Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration -- this week!

Hey folks, I'm headed down to Rosine Kentucky early on Thursday morning for the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration -- it's a dandy! Talk about bringing back some memories....I remember walking through Monroe's old home place years ago before Doc Mercer and crew came along and made it all pretty. Over the years the ravages of time and zealous fans had carried away most of the bits that must have once made it quite a pretty house out in the hills. It was wide open to the elements and I remember all the bullet holes up over the fireplace. You can see a bit of what it looked like in the video "High Lonesome" when the crew return with Monroe to the homeplace up there above the house Charlie Monroe used to live in and he's standing there by the fireplace reminiscing.

Anyway, I've been to Jerusalem Ridge two or three times since the house has been restored; maybe it's nicer now than it ever was, but outside it's lovely and inside you'll find some Monroebilia and well, just a great vibe. I remember a few years back when they had the ribbon-cutting and dedication of that beautiful house and several thousand folks came for the great and tearful event....lots of fine entertainment and happy reunions there! That was the beginning of this great festival.

That first year the stage was out in the middle of a field, matter of fact the other night when I was talking with Ralph Stanley we talked about that first Jerusalem Ridge gathering and how rough the stage area was then. I don't think it bothered anyone too much but Ralph was remembering all the weeds and rough ground there. Not so now, folks! Campbell and his crew made a wonderful, rustic stage down in a grove of trees (kind of reminds me of Ralph's old stage down in the holler up on Smith Ridge - Ralph nodded his agreement when I mentioned that to him) behind the home place so there isn't a bad seat in the house -- the stage is at the bottom of a hillside with plenty of shade and well, it's just a really special place to be.

Last time I was there - two years ago - there was a good bit of jamming in the field, a great crowd and a wonderful lineup. For you traditional bluegrass fans this is the place to be! For example, Ralph Stanley hardly ever plays anywhere for two days, but he'll be singing at Jerusalem Ridge both this Thursday and Friday. Now if that's not enough to persuade you to make the drive to Ohio County, how about getting to hear Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain for two days? I'd make the drive just to listen to Jon Rigsby play that 5-string ram's head fiddle of his. Add to that the wonderful Monroe-influenced music of David Davis and the Warrior River Boys; the bluesy lonesome sound of Larry Sparks (and those great "moves" he does with his shoulder and the way his hair matches his pickguard); the Uncle Dave Macon-styled music of Philip Steinmetz (how DOES he stand those wool clothes in the heat???); former Clinch Mountain Boy Sammy Adkins, the great Travis-style picking wizard, Eddie Pennington; the Cumberland Highlanders; Tommy Brown; Uncle Doc Wilhite; the Sullivan Family and many, many more; about 40 bands will play over the 4 days of the festival.

I'm looking forward to revisiting a favorite place of mine on Thursday and getting a chance to pick some old time music with Rigsby, Rebekah Weiler and some other friends. Proceeds from this festival go toward the restoration and maintenance of the Old Home Place. It's a beautiful place for a festival and though it's fairly primitive camping, the important things are there: plenty of fresh air, good bluegrass folks, great traditional music -- and the spirit of Bill Monroe.

Hope to see some of you there!
For more information and a lineup go to:\

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 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.

Bean Blossom and Great Folks in Bluegrass (Part 2)

Friday I got to hear a bunch of new songs from Larry Cordle and don't those boys put on a great show? I don't get to hear the Mighty Chord enough. Booey Beach is about half the man he used to be...didn't get to find out his secret, but he asked me to take some pictures of his new svelte self and I was happy to oblige. Plenty of fine music on Friday but the Cordle show followed by the GREAT J.D. Crowe (ain't he just the coolest guy out there?) and his wonderful band (I just love his trios with Ricky Wasson and Dwight McCall, don't get no better than that, folks) left me and the crowd shouting for more! more! I'm not a big fan of the one long set approach that seems to be implemented these days at a lot of bluegrass festivals but I gotta say that BOTH extended J.D. Crowe & the New South (Fri and Sat nights) sets fit me just fine. It just thrills me to hear "Lefty's Old Guitar" and "In My Next Life," gee, I could go home thinking I got my money's worth just hearing those two, let alone the dozens of other songs they played. That Crowe bunch have got it ALL and a bunch to spare....I'll go hear them anywhere, anytime. On Friday Paul Williams came out and sang a few songs with the New shelf, buddy.

