Kinfolk Celebration 2014 Our friends in the Yonder Mountain String Band are throwing one hell of a party at Planet Bluegrass in a couple of weeks! With the bands regular special guests Jake Joliff and the fiery Allie Kral already making mad sparks with Adam, Ben and Dave they’re joined by super stars like John Bell of Widespread Panic, Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter of the Travelin’ McCourys, Drew Emmitt and even the Patron Saint of Festivals Vince Herman. A once in a life time set of music and mayhem is on it’s way! With full sets by The Travelin’ McCourys, Head For The Hills and the up and coming Gipsy Moon the fun will run till the wee hours of the night. Tickets and information available HERE
Yonder Mountain String Band
w/ The Travelinâ€™ McCourys
February 15, 2014
The Orpheum Theatre
In late January, Yonder Mountain String Band mandolinist Jeff Austin had a baby girl. The band is very excited for him – of course! – but as they say: the show must go on. So Yonder announced a tour with opening act, the Travelinâ€™ McCourys. Not a bad get for an opener. Throughout the 17 dates they have been doing together without Austin, Ronnie McCoury has been filling in on mandolin. And in case that wasnâ€™t enough, Jason Carter has been adding his world-renowned fiddle skills to the mix.
The Orpheum Theatre, Madisonâ€™s most iconic, has a nearly 100-year history. In recent years, it has faced fires and foreclosure, but on February 15th, the line to enter stretched around the block.
The Travelinâ€™ McCourys took the stage promptly at eight and came out scorching. They kicked off their set with Ronnie singing lead on â€œWhy Did You Wander,â€ and â€œThanks A Lot.â€ They then turned the mic over to Carter, who stepped up and sang â€œWhat a Waste,â€ a song imploring the listener not to waste any of their precious corn liquor.
Then it was five-string master Robbie McCouryâ€™s turn and the band stepped back from the mics and let their instruments do the talking. Robbie brought the song in and threw it over to their guitarist for the tour, Cody Kilby, and he just threw it right back. Kilby plays guitar full time with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, but he has been lending his immense talents to this tour.Â He is an immensely talented multi-instrumentalist who gives whole new meaning to flatpicking. While he can run fiddle tunes with the best of them, he doesnâ€™t limit himself to tradition. Utilizing chords that would be more expected from Wes Montgomery than Lester Flatt, he tore through changes with a flair not often seen in a traditional bluegrass set. Not to be outdone, Robbie put down his five-string banjo and picked up an electric, replete with fuzz and distortion, and tore into it. After the song, Ronnie joked that we had just been listening to Robbieâ€™s â€œ5-String Flame Thrower.â€Â A well-deserved moniker.
Bassist Alan Bartram crooned, â€œMessed Up Just Right,â€ the love song he wrote about taking his wife out on the town. Ronnie gave us a few more with his high lonesome sound, including Bill Monroeâ€™s â€œBody and Soul.â€ Then Carter let his country gold voice shine on Doc Watsonâ€™s â€œSouthboundâ€ and Alan led the boys through Tony Riceâ€™s â€œOld Train.â€ They finished out the set with Dylanâ€™s â€œWalk Out in the Rain.â€ With promises that Ronnie and Jason would be right back, they thanked the packed crowd and exited stage right.
Yonder took the stage and bassist Ben Kaufman immediately stepped up to the mic to talk about how much he loved Madison. The band then lit into â€œI Know You Rider.â€Â With sly smile banjoist Dave Johnston then asked if we would all be his valentine and took us through â€œRipcord Blues.â€Â Moving through the band, guitarist Adam Aijala led â€œAll the Timeâ€ and then Kaufman sang â€œNew Deal Train,â€ which he referred to as his protest song. Aijala added his harmonica chops to the track, contributing to its depression-era flavor. The song ended, and without giving the crowd a moment to reflect, Kaufman set up a deep and jazzy bass lead-in to â€œFreeborn Man,â€ sung by Ronnie.
Then the band called out Robbie and Kilby of the Travelinâ€™ McCourys, as well as their friend Darren Shumaker, who brought another mandolin into the mix. On stage there was one bass, one fiddle, two banjos, two guitars, two mandolin players and a whole lot of bluegrass power.
