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Strings & Sol Festival 2016 - Puerto Morelos, Mexico - Monday

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Strings & Sol Festival 2016 - Puerto Morelos, Mexico - Monday

Strings & Sol Bluegrass Festival 2016

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Monday Highlights

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!!

The Infamous Stringdusters

The Infamous Stringdusters

    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!!

Greensky Bluegrass with The Infamous Stringdusters and Nicki Bluhm

Greensky Bluegrass with The Infamous Stringdusters and Nicki Bluhm

    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!

Yonder Mountain String Band and Friends

Yonder Mountain String Band and Friends

    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!

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Greensky Bluegrass - 23 July 2016 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO

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Greensky Bluegrass - 23 July 2016 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO

Greensky Bluegrass

23 July 2016 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Band Members:  Anders Beck - dobro, Michael Bont - banjo, Dave Bruzza - guitar, Mike Devol - upright bass, Paul Hoffman - mandolin

    Picture it.  You’re on the stage of Red Rocks, headlining for the first time.  Good friends Leftover Salmon have just played a monster opening set in honor of your huge night.  Thousands of your biggest fans are gathered in score upon score of the tiers of the historic amphitheatre.  The skies have calmed from their earlier tempests making way for a perfect evening of weather just suited for live music.  With so much going so right so far, how could you ever think of failure?  How could you not solely be thinking of the utter domination you were getting ready to lay down with your bandmates in just a few scant minutes?  How could things not go just supremely your way and then some?  Times about a million.  I can only surmise that this and countless other things were weaving their ways through the heads of our heroes of this tale, the gentlemen of Greensky Bluegrass that evening.  An ever-impressive and ever-more-incredible powerhouse of musical originality and ensemble genius, it is impossible to even see remotely the same show twice from them.  Songs may be similar from setlist to setlist, but the degree with which they increase their skill from gig to gig is immeasurable.  And then, to be coming together under the banner of musical friendship alongside Leftover at Red Rocks of all places — what a crazy amazing way to do it.  Quite impressive and it certainly made for an impressive evening of music.  You’ve already read about Salmon’s baller set, now it’s time for a little Greensky in your life.  What say you?  Ready for this?  Let’s do it!!

Anders Beck

Anders Beck

    A strong and crowd-pleasing opener in the form of “Windshield” ushered us all into the night together, the familiar strains of Devol’s bass line jumping out into the ether above the stage as Hoffman’s vocal lines wove seamlessly into the mix.  So many voices in the crowd were singing out to this one, as one, united in joy and purpose and pure merriment of the soul.  And then, Anders’s dobro line floated in hauntingly reminding us of the intensity of this song as we all fell back into Paul’s vocals.  Pure energy was coming from that stage, from those Michigan men who play that delicious string band music we all love so dearly.  Really nice and chill ending jam, too.  Sweet, if I dare say so.  One helluva way to start things up!!  They followed this up with “Just to Lie” from their album Five Interstates, increasing the tempo a bit and getting those dancing feet in the crowd a-moving.  Another Paul lead, this one is a long-standing favorite of the GSBG catalogue, full of rich dobro lines from Beck and more of that iconic, Mike Devol bass-play, Cheshire-cat smile and all.  He’s a good man, that one, and can lay down one extremely mean bass line, let there be no doubt!!  Bruzza led the central jam on guitar to be joined by Hoffman on mandolin, things staying up beat but drifting to some more subdued places musically, leaning into the mellow intensity.  Hoffman even threw in a few choice Fruition teases from “Labor of Love” — pretty freakin’ sweet.  I mean, just perfect.  So far, so great with this set…made me excited to think of the rest of it as well as the second!  They took this directly into “The Four” to the instant delight of the crowd, Paul staying at the mic for the lead on this one as well.  Again, so many voices upraised to join our favorite fellows on the stage.  And when you fall in love with the four chord do you really need any more?  Not according to the Phoff.  Thanks to Dave Bruzza for his lovely guitar solo about 1:45 in which segued so wonderfully well back into the verse that followed.  Phoffman wasn’t to be outdone, however, throwing down his own beautiful solo afterwards all to the undertone of Beck’s erstwhile dobro, that incredible instrument that it is.  “Worried About the Weather” was up next on the docket for the set, with Bruzza up to the mic for lead vocals.  Another danceable one no doubt, we all took advantage of this fact in the crowd.  So many notes coming from Bont’s side of the stage weaving to my ears during this one, counterpointing those from the dobro on the opposite side.  Adding to that the round-robin of solos between each member of the band and you got a whole heap of fantastic music.  It was great to hear everyone in such fine voice tonight, too…they deserved to be at their very best for an occasion such as this.  Then it was about this time I almost had a heart attack.  For, as many of my loyal readers know, I am an ages-old fan of Pink Floyd.  So, when I heard them take “Weather” directly into “Time” by Floyd, I almost suffered a coronary.  As soon as Paul started in with those lyrics, it was all over.  It was an unabashedly free and frenetic moment of pure musical ecstasy for yours truly.  Mixing together two of my very favorite bands?  And so, so, so, so well, too.  So good!!  I cannot begin to tell you how amazing.  We grabbed a video of Scramble Campbell engaging in his singularly magical insanity painting GSBG while they played.  It’s a short one but gets you a little of this unbelievable song, please enjoy!!

