In celebration of its 10th year, DelFest has assembled an All-Star roster for its annual Memorial Day Weekend extravaganza in Cumberland, Maryland. This year’s lineup is topped by the Trey Anastasio Band, Govt Mule, the Travelin’s McCoury’s featuring Dierks Bentley, Leftover Salmon, Railroad Earth, and Bela Fleck & Chris Thile, is easily one of the best festival schedules around. Throw in namesake Del McCoury’s four sets over the weekend (which includes the traditional festival opening “soundcheck” set, and a guest laden spot which will feature Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys, Jon Fishman from Phish, the Preservation Hall Horns from New Orleans, and Ronnie Bowman) and the guarantee that Del will sit in with what seems like every band throughout the weekend and you would be hard pressed to find a better four days of music over Memorial Day Weekend this year. Continue reading DelFest Preview 2016, preparing to celebrate 10 years→
The last few years have been mighty good for string bands. There has an been an outbreak of younger, progressive bands mining the rich vein of bluegrass and a renaissance of traditional legends releasing some of the best albums of their long, rich careers. This has all combined to create a great time to be into bluegrass, string-band, and old-timey music. Continue reading Mountain Ride: Time to Roll→
A pair of intimate shows exhibit the range and power of bluegrass duo, Blake & Groves. Honest Tune was there for both of them.
Words/ Photos: Jake Cudek
Blake & Groves
The Kitchen Sink Studio
Santa Fe, NM
Blake & Groves is a traditional bluegrass duo comprised of Greg Blake and KC Groves. West Virginia native, Greg Blake is an inspiration, as his vocal resonance and stringed performance echo with “that drawl” that pulls in anyone who is looking for the authentic musicality of the old school. Partner, KC Groves, founding member of the all-girl, old-timey, bluegrass band Uncle Earl, is certainly nothing to scoff at either. Switching between mandolin and guitar, while balancing out the high end to the low tone of Blake, this bluegrass girl represents the power and authority that reflects her genuine passion for the genre.
Billed as “The Blue Grass and Green Chilies” tour, these two powerhouses hit the Southwest for the better part of November, bringing with them their brand of story-telling traditional bluegrass, all the while looking for that elusive, magical ingredient Appalachia players of yore probably never tasted: Green Chilies.
One of the earlier stops in the Land of Enchantment was the newly revamped Kitchen Sink Studios. Long-time producer and musician, Jono Manson, who has worked with the likes of Blues Traveler, Warren Haynes, Pete Seeger and a plethora of who’s who in the entertainment industries of both music and film, operates this space and offers a unique opportunity for artists. By creating a space for musicians to both perform in front of an in-studio audience while simultaneously producing a recording session for future use, his vision reflects his love for music as an experience, not just an end product. As show time drew near, Manson left his perch at the controls and entered the performance space, explaining his vision and a few parameters for the evening’s presentation, specifically reminding attendees of the documentary aspect as he pointed to the various microphones strategically placed about the room. After his brief reminder of the rules for the night, he introduced the opener for the night, Zikey and The Condor.
These two young, talented lads, surprisingly, needed no time to warm up, as they jumped right in, unintimidated, displaying their chops on banjo and fiddle, respectively, laying out some impressive originals that had even the distinguished, and discerning audience members bobbing their heads. Of note was the fact that they incorporated tunes, both original and covered, which reflected their appreciation and respect for the generations of players who preceded their role in the new school. At the close of their set, they thanked the crowd and again thanked their patriarch, Manson, who, by their own admission, had produced their first album for free.
After a short intermission, Manson again returned to the stage and ushered in the main event of the night, Blake & Groves. At this point, instead of immediately starting up, both members took a little time to give their own personal history about the man at the board, expressing warm accounts of recording and sharing creative inspiration over years of interaction. The resounding applause that followed showed that those in attendance had gleaned an insightful passage into the nature of this man and his endeavor to foster music, not money.