Kaufman asked anyone on the stage without a Grammy to please raise their hands. Quite a few remained on their instruments. The McCourys are fresh off a Grammy win (with father and bandleader Del McCoury) for Bluegrass Album of the Year. Kilby is also a Grammy-winning musician. While losing a key member of your band, even for a few weeks, is never ideal it always helps when you have world class, Grammy-winning musicians ready to step in and help you power through. The eight of them plowed through â€œPass This Way.â€ Trading solos and feeding off of each other, the set closer went on for close to half an hour.
It had been two great sets of music and â€œPass This Wayâ€ could easily have served as a great end to a great show. But Kaufman let us know that they were going to take a quick break and then, he promised, there would be more of the same and lots of it!
And he meant it. The next set lasted over two hours. It opened with â€œMy Galâ€ into â€œNo Expectations.â€ They did â€œLandfall,â€ a new Aijala tune and then invited up Bartram, one of Kaufmanâ€™s â€œfavorite peopleâ€ to share bass duties on â€œBlack Sheep.â€
Perhaps inspired by Robbieâ€™s 5-string flame thrower earlier in the night, Aijala kicked on his distortion pedal and led the band through a very short, but very powerful, punk rock number. The whole thing was about a minute long, but showed a different side to the bandâ€™s talents.
Their punk rock moment turned out to be just an appetizer for a set that was about to jump very outside the bluegrass box. They ripped into a prog-rock tinged â€œDogs,â€ by Pink Floyd. The song ebbed and flowed, it turned and shook without warning, it descended into darkness, only to be brought back with a guitar riff or a mandolin run.
The band re-entered the box – briefly – as Johnston sang the more traditional â€œGoing to the Races.â€ Then they called their friends back out and the eight-headed bluegrass machine deconstructed Todd Snyderâ€™s â€œSideshow Blues,â€ in ways that Mr. Snyder probably couldnâ€™t have imagined, but surely would have loved.
â€œDogsâ€ and â€œSideshowâ€ were each close to a half an hour. It almost seemed hard to imagine an encore could follow. Rather than try to outdo themselves, they took us to a quieter, more introspective place with â€œReuben and Cherise.â€
Kaufman thanked the crowd for braving the weather – itâ€™s February in Wisconsin! He recognized that while the single-digit temperature might not slow this audience down, he admitted that it was a lot for the bands to handle. Perhaps it was this reluctance that earned the crowd one final song for the night: â€œLet Me Fall.â€
Follow Josh Klemons on twitter @jlemonsk
When writing reviews you are always advised to not write in the first person as you are supposed to be objective and not let personal feelings interfere with the critique of the event, album, or music at hand. But sometimes the best way to truly express how special something was is through your own personal feelings. Strings & Sol 2013 was one of those events.
The past decade has seen an explosion in the number of music related festivals; seemingly every plot of land with the room to throw up a stage and let people camp has hosted a festival at some point in the past ten years. The new hot-trend lately has been the advent of the destination festival. Group a couple of like-minded bands together and find some exotic location at a resort that is willing to host a horde of music fans looking to get away from the cold-weather of the winter months and boogie their butts off on the beach. Then give it some kind of nifty play-on words name like Mayan Holidaze, Strings & Sol, or One Big Holiday – and viola you have a destination festival. Now with that being said, one would be a fool to think that is all that it takes to start one of these festivals. The logistics and planning that goes into an event like Strings & Sols must be staggering. And to pull it off as flawlessly as the folks at Strings & Sol did is even that much more impressive. But it is not simply great planning, cool locations, and good weather that make people drop $1000s and head out of the country for a week. There has to be something more.
It would be easy to sum up how amazing an experience Strings & Sol 2013 was in a few sentences. It was in Mexico. The resort was unbelievable. The stage was set-up on the beach which allowed bare-foot dancing in the white sand while the waves gently rolled in next to you. Leftover Salmon, as did the other four bands that were present – Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, and Keller Williams & the Traveling McCourys – killed it all weekend with help from Little Feat’s Billy Payne who was a surprise guest for the festival. But that would not do justice to the personal experience it was. For people to make such a trip there is something more that draws people.