Ralph II closed out the Friday night set and by the time he and his big band took the stage it was late, late, I think the latest night of the festival. Folks were shattered by the heat and humidity but a whole lot of them were stuck to their chairs to hear Two and Junior Blankenship and Dewey Brown and Danny Davis and Stanley ?? (18 year old on mandolin) and Steve Sparkman run through their paces - and then some. Man, I love Danny's singing...if ever anyone sounded like Ralph! Two always seems to do his best on his own shows and Friday night was no exception. Junior was up there laying down those Clinch Mountain gui-tar licks -- it looked as easy as blinking your eyes- laced with some Tony Rice-isms and Dewey, well, he's got to be the smilingest fiddler I've ever seen and the quintessential young southern gentleman who don't have to take a back seat to nobody on that little fiddle. Can I brag on him some more? He's one of those folks that is ALWAYS just as nice as the last time you got to see him. Two is one of the most charming guys in the business today, I think...he always takes the time to talk with his fans and is a super-genuine kind of guy.

On Saturday morning I was dragging a bit and didn't get down to the stage in time to hear Heather Berry. I'll admit I wasn't all that excited to hear yet another band fronted by some girl who was slapping her thighs and singing way high and screechy and not playing an instrument anyway. So wasn't I just floored when I heard her from the front porch of my cabin way up on the hill (the sound was LOUD up there all weekend) and found myself thinking I needed to be sure NOT to miss hearing her evening set....I really loved THAT voice; course from there I couldn't tell if she was picking or not! While I didn't actually make it up to the front row for her evening set, I sure heard her loud and clear from the top of the hill at the book table and I loved it -- not to mention the fact that the woman DOES pick - and she sings as close to an angel as you're gonna get on this earth. I'm thinking that one of these big labels needs to sign that girl. Now you listen to me, folks - if you're at IBMA, make sure you get out and check out her showcases. She loves the traditional music and she has such a lovely voice that is easy on the ears. And she is only a young'un. Weren't you braggin' on her, Bo? Check out Heather Berry folks!

Karl Shiflett always manages to put on a great show and this year was no exception. Karl and his band were at the park all week driving elongated golf carts and shuttling folks to their cars and campsites, doing workshops, sitting in on jam sessions back in the woods and generally just being a big part of the festivities. You know you've been smiled at when Karl turns that big ole grin on you. Chris Hill added a little extra entertainment to the already jam-packed barrel of laughs along with his "GQ Wardrobe" (how long does it take that man to primp for a show?) and Karl took up old Jake Jenkins tradition of the Mrs. Pott's Pit story and had us all in stitches (if you haven't heard it, ask him to do it the next set you hear).

Now I had a big time backstage listening to the antics of the Cherryholmes kids. Gee they have grown, don't know why that always comes as a shock to me, but it does! BJ went and got a tattoo since he turned 18 and the tattoos in that family seem to be reproducing at an alarming rate (even Sandy has at least a couple) but they consistently put on a good, entertaining show. For me the star of it all is young Molly Kate who has discovered LIPstick with a capital L and is growing into quite the fetching young lady (not to mention KILLER fiddler).

I didn't get to hear much of Ralph's show later in the evening but I got a chance to visit with him for awhile and catch up on all his news; he even offered me some of his lemonade and some dinner. Ralph was one of my first friends in bluegrass music and I cherish that friendship - along with his incomparable singing - very much. He was remembering how I came to bluegrass back in 1982 and urged me to tell his grandson the story of how I heard Ralph sing at a festival and went home and quit my day job and took to the bluegrass road for several months just to learn more about this great music - all because I loved the Stanley Sound so much! The music of Ralph Stanley changes lives! Ralph was in good spirits and seemed to be feeling well and even clawhammered a bit before concluding his show to the great delight of his many fans.

Now one of these posts I need to get to the part about why I'm so proud of bluegrass folks -- they are good, good people.

Bean Blossom and Great Folks in Bluegrass - Part 3

Sometime in the hottest part of the day on Saturday along comes big tall mandolin-playing Danny Jones with a giant hunk of an icecold watermelon and big ole white-handled knife sticking up out of it. Like some fancy chef he grabs that melon and carves off a big hunk of the juiciest melon you can imagine and proffers it to me by knifepoint. (I'm thinking well, this sure is country! and I love it) Mmmmm, y'all can taste it, right? It wasn't a minute before Melvin Goins hops up from his nearby record table and ambles over to us and gets his hand right out there for a hunk of melon. Now you know this all leads to a discussion about the finer points of watermelons and the best watermelons each of us have ever had and all kinds of things like that (I once stopped over at Leroy Troy's house and his daddy Wallace asked me if I wanted some nice cold watermelon so I said "sure" thinking he'd bring out a piece of it for me -- and he brought out about a 12 quart metal bowl full of it and said, "here, eat all that" and I did my best....and peed for about 2 weeks straight. But anyway at that moment in time I can say that Danny's watermelon, despite the hazardous knife, was the best I ever had.