Opening their set with Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” instant recognition and smiles could be seen throughout the room. Exchanging lines and taking their time showed that these two were here to play and by the focus of those seated, they were there to listen. Continuing with the traditional canon, The Carter Family’s “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” presented its tale of the loss of love and tragedy and these two did it justice every step of the way.
Before starting the next tune, Groves asked for a little audience participation in two forms. First, she revealed that the moniker of their current tour was the “Blue Grass Green Chilies Tour” and at all stops on the journey they had requested that their audiences yell out the best place for green chilies in their locale. New Mexicans aren’t shy about their chilie verde appreciation, so as one might expect, there were multiple shout outs, both congruous and opposing. Luckily no brawls broke out. The second request came in the form of a sing-along invitation. Although the title was not revealed, Groves assured the audience that they would know what to say when the time was right. “New Mexico,” a tune penned by Groves, is an easy-going number in structure, which gives way to the power of the vocal abilities of Blake as the softness of Groves provides balance, creating a moment that left these locals smiling, as they joined in on the chorus.
“Hey Porter,” a Blake original, with its high stepping pace, moved many in the crowd to dance as much as they could in their seats, and again showed Blake’s ability to conjure the old-time cornerstone emotion of great bluegrass, both in vocals and playing, as Groves matched note for note.
“Northern Lights” is a song Groves wrote about her first experience seeing this amazing phenomenon in her home state of Michigan as an adolescent. As she explains, this tune was originally composed as a reminder of how it made her feel to see such a sight, but since then, has taken on a broader meaning. A culmination of those experiences that move people viscerally. This lilting number delivered both in strum and story.
Moving through fifteen songs, the talents of these two artists was apparent from the start and did not let up. They are a perfect balance to each other, and their ability to modulate between fast tracks and slow ballads reflects their love of the genre, knowing the tunes, not just playing them. The tales that are woven between songs reveal a history that is genuine and make this partnership authentic, a demonstration that continues on off stage. As with any music, when a number is played with intimate appreciation, the songs almost sing themselves and seeing this duo bring the traditional to life reminds that this is a living language and whether new school or old school, grade “A” is the same.
Closing out the night, Blake & Groves welcomed Zikey and The Condor back to the stage for a shared instrumental breakdown that produced smiles amid the quartet. There were no missed strides or confusion, each stepping up in perfect time to present their contribution, rousing each other as the joyful tune swirled. In completion, the seat-anchored audience stood and gave the four players their just desserts.
Blake & Groves
Following The Kitchen Sink Studio gig, the group made their way south to the metropolitan city of Albuquerque for a private house concert. This sort of gig is often bypassed by many due to the perception that the magic is lost without a stage or production that a proper venue holds. It can be easily argued that the inception of the musical experience evolved from such surroundings as these and is what has been the elemental foundation for roots music like bluegrass. The familial space warmly invites the listener and the player in, while blurring the lines between the two, as would be the result of this very performance.
Arriving, the homeowner welcomed the two into his abode with refreshments and salutations. Examining the room, its three rows of chairs, empty couch, and standing room towards the back, Groves inquired as to how many he expected to attend, with the proprietor acknowledging that he had no idea and it may turn out to be, in fact, no one. Undaunted by this news, Groves retained her smile and, joined by Blake, retired to their chairs to tune and go over the evening’s set list. Mid-preparation, a tall, thin man, case in hand, entered and acknowledged the two seated. From their expression it was evident that they knew this newcomer. Ezra Bussmann was his name, and, opening his larger than normal hard case, mando and fiddle were his game, the two housed side by side in red velvet. When asked how these folks new each other, Groves replied that Bussmann was one of her favorite people to make music with and that his father was “one helluva mando builder.” It was easy to see that music was in this man’s blood and added an element that would make this night differ significantly from the studio performance.
