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DelFest 9 - Festival Experience Archive - Sunday

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DelFest 9 - Festival Experience Archive - Sunday

DelFest 9

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Sunday Highlights

Grand Ole’ Ditch

    It’s a good thing that Sunday is truly Funday, isn’t it?  I mean, by that point in a festival even the hardiest of us is beginning to feel the effects.  But, with the prospect of incredible music to motivate us, we pulled ourselves up, slugged some liquid caffeine, grabbed our gear and happily got right back to it!  Our first music of the day was at the Potomac Stage with Cumberland’s own and our buddies, Grand Ole’ Ditch.  So far it was a nice, mild day and great festival weather, the clouds providing a bit of reprieve from the warm sun.  The perfect climate for dancing to some awesome string band tunes.  “Allegheny Sun” was Ditch’s opener for the morning, the band choosing to launch into a sprightly song to kick things into gear for us and to help shake the cobwebs out of the old brain bucket.  The monster instrumental in the center of this one was a fun ride through some masterful music-making.  Craig Miller on banjo, “Fiddlin’ Ray” Bruckman on fiddle, both throwing down some nasty licks filling out this jam to the brim.  And then you hear Jacob Mathews’s bass coming through like a semi-truck of sound, popping out of the texture in a fantastic way only to be reabsorbed back into the mix, ever the foundation of the band’s harmonic fabric.  Jody Mosser accredited himself very well on the lead vocals in “Allegheny”, just one of the gents in the band who is featured as a singer.  That’s a great reason to love Ditch:  that special “many bands in one” quality that some bands manage to accomplish through having many “lead singers” belting out all different kinds of songs.  It can really add to a band’s breadth and depth.  Craig stepped up to the mic for the next number, “Take Me Back” from their Big Red Ball album, sounding fantastic on this Sunday morning.  He surely sounded better than I did at the time.  Haha.  There was some excellent fiddle work from Ray in this version of “Take Me Back” pretty early on which was, in turn, complemented by Miller’s banjo stylings a bit further into things.  I was loving the vocal harmonies in this one, too.  There’s quite a few members of Grand Ole’ Ditch and, as such, you get the opportunity for some pretty big vocal texture which is supremely satisfying to the musical palate.  Their next tune they dedicated to Craig’s son, which is always nice thing to see.  Family, right?  Precisely.  Lots of great Jody dobro going on throughout in this instrumental.  My goodness do I love the timbre of that instrument — the sound is just so entrancing.  Especially in the hands of an expert player like Mosser.  Pappy Biondo, Joe Dep, and Brittany Haas then joined the Ditch boys on stage for a rollicking good time in the form of “Mama Don’t Allow No Music”, a rowdy Jody-led piece.  And, it just so happens we have a nice, big clip of the whole thing to show you right here: 

Now wasn’t that just a kick in the pants?  Super fun times with super great musicians.  That’s pretty much DelFest in a nutshell.  Then it was time for some music from their new album, Unwind:  “Copper Coal Kettle” is a gritty, dirty, but oh-so-good trip through some western Maryland newgrass.  Craig was back on the vocals for this one leading the band through the wide and varied musical landscape to include the super Pink Floyd-feeling mellow middle breakdown that picks up into a more of a party tempo at a moment’s notice thanks to the deft drumming of Todd Hocherl.  Later on down the set we were treated to more of the new album with the title track, “Unwind”, a speedy and catchy ditty to be sure.  One that will find its way into your mind often.  It certainly whipped the crowd into a joyous frenzy well enough:  lots of dancing.  Lots.  The gents all sounded fantastic on their respective instruments, too, trading solo parts back and forth so adeptly.  They took “Unwind” directly into a personal favorite of mine, “Pigeon Eatin’ Catfish”, another fast-paced, energetic romp and stomp of bluegrass enjoyment led by Miller on the vocals.  This one gave the boys each an opportunity to rock it out on their chosen instruments, like Lucas Mathews’s phatty solo on mandolin counterpointing all of Jody’s crazy amazing dobro goodness.  Another incredibly fun ride at the hands of Grand Ole’ Ditch.  What a Sunday morning show!!  Wowsers.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ray and his fiddle in this one as well — so very good.  There is no doubt that man earned his nickname very honestly.  Jody’s dobro provided the sweet lead in for the next number to which Ryan Hohing’s guitar answered, firing up this instrumental as each member came in one by one.  I hadn’t heard this one before and didn’t catch its name, sadly, because I was really into its mellow groove.  Some tunes are just super pleasant, right?  More lovely mando work from Luke stood out for me here, only to be answered by Craig’s banjo and Ray’s fiddle.  Really dug that little tune.  Finally, a bit later on, they closed down their set with a speedy version of Jerry Garcia’s “Shady Grove” which turned into a giant dance-fest out in the crowd.  We were eating it up, too…like a pigeon eatin’ catfish.  A supremely fine way to finish up another DelFest show for these hometown heroes.  An encore opportunity saw the band play “Blue Light” which was pure bluegrass right up to the last note.  And it was yet one more fast dancin’ song, too!  Kicking up our heels until the very end, not a bad way to start a Sunday.  So many thanks to Grand Ole’ Ditch for all the smiles and magnificent music.  Sure would love to get these fellas out to Colorado…hmmmm.  Might just have to see about that.  Cheers, boys!!

