classic crowd-pleaser “Big Spike Hammer” which got us all singing along.  The next song was an original by Billy inspired by his brother living in Florida:  “Pine Trees”.  Yet another song dominated by Pat’s fiddling — man, can that cat play!!  It was like he was trying for the Sam Bush MVP Award or something.  Then the Kitchen Dwellers and Pat took their leave for a couple of solo numbers from Billy.  The first of these was “a nod to Doc Watson” according to Billy…a little flat-pickin’ in the form of “Beaumont Rag” which was a lightning-quick journey up and down the fret board with Billy in the lead.  Especially when he turned it up double-time at the end.  Flat pickin’?  Fast pickin’!!  Damn fine all around!  Slowing things down to ballad speed, Billy gently sang a gorgeous “Black Mountain” for us, this one absolutely showing off this man’s versatility.  Later on, “Meet Me at the Creek” was a powerful number that morphed into a nasty, nasty, amazing jam in the middle with everyone in the ensemble having a chance to step out and strut their stuff on their chosen instruments.  Supremely good organic music going down on that stage.  Definitely the reason we all do stuff like this.  Billy and the boys finished the set off with a sizzling hot “Little Maggie” with Torrin and Shawn trading off in counterpoint alongside Billy’s guitar.   One helluva closer for one helluva set!  Suffice it to say, my recommendation is to go and see Billy Strings play as soon as humanly possible.  You’ll only be doing yourself a favor.  A really big favor.

Billy Strings

Billy Strings

    Then we had the privilege of some Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen up on the main stage.  I was pretty psyched since this festival weekend was my first time seeing them live.  And I wasn’t to be disappointed in the slightest.  Definitely a tight, polished group when it comes to bluegrass music, Frank and his band put on one exquisite show.  Sadly, we entered the show a bit late, but I was instantly into the vibe as we walked in.  Clearly, Frank and DK had been killing it from the looks on everyone’s faces.  And I was jazzed to be in the mix…we arrived right as they were getting into “No Life in This Town” and they tore it up.  Incredible vocal harmonies over skilled musicianship?  You bet!  Definitely my cup of tea.  Frank?  Amazing vocalist and very fine mandolin player.  I was grateful to be getting to know his music to be sure!   The sad and soulful “Caz” came after which mellowed the mood a bit, but in a really good way from a musical standpoint.  I say this because it completely buoyed up the energetic and bright song that followed.  This featured some fantastic guitar work from Chris Luquette as well as some mighty mandolin stylings from Frank himself.  This is not to mention some supremely excellent banjo from Mike Munford with Jeremy Middleton’s stalwart bass line keeping everything up with a stout foundation.  Truly the ensemble sound of this band is wonderful.  “Wild Unknown” was to be Jeremy’s vocal debut on this number.  And it was fantastic.  Honestly.  But, we’ve got some footage of it for you so you can make your own call.  I bet you agree with us: 

Pretty damn good music, right?  Exactly.  Next up they played the dark and mysterious “Cold Spell” which featured some really amazing and tight vocal harmonies and then threw down a riveting instrumental with Frank Solivan on fiddle for that one.  This was the perfect showcase for each of these gents to show us what they’ve got on their respective instruments.  And showcase did they ever!  Next up was Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, at least Frank and DK’s bluegrassed-up version of it.  More tight harmonies awaited us here as well as a phenomenal overall treatment of this song.  My wife is a huge Orbison fan and I am sure she would have loved it summarily.  This one also featured a nice “Daytripper” tease — who doesn’t love a little Beatles in their Orbison?  Then it was time for Ronnie McCoury and Sam Bush to join them on the stage for something akin to a “mandopolcalypse” — so much mando on just one stage.  This was to be a theme throughout the weekend given the cast of characters in attendance.  What can I say?  Three incredible mandolin players playing “Dark Hollow” for us with Dirty Kitchen backing?  Not a bad way to spend your time, my friend.  Believe-you-me.  They followed this with an instrumental “Bluegrass Breakdown” which was face-meltingly hot.  Nothing but sizzle, my friends.  Ronnie and Sam and Frank in a rollicking round-robin of mando-goodness.  What a way to finish up a set!  Holy goodness and great balls of fire!!  Fire hot right up until the end.  And a perfect way to get us ready for the next act, right?  From one bluegrass great to another…I’ll take it!