As it turned out, this was not just a simple living room show, but rather a celebration of the 40th birthday of Matt, the man whose family had opened their house to friend and stranger alike for the special occasion. As time pressed on, slowly but surely, a consistent stream of people arrived, carrying adult elixirs, food, and in some cases children, and soon the gig space filled and then spilled over into the auxiliary area of the backyard, where additional amplification, fire pit, and quintessential hay bales had been set up. Conversations could be easily overheard and it became obvious that many were strangers too each other, but were connected unknowingly by the man whose birthday was being celebrated.
Starting before sunset, the trio, Blake, Groves, and Bussmann, took to the head of the room and, in classic humility and mannered address, thanked Matt and his family for opening up their home and wished him “feliz cumpleanos” before getting started, just as the night before, with the invocation of Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling”. Also like the previous evening, recognition was instantaneous and quickly filled the few remaining seats and drove others to the standing room area. This version differed significantly, as the group, now three, provided extra room for the fiddler to stand out. The contingency of smokers and talkers graciously remained outside, enjoying the unseen performance from the backyard.
Using the set list produced from the Santa Fe performance as a framework, many of the tunes were repeated, but only in selection. The instrumental sections were extended and no one seemed hurried to get to the next piece. The contributions by Bussmann were tasteful and appropriate and demonstrated his discerning ear. The open conversation between the three even led to his taking turns at being a member of audience, enjoying the craft of his long-standing friends. It was refreshing to see that Blake & Groves didn’t rely on a canned experience when presenting their show. This was evident by their ability to shift to a looser format and execution. Although there was some overlap, many of the shared stories differed from the night prior. In keeping with the theme of their tour, they did however take the time to inquire as to the best green chilie location in the Duke City, again followed by a discorded response. The laid back atmosphere produced more conversation than one-sided accounts between the intimate setting of performer and listener, as the line of distinction disintegrated further.
Before closing out the set, Groves informed the audience that they would be returning for another and that for all the guests who had brought their own instruments, the opportunity for a friendly jam would close out the night. This declaration brought many of those who had been glued to their seats for the entirety of the set huge smiles.
With that, Blake took control of the vocal helm, and called out to the neighboring county with “Freeborn Man.” Lung-busting, extended voluminous vocals are the centerpiece of this tune and sets Blake in the light of more myth than man. By the response of the spectators, everyone was fully encapsulated in this moment of power and awe, which was accentuated by the close quarters.
Dissolving into the crowd, both Blake and Groves took time to catch up with many in attendance. One man claimed that he had been seeing the two of them perform for nearly twenty years and by his detailed recollection, the obviousness of his truth stunned the two in humility and appreciation. There were also others who had found their way and in one way or another were connected to these players independently, producing genuine surprise and exhilaration, like running into old friends on a random street in a forlorn town.
Satiated with refreshment, both physically and emotionally, the trio returned to the helm, delivering the continued conveyance of song and spirit, pulling again from their crafted canon and the old school textbook, including “Salt Creek,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” At this point, this was a room of people enjoying company and any disassociation had been dissolved. This was not a one sided perception, as the band began to take requests, further cultivating the sense of musical family. Although not requested, the band led the room through the most well-known cover of the night, John Denver’s “Country Roads.” This brought everyone together, singing the chorus in rollicking unison. Covering Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” satiated many a Dead Head in the room. This final act transitioned effortlessly into the family jam, as cases were opened and all sorts of implements were tuned and prepared. At this point, the role of headliner shifted from Blake & Groves, sliding them into the participatory role, with the assembled crowd taking the lead, and reminding all of the great social power this music born from family picking event still carries to this day.
It’s Alright, Devotion, Elizabeth, Fishtails, Fill It Up Again, Yield, Deconstruction, Making Promises, Let It Be Me, Go, Watershed, Moment of Forgiveness, Come A Long Way, Rise of the Black Messiah, Train Inside, Get Out The Map, Shame On You, Cortez the Killer, Galileo
Encore: Closer To Fine
One of the most politically and socially extroverted groups of the last three decades, The Indigo Girls graced the stage of the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico in front of a sold out, excited crowd. This endeavor was an effort to raise support for the Santa Fe Human Society and further reflected the conscious outlook of the duo. Armed with two microphones, sixteen stringed instruments, and powerful voices, the contingent of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers delivered twenty-one songs over a ninety-minute set that entertained, inspired, and informed the crowd. The band’s passion has fueled their ride, not as rock stars, but as fellow humans with a common message.