My wife and I got married a few months back. Strings & Sol ended up being a belated honeymoon for us. One our favorite songs is Yonder Mountain String Band’s “Midwest Gospel Radio.” It is a beautiful piece of music that meant so much to us we used it extensively at our wedding. It is a song that no matter when we hear it brings goose-bumps and the memory of the wedding rushing back. Needless to say it is a bit special to us. On the flight down from our home in Baltimore to Mexico my wife asked me if she thought Yonder might play “Midwest Gospel Radio,” at some point. With the confidence of the set list coinsurer that I think I am, I answered, “I don’t know, they don’t play it that much so I would not count on it.” Friday afternoon during Yonder’s sunset show, I had left to grab a couple of drinks by the pool bar. I know what you are thinking, “Why would you leave?” In my defense the pool was mere steps away from the beach, you could still hear the music from the stage, and I couldn’t find a waiter on the beach (yes, there were waiters on the beach delivering drinks during the music. I know how awesome). As I waited for my cerveza and wife’s mudslide, I heard the first few simple gorgeous notes of “Midwest Gospel Radio.” I grabbed my drinks and sprinted back towards the beach not wanting to miss this moment. With drinks in hand I hurdled the small set of bushes between the pool and the walkway to the beach. I shimmed my way through the crowd and made it to my wife whose smile was lighting up the whole beach. She reminded me of my doubt in hearing this song, and then added “this just made my trip.” The addition of Billy Payne on keys and Railroad Earth’s Andy Goessling on saxophone only served to bring the song to life that much more. And it was in that moment, as we stood there with goose-bumps on arms, that the real reason that people travel such lengths to go to events like this; the music. It is the music and the deep connections we build with the bands and songs. It is the power to hear a song and be instantly transported back to some living changing event. It is ability to have every memory you have flood back through the simple sound of a couple of chords.
It would probably be safe to say that not everyone on the beach during “Midwest Gospel Radio” had the same reaction as us. But it can probably be said that all who attended Strings & Sol found their own personal moment of music that reminded them why they came all this way to see some bands play some tunes. And at Strings & Sol this year there were plenty of them.Â It might have been getting to hear Leftover Salmon blast through a couple of Little Feat tunes, in “Fat Man in the Bathtub” and “Dixie Chicken,” as Billy Payne sat in with the band. It could have the appropriate festival opener of James Taylor’s “Mexico” by Greensky Bluegrass. It could have been the way Keller Williams and the Traveling McCourys played through a raging rainstorm that cut short their set to then quickly move inside to the lobby bar and pick up exactly where they had left off in “Mullet Cut.” Maybe it was the simpler things that stirred your soul like the playful afternoon session of Name That Tune Bingo at the pool with Keller Williams, Vince Herman, and his son Silas or the quiet intensity of the afternoon picking clinic with Ronnie McCoury and Railroad Earth’s Andy Goessling and John Skehan. Maybe it was the way your favorite band seemed to be enjoying the music being played even more than you. Looking over and catching Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt grooving on the beach during Yonder Mountain String Band’s afternoon set. Or seeing the guys from Greensky getting-down when every they were not on stage including a Mexican wrestling mask adorned Dave Bruzza holding court at the pool bar during the raging beauty of Railroad Earth’s transcendent headlining Friday night set that was a true highlight of the entire fest. Over the four days of music there were limitless moments that stood out. Some obvious for all to see, some like “Midwest Gospel Radio,” more personal and less obvious. But regardless of what your highlight was, Strings & Sol provided plenty of them.
The beauty of live music is the unexpectedness of it. The twist and turns a familiar song can take live on stage that grow even more hair-raising when a band brings guests on stage and allow them to do their own unique thing. Every festival seems to feature sit-ins, but at an event like Strings & Sol with the tightknit relationship’s that many of the band’s share when combined with the loose relaxed atmosphere lead to an abundance of guest appearances. There was the ubiquitous presence of unannounced guest Billy Payne who lent his touch to every band through the weekend. A surprise sit-in from Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins with Greensky Bluegrass during “Lose My Way” made it seem like anything was possible. It was a common occurrence to look to the stage and see fiddler Jason Carter, Ronnie McCoury, and Greensky’s Anders Beck jumping onstage to provide a couple of tasty links to the proceedings. There was the guest laden “Franklin’s Tower” during Leftover Salmon’s headlining set which included Billy Payne, Keller Williams, Ronnie McCoury, and Jason Carter which was a fifteen minute sensory overload. While it seemed everyone got in on the sit-in vibe of the event, the true MVP of the sit-in’s was Railroad Earth’s fiddler Tim Carbone who seemingly never left the stage throughout the entire festival. He was with Keller and the McCourys as they blasted through John Hartford’s “Vamp in the Middle,” just as he was onstage through most of Leftover Salmon’s shows. He also joined Yonder for a number of songs during their three shows including a healthy “Traffic Jam” > “Rag Doll” > “Traffic Jam.” He was even there late-night at the lobby bar as an impromptu picking-session sprang up with band mate Skehan and some of the contestants from the picking contest held early that day.