Pretty colossal stuff, right?  So big.  So bold.  So magnificent.  The central jam was full of raw, Floyd-like energy that really captured so much of the earthy grit and organic feeling of the original.  Paul and Mike just nailed the vocals and the harmonies, too.  Honestly, I could write an entire review of just this song, it was so good.  And Bont was killing me at the end with his solo — Floyd on banjo?  Forget about it!!  A little down the set, they invited Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon out on the stage to join in on some of the fun.  They threw Vince the mic for a joint version of “Woody Guthrie”, Herman’s modern plea to Guthrie and how his absence is felt palpably today.  But, don’t let me tell you all about it when you can watch it here: 

Nothing like having Uncle Vince out there to sing you one, right?  Emmitt and Herman stayed out there for the next song, “Hit Parade of Love”, a Bruzza vocal lead.  Some fast pickin’ it surely was, my friends.  Whew!!  Hard to keep up with all that music simply flying from the stage like a never-ending flock of note-shaped songbirds.  Lots of fast fingers laying down some super quick solos, man to man and back again.  Vince had his chance on guitar and surely did not disappoint.  Then it was time for Drew on mando only to be answered by Beck on dobro.  Seriously, how do they play so quickly??  After bidding Vince and Drew adieu, they debuted a new song for us next called “Past My Prime” which is always a treasured treat.  Nothing like being musical test monkeys for a phenomenal band like this.  Paul also said that they had a brand new record coming out this fall, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.  Hoffman was back up to the mic for this one, spinning a new tale of GSBG lore to us, all of us eager to a person to hear.  I really liked this one for many reasons, from Hoffman’s mando lead in to Bont’s early solo to Beck and that dobro of his providing foundation for the verses alongside Bruzza and Devol.  I guess what I am getting at is the really fine ensemble sound I was getting from this one.  Looking forward to hearing it again in the future!  They finished out this stellar first set with a pretty long “Living Over”, allowing for lots of room to jam things out.  And did they ever!  I mean, the central breakdown was minutes long…so good!  What a big ending to a big set like this.  Not surprising at all, of course.  I mean, we all knew that they’d bring it at Red Rocks.  And boy did they.  In spades!  And there was still the second set to go!!

Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass

    What a night of music so far.  Salmon, so damn good.  Then Greensky just killing it in their wake?  Phenomenal is the word that comes to mind.  But there is still more music to discuss.  I know, right?  Dave took the lead straight out of the gate on “Letter to Seymour”, his guitar racing to the fast pace they took, his vocals soaring into the night air around the countless Greensky fans in attendance that evening.  This one clipped along so quickly it was over before we even realized it going right into “In Control”.  Paul was back up to the mic for this one, the band slowing things down to a more heartfelt pace as he crooned out this melancholy tale we had all heard so many incredible times before.  So rich and so full this version sounded, no doubt augmented by the very Red Rocks themselves.  It was plain to see that the band were responding to the surroundings, of course, and in such magical and marvelous ways.  I really fell into Mike Bont’s solo on this one, that man owning his instrument in such tender and touching ways as to deliver such a lovely line of music to us all.  Only to hand that ethos directly over to Beck at the other end of the line, who took the feeling and ran with it, enticing notes so delightfully gorgeous from his devoted dobro.  Then it was time for another guest:  Andy Thorn came out, banjo in hand, ready to get down with the boys from Kalamazoo.  Double banjos?  Did you read that right?  Hells yeah, you did.  And, damn, son!!  How good was this??  And lengthy, too…over 11 minutes!  To keep that pace up, too.  Whew!  “Can’t Stop Now” was a lesson in hard drivin’, fast pickin’ and one that you needed to race to keep up with.  Everybody was taking chance after chance of schooling the general Universe on his respective instrument.  It was pretty breathtaking.  No, seriously.  Or was that just all those Red Rocks stairs?  But Bont and Thorn’s duet was the creme-de-la-creme of the song.  Holy schneikies!!  There was no stopping those two gents that’s for sure.  Later on in the set came another big version of a crowd favorite, Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” — again with more great music and lots of it to boot.  Talk about your value, eh?  What a band!  Bruzza’s blistering solo was pretty boss in this one leading to Phoff’s own massive mando ministrations, just to blend seamlessly back into the mix.  These men are masters, it is truer than true.  The ending jam in this one was almost too incredible to relate to you:  so much energy bursting forth from the very seams of the music itself spinning us all up into the night skies like a rocket-powered spaceship of laughter and pure mirth.  Next up came a personal favorite of mine, and one of many in the crowd, too, apparently.  Always great to share a favorite with someone, right?  “Old Barns” had Phoff at the mic again for the lead vocals, with that perfect ensemble sound supporting him all the way along.  Bont stepped forward for a pretty sweet solo towards the beginning of things which, in turn, led to one from Hoffman on mando.  All in all a mighty respectable version of this song.  Cheers to you, lads, many thanks!!  Later still in the set we were treated to “Wings for Wheels”, that stalwart GSBG ballad, Bruzza at the helm and mic with Anders’s dobro providing that oh-so-familiar lead in, every ear yearning for each subsequent note.  No doubting how amazingly happy the crowd was, every face I saw was smiling in adoration and complete satisfaction, mouths singing along to the lyrics as Dave would come back into each verse.  The sense of community was wonderfully overwhelming.  Then it was time for the biggest ride of the night:  “Broke Mountain Breakdown > Forever Young > Broke Mountain Breakdown” — you read that correctly, yes.  Over 20 minutes of straight music.  Fast pickin’?  You bet.  Hard drivin’?  No doubt.  Excellent beyond a doubt?  Well, now, you had best believe it.  Supremely fine musicianship all around, too.  Each man just dominating his chosen instrument in rapid succession and back around again and again.  And it just went on and on and on for minute after minute.  And we all couldn’t have been happier about the whole affair!  And things got nice and funky in the middle which was a groove we all definitely got into, feet still dancing after hours of doing the same, happy to still be moving and kicking and stomping and carrying on.  I just might need to direct you to the Internet Archive again to go find this show and hit up this “Broke Mountain” — you know, for your own good.  I’m just trying to look out for my people.  You know.  Then, when they segued into Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”?  Forget about it!  What an unexpected treat!  Phoff nailed the lyrics as well as some tasty mandolin licks throughout while the band supported him with that magnificence of ensemble they do so very well.  Anders delivered a truly gorgeous solo in the middle the line of which he handed over expertly to Bont who took it up on the banjo adeptly and with ease.  Then it was right back into “Broke Mountain” for a whizz-bang ending, GSBG-style.  Fast pickin’ to the very end, this one provided that perfect musical smack at the end of a fantastic night.  And, at the final note, the cheers of the crowd were truly deafening, reverberating off Ship Rock and Creation Rock to our left and right as we watch the band leave the stage, voices yelling our desire for one more song.  And, to our great delight, we got that one song.  And that song was “Leap Year”.  A nice, lengthy “Leap Year”.  Serving up succulent bluegrass specialties until the very end of their show, Greensky made sure to the make the most of their encore to our benefit.  They jammed this one out nice and long and the crowd was sure to take in all they could.  We were all filled to the brim already but were willing to try to stuff a bit more marvelous GSBG experience into our souls.  What a way to finish off a show such as this!!  What a way to own the Red Rocks stage so summarily!!   What a show to give their fans in such a place!!  As I write this almost a week later I am still reeling from the event.  So many thanks to Greensky and their hardworking people for this incredible, incredible show.  I am so happy for you guys and so proud of you, to be quite honest.  I think a lot of us are.  What an achievement!!  Bravi, gentlemen!!  I am so glad I got to share such a triumphant moment with you.  I look forward to many more years at Red Rocks to come, of course.  Cheers and thanks to one and all for making last Saturday night so special in so many ways.  And, as always, thanks for reading, my friends!!

Paul Hoffman

Paul Hoffman

    

 

 

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WinterWonderGrass CO 2016 - Friday

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WinterWonderGrass CO 2016 - Friday

WinterWonderGrass CO 2016

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Friday Highlights

The Travelin’ McCoury’s - Larry Keel’s WWG All-Stars - Leftover Salmon

    Friday was nigh and so was WinterWonderGrass proper!!  Two o’clock saw the opening of the gates and free commemorative pins handed out to the first 50 folks in line.  Proud to say I got one of those pins!  The weather was practically balmy that afternoon as we walked through the archway gate for the first time.  As we entered the grounds, a lovely feeling of familiarity settled in as I looked around.  The Jamboree Tent and Pickin’ Perch were right where they were supposed to be with the main stage’s commanding presence overlooking all.  The Soap Box Stage at the back was warm and welcoming with aromas of thai soup filling the air.  The food vendors were gathered all around the Soap Box enhancing the nasal palate with essences of BBQ, grilled cheese, tacos, and more.  All delicious and filling and warming in every sense.  Despite being a bit muddy, it was nice to have a clear festival space given the amount of snow last year.  Different to be sure.  A little hard to prepare for entire day at the fest, but we all persevered.  With great music and great community to keep us warm, how could we lose?  And there was just so much amazing music in store, too.  Easy to keep one’s eyes on the prize.  Even when the sun began to set and things got a wee chillier than before.  There was no doubt looking around from face to face, grin to grin, twinkling eye to twinkling eye that the fun had already begun and that the music was only going to enhance it to the point of boiling over.  Just what we’d all come for, right?  And, speaking of music…