Grand Ole' Ditch and Friends

Grand Ole' Ditch and Friends

Cabinet

    Main stage time with Pennsylvania’s Cabinet.  How lucky was that?  From the first time I saw these gentlemen (at DelFest, no less), I was hooked on their particular style of string band badassery.  High energy?  Damn straight.  Great songwriting?  Damn skippy.  Olympic-level musicianship?  Damn right.  There are so many reasons to love this band, I could write the entire remainder of the review on just that.  But, I bet you’d like to read a bit about their music now, wouldn’t you?  So would I!  Let’s do that!  They took a groovy, mellow approach to the intro of their first song, beguiling all of us and bringing us further in before letting loose with “Hit It on the Head” in full force, guitars blazing and fiddle wailing away, banjo on the merry bandwagon, too.  Boom!  And we were all hit on the head with some Cabinet.  Todd Kopec’s familiar fiddling was ever-present throughout, sewing this song together like a musical needle and thread, shred and thread.  So much of that tasty good up energy that you can expect so very much of from this band.  They took this directly into “Celebration” with Pappy Biondo at the helm for the lead vocals.  His cousin, J.P. Biondo was dominating the mando as usual, working that wee fretboard like the pro that he is.  Pappy threw down some of his unique banjosity for us, too, rounding out that comprehensive ensemble sound that is Cabinet.  Great message to this song, as well…we really do need to love one another.  Like sisters and brothers.  Music like this never lies.  A little later in the set, the band introduced Josh Karis, their new drummer, to the crowd during the soft and intense building intro to “Caroline”.  Of course, we all applauded and cheered and made the newest member of the Cabinet family feel welcome.  And then “Caroline” built and built and built based on the singing of the band and the crowd (as encouraged) as well as the energy of the percussion section, Karis and Jami Novak.  They traded the mellower feeling for a bounce back up to the rafters once more with “Shined Like the Sun” which they went directly into through a big, bold jam.  What a roller coaster ride!!  So much good music coming out of those speakers at us.  Pappy was back up to the mic for “Shined”, crooning to us in that signature voice of his.  Really dug Dylan Skursky’s bass line in this one — it stuck out for me in a positive way, driving the song forward and dovetailing into the drums doing the same.  Not always easy to get all the bass you might want in a big band…no complaints though.  Nothing like the musical texture of a band like Cabinet.  Todd also nailed down a serious fiddle solo about hallway through only to hand things off to Mickey Coviello on electric guitar for a mighty fine solo of his own then only to give the reigns back to Kopec and then back to Mickey once more.  Damn.  Incredible work gents.  Super fun musical moments.  Later still in their set, J.P. stepped up to the mic to take lead vocals on “Bottom of the Sea” which we have for you now, good people: 

Pretty wonderful music, right friends?  I mean, you can see this band’s huge appeal, right?  Just wait until you see them live if you haven’t already.  Further on down the line came the rip-roaring thrill-a-minute known as “Susquehanna Breakdown”, an instrumental of enjoyably monstrous proportions.  Lots and lots of wicked good soloing on all instruments, from mando to banjo to guitar to fiddle and back again and again.  Holy schneikies!  So very good!  And, just like, that…BANG!! The song was over and we were all reeling from the shockwave of awesome.  The boys in the band invited their friend Sierra Hull out to play with them on the next song, “99 Years (And One Dark Day)”, Cabinet’s premier prison song.  That was something I felt was even more in abundance this year at DelFest:  guesting in.   There just seemed to be that much more it going on which was wonderful.  Mickey had a supremely good guitar solo in “99 Years”, in addition to Sierra’s amazing work, herself.  That lady is such a superb player and such a great guest to have sit in.  Brava!  “Cut Down Tree” served as the closer for this huge main stage set from Cabinet.  Pappy was back at the mic for another solo and took us deftly to the end of the show.  All the gents took their chance at another soloing go round pretty much all song long, instruments shining as their notes rang out in unison or harmonies with their fellows.  And when things kicked double time for the breakdown?  Forget about it.  Just ridiculous.  And a favorite of the crowd unless my eyes deceived me…some seriously crazy dancing going on out there in front of the stage.  Huge ending had us all cheering for more.  What a show from these boys from Pennsylvania!  A big time thanks to them and all their people for making it to DelFest this year and adding their own brand of everything amazing to the mix.  Cheers, fellas!!  

Cabinet

Cabinet

The Del McCoury Band

    Sunday evening and so it was that we all got another go round with Del McCoury and his magnificent band.  Gathered in front of the DF main stage, we all readied ourselves for another exquisite set of classic bluegrass and audience favorites.  And, of course, to hear our dear Pappy Del sing to us once more.  As the gents took the stage in their best dress, we wondered at what precisely might be in store for us this eve.  They certainly didn’t waste any time getting things going with “Loneliness and Desperation”, Rob McCoury leading everything off with his almighty banjo.  Jason Carter’s fiddle shone throughout the song as well, providing a fitting complement to Del’s quintessential bluegrass voice.  Not to be outdone by his brother or Jason, Ronnie McCoury delivered a might mandolin solo to the delight of the crowd…almost as much delight as when Del hit those hight notes.  Talk about a way to make a Del audience smile ear to ear and give a hoot and holler, too.  High notes.  Yes, please.  “She’s Left Me Again” was their second song of the evening, a sad tale meted out in very incredible three-part harmony between Del, Jason, and Ronnie.  Just fabulous through and through.  One of the many, many reasons I love bluegrass music so much is that very thing:  incredible harmonies.  And Del rooting things down on guitar alongside Alan Bartram on bass, classic bluegrass style.  Boy does their music certainly evoke strong feelings in a person, transporting her/him to far off places and back again.  Truly delightful.  Ronnie was up to the mic to lead things in the direction of “Thanks A Lot”, a personal favorite of mine and of much of the audience, apparently.  Great minds think alike, right?  Some supremely fine fiddle coming down from Carter’s neck of the stage during this song answered by Ronnie’s own getting down on mando.  Quite seriously, these have to be some of the very best musicians in the genre.  Hell, in many genres for that matter.  Good times and very happy with the show thus far!  A little later down the set, Del took the lead again for “Same Kind of Crazy”, a song about finding just that perfect mirrored freak in your intended counterpart.  Love at first madness, maybe?  Or maybe just shared madness.  Del certainly had his own feelings on the issue to be sure.  Great back and forth between everyone in the band during the breakdowns between the verses — really exceptional music.  Next up was a wicked fast fiddle tune led by Jason but featuring every single man’s fingers flying over fretboard of his chosen instrument.  I missed the name of the tune but I didn’t miss a note of that freight train barreling towards us all at a ludicrous speed (any Spaceballs fans out there?) colliding with our consciousness and inspiring smile after smile after smile.  So freakin’ fast they play.  So fast!  Superheroes dwell among us my friends…know them by the musical demigod aura they most assuredly emanate.  And Del and band might have just as well been the musical Avengers.  Alan Bartram was up the microphone for lead vocals on the next song, a slower number called the “Kentucky Waltz”.  And, it just so happens that we recorded the entire thing just for you, friend!!  How lucky, right? 

