Posts Tagged ‘bluegrass’

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Otis Mountain Music Festival – Preview

The Otis Mountain Music Festival will hold its fifth annual event on August 17th and 18th in Elizabethtown, NY along route 9 between the route 73 split and Elizabethtown. This festival has been moving its date and searching for an identity which will sell in this huge rural county within the Adirondack Park in northern New York. It remains to be seen whether scheduling two of the most popular and progressive bluegrass bands in this venue will bring in the crowds needed to make this event pay. I can only hope. In scheduling the great, established Sam Bush Band and the wonderful emerging band The Infamous Stringdusters to appear on Saturday, promoter Jeff Allot is offering a day of the very finest progressive bluegrass that can be found. He is also offering an interesting, if little known, supporting cast ranging from traditional bluegrass to indie/rock that may hit the spot or fail to please.

The setting of the Otis Mountain Festival could not be any more beautiful. The band stand sits at the base of a gentle ski hill which slopes upward and away to form a natural amphitheater. There is plenty of room for people to see the bands and, I understand, an area has been set aside to permit dancing without interfering with viewing and listening. In the past, this festival has featured excellent food venders featuring offerings several cuts above the usual fair food served at bluegrass and music festivals. There is rough camping available and good transportation from the rather remote parking areas and the festival site. Allot has gone to great lengths to make this event one in which there has been extensive community involvement, and, in its 2005 version, succeeded admirably. Last year he changed the date to conflict with another New York State festival, which we chose to attend. This year he has again chosen a new date. I thought the weekend after Labor Day was a great date to hold a festival, but apparently it didn’t draw sufficient crowds, and it was chilly at night. Perhaps finding a regular date and keeping it would be a good way to build the festival audience.

Sam Bush is one of the most important influences in bluegrass music since its invention by Bill Monroe. With the establishment of The New Grass Revival in 1971, bluegrass opened itself to the new sounds coming from Rock and Roll bringing new sounds, rhythms, and themes into the acoustic music Monroe had pioneered and whose influence continues to dominate the genre. In his history of bluegrass, Neil V. Rosenberg points out that the musicians have always been out ahead of the fans of bluegrass music in their willingness to explore new approaches to the music. For more than 35 years, Sam Bush has been in the lead. He has introduced electric instruments and drums to the genre without ever bending it too far from its roots. His mandolin and fiddle playing are extraordinary. His current band, with Scott Vestal on banjo, Byron House on bass, Chris Brown on Drums, and Stephen Mougin on guitar continues in the tradition Bush has established, but the band is really Sam Bush. The list of performers Bush has played with forms a who’s who of bluegrass and country music greats.


While the Sam Bush Band represents the genesis and progress of modern bluegrass music, The Infamous Stringdusters stand for the state of the art. Composed of a group of players, several of whom studied at the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston, this fast rising group has taken the country by storm during the past eighteen months. I have written about their debut album “Fork in the Road” here. They still need to establish a solid record of ongoing accomplishment, but this first recording is better than a good start. Otis Mountain gives listeners one of their last chances to hear and see the original band, as brilliant flat-picking guitarist Chris Eldridge is leaving the band to join Chris Thile. Eldridge represents a link between the past and the future. He’s the son of Ben Eldridge, an original and continuing member of The Seldom Scene, who is acknowledged as a master of innovation on the banjo. Chris Eldridge appears to be in some other world as his wonderful solos and oh-so-solid rhythm guitar contribute mightily to the Stringdusters’ drive and style. Banjo player Chris Pandolfi is the first banjo graduate of the Berklee School of Music, perhaps the premier school for contemporary jazz, rock, and pop musicians today. Jeremy Garrett on fiddle comes from Idaho where he was a member of his father’s band The Grasshoppers, and he studied at South Plains College in Texas, where there is a well-known bluegrass program. Garrett sings lead and plays fiddle. Jesse Cobb, on mandolin, also comes from a family of bluegrass musicians. Andy Hall on Dobro and providing lead vocals is also a graduate of Berklee, where he majored in Music Production and Engineering. Finally, Travis Book, the newest member of the band on bass, comes from Colorado, where he was recognized for his playing as well as his lead singing. This band came together after all its members had moved to Nashville and established themselves with a variety of touring bands as well as studio musicians. Their collaboration grew out of jamming in the rich Nashville scene and his matured as they formed the Stringdusters and have worked to forge a distinctive sound and style. As a band they are still maturing and should provide years of delightful surprises to
thoughtful and informed listeners.