    The Travelin’ McCourys took the stage mid-afternoon on Friday with their gentlemanly presences ready to give one solid, solid show.  The consummate professionals, these men truly help to define the genre as well as the kind of folk who play this music.  It is always a pleasure to watch them perform, combining talent, skill, and mountains of hard effort into the perfect union of musical excellence.  And their WWG set was no exception to this whatsoever.  They opened up their set with a sizzling hot instrumental filled to the brim with lightning quick mandolin riffs care of Ronnie McCoury and riveting banjo work from his brother, Rob.  Jason Carter, of course, added his own spice to the mix with his iconic fiddle styles.  A foot-stomping good way to get the blood moving and crowd dancing and a great indication of where this set was headed:  all good places.  Ronnie stepped up to the mic for “Deeper Shade of Blue” which came next in line.  How can’t you love, Ronnie’s voice?  It is just so classically bluegrass and perfect for the genre.  And it makes perfect sense given his heritage.  Interesting stuff to be sure and fantastic in concert.  It was Mr. Carter’s turn at lead vocals next with “When It Comes to You”.  Always love hearing Jason sing as well.  And you should, too, since we scored a nice video of this one for you.  Please enjoy: 

If you don’t know, now you know?  Right?  Pretty hot stuff, eh?  Exactly.  “Old Train” followed sung by bass player Alan Bartram, whose voice I also love.  Sensing a trend yet?  And when it comes to the harmonies this band can pump out like in this song?  Wowsers.  Like no other out there today.  Truly.  These gentlemen clearly have two things going for them:  a) great voices and b) the ability to hone and use them in tight harmony.  And I so appreciate both very, very much.  As much as I appreciated Jason’s long and lovely central fiddle solo.  Delightful.  Knocking it out of the park, good sirs, and please continue to do so!  (Spoiler Alert - They did just that.)  And, while we’re speaking of amazing harmonies…  “Midnight Flyer” came steaming at us all in the crowd teeming with harmonic genius.  Rob and Ronnie shared some nice interplay between their instrumental lines provided the perfect counterpoint to Jason’s rich baritone.  Some really phenomenal movement to this song, too, mimicking the motion of the namesake.  Excellent stuff.  A personal favorite was next up:  “I Live on a Battlefield”.  A sad song of tragedy and lost love, the lyrics artfully describe all these feelings in the guise of a war-torn landscape.  The song is as clever as it is sorrowful and filled with incredible musicianship helping to evoke the feelings of despair and regret.  All wrapped up in Ronnie’s beautiful, clear vocals.  It all certainly makes for a powerful experience and did that afternoon to be sure.  The spry and lively tune “Lime House Blues” followed “Battlefield” and brought the mood back up to dancing level.  We all kicked our heels up as the tune flowed forth from the stage and gents like Rob and Ronnie took up the challenge, delivering some banjo and mando goodness up for us all as if on a silver platter.  And then add Cody Kilby to the mix on guitar (that man is a complete monster when it comes to pickin’) and you’ve got quite a musical spectacle on stage.  Fast pickin’ through and through!  “Cumberland Blues” was next in line that evening, taking us all for a little walk with the Grateful Dead, among others.  Jason’s fiddle sliced through cool air like a knife as he nailed his solo down.  “I gotta get down, I gotta get down…”  You want to talk about getting down??  Done and done!!  We had it covered there at WWG — hell, we had it smothered and covered.  They took this directly into the instrumental “Cumberland Gap” led by Rob and Jason.  Hard drivin’ string music you bet your boots — so fast, so technical, so good!!  And just sizzling hot right until the last banjo note.  The next song they played I heard for the first time at Big Sky Big Grass up in Montana.  Really liked it then and really liked it this time, too.  “Back from the Borderline” has a slow, mysterious, droning, building beginning up until Ronnie sings the first verse.  That haunting feeling permeates the song as it continues, adding harmonies and a bit more instrumental texture.  So glad they’ve added this one to their roster…a very excellent addition.  They went directly from “Borderline” into a Kilby-led instrumental once again elevating the mood to a livelier place.  This one served as a complete round robin for each member of the band to showcase their unparalleled skills on their chosen instruments.  Cody threw down some simply stunning guitar work as Rob and Ronnie picked away with great acumen on banjo and mandolin all the while with Alan Bartram keeping things tied to the foundation on his bass.  The fast-paced “Southbound” followed with some more Grateful Dead close behind with “Loser”.  Loved this one by the McCourys ever since DelFest last year.  Jason Carter’s fiddle lead in melody is just perfect for this song, as is Ronnie’s voice.  A really, really great selection for this band, I am so glad they ever decided to do it.  So much heart, so much conviction from every member.  Makes for quite the performance, let me tell you.  This one most certainly pleased the crowd to no end who sang along with every word.  Wonderfully executed this time around, too.  “Why Did You Wander?” was the final selection of the set, filled with tons of white hot fast pickin’.  And I mean fast pickin’!!  They were all on fire, my friends, it’s the truth!  A flying fun whiz bang ending to a strong, strong set from the McCourys.  I always have a superb time seeing this band and so was the case on Friday of WWG.  There is just so much to love about them and their playing and their music and their ethos and their everything else.  So grateful to have had them at WinterWonderGrass this year!!  Thanks for making the trip to Colorado, fellas!!  

