Bean Blossom and Great Folks in Bluegrass (Part 1)
Not sure if anyone's still out there reading posts about bluegrass festivals and such, but just in case I'll write a few (ha!) words here about the great time I had at Bean Blossom the last few days. After arriving late Tuesday night I wandered around and found a few jams in the woods, pretty impressive for the night before the festival officially started. On Wednesday things got right into full swing with a whole bunch of good bands and a very respectable crowd. The week was HOT, folks, and the chill that sometimes fell late of an evening sure did feel good after boiling in the sun all day. Like so much of the country, Indiana is suffering from a fairly severe lack of rainfall as all those farmers cruise the fields at warp speed on their big John Deere and MF combines with 96 foot headers (well it seemed like it anyway, I followed one up the road for a few miles...)
Uncle Phil did himself proud as I heard Grasstowne for the first time; Unc was tantalizing folks with that reso guitar - or was it the sun? Dunno, but I sure liked what I heard. I think he's heading back toward a little more traditional approach and you know that wins points with me; love Steve Gulley's voice.
Now I don't know if I've bragged on them much yet but one of my current favorite bands (in the under-70-year-old-and-still-living category) is the Steep Canyon Rangers. Those guys seem to have it all - and they use most of it, too! They're that good that they charmed this ole lady right to death. Great original songs (that sound like they were written a long time ago), good harmonies, great chops (as in those boys can pick) and I am really impressed with their energy, choreography, and generally professional (yet warm somehow) approach to music. If I were a promoter I would hire them on every show!
IIIrd Tyme Out...like so many of you I've been listening to these guys for what seems like decades. Maybe it is? Anyway, I think they've got a real winner with the current configuration; good to see Wayne Benson back (maybe he has been for a while?) and Edgar Loudermilk is a real asset on the upright bass and tenor vocals. Surely he was a big loss to Marty Raybon, but Marty's loss is definitely 3TO's gain. Great to have a chance to say a few words and get a hug from the ever-friendly and charming Steve Dilling (doesn't fit my banjo player profile, LOL) and the lovely Russell Moore (what a voice). I'll confess that maybe some of their material doesn't fit into my Stanley sound criteria but it's hard not to love and admire a band that is just so good over such a long period of time despite personnel changes and all that. As long as there's a 3TO I reckon I'll be making my way to the stage area to hear them.
Now a real surprise to me was the appearance of Chris Hillman and Herb Petersen. I'll confess that while I've heard their voices on a bunch of projects I've been in the audience for a live appearance by either of them precious few times. But the first song they played grabbed my attention and they sure held it for the hour and a half or so that they mesmerized me and a large crowd of fairly traditional-oriented music fans. They were superb, warm and lively, performing as just a duo, making a nice break in the otherwise pretty 4-or-5-or more-piece bluegrass band lineup that was Bean Blossom.
Seems like I'm getting older all of a sudden and the heat really whips me so by the time the shows ended around 1 a.m. or whatever each night I was pretty well ready to head back to the cabin and lay down! I didn't get into any jams at all and heard precious few though I'm told there were some dandies back in the main woods there especially during the day.
It's always a pleasure to see - and hear - Melvin Goins and his fine band and this time they didn't disappoint. I'm a big fan of the fiddling of Jonathan Rigsby and he even treated me to a slew of old time tunes as he warmed up in the air-conditioned room just backstage. Fine, fine. All the bands on Thursday put in fine shows, Marty Raybon appearing with an abbreviated but fine band that included the great Charlie Cushman on the 5, Scott Napier and John Wade. That voice sounds great no matter who is up there pickin' with Marty and I hope sometime to hear him just do a solo gig. The voice says it all.
James King put on two power-packed shows; he always puts it all on the line and I don't think any of his fans were disappointed with his performances on Thursday. The Isaacs had the crowd in the palm of their hand and it was great to have a word with my old pal Ben. Ain't he a hoss cat bass man?
Colonel Peva, his lovely wife Ailene and sweet little (jealous huzzy) Pearl were all there presiding over their campsite that serves as a beacon to folks from countries all over the world. This year Jim opened his door again to Mr. and Mrs. Niida from Japan. They are the loveliest people and it happened that I sat right next to them down in the front row. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Niida exclaim again and again with his huge grin, "GREAT!" He especially enjoyed the more traditional bands (and there were plenty of them on this Uncle Pen show).
It's too hard to see all the people I want to and run around taking photographs to manage hearing all the bands so I'll admit it...I missed quite a few of the bands on this year's schedule. Many sounded good and professional, but there were only a handful that actually got me down to my front row seat during the heat of the day. Mostly I stayed up under the pavilion at the University of Illinois book table and hung out with my dear friends Judy and Leon McCulloh as they sold great music books to fans. All the bands set up their merchandise up there, too, so it provided a chance to catch up with a few old pals, see photos of their babies and such.