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen & Sam Bush

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen & Sam Bush

    And then it was time for some Travelin’ McCourys action in the Missouri Ballroom.  And it was apparent from the very beginning notes that they came to bring it that night.  Of course, I don’t think such a thing as a “bad” McCourys show exists in this Universe.  And I am so grateful for that very fact.  Friday night at Big Sky was no exception to this.  And how crazy was it that we were seeing these bands in a crowd of far fewer than 1000 people?  I mean, it was like a private concert.  But, hey, I’m not complaining.  At all.  The McCourys popped the cork for their set with a walk through the Grateful Dead with “Cumberland Blues”.  Rock’n’grass through-and-through, this one never ceases to satisfy the musical palate.  “I gotta get down…I gotta get down…”  Yeah, let’s get down, shall we?  With Jason Carter tearing things apart on fiddle there was nothing blue about this “Blues”.  And those oh-so-characteristic McCoury harmonies — refined and polished.  Shivers.  Every time.  And never mind that speedy, speedy ending breakdown!  Wowsers.  They followed up “Cumberland” with a Ronnie McCoury song, “Somebody’s Gonna Pay” which featured a supremely fine mando solo from that same gent.  “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” (as made famous by Waylon Jennings) was next in line that evening, a Jason Carter lead on vocals, and a personal favorite of mine.  I just love the driving guitar and banjo lines throughout from Cody Kilby and Rob McCoury, respectively.  This song just has such movement and focus to its forward motion.  And Rob was killing it on the banjo in this…right up until his brother stepped up and did the same on mandolin.  Ah, those musical families, right?  Makes for such a great aural experience!  And Cody…wow.  Just wow.  That man is a magical music-making machine!  And he makes it look so easy and effortless, too!  (Although it obviously has taken years of hard work for such mastery to occur.)  Another favorite of mine, “The Shaker”, came along next in the setlist and we managed to capture a really great video of it for you.  Which we will share with you now…enjoy!!  VIDEO

And that’s why they get paid the big bucks, folks!  Damn fine music from some damn fine musicians!  Later down the set they gave us their version of Nick Lowe’s “I Live on a Battlefield” yet one more favorite around The Lot Scene offices.  A sad and mournful song sung by Ronnie, this one is lovely on many levels.  Great melody line and poignant lyrics peppered by top-notch and gorgeous harmonies.  All sitting atop the foundation of some superb instrumental musicianship.  Next up, Cody meted out a beautiful guitar line which opened up into a fast pickin’ instrumental giving way to John Denver’s “Old Train” sung my Alan Bartram.  I sure have grown to love Alan’s voice over the years and with good reason.  The man can sing and sing well.  And who doesn’t love a little John Denver, right?  Especially high in the Rocky Mountains?  Precisely!  Later on down the set they invited pal David Grismanup to join in the fun on mando (of course).  They played Grisman’s own “Lil’ Samba” and played it with just the attitude and sass that we’ve come to expect of that tune over the years.  Grisman was clearly having fun guesting in and treated us all to some excellent solo work.  Not to mention Jason Carter and Cody Kilby’s solo work as well.  Holy goodness!!  This is always a fun tune to be sure.  A walk with John Hartford came over the next two songs:  “Natural to Be Gone” and “Back in the Goodle Days” both of which featured Sam Bush as a guest on mandolin.  “Natural” saw the addition of Sam as a boon-and-a-half.  Great solo from him…really stellar.  Does that man know his way around a mandolin or what?  Kudos to Jason for his soulful singing on “Goodle Days”, too.  What a fantastic band, right?  I mean, just holy crap are they good!  So much attitude in this one.  John, I feel, would be proud.  Especially of Sammy.   Marvelous.  Mandolin.  More, please.  A bit on down the line was a walk with the Grateful Dead for a couple of songs:  “Cold Rain and Snow” and “Loser” both of which sounded magnificent.  Drew Emmitt crooned out the vocals for “Rain and Snow” and he and Sam stayed out there until the end of the set.  Grisman rejoined the clan on stage for “Wheelhoss” which turned into “mando mayhem” once again.  So much mando!!  Crazy fast playing, too!  I have no idea how human hands can move so quickly.  After an “On the Lonesome Wind” encore they finished the night with a big, bold, boundless “Travelin’”.  So quick, such infinitely fast pickin’.  Crazy good on so many fronts and always such a great way to close out a show.  “Bye, bye, so long, farewell…”  Yeah, that’s a closing song, alright.  And the McCourys and friends brought it all to the very end…amazing harmonies, supernatural playing, and that tight, professional polish that is the very Travelin’ McCourys.  And a huge ending jam that saw every musician on stage show off their insane talents through sizzling solos.  Incredible.  What a supremely wonderful night of music.  Thanks to all the musicians and all those who helped put on these shows!!  Big Sky Big Grass:  so far, so great.  If this was the way the remainder of the weekend was to go, then we were to be very happy fellas indeed.  And we still had two days to go.  Giddyup.      