The Travelin' McCourys

The Travelin' McCourys

    Larry Keel’s WinterWonderGrass All-Stars were next up on the main stage Friday afternoon.  The All-Stars lineup included Larry, Jenny Keel, Andy Thorn, Drew Emmitt, and Jay Starling.  Talk about your powerful posse of skilled stringslingers, right?  And they brought all that power to bear and then some that day for us in Avon, CO.  They started the whole shebang off with a rousing “Star of Munster” led by Andy Thorn on banjo.  Nice and familiar way to get this set really going from the very beginning.  Some expectedly nasty guitar work from Larry on this one, too.  Not to mention some of that sweet, sweet dobro from Jay and some truly mad mandolin work from Drew.  And excellent showcase of the talent and skill present on stage.  And no problems gelling together as an ensemble either — their sound was tight and practiced.  So far, so great.  And then onto a Drew lead with “Whispering Waters”, a Leftover Salmon number.  We were right up front to capture you some great video of this one which we bring to you now:  

Go on, Drew!!  No doubt!  Just excellent in so many ways.  Jason Carter (The Travelin’ McCourys) came out to join them for the next song, “Pioneers”.  It was a spritely selection that tells the story of the exploration and hardship found along the wild ranges of the pre-colonized American frontier.  This is one that Larry played with Natural Bridge.  Some great guitar parts in here care of Mr. Keel.  Not to mention some tasty banjo bits thanks to Andy.  And all the while, Jason’s fiddle floating over it all like a beautiful bird of music.  The next surprise was Peter Rowan coming out to join in the shenanigans with these fine folks on stage.  A lengthy and driving and building intro whipped us all into a frenzy and eventually turned into “Sally Goodin” blowing our minds completely.  Jason and Andy really dominated that frenetic intro section with Jay and Larry holding their own alongside.  By the time Peter began to sing we were all going nuts in the crowd.  That’s what really, really good music will do to you, right?  Mr. Rowan even led us all singing along with him.  And why not?  Such an incredible ensemble sound!  So many legendary musicians on one stage!  Damn was I loving this!  “Pulling the Devil by the Tail” was the next selection in store for us that day, another Rowan lead.  Dobro and fiddle soaring, guitar and bass keeping precious time, banjo and mandolin filling in each precious gap.  Domination.  Truly wonderful music.  Dave Carroll and Dave Simonett from Trampled by Turtles as Jason Carter departed the stage for a single number with Peter Rowan and the All-Stars.  Sadly, I couldn’t discern the name of this one after the fact.  However, having Dave and Dave made it an instant crowd pleaser.  The two guest gents took the lead on the vocals singing a very nice and lamenting duet.  The Daves then took their bows and their leave once finished to a hail of cheering from the crowd.  Afterwards the Wood Brothers came out for what was my favorite part of the set:  “Ophelia”.  This one was rocking good and truly awesome.  Great fun from start to finish.  Really great combination of talent for this one assembled in one place.  The Wood Brothers definitely kicked things up a notch with their brand of musicianship.  Oliver and Chris Wood sounded really superb on lead vocals and Jano Rix harmonized like a demon.  Chris even played Jenny’s bass at one point leaving Larry a bit flummoxed.  Not to mention the monster dobro solo from Jay Starling.  That man is a beast on his instrument.  Just so damn good!!  Their final song of the set I didn’t catch the name of as well, but Mimi Naja (Fruition) joined in to lend her mando to the mix.  Incredible mandolin from Drew and Mimi as you could imagine.  Nothing like watching those two play together.  Drew took the vocals for this one and crooned in his iconic style.  A fitting end to a very fine set from some amazing musicians.  Many thanks to all the All-Stars and to Larry and to their guests and friends for concocting such a special time for all of us.  Cheers to one and all!! 