My gosh does that bass playin’ man have some seriously awesome vocal cords!  I do so love it when he sings us one.  Then came one of those crowd pleasers I was talking about:  “Henry Walker”.  Del at the helm, he sang us through this dark tale with grace and style, his band of merry music makers in full support.  A little further down the set, Woody Guthrie’s grandson came out to play dobro with them for the next number, Guthrie’s own “Californy Gold”.  Carter was on point with his fiddle providing some lovely color to the song, notes floating over and around the lyrics sung by Del.  Nothing like getting to hear a little dobro alongside Del Band, right?  Maybe they’ll hire a full-time dobro player…a boy can dream, can’t he?  Speaking of dobro, Woody’s grandson certainly knew his way around the instrument, laying down a mean solo for us a few minutes in.  Further on into the set, Ronnie’s son, Evan, joined in on guitar for some of the fun as well as Conner Broome on the keys.  Del crooned out the lyrics to this one for us, teaching us all about coming to terms with life’s sad state of affairs when it comes to love.  Or lack thereof.  “Learnin’ the Blues” is a, ahem, blueprint for doing just such a thing.  Loved the interplay between Jason and Rob on this one, fiddle and banjo shining out respectively.  Conner nailed his keyboard solo to the ground, it certainly must be said.  That young man has a very bright musical future, indeed.  A bit later still “Black Jack County Chains” was on the docket for us, Del at the mic to give us more of what we all wanted, what we all came for.  “Feel it in your bones” bluegrass.  Ah, so nice.  And such a robust set chock full of it, too.  You always get so much from a Del Band show, quality, quantity, you name it.  Close on “Black Jack’s” heels came the bullet train experience that is “All Aboard”, Evan McCoury still on stage playing guitar alongside these greats and more than holding his own.  Always and forever the crowd pleaser, this one didn’t disappoint that night in Cumberland, you can count on that.  The band’s instruments rang out measure after measure constantly building and rebuilding the texture as the song hurtled along at Del speed.  (Which is a mightily speedy speed at that!)  I have distinct and pleasant memories of Ronnie’s mandolin that keep coming back to me when I think about this song.  What a way to close out a show!!  Then, after a short time offstage, the band returned and Vassar McCoury, Rob’s young son, joined in for the first encore alongside his cousin, Evan…and which song?  Why “Cold Rain and Snow”, of course.  There were quite the number of voices singing along with Del to this one.  I can’t imagine why.  Jason showed us all how it’s done a number of times taking up the melody line on his fiddle and killing it.  And I’ll always love hearing Del play guitar, hearing him lead those chords, picking away.  And, boy, does that gentleman sure look stately when holding that six-string.  After “Cold Rain and Snow” they launched into a big, fun version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” which was followed by the “Whitehouse Blues”.  So it was to be hard drivin’, fast pickin’ until the very end, huh?  Well, alrighty then, if we must, we must.  And we did.  Lightning quick work all around from every man, Rob and Ronnie hot on their instruments, Jason and Alan working the same and then Del, of course, rhythm guitar to the core.  One helluva big encore ender for a big, big show.  And the screams from the crowd — deafening in such an awesome way.  Del and his band had done it once again.  They had performed the magic spells and created that cosmic awesomeness once more that is their fabulous music.  And I was so grateful to have heard it all.  So grateful.  A massive thanks to Mr. McCoury, the members of his band, and to all those hard-working folks in Del and DelFest’s employ for such an incredible time and festival.  Cheers to one and all for making things so very special this year!!

The Del McCoury Band

The Del McCoury Band

Greensky Bluegrass

    And bringing up the closing spot on the main stage for DelFest 9, you say?  Why it just so happens that it was Greensky Bluegrass, those wild and wonderful fellows from Kalamazoo, MI.  And they helped bring the outdoor portion of DF to an end in a mighty fine fashion, playing hits and covers and all the good stuff.  Truly this band gets better and better each time I see them, a trend that has continued for many years now and doesn't seem to show any signs of slacking anytime soon.  Our boys got things going with a rousing “Jaywalking” after Joe Craven’s simply stellar introduction of the band.  It seemed a perfect beginning in the cooling night air, the stars peeking out over Cumberland.  Here is some video footage of that very song and including Joe’s intro (which you’ll dig).  Please enjoy!! 