Regardless of what your moment was, you were sure to find one. And when you did, and you got those goose-bumps and you danced with your feet in the ocean and your smile lit up the beach you knew why you had come. It was not for the sun-kissed pool, or the all you could eat food, or all inclusive bar. No, it was none of that, it was quite simply for The music.
So heading in to Delfest this year there were two questions on everyone’s mind. First what would the weather bring? Would it be the Del Hail from 2009, wet and muddy conditions, or the blazing heat that seems to roll it to Delfest every year? It was none of the above as this year brought something never seen before at Delfest, un-seasonably cold weather. While it was possibly the driest Delfest has ever been, a brief rainstorm late Thursday afternoon, and a few sprinkles that same night during Leftover Salmon’s set being the only precipitation seen all weekend it was the cold that will be remembered weather wise this year. The days were generally comfortable and mild, but as soon as the sun set behind mountains, the temperature dipped to near record lows every night, reaching into the low 40s, high 30s most nights. Fortunately the cold temperatures did nothing to stifle the hot-picking on stage at night.
The second question revolved around the inclusion of the Trey Anastasio Band as a headliner. While there is no doubt of Anastasio’s love of bluegrass and there was palpable excitement leading up to the fest in anticipation about his set (actually two sets), there was some trepidation about the influence his addition might have on the family-friendly-easy-going nature that usually permeates Delfest crowds. The phrase “Please Don’t Wook Delfest” was bandied about quite a bit before the weekend, but it ended up being lot of worry over nothing. There may have a been a slight increase in crowd size, but whether that was due to a natural growth in the size of the fest or because of Trey was really a moot point as the same easy-going-laid back atmosphere that is so pervasive every year at Delfest was evident again. And since Anastasio’s set and appearance was so heavily discussed before the fest, it should be as equally discussed after. To sum up his set in as few words as possible, quite simply he killed it.
Anastasio’s two sets were fairly typical song selection wise for what he has been doing lately with his band. He pulled from all of his various solo albums, though his set this evening was weighted heavily with songs from his self-titled release playing, “Cayman Review,” “Last Tube”, “Drifting”, “Push on till the day”, and “Money, Love, & Change,” this evening. He included the obligatory Phish songs that are a regular part of the Trey Band rotation, “First Tube,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Sand”, and “Heavy Things.” The “Heavy Things” encore was particularly nasty with the inclusion of Ronnie McCoury’s mind-blowing mandolin work and the tasteful addition of Jason Carter on fiddler. The real highlight of the set was perhaps the worst kept secret of the weekend, the mid-2nd set sit-in of the Del McCoury Band. Rumors had been circulated in the weeks prior of a collaboration between the two. Anastasio in his trademark rambling-story-telling-style explained how he had gotten a copy of a Del McCoury album from the guys in Aquarium Rescue Unit back in the early 90s and was hooked since then. While onstage Del and Anastasio recounted their time playing together back at Phish’s Camp Oswego in 1999, before launching into a brief two song collaboration, “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” and “Beauty of My Dreams,” which was in the running for the most smile inducing song of the weekend.
As with every year at Delfest the McCoury family are perfect hosts, and Del and his two sons Ronnie and Rob seem to welcome almost every band to the festival by joining them onstage at some point. Del seemed to sit-in a little less frequently than he has in years past, but in addition to his four main-stage sets, an afternoon Masters of Bluegrass set, and the annual McCoury Family Jam, he still found time to join the headliners, Leftover Salmon, Trey Anastasio, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Yonder Mountain String Band for a couple of tunes each night. He also took to the stage with dobro master Jerry Douglas, and walked on with Keller Williams and the McCoury’s to sing his verse in “Bumper Sticker.” Younger brother and banjo picker Rob, while sitting in less than his Dad and brother, made the most of his limited guest spots, with his full set sit-in with the Rambling Rooks (Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby & Kenny Smith from the Lonesome River Band), a real Thursday treat.