Taking the stage, the ladies entered the room, acoustics in hand, and were welcomed by deafening applause, accompanied by many calling out “thank you” and words of adoration. Wide smiled, the band launched into the driving upbeat tempo of “It’s Alright,” with Ray and Saliers exchanging leads on vocals and obviously feeling good about the space, as they continued to beam at each other and out into the darkened hall.
“Devotion,” a soft and intricate tune with its droning affect and blended harmonies, played upon those chords that often move people to tears. Looking around the room, many were looking into the windows of their partners in that apparent state.
“Elizabeth,” off of their latest release, 2015’s One Lost Day, found Saliers taking lead vocals, giving the audience the first taste of the fact that her voice had not diminished with time and is as rich as it had ever been. Pulling from the same release, Ray commanded the darker tune “Fishtails,” and saw the two songstresses switch to electric instruments, providing the first glimpse at Saliers’ prowess on electric banjo. Both these tunes also revealed that there was no rusty nails in the creative box that has housed their wordsmithing capabilities, providing anecdotes of connective insight.
Returning to acoustic instrumentation, “Fill It Up Again,” was quickly recognized by the crowd and gave way to the first full sing along exchange of the evening. Fueled by more crowd interaction, familial shout outs abounded to the stage and were warmly welcomed by Ray and Saliers, as they returned with genuine thanks and warm expressions.
“Yield” was laid down by the rhythmic mandolin stylings of Ray as Saliers took the opportunity for intricate finger picking, showing her abilities at both tempo and lead.
Turning to the slow number, “Deconstruction,” it was apparent that the audience was truly there to listen and appreciate, as no one uttered an out of turn word, and the ladies performed this emotional piece against the silence of the theater.
“Go,” aka “The Sufferagate Song,” was inspired by the American writer of the proletarian movement of the 1930s, Meridel Le Sueur, and had a very different feel than the other song choices of the night. Bordering on acoustic punk, in both verve and composition, this one was belted out with fierceness.
One of their earlier tunes, “Watershed,” gave way to another sing along with the audience and reminded many of the early material that had wrapped them in the warm tapestry woven by these creative individuals.
“Rise of the Black Messiah,” saw an invitation to the group’s guitar tech, Justin Bricco, to accompany them on acoustic guitar, during which Saliers slung on her red electric and Ray threw down on vocals and mando rifts. This driving tune showed again the duo’s ability to modulate between lilting folk and hard driving rock. Saliers’ soloing was of particular note as she bent notes and nailed her mark, eyes shut, lost in her delivery.
Following the locomotion of “Black Messiah,” Saliers took the attentive passengers for a ride on the “Train Inside,” a tune off of her first-ever, upcoming solo album. Performing in solitude, she progressed in an unhurried fashion through her own story telling of love while coordinating her incredible ability for emotional singing and timed digitation. Warm exuberance was doled out, as a smiling Saliers received it with emotional appreciation, thanking the crowd for the reassurance towards her first impending independent outing.
Firing the engine back up to close out the evening on a high note, the two pulled from the older catalog with a one-two punch of “Get Out The Map,” and “Shame On You,” bringing more resounding cheers from the audience and continuing the spirited sing-alongs that had dotted the evening.
The only cover of the show came in the form of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” and was appreciated by all, not only in message and performance, but also in recognition that, like this evening’s heralds, the author had also recently taken up his instrument in standing with the native peoples in protest of the pipeline in the North.
Closing the set, “Galileo,” reared his familiar head, and brought smiles to all in attendance. As was to be expected, this was one of the biggest sing along and multitudes could be seen hugging and exchanging the verses to one another.