And now you’re off to the races with us!  Not too shabby a start, no?  Let’s keep going!  A quick-paced “Burn Them” followed “Jaywalking”, Paul Hoffman back at the microphone for the lead.  Some adept work from Dave Bruzza on guitar served to color the landscape of the song as did that mando of Paul’s.  Let us not forget Anders Beck’s dobro, either.  Ever present as a part of the musical fabric or standing out to solo, that sound is unmistakable and always welcome.  “What if sorrows swim?”  Not the most attractive prospect.  Guess we’ll need to burn them, right?  A little later in the setprovided us with a lengthy and super fun “Broke Mountain Breakdown”, an instrumental of monumental proportions.  Simply astounding work all around from each member of the band.  Bruzza’s guitar singing out into the night air, Hoffman’s mando taking care of the high end of things with aplomb, Beck and his dobro.  That lovely, lovely dobro.  Made for a great combined moment when all the band stopped for a big “Del Yeah!” right in the middle of the tune.  Michael Bont’s solo a couple of minutes into the piece was nothing short of inspired.  And that’s the way things continued throughout “Broke Mountain”, with the solo passing back and forth like a jar of shine, from member to member and back again.  What a breakdown it was, too!  So much good music for 10 plus minutes.  Talk about your value, right?  That and so much more.  Hoffman even threw in some tiny “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose” teases for good measure.  Love it!  Further still down the set we got this big version of “Demons” that went directly into Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”.  “Demons” sounded fantastic, augmented in all the right ways by Paul’s baller mandolin solo not to mention his spot-on vocals.  No doubts that gentleman can sing and sing very well.  Big, meaty guitar solo from Dave in this one, too.  Really made for a robust version of the song, especially with Anders answering on so deftly on dobro.  “Dancing in the Dark” saw Hoffman channel his inner Boss while laying down some of that all-American music Springsteen is so well-known for.  It certainly was a nice treat for the crowd, lots of whom took the opportunity to sing along with Phoffman.  Good times to be sure.  Next up was the heartfelt and mellow but intense “In Control”.  Such a lovely song and so well executed at DF that night.  So much tasty, tasty dobro from Mr. Beck throughout the song…makes for such an enjoyable musical journey.  Gorgeous ensemble work here, too, giving license for the boys to do some rather pretty things over the top, like Mike’s banjo solo soaring over the remaining instrumental framework like a bird on the wing.  They took this directly into “Letter to Seymour” which followed, Dave Bruzza at the mic for lead vocals.  Hard drivin’, fast pickin’ was the name of this game, their fingers so many blurs as they screamed over the smoking fretboards assembled on stage.  Now that’s what we call good music!  Later on down the set the fellas gave us a nice long version of “Leap Year” which we ate up with glee.  Nothing like getting a long, righteous jam from these insanely skilled individuals.  Which meant lots of magnificent soloing, of course!  And thank all the music gods for that!  Bruzza was a beast on that guitar of his, moving things forward with a buoyant energy which he handed off to Hoffman, who took things and ran with them on his mando.  All this incredible only led us to some mellow stylings from your man, Mr. Beck, on that legendary dobro of his…and to a super chill central jam in the middle, Bruzza back around to dominate again.  You just get so much song when you plug into that GSBG energy.  And this continued for a lovely, lengthy 13:42.  Like I said, so much song.  Classic Phoffman at the ending part of the jam and song with some big “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose” teases…I think we’ve all come to rely on those over the past little while with these gents.  And you never really know what the Phoff is going to do once under those colorful lights.  More classic GSBG with their chosen closer, “Atlantic City”.  Certainly one of the favorite covers songs of Greensky fans, this crowd seemed super happy to be getting this one as made apparent by their cheers and singing along.  It made for a very fitting ending to this final main stage set at DelFest 9.  The hoots and screams at the close of the song were mighty, indeed.  It was an intense and special moment.  The boys really sounded polished and professional all night long, doling out a strong setlist of super great music, great choices abounding for this DF crowd.  A giant round of applause to every member of this fantastic band!  Thank you all, as always, for what you do for you do it so very well.  Thank you for sharing your music with us!  See you in Telluride!!

Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass

Late Night - The Travelin’ McCoury’s featuring Keller Williams

    Keller.  The McCourys.  Together.  Live.  I almost don’t really need to write any more than that.  But I will because you need to hear at least a bit about how awesome this was.  Besides, this was the final music of DelFest 9, the last notes would be played in the Music Hall that night.  Plus, I mean:  Keller.  The McCourys!  I mean, come on.  Let’s do this, shall we?  They kicked things off with a nice, long “Port-a-potty Line” (the song, not the line), building things from a super quiet intro through more and more intensity, the tempo increasing until they all launched into the lyrics.  Funny, weird, and wonderful as always, that’s Keller’s music.  And, in the hands of the McCourys, something special, indeed.  Some really fine banjo from Mr. Rob McCoury at the behest of Keller Williams was surely welcome.  Then some of the same from Rob McCoury on mandolin.  Great energy to get all this going…lots of dancing feet, still up and running after days of the same.  I was proud of my community.  A little bit further into the set, we got a double-barreled whammy in the form of “I Am Elvis” directly into “Hot Stuff”.  Another super mellow and spacey intro began this one, like on the album but a bit grittier, minutes stretching out into note after note, the quiet intensity changing ever so slowly into more and more until the familiar strains of the song proper take hold and the lyrics begin to spin out their craziness.  Suffice it to say, this one takes you places.  And it took us that night right smack into some of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”.  I’ve seen them do this song before and it’s really grown on me.  Nothing like watching a bunch of bluegrassers channel their inner disco soul diva.  These two songs did make for quite the pairing for a “to the very end” late night dance fest.  And they were just sounding so very good playing together.  I seriously urge you to see this act if it ever comes your way…you will not be disappointed.  Like we weren’t disappointed remotely with Jason Carter’s fiddle playing in this one.  Talk about your hot stuff!  They played some numbers from the Pick album they all recorded together a few years ago, too, which sure was a treat.  Like Alan Bartram up to the mic for the lead vocals on “Messed Up Just Right” a favorite song around The Lot Scene offices.  Who doesn’t love clever word play?  And really good bluegrass music.  Add those together, and you’ve got yourself a stew goin’!  Bartram knocked the lyrics out of the park, of course.  It is no secret that man sings like a champ.  Some nice moments from Ronnie and Jason, too.  An all-around excellent version of this song.  Bravi!  Then it was time to take a little walk with the Dead, “Candyman” style.  Keller was our lead man on this one, singing to a crowd who was singing along with him, the words so familiar to so many.  This is just a great song to begin with…then you add the gents on stage and some DelFest to the mix?  You had best stand back!  What a pleasantly volatile cocktail that was!!  They followed this with another great cover, Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky Babe”, with a little bit of a vocal percussion intro from Keller.  Fantastic arrangement of this song…really stayed true to the original but grassed it up in so many new ways at the same time.  Besides, what crowd doesn’t like a little Tom Petty?  Or a little Cody Kilby on guitar while they’re at it?  Just how incredible is he?  No, really.  My hat is ever off to Mr. Kilby — such skills that pay the bills!!  Further down the set we were gifted with a lengthy “Broken Convertible” with some awesome breakdowns in it.  Lots of great jams in this set so far!  Keller hammed it up something wonderful on the vocals for this one, the gents in harmonic support sounding superb themselves.  A lovely round-robin of solo work from all the members of the band in this one, too.  Rob, Ronnie, Jason, everyone sounded amazing, nice long jams giving them the opportunity to really shine.  Cody and Alan had their own moments, of course.  This was a big song with all sorts of music coming at us.  It was magnificent.  This was followed by more Dead with “I Know You Rider” which whipped that late night crowd into a hopping frenzy of fun loving and music mischief.  “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train!” rang the lyrics from the mouths of every person in the building, as we all screamed our happiness together.  Sizzling hot fiddle from Jason in this one…so very good.  Perfect.  And then there was that smokin’ banjo solo from the Five-String Flamethrower right at the end which capped things off in excellent fashion.  Bam!  Just like that!  Finally, later on a bit it was time to bring this marvelous set of music to a fitting end and what could have been more fitting than “Bumper Sticker”?  I mean, the song calls out so many folks at DF this year by name, included Del, himself.  It’s like a roster of great music within more music.  How great is that?  Despite it being late, we even got a cameo from Lisa McCoury, Rob’s wife, who came out and danced a bit for us.  It was fantastic.  This is a fast picker for sure, too, and the boys all just nailed down tight ensemble sound in quick time.  And then, wham!  It was over and we were all cheering like maniacs for an encore.  Which, luckily, we got…gratefully.  And some Foster the People, too.  Have you heard Keller and the McCourys’ version of “Pumped Up Kicks”?  It’s pretty sweet, I must admit.  And, what’s that?  More incredible vocal harmonies overlaying wicked hot instrumentals?  Oh, please no.  Anything but that!  Rob was on fire on his banjo, fingers making it smoke from head to foot.  Colby?  Guitar god again as usual?  You bet your boots, friends.  Ronnie?  Pure domination on mandolin?  And with some “Hot Stuff” teases, too?  Oh, Ronnie.  Good stuff.  And that central breakdown.  Whew!  What a thrill ride!  Jason Carter laid down some deadly seriously fiddle as the band jammed around him with reckless abandon.  Suffice it to say, this monster encore brought the house down at the end just like you’d have expected…faster and faster and faster until the very last vocals heralding the end of DelFest 9.  A few thank yous and lots and lots of cheering and then, it was all over.  So quickly, seeming, and yet, we’d been at this for days.  But, what a way to end it all!  What a DelFest!  What a weekend!  Many thanks to The Travelin’ McCourys and to Keller Williams for ushering us all to the other side with music unparalleled and enough energy to see us all back to our homes safely the following day.  