As might be expected with two such budget busting bands, the remainder of the lineup emphasizes either bands you haven’t heard of or local/regional bands that don’t have to travel too far or demand too much to appear. This does not, however, mean you won’t find something worth listening to. Big Spike, acting as host band this weekend, comes from Vermont and seeks to recreate the sounds of bluegrass and country music as it existed at about the time bluegrass began to distinguish itself as a sub-genre within the country music rubric. According to their web site “The band aims to recreate a sound that is long gone from country music, a sound closer to the honky-tonk and early bluegrass sound of the 50’s than it is to what’s played in Nashville today.” They are justly familiar to bluegrass fans around New York and New England.

Similarly, The New England Bluegrass Band, while best known in its namesake region, consists of excellent musicians presenting music in mostly traditional formats. They have recently been joined by Ashleigh Caudill, a new graduate of Berklee School of Music on bass and vocals. Joe Walsh, new mandolin player for the group, is also a student at Berklee. Since the Infamous Stringdusters are on the bill here, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Chris Pandolfi sitting in with the group, too. Lincoln Myers, Ron Cody, and Cecil Abels are long term members of this excellent bluegrass band. All the members have experiences that cross genres and also have considerable range within bluegrass. You can expect first class sets from this band on Saturday.

Three Doug Knight is a local bluegrass band that provides very satisfactory covers of bluegrass standards as well amusing songs written by guitar player Speedy Arnold. They will provide more than satisfactory sets on both Friday and Saturday. For me, Wild By Nature, Greenwich Mean Time, and Crossing North are unknown quantities. You can find a little more information on Greenwich Mean Time here at their MySpace entry. They provide a couple of cuts from their catalog. Their blurb seems determined not to provide any useful information about them except that they come from Olympia, WA. Crossing North is a duo based in Plattsburgh, NY. You can hear some of their cuts here.

Tickets to the Otis Mtn. Music Festival are $24 advance until August 18th and then $29 at the gate. The Festival map can be found here. This eclectic festival looks like a really good bet. Between two great national bands, some pretty well-known regional bands, and some new experiences, you won’t be wasting your time.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Fox Family Bluegrass Festival – Preview

The 18th Annual Fox Family Bluegrass Festival will take place August 9 – 12, 2007 in Old Forge, NY. The Fox Family’s home is in the Adirondacks, even though they have relocated to Nashville. Fronted by the wonderful voice of Kim Fox, this band continues to host a traditional bluegrass festival. Accommodations are limited and the camping is rough. There are no hookups and the nearest shower requires a drive of several miles. Old Forge is located here, in the southwest corner of the massive Adirondack Park, close to the New York Thruway and I-81. The Adirondack Park, a six million acre state park, is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, a vast tract of woods, mountain, and lakes. Because many people harbor stereotypes about New York, few recognize that this magnificent wilderness lies with only a few hours’ drive of millions of people in the northeast and the Midwest.

IIIrd Tyme Out

Headline bands, in addition to the host band Fox Family, are IIIrd Tyme Out, Jr. Sisk & Rambler Choice, reunited and on tour, and The Gibson Brothers, one a local band but now a national band of growing popularity which retains its loyalty to the local festivals that booked them when they weren’t so big. It’s hard to tell just now who will turn up with IIIrd Tyme Out. Founded and fronted by Ray Deaton, Bassist and premier bass singer, has announced he is leaving the band and The Bluegrass Blog announces here that Edgar Loudermilk has replaced him. Deaton originally said he would stay the season, but has moved up his change. Mandolinist Alan Perdue has been replaced by mandolin master Wayne Benson, which will add considerable depth to the band. Russell Moore is a long-time standout on vocals and rhythm guitar. Steve Dilling has been with the band on banjo for sixteen years. He’s struggling with distonia, but an injured Dilling is still better than most banjo players. All-in-all, despite their recent changes, IIIrd Tyme Out should continue as a very strong band. It’s always interesting to see how a changing band develops. Watch them on stage as they discover new ways to present their music through the addition of new musicians.

Jr. Sisk has long been one of the premier voices in bluegrass music. When Blueridge broke up as Alan Bibey left to help form Grasstowne and Alan Johnson moved on to Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (side note: Isn’t it interesting how many bands have former Quicksilver players and how this particular festival features several of them?) Jr. Sisk reconstituted Rambler’s Choice and began to tour with them. This group made one recording with Rounder in 1998. Junior, a resident of Virginia, played with the Lonesome River Band in their early days as well as with Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz. His distinctive high lonesome tenor and solid rhythm guitar have added depth and character to every band he has played with.