The MVP of the McCoury family for the weekend and of the entire festival was hands down mandolinist Ronnie. Already a busy man as it was with his four appearances with The Del McCoury Band, a set with Keller & the McCoury’s, a late night set opening for Leftover Salmon with the Traveling McCoury’s, and a Saturday afternoon inclusion as part of the special one-off All-Star band of Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla, & Bales, Ronnie still found time and the energy to grace the stage with a variety of other bands countless times over the weekend. His set with Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla, and Bales was a nice surprise Saturday afternoon. Assembled by banjo picker Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) and including guitarist Bryan Sutton (Hot Rize), fiddler Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett Band), bassist Barry Bales (Allison Kraus & Union Station), and McCoury, the all-star collective blasted through a set through that pulled tunes from all of their vast repertoire’s.Â The set was a picker’s dream, highlighting some of the best young musicians in the bluegrass world. In addition to all his regularly scheduled sets, Ronnie was a ubiquitous present throughout the weekend, seemingly playing with every band that was at the festival. The phrase, “And will you please welcome to the stage, Ronnie McCoury,” just seemed to be how bands introduced every one of their songs all weekend, as it would then be followed by Ronnie ambling on stage to rip through yet a mind-bending mandolin solo. Listing all the bands who he sat in with would be akin to listing all the bands that were at Delfest. Late night, mid-day, main stage, music hall, it did not matter Ronnie was there. He was not the only musician in Cumberland, it only seemed like it.
As usual the Delfest line-up was stocked with classic legendary bluegrass musicians as well as younger emerging stars. One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was the Masters of Bluegrass, or as Del called them, The Mob. Comprised of Del on guitar and vocals, his brother Jerry McCoury on bass, JD Crowe on banjo, Bobby Osborne on mandolin, and Bobby Hicks on fiddle, The Mob is truly an once-in-a-lifetime line-up of living legends who can all trace theirÂ roots back to the earliest days of bluegrass. They all joined Del on Saturday night for a brief main-stage appearance that was a showcase for their unparalleled talent. But it was their Sunday afternoon set in the music hall then exemplified their true greatness. Playing without the constraints of time inside the spacious music hall. (Who is going to tell you to wrap it up when your name is the name of the festival?) The five legends played a set that was a journey through the history of bluegrass with Del as your narrator. They played without a set list taking requests from the crowd and each other. The discovery of a previous band’s set list still taped to the stage lead to a humorous exchange within the band about what they should play next.
At the opposite end of the spectrum were those younger bands who are hoping to become the next legends of the genre. At Delfest there were a trio of bands that all seemed to fit that description. Two of them have stormed the jam-grass scene lately. They both arrived on the scene a few years back in a swirl of high-energy picking and jams that finds them easily seguing from a classic Jimmy Martin tune, to a Grateful Dead song, to some random rock cover. The Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass have both seen their respective audiences explode over the past few years, and their rise at Delfest has mirrored that same explosion. They both started as early afternoon bands on the side stage their first years only to quickly find themselves main stage stalwarts and headliner late night acts. This year they both played a pair of main stage sets, as well as each serving as a late-night headliner. And they did not disappoint during either set. Unsurprisingly Ronnie McCoury made an appearance with both of them during their late night sets, joining Greensky for “Eat My Dust”, and the Infamous Stringdusters for a double shot of “Pioneers,” and “Wheel Horse.”
The other band that seemed to garner so much attention over the weekend was Colorado’s Elephant Revival. Elephant Revival is a five-piece band that mixes subtle strains of folk and bluegrass, with dreamy heart-felt lyrics that float along a river of gentle melody weaved by gypsy souls. Every year at Delfest there is that band that seems to burst out of nowhere and Elephant Revival was that band this year. Their two-sets on Friday, on the side-stage and in the music hall were both must attend moments of the festival. Their Behind the Music Artist Play Shop in the Music Hall was overflowing with people and provided a unique insight into the band and their music as they told stories about themselves and their music throughout the set.