The troubadours left the stage to a standing ovation that continued past their return, as they stood there humbly basking in the appreciation to a deafening cacophony of bliss, a creation of their own inspiration. As the crowd settled, they gave thanks, wished all hope for the future, and recommended another moment of unity in song, starting up “Closer To Fine.” The recognition of the opening chords drove many, whom had respectively remained settled for this theater show, from their seats to dance and sing face to face with the vessels that had been part of their personal dialogues of perseverance and self belief.
With the recent turn in political events, one would think the show would be riddled with zealous rallying over the President-Elect, but refreshingly, there were only two references, and neither were filled with rhetoric indulgence. Instead, the message from these powerful women seemed not to be contained in the ethos of this modern time alone, but more so an applicable testament for any generation to come. Equality, compassion, and understanding continue to resound in their speech as well as their song, and the crowd was thoroughly pulled in by their candor and authenticity.
Although one would expect continuity in the duo after thirty years of performances, this group still delivers far past that expectation. With freshness and obvious enjoyment, both in each other’s company and in their place on stage, there is a tangible “x-factor” that has the ability to move anyone within earshot. The application of the musicality, harmonies, and script has the power to take simple songs and immerse the listener in such an experience that it almost seems as though time is suspended, leaving only surprise that the moment passed has been of such short duration. The fact that they also believe in what they stand for adds an infinite depth to the wellspring that has, for so many, fed personal pursuits of equality, justice, and the optimism for new days as individuals and as community. Participating in the Indigo Girl’s experience is a shared one at its root and this was signified by the continual, open dialogue that ensued over the evening from both sides of the stage.
Before the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, along with friends like Robert Hunter, Sandy Rothman, and David Nelson were just folkies picking tunes in coffee-houses in Palo Alto and working on their bluegrass chops. Garcia, Hunter, and Nelson, along with Ken Frankel, and Norm Van Maastricht soon would form the Hart Valley Drifters, an acoustic band that played old-timey and bluegrass style songs. In 1962 the group woud record a session for Stanford University’s KZSU program Folk Time.
For the first time, this recording, the earliest known studio recording by Jerry Garcia will be released on November 11 through Round Records/ATO Records. The lost session resided in a closet for nearly 50 years before the reels were unearthed in 2008 by former Stanford student Ted Claire, who produced and recorded the original session.
The Hart Valley Drifters featured a 20-year old Garcia on lead vocals, banjo and guitar, Hunter on bass, Nelson on guitar, Frankel on banjo, fiddle and guitar and Van Maastricht on dobro. Years before Garcia and Hunter would form an iconic songwriting partnership, and Nelson would cofound New Riders of the Purple Sage, the three crafted soaring three-part vocal harmonies in the tradition of some of their American folk and bluegrass heroes. Around this time, Garcia had been educating himself on American folk and bluegrass tradition. After learning guitar and banjo, he became a self-taught multi-instrumentalist adding, mandolin, autoharp and fiddle to his repertoire.
The Hart Valley Drifters recorded spirited renditions of traditionals such as, “Roving Gambler”. “Standing In The Need of Prayer”, “Cripple Creek” as well as the Ralph Stanley composition “Clinch Mountain Backstep” and Earl Scruggs’ “Ground Speed” and “Flint Hill Special”. The session ends with a soulful version of the Walter Jacobs Vinson/Lonnie Carter classic “Sitting On Top Of The World”, which Garcia eventually evolved into the lively rendition that would wind up on the Grateful Dead’s debut album five years later. (See track listing below)
Taking place at Ruins Park in Glen Rock, PA, the 2nd Annual Great Folkgrasss Happenstance Festival highlighted some of the mid-Atlantic’s best and most exciting, upcoming bluegrass and folk bands in one of the most unique locations every chosen to host a festival. Ruins Park is the re-purposed ruins of the historic Enterprise Manufacturing Company’s warehouse. Over the years the historic warehouse deteriorated into a concrete shell. In 2013 in it was transformed into an art and music venue. The walls are continually transformed with every evolving art and murals that decorate the building’s wall. The space is unique in that portions of structure remain, providing a sheltered enclosure that is still open-air. The stages have been built from pieces of the walls that have crumbled down and been re-purposed to create two performances stages.