The Travelin' McCourys

The Travelin' McCourys

Stay tuned for Saturday and Sunday!!

The Travelin' McCourys & Friends

The Travelin' McCourys & Friends

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DelFest 8 - Festival Experience Archive - Friday

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DelFest 8 - Festival Experience Archive - Friday

DelFest 8

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Friday

It’s one thing to wake up on a Friday morning, excited at the prospect of the weekend ahead, filled with anticipation for what-might-be.  It’s another thing entirely to wake up thusly at DelFest with a head still teeming with so much music from the day before.  I mean, by the time your eyes open on a DF morning, the last strains of Late Night have barely even faded.  And this year’s Friday morning was no different.  The weather corrected itself from the previous nasty to that delightful, sunny, easy, breezy, beautiful climate that we all have come to yearn for during our annual Memorial Day gatherings in Cumberland.  As if DelFest could get any better!  And it sure did that day when it came to music.  So it was on our way to the Potomac Stage for a little Grand Ole’ Ditch to get the party started right.  To get it started quickly, right?  (If you catch that reference, I applaud you. Heh.)  Handing out buttons and meeting all sorts smiling folks along the way I could already tell I was in for another wonderful day with Del and all his invited guests.  

Grand Ole’ Ditch

Grand Ole’ Ditch.  Cumberland boys.  Hometown heroes.  Playing their very first DelFest and having the distinction of being the first local band to play the festival.  And it was my first time seeing them.  Lots of firsts going on there.  And this seven-member band certainly wowed and delighted all of us gathered to see with rollicking sounds of bluegrass-gone-rock-gone-hillbilly stomp.  I instantly dug their sound — just a fun band to see live, plain and simple.  “Pigeon Eatin’ Catfish” is a favorite around the TLS offices so we were jazzed when they played it that morning.  With a slightly similar cadence and feel to Charlie Daniels’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, the song is danceable to say the very least and features some excellent harmony execution.  Such a good and driving sound there is to this band that Will commented he had a hard time taking pictures and trying to keep his camera steady for wont of dancing:  you see the lengths we go to to get you the goods?  Heh.  G.O.D. (I just like abbreviating it that way) finished with a bang doing much justice to their DelFest debut.  I instantly knew that I’d be back at the Potomac on Sunday for their second set of the weekend.  Bravo, boys!  See you then!