As with years past at Delfest, one went into it worried about the weather and anxiously looking forward to the music. And as with years past the weather threw a curve-ball that no one saw coming; this year being the crazy cold temperatures. But at the end of the weekend, as it always does, the weather became a distant thought when thinking back on the weekend. And whether you caught every appearance of Ronnie McCoury, or heard every glorious note that Del sung, or were worried if the world was going to end because Trey was there, in the end it did not matter because just as it is every year at Delfest not matter where you looked, whether on the main stage with the Masters of Bluegrass, in the music hall with Elephant Revival, on the side-stage during the band competition there was some hot picking happening and some incredible music being made, and as it does year after year, Delfest showed why it is one of the best festivals around.
After a hugely successful first year, Cloud 9 Adventures today announces the second installment of Strings & Sol, the newest music destination event in the Cloud 9 family, which also includes Mayan Holidaze, Jam Cruise, Holy Ship! and Panic en la Playa. Strings & Sol – set on the white sand beaches of Puerto Morelos on the Riviera Maya, Mexico – runs December 11 – 15, 2013. This unique adventure brings together some of todayâ€™s best progressive bluegrass bands for a rollicking string-music vacation like no other. Live performances during the eventâ€™s 4 days and nights include Yonder Mountain String Band (with three performances, one of which will be during sunset), Railroad Earth and Leftover Salmon (who will each have one closing show and one additional performance), Keller Williams with The Travelinâ€™ McCourys, and Greensky Bluegrass (with two performances each).
Visit www.stringsandsol.com for more information.
Yonder Mountain String Band
January 30, 2013
Set 1:Â Sidewalk Stars -> Ain’t Been Myself In Years, Maid Of The Canyon, Near Me, Redbird, One More, Only A Northern Song, Things You’re Selling, Romance Blues, Blue Collar Blues, Angel -> Boatman
Set 2:Â Troubled Mind -> 20 Eyes -> Troubled Mind, Southbound, Winds Of Wyoming, Corona, My Gal -> Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie, Jail Song, Sometimes I’ve Won, Midwest Gospel Radio -> Ten -> Cuckoo’s Nest -> Ten
Encore:Â Walkin Shoes, Southern Flavor
Back for their second* time in as many years, Yonder Mountain String Band brought the sweet sounds of the Rockies to the home of the Bulldogs in the Peach State of Georgia. In other words, the band was in Athens at the historic Georgia Theatre, that has flourished even beyond its former self that was destroyed by fire in 2009.
The Yonder fellas plucked through the night and after a summer season that saw the band headline or play two sets (or both) at a multitude of the year’s ever-increasing number of festivals, the quartet appeared to be enjoying the indoor elements and that special essence that only four walls can provide; plus this was inside the Georgia Theatre’s walls, causing stock to rise even further.
The happy-to-be-here sentiment was equally shared by the band’s faithful, who had filled the room to capacity by showtime. For those that made the box-office cut, they spent the evening relishing in stringed goodness from a hard-working and grateful group of players who, individually and collectively, are on top of their game and have a glimmer in their eyes — one that also occasionally appears a bit psychotic from front man Jeff Austin who we can all be thankful for the fact that he chose to slay with his mandolin, as opposed to a sling blade.
I: One More, Maid of the Canyon, Sometimes I’ve Won, Idaho, Don’t Worry Happy Birthday, Sideshow Blues > Sidewalk Stars, Near Me, Southbound, Pretty Daughter, Mother’s Only Son > Southern Flavor
II: No Expectations, Damned If The Right One Didn’t Go Wrong, You’re No Good, Rag Doll, All The Time, Town, I’ll Love Nobody But You, Fingerprint > Boatman, Pockets, Finally Saw The Light > Years With Rose > Ten
Encore: 40 Miles from Denver, Too Late Now
Click a thumbnail to scroll through Brad Kuntz‘s images from the show…
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With every cell phone ring, computer ping and honk of the horn, we get further from the more natural way we lived for the centuries before the industrial and technological revolutions. It’s our shared reality, but that doesn’t make any of our occasional yearnings for simpler times any less merited.
Grassy, MO, the nearest town to the Bloom Heavy River Romp, has a population in the four digit range and a truly refreshing remoteness â€“ we were so far off the beaten path that the roads stopped having numbers, and were reduced to simply letters. Though the directions seemed to become an algebra equation, the destination itself was a sterling example of the campgrounds that proliferated across the nation in the 50s and 60s. Echoes of the squeals of delighted children swimming in the river resounded in more adult voices, as the music, the isolation and the relaxation they brought had all in attendance ready to boogie down far from the cacophony of the modern world.