Sarah Jarosz is a fourteen year old mandolin player who lives in Austin, TX. She has received a lot of recognition in IBMA’s effort to promote younger artists. There are a lot of young, female mandolin players out there just now. Sierra Hull and Jessica Lovell are just two of a growing number. Sarah Jarosz has joined this group. If half of Sarah’s professional friends on her MySpace page have seen and heard her, she’s likely to be worth your time, too. Aiophe Donavan of Crooked Still offers quite a comment.

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers of course need no introduction to readers of this blog. Simply put, we believe this group is among the premier bluegrass bands in the nation. As their national recognition increases, they have lit up audiences from Yakima Washington to Myrtle Beach. No longer a regional band, the Gibsons originated in Ellenburg Depot, NY, only a few miles south of the Canadian border, but their characteristic brother harmonies and very strong instrumental support are without peer. Watch Eric Gibson, who is one of the few lead singers who picks effectively while singing. He has yet to receive adequate recognition for his fine banjo work. Listen to brother Leigh, whose voice blends with Eric’s as only brothers can. Both brothers write wonderful songs and their background and taste has led them to create new bluegrass sounds from classic country and rock and roll. Bassist Mike Barber, mandolin player Rick Hayes, and fiddler Clayton Campbell add depth and taste to this superior band. The variety of their sounds, harmonies, and keys takes them beyond bluegrass while never straying very far from their roots.

A huge revelation that comes almost every time we attend a local festival is the reminder that there are so many fine bluegrass bands around. While people think of New York as urban and ethnic, the state is home to many bands rooted in country and bluegrass music. These bands are well-represented at the Fox Family Festival.

Local bands include The Atkinson Family, whose delightful music, much of it written by father Dick ]Atkinson, combines country and bluegrass with a northern New York tone that fits right in here. His song about losing the farm should be a classic. The review in Bluegrass Unlimited noted, “Tearin’ Up the Line is a stellar production that will surely generate many new friends for the group.”

The Dalaney Brothers describe themselves as a contemporary bluegrass band that has played around New York State for the past 25 years. Over the years, they have recorded five albums. Recently they replaced two longtime members for medical reasons. The New York Times named Full Spectrum as one of the top ten local releases in 2000.

Sweet Cider describes itself as “ rooted in vocal harmony, attention to arrangement and original material. They now perform their own style of acoustic music with that ever-present bluegrass flavor. The Northeast Country Music Association has named them CMA bluegrass band of the year several times, and they have been inducted into the NE CMA hall of fame as well as receiving other awards. They hail from Rotterdam, NY along the NY Thruway.

Miller’s Crossing is a Long Island bluegrass band whose sound, according to the cuts on their web site, is traditional southern. Their lead vocalist has a pleasant voice and instrumentals are strong. “Miller’s crossing prides itself on the original material eachmember brings to the band’s repertoire. They strive to play bluegrass music the way they feel it, and the result is a fesh outlook on the music while not getting to far away from its roots.” The McCarthy/Paisley Band from Elbridge, NY advertises itself as featuring traditional Americana and contemporary folk music.

Off the Wall’s entry at ibluegrass says, “Blending folk, bluegrass and traditional country into a unique, no frills sound that lends itself to the works of John Prine, Guy Clark, Tim O’Brien and the Seldom Scene, as well as the works of more obscure songwriters. Add to that, strong vocals and tight harmonies, you have the makings of enjoyable music that tells the story of lifes journey.” They come from central New York.

Bill Knowlton and Lisa Husted will emcee. Tickets are $75.00 for the entire festival, including rough camping. Day passes are $20.00 for Thursday, $30.00 a day for Friday and Saturday, and $15.00 for Sunday. Gates open for camping on a first come, first served basis at 10:00 AM on Wednesday and there is no reserving of spaces for others. A dump station and showers are available nearby, but there are no amenities for campers on the site. This festival has one of the most interesting and varied programs for young people of any bluegrass event, showing their interest in and concern for children’s enjoyment and providing alternatives for parents wishing to give their children a good time. For additional information, check out the Fox Family Bluegrass Festival’s web site.

Some pictures for this post were taken from band web sites. I will remove them immediately upon request.



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