Mandolin, Mandolin, and More Mandolin - David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, and Sierra Hull

So we raced from Grand Ole’ Ditch over to the Music Hall to catch a small bit of this unique and powerhouse-led workshop with three of the finest players alive today:  Grisman, McCoury, and Hull.  Hailing from three distinct generations of bluegrass and certainly possessed of three rather different styles, the anecdotal material they doled out alongside some very fine and illustrative mando picking felt like being privy to some secrets of the ages mixed in with humor and smiles and laughter.  For instance, Dave enlightened us with this trick of the trade:  he figured out a long time ago that the fewer notes you play, the more you get paid per note.  Wise words for gigging musicians, especially mandolin players!  And the musical selections were of great interest as well, straying far from just traditional bluegrass tunes.  For instance there was a “Minor Swing” that was pretty fantastic — great energy to that swing feel and the entire fabric of the melody afloat on a sea of minor notes and chords.  Just lovely.  Almost needless to say the playing from all three musicians was superb and it was a real privilege to be able to watch the intertwining of such skill and acumen on one stage and from these three.  I know that I heard quite a few folks reminiscing about this workshop all weekend.  Great job you guys and many thanks for such an educational look into the mandolin and its chosen players.

The Brothers Comatose

Back out into the sunshine and returning to the Potomac Stage, we all strolled over to check our The Brothers Comatose for a hot minute.  We walked up to a mostly seated crowd, chilling in the warm light, and soaking in as much good string music as the sun.  “Pie For Breakfast” was the first song we got and I was glad, it being one of my favorites.  I can really get behind the message, you know?  And it was a DelFest-worthy version to be sure.  I had seen the Brothers for the first time at WinterWonderGrass this year in Vail and had really enjoyed their sound.  So it was nice to get to see them in an entirely different setting, like a warm place with no snow.  After catching a quick couple of numbers more we hustled off to Larry Keel on the Main Stage — damn you conflicting schedule!!  Heh.

The Larry Keel Experience

On the heels of my first Larry Keel Experience the night before I was ready for more grassy greatness, Larry-style.  Walking up to him covering the Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women”, therefore, was pretty damn perfect.  Twangning into the mic and guitar twanging in his hands, it was a wholly excellent cover with a particularly weird and funky jam slammed in the middle and after which Larry thanked Ger Bear.  Another really unforgettable DelFest moment from DF 8.  A Will Lee-led “Fire Line” came further down the set featuring some hot pickin’ by the banjo player.  The remainder of the show was just as funked-out and dirty as you’d expect from Larry, Jenny, and their buddy, Mr. Lee.  Definitely an Experience I am looking forward to having again, and soon.  Hopefully in Colorado?