Gathering at the Arrowhead Campgrounds for the third year in a row, the River Romp has seen exponential growth, all due to a commitment from the organizers to deliver a balanced weekend of music that Bluegrass and Americana fans of all ages could enjoy. Rather than fill stage after stage with acts to compete for your time, promoters focused on bringing in top talent, such as Yonder Mountain String Band, legend Del McCoury and his Family Band, sometimes know as The Travelin’ McCourys, Cornmeal, Hot Buttered Rum, regional favorites Head For The Hills, The Ben Miller Band, Chicago Farmer and the always entertaining Tyrannosaurus Chicken. With little to no overlap, it was easy for anyone who wanted to hear every act to get a sampling of all the tunes that filled the air.
With such an all star line up of acts, there was little to do but sit back and watch the parade of talent on the main stage. Thursday night showcased new talent likeÂ Elemental Shakedown, a neo traditional quintet of strong pickers who alternated clean lines with looser jams that elicited cheers from the audience.
The HillbendersÂ continually broke into wild jams, each song serving as a framework for mind blowing confrontations between the players center stage, while area stalwartsÂ Head For The HillsÂ delighted their fans, who showed their allegiance by making the trip and packing the front of the stage with smiling faces and cheering voices.
Friday saw a full day of highlights, such as YMSB’s Adam Aijala joiningÂ The Travelin’ McCourysÂ for a set of traditional bluegrass, with nods to the past in song selection and weaving style of play. While folksy humanist singer songwriterÂ Chicago FarmerÂ warmed hearts and wrung wry smiles out of his crowd,Â the New Old CavalryÂ showed themselves a band to watch, with Alex Cavalry showed a dexterity on the Dobro that was a mind blowing accompaniment to the harmonies of voices and instruments.
On the main stage, legend and one of the true fathers of the form,Â Del McCouryÂ played the crowd nearly as well as he played his guitar, eliciting cheers and song suggestions. McCoury joked about his inability to remember the thousands of songs he has either written or helped write when he couldn’t quite remember a line or two, and he wielded a smile like the sun itself.
Jeff Austin, manic mandolinist forÂ Yonder Mountain String BandÂ said it best when he and his bandmates took the stage next; he proclaimed “None of us would be here without Del!” Austin then turned his onstage insanity level to it’s tradition setting of 11, and the next 90 minutes were as impressive as any set the band has played this year.
Exhausted but clearly not ready to finish, Austin then came out for the rare and extremely intense picking party,Â The Bluegrass Ball. Hosted as always by Ronnie and Rob McCoury, it consisted of an all-star line up of players that included Allie Kral and Kris Nowak of Cornmeal and Brian Horne of Hot Buttered Rum. Each musician had the chance to stretch out, making a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of talent that truly lived in the moment.
With the day’s shows running slightly behind schedule,Â CornmealÂ had the unenviable task of following the Ball, but more than lived up to the challenge. The band played ’til the wee hours of the morning, the sun’s first rays peaking through the tops of the trees as the band finished in a mighty crescendo.
Saturday was the last day of music and there was no time to rest for the crowd, who drug themselves out of bed to start the day off right withÂ The Whistle PigsÂ and a second impressive set from the New Old Cavalry, who were Â joined by the producer of their latest disc, Hot Buttered Rum’s Nat Keefe, on guitar for a few tunes.Â The Mockingbird Hillbilly BandÂ brought a comical approach to their stage presence and songwriting, but were deadly serious in their playing, a mixture that served them well in attracting and holding the crowd.
Tyrannosaurus ChickenÂ created a wall of sound that belied the fact that there are only two members; both Smilin’ Bob and Rachel Ammons played a variety of instruments at the same time, sometimes grinding away and at other moments showcasing a lilting beauty. TheirÂ Mud Stomp Records label matesÂ The Ben Miller BandÂ came out next, and wowed fans old and new with their musical dexterity, as Miller held the stage with a visible ease, a comfort in front of audiences that oozes from him sonically and emotionally. Percussionist, drummer, washboard player and trumpeter Doug Dicharry amazed onlookers with his ability to switch instruments and styles on the fly.