The Travelin' McCourys featuring Keller Williams

The Travelin' McCourys featuring Keller Williams

    And, while I’m on the subject of giving thanks, I merely want to say another round of thank yous to Del McCoury, his family, his band, and his people for all the magic they instill in DelFest, for all the warm welcoming they do all weekend long, and for simply being wonderful folks.  Thanks to all the bands for the stellar music offerings throughout our days in Cumberland — your music clearly helped to make this the best DelFest yet.  Bravi to one and all!!  And a huge thanks to my community, my bluegrass family, my fellow Deltopians…you always make it so easy to do this thing that we do, and a helluva lot of fun to boot.  I really can hardly wait for next year’s 10th Anniversary DelFest.  Talk about your shenanigannery!!  Guess we’ll just all have to wait a spell and see…

The McCoury Family

The McCoury Family

CLICK ON THE BANNER BELOW FOR OUR COMPLETE PHOTO GALLERIES FROM Sunday @ DELFEST!

 

Thanks for reading everyone!!  Next up?  Telluride!!

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DelFest 9 - Festival Experience Archive - Saturday

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DelFest 9 - Festival Experience Archive - Saturday

DelFest 9

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Saturday Highlights

The Sam Bush Band

    Back at the main stage at DelFest.  Precisely where I wanted to be.  After a day already full of incredibly wonderful bluegrass music it was time to soak in a little of the Sam Bush Band and their special brand of the same.  Walking towards the front of the crowd we were greeted with the sounds of “On the Road”, Scott Vestal’s lead in on banjo like an old friend taking you to something amazing.  And then Sam starts in on the vocals and, just like that, we were off to another incredible ride through a fine set of grass.  A song filled with advice from a life spent long on the road, it was a pretty perfect way to get things going.  And talk about a band just filled with phenomenal musicians.  Always means you get some seriously kick ass bluegrass as a result, Sam Bush Band style.  From Scott on banjo to Stephen Mougin on guitar to Sam on mando and back around again, there was so much goodness going on in this number.  Mandolin was the name of the game introducing the next song up, “Play By Your Own Rules”.  Yet more advice coming down from Uncle Sammy, I think we’d all love to play by our own rules a bit more.  Some lovely duet work between Sam and Stephen in between verses — I do so love the sound of this band.  The King of Telluride certainly doesn’t disappoint.  Then it was all time for us to be “Riding That Bluegrass Train” apparently.  And why not?  All aboard, in my opinion.  And what a ride it was with Sam at the controls!  Yet another bluegrass classic played to the nth degree.  Man, do these guys always put on a fantastic show!  Sammy thrashed out some mean mando for us during this one showcasing his singular skills.  However, Mougin and Vestal were not to be outdone, throwing down some serious stylings of their own on guitar and banjo respectively.  A round robin of skill and talent this continued for some time, man to man to man until Sam launched back into the vocals and kept that train a-rollin’.  A personal favorite of mine was next in line that set and, lucky for all of us, we got it on video for you.  Hope you enjoy “They’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” as much as we did! 

Love that song!  And how can’t you, right?  I mean, it’s Sam we’re talking about!!  Following “They’re Gonna Miss Me” we got a supremely enjoyable “One More Love Song” and then some quick pickin’ in the form of “Hard Hearted”, Mougin and Vestal tearing it up on their respective instruments.  Nothing like being caught up in that singular style of bluegrass attributed to Sam and his band — they really take you places with their music, to other times and through the stories of their songs.  The completely entrancing instrumental “Greenbrier” was next in line, with each member of the band shining through on their chosen instrument like a miniature star, creating a fabric and musical landscape so easy on the ears and soul.  Truly, each of these gentlemen is a virtuoso in his own right and that is most readily apparent in jams like “Greenbrier”.  Lengthy solos from Vestal, Mougin, and Bush made for an even more robust piece of music for our senses of hearing to savor as we all danced and swayed like the trees dancing in the wind all around.  Goodness!!  And Todd Parks laying down that bass line like a champ all set long.  Hells yeah.  “Midnight on the Stormy Deep” saw Del, himself, come join Sam and band for a song from “the old country”.  What a vocal duet between McCoury and Bush!  Just lovely!!  Later on down the set Sammy gave us his version of “Great Balls of Fire”, one of which I am sure that Jerry Lee Lewis would have been proud.  I’ve heard Sam do this a few times before and I just love the energy he brings to it and the energy that it brings to a setlist.  Not that a Sam Bush Band setlist is usually lacking in energy — just the opposite.  Finally, they closed their set down a bit later on by asking Ronnie McCoury to come and join them on stage for Bob Dylan’s “When You Gonna Wake Up”.  Ronnie remarked as he got situated that he was getting to “play with [his] hero” to which Sam Bush replied, “is David Grisman here?”  We all got a nice laugh out of that one.  Well-played, Sammy.  Well-played.  And “When You Gonna Wake Up” was well-played also…finishing things off with a little rock’n’roll, McCoury in support.  A good message to end their show with as well, methinks.  Music certainly exists to make us think from time to time as well as entertain.  Sam, apparently, thinks the same way.  Never a bad time with Mr. Bush and his baller ass band and this was certainly no exception.  So many thanks to the man and band for so much wonderful music, as always.  Sure was making me look forward to Telluride!!