The Del McCoury Band

The reason for the season.  The man, the myth, our adopted grandpappy.  And his band of merry makers…and dastardly bluegrass daredevils.  All gathered for another Main Stage delight the likes of which only they can deliver.  And talk about your home-field advantage!  “Travelin’ Teardrop Blues” sparked the night to life with Del leading strongly on the vocals.  Great selection for an opener.  Ronnie’s tune, “The Quicksburg Run”, came along down the line and was a pristine example of that oh-so-fabulous thing we refer to as “fast pickin’”.  From Ronnie’s mandolin lines to Rob’s hot banjo runs, this was a chasing, bracing tune I’d very much like to hear again.  Del was back to the mic for the conflicted “Hard on My Heart” — the story of one man’s struggle between his desires and his common sense.  Not sure that anyone reading this could relate.  No, never.  Heh.  “I can’t come up to her lifestyle and she can’t come down to mine.”  What a perfect line — love it.  And this version had some great instrumentals, as to be expected — Ronnie in particular.  Rob McCoury then offered us some straight, sizzlin’ pickin’ with a tune he’d written, also featuring Jason Carter on some wonderful fiddle runs.  Anyone who knows Del knows of his ties to country music’s capital, Nashville.  As such, “Nashville Cats” shouldn’t surprise anyone as a song selection for a McCoury setlist.  However, it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised during a show when you get these little gifts on song from your favorite musicians, never knowing if or when or what order they might arrive in.  And those “Cats” arrived quite well!  Jason Carter then dedicated a steam-powered-saw of a fiddle tune to The Broomestix and urged us all to go and see this new and upcoming band.  It was a hell of a dedication to them, that’s for sure.  One thing that occurred to me as I watch The Del Band play that night is that there is so much showmanship up on stage in addition to the actual music, but I had never really considered them a “show band” before.  However, the orchestrated movements and rearranging of the line-up, etc., all these things that add to the overall value and meaning of a show.  The vibrancy and kinetic nature of each member of the band as they interact both spatially and musically is infectious and palpable and leaves one yearning for more.  This aspect of this marvelously incredible band is certainly worth noting here — I will definitely consider them a show band from here on out.  Alan Bartram offered up a sad and soulful “Teardrops In My Eyes” whose lyrics were a little betrayed by the upbeat tempo of the backing tune.  Always love to hear Alan sing.  Jim Wriggleman was a lucky fellow to have “She Can’t Burn Me Now” played for him per his request.  Del was fond of taking requests as always and good Jim got to be the lucky one.  Way to go, Jim!!  Who doesn’t love them some Del voice??  I mean it!!  The “Smoking Gun” that he gave us that night most indubitably featured some fine, fine Del voice — that tenor timbre we’ve all come to love and want at our shows.  And then it was fan favorite time:  “All Aboard”.  Need I say more, really?  Well, I will.  It was chilling.  And haunting.  And amazing.  All in one.  Very well-executed, too.  Best live performance I have seen of that song to date.  And I am anxious to see more.  Del co-wrote the subsequent “Never Grow Up Boy”, a Peter-Pan-esque cautionary tale about resisting the maturation process through music and bluegrass.  I think that sounds like lovely advice, don’t you?  Thanks, Del!  Reprising a choice from the day before, the next song was “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” which is always, always a great one to hear.  Then the Dawg himself came out for a few numbers to include an old Monroe Brothers tune, “We Can’t Be Darlins Anymore” by Flatt and Scruggs, and one that Grisman wrote in honor of Red Allen called “Pigeon Loose”.  What a treat to have Dawg up with Del and the boys!!  Each one was rife with incredible playing as you can imagine and having Ronnie and Grisman trading off was a sight to see.  What a Friday night set, you guys!!!  Thanks, so much to Del McCoury, his sons, and their friends for making so much beautiful music and for sharing it with all of us.  Already jonesing for Sunday!!

Late Night - Greensky Bluegrass

In many ways Greensky’s late night show could be considered a somewhat mellower extension of the monster they unleashed on the Main Stage the night before.  Opening with “Demons” the sine wave roller coaster began as it gave way to an explosive “Leap Year”, Anders’s all-too-familiar dobro notes ringing out to herald in Paul’s song.  Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth joined them on fiddle for a smokin’ and speedy “Breadbox” which was fun for all of us, almost as much fun as it seemed for the band.  This was not the same band that was snubbed at Merriweather, this was not the same band that was reborn in Richmond, this was a new band full of the joy of playing and of sharing that music with others.  And it was awesome to witness.  What does a band look like that’s rebuilt its own soul?  Like these fellas completely on top of their collective game.  It just happened to be Bruzza’s birthday that day so they band gifted him a bunch of solos (which was a delightful thing to do) such as “Letter to Seymour” and “Blood Sucking F(r)iends”.  And we even sang “Happy Birthday” to him — what a jolly time it was!!  There was a nice long “All Four” sammiched into the mix as well as “Worried About the Weather” featuring Nicky Sanders of The Steep Canyon Rangers.  Later on, the band slowed things down a bit with “Jaywalking” which had some intense moments in the latter half of the song.  “Wheelhouse” fast-picked things right back up again with some particularly adept playing from the birthday boy, himself, not to mention the other lads in the band.  As the set wound to a close we got a lengthy and excellent “Broke Mountain Breakdown” which went into a “Don’t Under Do It” Reprise connecting this show to the previous evening’s all the more.  And then an encore of all things!!  And they made us all want to “Shout!” (Kick my heels up and - Shout! Throw my hands up and - Shout!  Throw my head back and - Shout!  Come on now - Shout!  Don't forget to say you will!!). That’s right, that was the encore.  Heavens to Murgatroyd!!  No notes!!  

Friday you set the standard even higher!!  Saturday?  Looking at you, Saturday…


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