Larry Keel's WWG All-Stars and The Wood Brothers

Larry Keel's WWG All-Stars and The Wood Brothers

    Headlining the main stage on Friday were none other than Colorado’s very own Leftover Salmon.  And, it should be stated here well in advance, I am a huge Salmon fan.  I mean big time.  So, when I say that their set was pretty stupendous all round, I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about.  A least a tad.  And in such good ways, my friends.  Such good!  All bundled up now that the sun had set, we were ready for some of that very special kind of music that is Leftover Salmon.  And they came ready to deliver, let me tell you.  Their first selection of the night, John Hartford’s “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie”, is one of my absolute favorite songs, especially the way that Salmon plays it.  So much exciting and rocket-like energy bursting from every note, every verse.  A positively premium time to be had by all.  This song is always a supremely intense missile of happy and joy and the perfect way to get a show going…damn!  Adored the sound of Jay Starling with them all night long, too.  Let’s hope this is something permanent for the future?  Salmon + dobro?  Forget about it!!  What a Leftover Salmon roster addition that would be, eh?  Massive explosive ending to this one, too!  Boom!!  What a ride!  Later in the set they continued with T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” with Vince on lead vocals.  And they rocked it out, too.  Really dirty with Drew on electric mando and just nasty rockin’ fun any way you slice it.  Always love it when they get down and dirty like that — rock’n’roll!!  Festivaaaaaaaaaal!!  Alwyn Robinson was really banging those drums, too.  Just tearing it up to give us all that driving beat.  Helluva cover for them!   Next up was Andy on some amazing banjo and with lead vocals for “Colorado Mountains Evermore”.  Caught them playing this one down at Strings & Sol this past year and they did just the same awesome justice to it at WonderGrass.  This one really shines a light on Andy Thorn and his incredible banjo stylings.  And it’s another killer song about Colorado.  So, win/win, right?  Right.  This was followed by Drew on lead vocals for “River’s Rising” — a clear crowd favorite, they played this one at a quick clip, perfect for dancing.  The ending of this one was a freight rain jamming through the night — so much energy and force and enjoyment.  Another favorite of mine, “Sing Up to the Moon” was next…just love hearing Papa Vince sing out to us.  His unique musical aura is so special and palpable.  And what a moon it was!  Almost full that night shining over our heads.  Perfection.  Later still in the set Peter Rowan and Larry Keel came out to have a bit of a good time with Salmon with some “Free Mexican Air Force” care of Mr. Rowan on vocals.  Really special combo on stage…really special.  Nothing like watching a few generations of amazing musicians on stage all at once.  Something truly powerful and special about that kind of situation.  Rowan and Keel stayed out for the next song, “Soul Shakedown Party”, which was a groovy adventure through music and space and mellow vibes thanks to the musicians assembled in front of us.  As you could expect, each one of them took a chance to strut their stuff on their instrument.  Really fine musicianship all around.  Bravi to everyone!  They took this directly into “Hot Corn Cold Corn” clearly enjoying straying into silly territory together.  And then they wrapped it up.  Just like that.  Plain as day.  A very quick “I Know You Rider” served as a very satisfactory and enjoyable encore with Vince leading.  Who doesn’t love a bit more Dead in their life, right?  And when Salmon and Peter Rowan and Larry Keel play it?  Holy crap!  Face melting!!  And I am sure that mine was completely melted after such a wonderful day of music!!  

Leftover Salmon & Friends

Leftover Salmon & Friends

    So many thanks to all the musicians and staff that made Friday such a success on all fronts!  I know for a fact how much fun everyone had logged in by that point and I was beyond excited that we had not one, but two days left of the exact same thing.  Talk about your positive anxiety!  So many good times already and with so many more to come, it was off to late night at Agave’s for some more of the Travelin’ McCourys…what fun that promised to be!  How couldn’t it?

Saturday and Sunday still inbound, friends!!

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WinterWonderGrass CO 2016 - Thursday

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WinterWonderGrass CO 2016 - Thursday

WinterWonderGrass CO 2016

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Thursday

Mandolin Orange - Fruition - Fruition & Friends

    We began our second dance with the Colorado WinterWonderGrass Festival at the annual Kick-Off Party at the Vilar Performing Arts Center located up the mountain from Avon town, the location of the festival proper.  It was so very nice to be back in that gorgeous venue, with its warm woodwork and inviting atmosphere the Vilar PAC is an excellent place to hear music of any sort and certainly proved so once again on Thursday evening.  Taking our time getting to our spots we caught up with myriad friends in the lobby as well as taking in all the photography up for auction.  The place was abuzz with energy and anticipation of what was to come.  And then it was time to take our seats for the first act of this big evening of excellent music, Mandolin Orange.