The Great Folkgrass Happenstance Festival uses this unique space to showcase some of the best regional acts throughout the day including Pennsylvania bands, Colebroook Road and Mountain Ride and Baltimore acts The Dirty Grass Players and the day’s headliner Caleb Stine. Both Colebrook Road and Mountain Ride have seen their profile’s grow dramatically over the past year with a series of increasingly more prestigious shows. Colebrook Road has been touring steadily and was selected to be part of the lineup for the International Bluegrass Music Association award winning Charm City Bluegrass Festival in April. Mountain Ride is a hard-hitting bluegrass band from western Pennsylvania who perfectly straddles that dynamic jamgrass sound while still staying true to the music’s roots. They have recently been tapped by current jamgrass darlings, Cabinet, to be part of their New Year’s Eve celebration at the TLA in Philadelphia. Baltimore based the Dirty Grass Players is another band who is starting to find their stride, and whose name will soon be a regular part of shows and festivals across the country. The debut album is slated for early next year and will be their coming out party to a much wider audience.
The festival headliner, Caleb Stine, is a longtime Baltimore stalwart, who is perhaps the most criminally overlooked, but most stunningly powerful songwriter around. His music lives in the realm of Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons, by way of a trip to the mountains to visit Ola Belle Reed. He is an engaging performer who pulls everyone in with his highly intense and personal sets that make even those in the back feel like they are having a personal conversation with him. This personal touch even included a repeating his song “Butter” at the request of six-year old who was dancing in front of the stage the whole set and wanted to hear the song again because it was his, “favorite!”
The unique personality of Ruins Park and the laid back feel fostered by the crowd created a welcoming, community, atmosphere in which the music truly never stopped. Ruins Park has two stages, both of which are built from re-purposed sections of the wall that have fallen down. The larger, main stage stands firmly at one end, while a smaller stage is just off the side. During the brief downtime while band’s changed on the main stage, open jams were held on the side stage. Anyone was welcome to join, and it was not uncommon to see band members who had just finished playing wander over and join in with the rollicking, open jam taking place.
It is great in this day and age, when there are seemingly mega festivals every day of the year, that find you camped miles from the stage and forced to endure long waits and walks between stages, to still be able to find festivals like the Great Folkgrass Happenstance, that is part of the fabric of its community, and lets that spirit of the community permeate the day, creating an event that allows you to discover new music, new art, and new friends.
Set to take place July 8-10 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD, the Inaugural Merryland Music Festival looks to carry on the long tradition of excellence of the All Good Festival which announced it would be retiring after last year’s edition.
Presented by All Good Presents, Merryland will feature seventeen bands over two days, that will take advantage of Merriweather’s new state of the art turntable stage and have no overlapping sets.
The festivities will get going Friday July 8 with a pair of kick-off concerts, Papadiso with ELM at Baltimore’s Ram Heads Live and the Soul Rebel’s with People’s Blues of Richmond at the 9:30 Club.
Day one at Merriweather will be headlined by two sets from the String Cheese Incident and also feature sets from Lotus, Stephen Marley, Yonder Mountain String Band, Karl Denson, Tauk, Protojoe, and ELM. Day two will find Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals headling with Grace Potter, Greensky Bluegrass, Shakey Graves, Langhorne Slim, Nahko & the Medicine for the People, Pigeons Playing Ping-Pong, Turkuaz, and the Cris Jacobs Band rounding out the rest of the day. There will also be a very special late-night show July 9 at the 9:30 Club hosted by Kung Fu and Featuring Karl Denson along with many special guests.
Doors will open each day at noon with the first set of music getting going at 1:00pm and wrapping up at 11:00pm. Weekend and single day tickets can be purchased here.