The Sam Bush Band

The Sam Bush Band

Railroad Earth

    As the darkening evening air descended around us that Saturday night, we all made our way up to the main stage again for some of that excellent foot-tappin’ Americana string band music that only Railroad Earth can serve up.  The setting was just perfect for more great music and we all knew that RRE wouldn’t disappoint.  They launched into the easy-going “Storms” to get things started off right for us.  The instrumental opening grew steadily to life and then Todd Sheaffer’s voice emanated from the speakers in soft waves of comfort and beauty.  It’s like having a favorite uncle sing you gently through life.  And, of course, Tim Carbone’s fiddle, always there for you akin to an arm around the shoulder made of the purest and most gorgeous musical texture.  John Skehan then added his own brand of lovely to the mix on mandolin, richening the entire piece further.  An auspicious beginning to be sure, my friends.  Carey Harmon laid down a big, big beat on the drums as introduction to “Seven Story Mountain” which followed “Storms”.  Todd thanked us all over the mic as the song built and built relaying that it was a pleasure to be at DelFest.  I was very much inclined to agree with him.  They continued to build and flesh things out for several minutes in anticipation of Todd’s vocal entrance.  Makes for quite the satisfying musical experience.  And, throughout, that metronomic rhythm from Carey.  Magnificent, thus far.  And only getting better.  I am kind of biased towards the next song they played given where I live, however, that does not negate how good the song really is.  Upbeat and filled with great banjo from Andy Goessling from the very beginning, “Colorado” speaks to one of my favorite times in my favorite state, summertime in Colorado.  Hard to hate a song about such bright subjects, right?  In fact, you down right fall in love with it.  Carbone’s solo in the middle was like a big, fresh breath only to be answered by Skehan on mando, laying down his own fine and extensive solo work.  And then they traded back again, a round robin of solo prowess.  It is just this kind of skill and acumen that is shared amongst the members of the band that makes one of their songs or shows so entertaining.  If you love really good music, that is.  If you don’t, well, let’s just hope that’s not the case.  A little on down the set they gave us the slightly melancholy “Mourning Flies”, the soft and lilting guitar solo intro setting the tone for this one.  Enter Carbone’s gentle fiddle over the top of the guitar for a minute or two.  And then enter the rest of the band for that kind of slowly intensifying introduction for which this band is known.  This was a lengthy version of the song coming in at 11:18 with plenty of opportunities for each gent to strut his stuff on his chosen instrument.  Which they took and ran with, believe you me.  They took “Mourning” directly into Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” next, the energy of the new song echoing the previous one.  Mellow was the name of the game for the moment, all with the undercurrent of intense emotion and feeling.  This was American music, through and through.  The music of our folk, our people, and played by those who really get it.  What a treat!!  The crowd certainly enjoyed the gift of this one as Todd nailed the vocals down expertly as well, of course.  Carey even had some solo time a couple of minutes in…but vocal solo time.  Not so often we get to see that.  Pretty great right?  Sadly there was a huge power outage to the main stage area that shut things down for a few minutes and brought “America” to a premature close.  They were able to get things repaired quickly enough, though, and the show kept right on going.  “Walk Beside Me” (which featured a phatty, phatty bass solo from Andrew Altman) followed “America” and went directly into “Birds of America” which we were able to capture on video for you to check out.  Please enjoy!! 

Pretty big “Birds of America” huh?  Hope you liked that little piece of the show.  Which kept right going as “Birds” went directly into the fast pickin’ “Stillwater Getaway”.  Talk about a tune to get your blood moving!  Amazing solos all around…once again.  Are you sensing a theme?  Because there surely is one when it comes to Railroad Earth — that of exquisite and exquisitely-played music.  What a show it had been.  But, all good things must come to a close now and again, sadly.  However, happily for us, Sierra Hull was out to join them for “Bird in a House”, their ending number.  An old favorite of seemingly most people in the crown, folks were singing along and dancing and enjoying this Railroad experience through to the very end.  It sounded magnificent as it rang out over the crowd, bouncing off the bluffs behind us in the dark.  A truly lovely ending to a truly lovely show.  Many thanks to all the members of the band for such a special evening of music at DelFest 9!!  Bravi, fellas, bravi!!

Railroad Earth

Railroad Earth

The Travelin’ McCourys

    This band has to make some of the absolute best music on the market today.  Hands down.  Every time I see them they are just that much better.  And getting better all the time.  Each of these men is a master on his instrument, proven many times over with awards and accolades…and the applause of countless crowds the country over.  Speed?  You got it.  Agility?  You betcha.  Precision?  But of course!  Skill, talent, acumen, ability?  You’ve got that right, my friends.  And the McCourys have got it all…in spades.  We got our equipment up and rolling from the get go to capture the beginnings of what would be an epic set.  “Cumberland Blues”?  Hot damn.  What a way to start!!  Please enjoy!!