Hot Buttered RumÂ clocked back in with a second set of their own that featured a stellar assortment of re-worked Beatles classics, while Louisiana roadhouse-styled rockersÂ DirtfootÂ incited a dust storm, playing dance-inducing music in the arid sun.Â Split Lip RayfieldÂ mixed tempos, with the slower settings reserved for mournful ballads like “Used To Call Me Baby” while their highest speeds made viewers fear for the players’ physical well-being and sanity.
Returning to the stage, Yonder Mountain String Band showed again why they were asked to headline the weekend’s festivities, swinging nimbly from genre to genre during timeless bluegrass numbers, murder ballads and even a reggae tune! Buoyed by the crowds cheers, Yonder took great care to showcase each member, as all four shared lead vocal duties and the musical forefront. The band showed the depth of talent that built their reputation as the premiere jamgrass band in the land.
As mentioned earlier, the Arrowhead Campground has a charm all it’s own, from the cabins and wooden stages to the idyllic river that runs through the edge. The river was an important aspect of the fest, as it provided more both the name and a welcome respite from the blistering heat. A fierce hot spell gripped the nation, and Grassy, Missouri was no exception.Â The trees’ green leaves provided some shelter from the sun’s blistering rays, but best way to beat the heat was the river itself. Children frolicked while adults sat chairs in the lower spots and luxuriated in the cooling rushing waters.
Despite the heat, the friendliness and easy camaraderie shared by the crowd provided a spirit of defiance and a willful ignoring of the temperature. Though fans in some cases watched from the shaded tree line, the show went on, and the fans got more than their money’s worth in both music and overall experience. Water was readily available, and permanent bathrooms and shower houses reminded you of the fact that for a majority of the year, the grounds were home to vacationing families who had no idea the fun they missed.
The folks behind the Bloom Heavy River Romp pulled off a near-perfect weekend of consistently entertaining music, clean and friendly camping, and enough sheer entertainment to make folks willingly dance in 108-degree weather. That last fact alone would be enough to consider any event a winner, but combined with the rest of the weekend’s craziness it made for memories that will last for a life time!
(photo gallery below)
Yonder Mountain String Band
Dawn’s Early Light, Cuckoo’s Nest, Troubled Mind > 20 Eyes > Troubled Mind, Don’t You Lean On Me, Girlfriend Is Better, Funtime, Rabbit In A Log, River, Polka On A Banjo, Spanish Harlem Incident, Looking Back Over My Shoulder, Ramblin in the Rambler, Kentucky Mandolin, Boatman, Ramblin’ Reprise
Del McCoury Band
Dry My Tears, She’s Left Me Again, Bluegrass Breakdown, Hard On My Heart, Train 45, Nashville Cats, Wheel Hoss, You Win Again, Cold Rain & Snow, Logging Man, Banjo Riff, I’m Blue and I’m Lonesome Too, Vincent Black Lightning, Hello Lonely, My Little Girl In Tennessee, Are You Teasin’ Me, In Despair, Alabama Waltz, Don’t You Call My Name, Orange Blossom Special, Henry Walker, Loneliness and Desperation, How Long Blues
Trouble Gonna Find Me Tonight, I’m Coming Back Home, Calling Me Back Home, I’m Standing, I’m Leaving, Goodbye, Feather, Hasten Jason, Swingtown (Steve Miller cover), Onward, Hillbilly Ride
Hot Buttered Rum
When I’m Sixty-Four, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away > Banish Set (Irish Medley), I’ve Just Seen A Face, Fruit Of The Vine, Mother Nature’s Son, Desert Rat, Rocky Racoon, The Genie’s Loose, Missoula to Miami, I Am The Walrus, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, I’ve Got a Feeling> Something New > I’ve Got A Feeling, Summertime Gal > Walls Of Time> Summertime Gal reprise
Instrumental, A Deeper Shade of Blue, The Squirrel Hunters, When It Comes To You, instrumental, Rocky Road Blues, Pain In My Heart, Lily Hoskins, Cherokee Shuffle, Sawing On The Strings, instrumental, Evangelina, Why Did You Wander?, Tear Drops In My Eyes, My Brown Eyed Darlin’, I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky
Entertain Me, Gonna Get Ya, Rhinestone Ring, Devoted Mama, Back of a Stranger, Time To Be Your Friend, Right To Breathe, Rest My Head, John Zook, Cast My Plans, Pullin’ Up The Stakes, My Girl, The Watusi, Bathroom Sink