    Hailing from North Carolina, Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have been on quite the rise in the musical world since the debut of their first album back in 2010.  Their unique style and warm, calm, soothing energy has, naturally, become very popular.  And this duo proved a wonderful way to get things doing for WinterWonderGrass 2016.  “Old Ties and Companions” was their first selection of the evening, with Andrew taking lead vocals and backing on mandolin, Emily on guitar.  Clearly these two have a synergistic style that truly dovetails one into the other and this was very present from the beginning, and rather so in this first song.   It is always a pleasure to observe such tuned-in playing between members of an ensemble.  A tale of hardship on the dusty range, “Missouri Borderland” came next in line for the evening.  Andrew sang this heartfelt story of the trail full of passion as Emily provided some extremely tight and lovely harmonies to accompany.  That was most definitely an aspect that would shine throughout the evening with Mandolin Orange:  their wonderful harmonies.  And, by now, most of you will know how much of a sucker I am for great harmony.  Certainly one of the reasons I love bluegrass music so much.  A wistful mandolin solo from Andrew led us into the sorrowful next song, “That Wrecking Ball”.  One thing you could palpably feel coming from the stage that night was the passion with which these two play their music.  That was obviously apparent in “That Wrecking Ball” — it just hit you in the face and then washed over you in a gentle way.  Later on down their set they gave us “Little Worlds”, set in minor and imbued with a subtle, driving energy.  Emily was on the fiddle for this one and Andrew on guitar, the two displaying their multi-instrumental skills with great aplomb.  Reconfiguring such as this enables such a breadth of style and sound for a mere duo.  And they use it to great success to be sure.  They continued with “House of Stone”, with its fiddle drone lead in from Emily.  “Churchyard auction.  A sight to see.  Where the eyes are big, and the odds are lean.”  No doubt that Andrew can write some moving lyrics!  And can sing them in his rich baritone as well!  Worthy of note in this one:  Emily’s beautiful fiddle solo in the middle.  Light and lovely and filled with emotion it was a sweet counterpoint to Andrew’s picking.  Andrew dedicated their next song, “The Turtle Dove and the Crow”, to his father back in North Carolina.  Class act.  I am sure his father would have enjoyed it.  After that came the fiddle tune, “New Five Cent Piece” which saw Andrew back on mando for this one.  Nothing like a lively dance tune to get the blood moving and the hands clapping!  “Waltz About Whiskey” put us all in 3/4 time for a song about the very water of life:  whiskey.  Peppered with more of that fantastic Mandolin Orange harmony, this one proved the perfect penultimate selection, the final one being “Train Song” which they went straight into.  This last song was filled with up energy and some classic lyrics lauding the merits of train travel and why not?  Great way to close up their set!  So, in summation, if you love great harmonies, heartfelt lyrics, soulful playing, and a welcoming energy then you will love Mandolin Orange, hands down.  A wonderful first exposure to this duo, to be sure.  Certainly made me look all the more forward more music from the next group of the evening, Portland’s own Fruition.     

Mandolin Orange

Mandolin Orange

    Fruition.  My goodness how I do so love this band!  I’ve had the privilege of seeing them many times before and so knew precisely what to expect as they took the stage to continue the opening ceremony, as it were, of WinterWonderGrass 2016.  How to even describe Fruition’s sound?  Rockabillygrass?  Roadhouse string band?  Simply pure, undiluted awesomesauceness?  All of the above?  Somewhere in there you’ll get close to the mark.  But, be forewarned, once introduced to Fruition the addiction sets in…you’re going to want to listen to them nonstop ever after.  Man, does this band write some catchy songs!!  I mean, really amazing, stellar, catchy songs.  Ones that delightfully stick in your head for days…ones like “Mountain Annie” their first of the evening.  Love this song!  How can’t you?  From the familiar mandolin refrain from Mimi Naja it was clear we were in for some superb music.  And then Jay Cobb Anderson’s iconic and incredible voice lights up the lyrics like a clarion call.  And then the harmonies…oh the harmonies!  Multi-part and polished to a high gloss — just the way I love it.  And then the instrumental skills on display!  Certainly one of the reasons I gravitate towards string band music of all types:  phenomenal musical abilities in both voice and instrument arenas.  And Fruition is certainly high up in this category.  “Get out of my head.  Give me back my heart, Mountain Annie.”  What an auspicious start!  Next up was “The Wanter” with Mimi up to the mic for lead vocals.  A couple of quick and awesome solos from Mimi on mando and Jay on guitar, too.  Pretty great stuff.  Another favorite song of mine.  Poor Kellen Asebroek had a helluva time on stage that evening due to the atmospheric conditions affecting his guitar.  He broke at least four strings throughout the course of the show causing them to redo their setlist a bit on the fly.  We all really felt for him as string after string snapped.  But he motored along like a champ and professional.  Bravo, sir!  The pensive “Git Along” was next in line which featured a lengthy and lovely mandolin solo from Mimi.  Later in the set came “Labor of Love” with Jay up to the mic to provide lead vocals.  This is a perfect example of one of Fruition’s super catchy songs.  With its building energy and memorable refrain, it really sticks in the marrow of the mind lodging there in a joyful memory for all time.  Later down the line was “Little Song” featuring Kellen on keyboards and lead vocals.  Time for Mr. Asebroek to croon one for us!!  Sweet and soulful, this one was new to me and I was grateful to hear it.  Some great drum work from Tyler Thompson throughout…really granted a driving energy to the song.  Loved it.  They announced that they had a new recored coming out and that this next song, “I Don’t Mind”, is on it.  A real rock’n’roll feel to this one.  Bluesy, too.  Some of that “Roadhouse String Band” feeling to be sure — I really got into it.  And some funky bass from Jeff Leonard, too, to round things out in fine fashion.  I am really looking forward to hearing this one again.  Maybe at DelFest?  Whaddaya say, guys?  A little on down the set came another rock number with a mighty drum intro from Tyler, quick and nasty and full of electricity to get “Never Again” running at high speed.  Jay stepped up to the mic to take the lead on this as the entire band rocketed along with him through this wild, whirling, wonderful number.  Lightning quick picking and playing all throughout, this one was an instant crowd pleaser.  And why shouldn’t it be?  Incredible song played with incredible energy and passion.  My cup of tea!  And then, one of my very favorite songs was next.  And I mean very favorite.  And you want to talk catchy??  Try keeping it out of your thoughts?  Ha!!  Try keeping this one out of your dreams…  “There She Was” is Kellen’s freaky, fabulous funk odyssey inspired by a Motet show he attended (he told us one late late night at the Westin — more to come on that).  And it is awesome.  It has movement and mystery and magic.  And it is, pure and simple, just damn good music.  Bravo, Kellen, for writing one masterfully groovy song, good sir!  And many thanks for it!  A very new and soulful Mimi-led song, “I Should Be”, followed with “I Can’t Stop” (from their new EP) coming after.  Jay really nailed the vocals for “I Can’t Stop”, too.  I do so love his voice!  One impressive show for the WWG Kick-Off Party — but to be totally expected from this band.  That is just how they roll.  Their last song was to be “Lay Down Blues” and one perfect way to finish things off.  Filled with lots of rocking energy, this was a bullet train from start to finish.  What a rush!  Mimi took things home on the lead vocals for us telling us all that the “nighttime is the right time” which it so was that evening.  Doors.  Blown.  Completely.  Off.  Damn, what a great show!  And there was still more to come in the form of a Fruition & Friends set!!  What the what??