Holy goodness and my stars!  How great was that??  They continued things smartly with “Somebody’s Gonna Pay”, Ronnie McCoury at the mic for lead vocals.  Just love that man’s voice…so crystal clear and so perfect for bluegrass.  There was some nice interplay between Jason Carter on fiddle and Rob McCoury on banjo that made for a special moment in the song.  Never would want to get on Ronnie’s bad side, though, like the person in this song.  Much rather be a friend to the McCourys, right?  Right.  Then it was time for Jason’s time at the mic, set up to croon one for us in the form of “Southbound”.  What a rich voice he has.  Always love getting a Carter solo.  This time the interplay occurred between the McCoury brothers, mando and banjo, respectively.  Quick-paced and fun, to be sure.  Love watching those two play alongside one another.  Cody Kilby stepped out and threw down a pretty monstrous guitar solo a couple minutes in, as well.  That fellow is a pure guitar machine, no doubt about it.  Nothing but mad respect.  Alan Bartram took lead vocals on the next, the slightly sadder “Hardest Heart”, which featured some gorgeous fiddle work from Jason alongside Robbie’s fantastic banjo.  Ronnie made his presence felt as well through some superb mandolin following.  And then there’s Cody once again to just dominate the fretboard and make it sing so sweetly.  Excellent ensemble sound in this song…really sounded just fantastic.  And this was my first time hearing it as well.  Hope it won’t be my last.   A little later down the set it was time for some amazing vocal harmonies as the band covered Passenger’s “Let Her Go” — I mean these guys polished the heck out of their parts for this song.  And it really showed.  Ronnie was on the lead for it and when joined by his fellows, magic ensued.  Truly.  What an addition to the setlist for the evening!  This was followed by Robbie leading things off on banjo for the familiar and fabulous “Midnight Flyer”, Jason Carter taking lead vocals once again.  This one steamed along steadily just like a locomotive of bluegrass chugging into the night.  That sound of Rob’s banjo just sticks out in my mind…ever-present in the song and excellent.  Grooving merrily along with The Travelin’ McCourys!!  What more could you ask for?  More train songs?  Why the heck not?  Alan took to the mic once more for the lead on “I Think I’ll Stay Awhile”, a song about the siren-call of the train tracks and where they might lead…possibly to anywhere.  Ronnie McCoury colored things in with some lovely mando while his brother followed suit on banjo.  Bartram delivered some really fine singing throughout this one as well, the man being possessed of a fantastic voice like his compatriots.  A bit further on, Ronnie’s son, Adam McCoury, joined the band for some fun.  And for the Dead’s “Loser”, too.  Talk about fun!!  Adam was one lucky young man, to be sure.  Of course, he definitely had some chops to show off that evening as his father crooned along to us of that familiar sad tale of unluckiness and woe.  The younger McCoury delivered up one groovy and heartfelt solo on guitar before all was said and done.  Bravo to him!!  Definitely a crowd pleaser, this song.  But that should come as no surprise.  The Grateful Dead + The Travelin’ McCourys + DelFest = Inexplicable incredibleness.  Conner Broome came out on stage next to join in on keys alongside Adam and the gents for a spot-on cover of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life”.  From the first familiar strains of the song, the crowd was instantly on board for this oldie, but greatie.  “He’s got the action, he’s go the motion.  Oooooh yeah, the boy can play!”  And that was certainly the case when it came to the youngest fellas on the stage, Conner and Adam.  Those boys can play, lemme tell you!  Such talent and skill already well-honed at such a young age — I think we can expect great things from both gents in the future.  John Hartford was next on the menu in the form of Jason Carter singing lead vocals on “Back in the Goodle Days”, a favorite around The Lot Scene offices.  Some supremely awesome fiddle came down from Carter on this song when he wasn’t on the lyrics, as well.  Talk about your “goodle days”, right?  Then they invited Del out for a couple of songs for which we were all very grateful.  How couldn’t we be?  The first number they doled out from the stage was “You've Got The Look Of A Perfect Diamond" with Del on lead vocals.  This one was a rollicking good musical time juxtaposed to the lyrics regarding a particularly cold and distant lady.  Bluegrass so often does that, setting text to music that seem so opposite of one another…but it always seems to work out so very well.  Just like with “Perfect Diamond”.  Mighty fine banjo stylings from Rob on this one, too.  That man truly is the “five string flamethrower”.  Ronnie took over the mic from his father for the following number, “Homegrown Tomatoes”, borrowing a little assistance from a piece of paper for the lyrics.  I’ve done that many, many times myself.  The jumbotrons were alight with the lyrics for all to sing along to, and why not?  Who doesn’t love singing along with Del and The Travelin’ McCourys??  So sing we did, loudly and proudly and we had a ball.  Ahhhhh, DelFest.  You know how to get me.  Every time.  They finished their set off by inviting Mark O’Connor out to join in on fiddle for their traditional farewell song, “Travelin’”.  This song is pure energy in bluegrass form.  All cylinders firing and with the nitrous boost of O’Connor in the mix?  Electric!!  Jason and Mark had a really marvelous back-and-forth at one point, fiddles flying in all directions.  It was magnificent.  Quite a way to end the show.  But they weren’t done yet.  How about Del and Sierra Hull coming out to nail down the encore with them?  How’s about that, indeed?!?  A song about a fiddle player was up for us here at the last, according to Carter.  Another Hartford piece, and thankfully because Hartford pieces rock, “Vamp in the Middle” proved the perfect choice for a follow-on song to a set such as that.  Sierra shone like the gemstone she is throughout, her instrument singing brightly.  Dagnabit!!  What a show!!  Such superbly incredible music from start to finish.  So many great guests with so much to add.  Just phenomenal.  A huge thanks to The Travelin’ McCourys and all their folk for such a marvelous DelFest set!  Made me all the more eager for late night Sunday.  But, we’ll have to wait for that for a bit…  