Fruition

Fruition

    The one and only Mr. Peter Rowan was the first friend to join Fruition on the Vilar PAC stage.  And what a friend, right?  That venerable gentleman brings so very much to the stage — it was such a treat to see him being supported by Fruition.  A truly remarkable sound.  Peter provided the guitar lead-in for their first collaboration:  that old favorite of so many of us, “Panama Red”.  Mr. Rowan sounded wonderful on the lead vocals…as wonderful as ever.  And this was the first of many sing-a-longs for the audience as well.  A couple of great solos from Mimi (mando) and Kellen (keys) in this one to boot.  A mighty fine beginning to the set!  A David Grisman song was next on the docket for us in the form of “Old and in the Way” back from Peter and David’s days of playing with Jerry Garcia.  Jay Starling (Love Cannon) and Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) joined in the fun on stage furthering the powerhouse of talent and skill already present there.   What a supergroup!  The next song Peter Rowan wrote with Bill Monroe stranded on the highway in Kentucky on the way to Bean Blossom, IN.  “The Walls of Time” is a mellow, yet intense journey through some very soulful vocals and some lovely harmonies.  Jay Cobb was on the mouth harp for this one adding that much more soul to the mix.  A stalwart standard of the bluegrass catalogue, “Midnight Moonlight” followed and was, no doubt, a huge crowd favorite for the evening with everyone singing along to the chorus with great gusto.  Always a great song to hear from the man, himself.  And Fruition sounded just excellent alongside Mr. Rowan.  Not to mention that oh so stupendous dobro playing of Jay Starling all throughout.  A huge sound from a mighty group of musicians.  And an enormous thanks to Mr. Rowan as he exited the stage.  What a gift that was.  But then Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon came out to add their own brand of madness to the show.  Some more Bill Monroe for us?  Sure!!  “Rocky Road Blues” was a marvelously mando-heavy Drew-led steamroller of a good time.  A rollicking fun frolic, this one.  And more of that delicious dobro from Jay?  You bet!  So good!  Not to mention Vince and Andy, both mad-pickin’ away of their own accord.  Such a huge sound!  Vince was up to the mic lead the next song, “Y’all Come” which had us all shouting along with the band.  So much fun.  What a stellar combination of musicians on stage all at once!  Scotty Stoughton, the mover and shaker behind WWG and of Bonfire Dub, came out for the first encore which was a Bonfire Dub song.  A little reggae in the mountains, right?  Really cool to see him playing alongside some of the musicians from the festival.  Organizer and talent all in one.  Sweet.  Finally, as a way to close the evening, Mandolin Orange joined in the fun for “Meet Me on the Mountain” from Fruition’s EP with The Grant Farm.  Talk about your harmonies!  So many great voices all at once in colorful combination and joyous musicality.  And so much freakin’ soul!  Damn!  Can’t ever get tired of this one to be sure.  Such good music all around, all set long.  Wowsers.  So many thanks to Fruition and all those friends that joined them for such a memorable evening of music and fun!

Fruition with Peter Rowan and Jay Starling

Fruition with Peter Rowan and Jay Starling

    It would appear that this evening’s excellence just whetted our appetites for all these bands and more in the coming weekend.   Bravo to all the bands and performers and those that had a hand in making this event come to light.  If this was any indication of how the weekend was to proceed then I was sure we all had nothing to fear.  We were in for a weekend chocked full of the best bluegrass and string band music the world has to off at present and were appropriately stoked by that fact.  Thursday night?  A rousing success.  Off to the remainder of the weekend!!!

Fruition & Friends

Fruition & Friends

 

Friday through Sunday on their way my friends…stay tuned!!

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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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