The Travelin' McCourys

The Travelin' McCourys

Late Night - Cabinet - Greensky Bluegrass

    Late Night once again.  And the bill this time?  Cabinet and Greensky.  Holy dynamic duo, Batman!!  This show had been sold out for months in anticipation of a double-barreled display of bluegrass, newgrass, and jamgrass all rolled into one night of fun and frivolity.  And the place was packed, let me tell you.  If people could get into this show, they did get into this show.  And the musical reward for entry?  Pure gold.  Cabinet opened the whole shebang playing hits and jams left and right, like starting off with “Eleanor” which they took directly into “Mysterio”.  Both songs filled with lots of up energy, they proved their own double-barrel opener for the double-barrel late night.  Electrified and electric, Cabinet came roaring out the gate bringing smiles, joy, and fun to one and all assembled under that metal roof.  Todd Kopec spanked that fiddle of his something fierce throughout, laying down some serious notes.  Pappy Biondo also delivered some pretty incredible notes of his own on banjo.  Not to mention all the shredding on electric guitar by Mickey Coviello.  Again, one more band that is filled with beastly players of the highest order.  Machines.  Demi-gods.  Call them what you will, those cats can play!  “Mysterio”, driven forward by the drums of Josh Karis and Jami Novak, is a thrill ride through minor keys and lots of tasty percussion.  Spacey and jammy in all the right ways, an apropos addition for a late night setlist.  Later in their set we were treated to Pappy at the vocals for “Diamond Joe”.  Featuring J.P. Biondo on the mandolin, this song really gets moving as the tale is spun of Diamond Joe and his exploits.  More supremely good guitar work from Coviello here as well.  There was a huge ending jam featuring pretty much everyone on everything before all was said and done throwing the crowd into a veritable frenzy.  It was pretty freakin’ sweet to say the least.  Next up was a super incredible gift of music:  Clapton’s “Cocaine” featuring Cris Jacobs guesting in for a giant 9:18 minutes!!  How lucky were we??  Seriously, we were all pretty much completely beside ourselves. “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie…”  And this music didn’t lie, either…it was so very, very good.  The best.  And Cris Jacobs?  Really?  So very, very good.  A big thanks to the band and to Cris for this one!  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the exquisite jamming that occurred throughout this song, too.  The music was just stupendous.  ‘Nuff said.  They finished their set with a big ol’ fat “Heavy Rain”, a foots-stomper and singalong if there ever was one.  Pappy crooned out his cautionary tale to a crowd of super happy folk as the band slammed along behind him.  Big vocals coming out of this one, awesome harmonies abounding.  Certainly a great way to simmer things down from such a hot, hot show.  Mad ups to Cabinet for bringing the heat to late night and working us all up for some Greensky Bluegrass to follow!  

Cabinet Late Night with Cris Jacobs

Cabinet Late Night with Cris Jacobs

    GSBG!!  Let’s do this!  Riding high on all that incredible Cabinet energy, we were all ready for our Greensky and more.  And just how did they start their show??  Oh, merely a little Talking Heads cover for us… “Road to Nowhere” with Paul Hoffman at the main vocals.  And so we were instantly immersed in Greensky’s musical world and overjoyed for it.  What a stellar version of this song, all grassed up in all the ways you want.  Anders Beck’s ever-present dobro alongside Dave Bruzza’s guitar and Hoffman’s mando…that quintessential sound we associate with GSBG.  All showcased in this one in perfect fashion.  OK.  I was game.  So far, so amazing.  A meaty “Kerosene” followed full of trippy, spaced-out intros and that gunshot of energy as the song takes hold.  Bruzza was in fine form on the vocals and nailed down his line effortlessly.  Beck delivered his usual schooling on the dobro as the song hurtled along at full speed.  The breakdown at the ending was just a monster of a thing.  So dirty nasty good in all the right ways.  The ensuing adoring cheers from the audience were deafening.  Next in the set was “Old Barns” which the band dedicated to Rachel Ciboro. I love this song and I love the way Paul sings it.  Seriously, this one always pulls at the heartstrings.  The hallmark of a truly well-written song.  Later on down the line, the band had a little fun with a “Cocaine” tease, led by Hoffman on mandolin.  Instead, however, Paul sang “Cabinet” instead of “cocaine”.  Too funny.  What a prankster!!  This was followed by a huge “Don’t Lie” to the tune of 16:32, with a crazy good intro jam.  Impressive.  Can’t imagine owning the bass for that long they way that Mike Devol does.  And did.  Talk about the true foundation of the band…his notes are there, always supporting.  Always.  Love his style, too.  Hard not to love the members of this band for all their musical skills and talents.  Mike Bont had a bit of fire in him as well all evening long, taking his banjo to task and producing excellence.  Another brutally good ending jam developed in “Don’t Lie” taking the energy levels to such degrees as to threaten to tear down the Music Hall.  Dobro in your face…so good!!  Bass, badass…so good!!  Banjo all around you…so good!!  Mando madness to behold…so good!!  Guitar goodness…so good!!  And that’s the theme of the Greensky set that late night…so good!!  Still later on in the show we got the sweet deal of “Don’t Lie” directly into “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, a favorite cover amongst the GSBG fan masses.  And it should be as well.  “Don’t Lie” they took at a quick clip, instruments shining and singing out at the fast tempo.  The kings of the whizzbang wild energy wielding ending jam, they went all in for “Light Up” throwing in “Dancing on the Ceiling” teases and more.  They ramped this one up I tell you!  One of those moments where it’s almost too much music to take in.  But there was so much more music left!  In the form of the main event, in my opinion, the epic (yes, epic) “Worried About the Weather > China Cat Sunflower > Big Shot” that served as the anchor for the show.  Almost 20 minutes of straight bluegrass awesomeness.  Wowsers.  And the Dead.  And Billy Joel.  What??  That’s right.  Bruzza was on lead vocals for “Worried” which sounded just about album perfect, each member completely destroying their parts.  Just as we were grooving along to the song and getting into some jams, they were off into “China Cat Sunflower” to the delight of all.  Paul sounded pretty durn amazing on the lead vocals channeling all his inner Dead that he could muster and more.  What a performance.  Anyways, I just love this song…one of my faves from the Dead’s catalogue.  As such, I was certainly happy to hear it in the mix that night.  Lovely mandolin from Hoffman as well as lovely dobro from Beck.  Perfectly melded parts into the fabric of the song.  Masterful and a joy to hear.  And then, after some more wonderful jamming, it was off into Billy Joel’s musical landscape with “Big Shot”, Hoffman on lead vocals.  Who knew this would be such a big, fat ending to a marvelous show such as this?  Bravi fellas, quite so!  They closed things down with “Dustbowl Overtures” and Paul singing “Easy Like Sunday Morning” teases during the intro.  And close things down they did, too.  Holy goodness…so amazing right to the very end.  A huge round of applause and thanks to the lads in the band for such an incredible time.  Made for the best late night yet (and there was still one more to go!).  What a long and lovely night of music!  My soul was so sated, almost to overflow.  And there was still Sunday Funday to go.  Wow…could I make it?  You has best believe it!!

Greensky Bluegrass Late Night

Greensky Bluegrass Late Night

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Sunday is on its way, my friends!!  Almost there!!

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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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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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