Well now I'll get to the part about what wonderful folks I seem to find at every single bluegrass festival I've ever been to...

This Japanese couple, Mr. and Mrs. Niida, were the nicest folks to sit next to. They were sitting in webbed chairs that Jim Peva had lent them. I'd met him a couple years ago (or more) at Bean Blossom when Jim Peva introduced us. His enthusiasm for the music and the musicians themselves was so....well, cute! I've known quite a lot of Japanese folks in my life and the ones I'd known were not apt to wear their hearts on their sleeves or give much indication of intense emotion. Not so Mr. Niida! He especially impressed me after a Gillis Brothers set when he came literally RUNNING backstage, stopping at the foot of the long set of stairs to the backstage literally trembling with anticipation as he eagerly awaited the descent of the Gillis Brothers after their show, seeking a word and an autograph. I was up at the top of the steps waiting to shoot some photos of the Brothers and I motioned Mr. Niida up the stairs. He looked so surprised and pointed at himself with a question in his eyes so I shook my head yes, yes, and beckoned him to hurry. Well, he's in his 70s and small and very nimble and it seemed like he was up all those steps in half a wink of an eye and went sort of running toward the Gillis' (some of you will remember the Gillis Factor from past years) boys as they put a dip or whatever in their cheeks and sort of stood there. I'll admit I wouldn't consider even _thinking_ of running toward the Gillis' - those are some _country_ boys and no tellin' what they might do in self-defense, you know, 'specially Larry. So I kind of stepped in and introduced Mr. Niida to Larry and John and Niida took me by surprise when he rushed toward one of them (I disremember which) and like threw his arms around him and (language barrier here) shouted "I love you!" Pretty funny, but such was the intensity he felt from their soulful mountain sound. Luckily the Gillis seemed to take it all in stride and sort of chuckle (maybe they are in touch with their feminine side after all) and let it slide, and Niida was thrilled to meet these guys and express his appreciation for their wonderful music.

Well I will always remember that Gillis moment and Mr. Niida's huge part in it, so despite a horrible inability to remember anything at all, I always remember him very fondly. So I was thrilled to find my seat right next to the Niidas on the front row and we shared many happy comments over the four days of the festival. Niida busied himself with hearing all the bands and running up to get autographs and chat with the performers after their shows, buying books and CDs and so forth.

Throughout the days of the festival I again thought about what a wonderful bunch of people had gathered there to celebrate Monroe's memory and walk the paths of Bean Blossom as Monroe so often did. How so many folks paid homage to his music in tune and song, and remembered favorite encounters with the man himself in those years way back when. 'Course there was the usual recollection of Birch Monroe's frugal ways and the mules that Monroe was so proud to drive around and all sorts of things like that. One night as darkness fell (can't remember who was onstage) during a pause in the stage patter about 20 or 30 Canadian geese honked their way across the brilliant sky and that was a moment I shall remember, too. Just all around acts of kindness and consideration were commonplace and new folks walked up and introduced themselves (nice to meet you, Lowell!) and old friends came up to share a memory or pass on some good news. Backstage members of different bands mingled and laughed quietly, or stepped in to add a fiddle part to an impromptu jam. One of the best of those was backstage on Saturday when Cia, Skip and BJ Cherryholmes were having a ball picking with Glenn Harrell (fiddler) and Cia started singing a rousing Sally Ann which morphed into "Oh My Darlin' Clementine" then "Oh Susanna" and so on...they were totally cracking up and having a big time messing around with all those old songs. Then it kind of slid into some progressive jazzy stuff and then Daddy comes strutting in with his muscle shirt, big beard and tattoos and mock yells at Harrell, "Didn't you see the sign on the door?? Says "entertainers only." Harrell quickly quips, "I'm entertainin' myself," looking up with that big smile and those gorgeous blue eyes that I remember a whole bunch of redneck older women at Poppy Mountain a few years back were flat flippin' out over.

Sometime in the late afternoon I got to chat a bit with Ralph and hear about how his family were doing and things like that and Mr. D (that's Dwight Dillman's daddy) and I went over with Ralph to the bus and Ralph was really hospitable and we all just sat around and talked quietly. Some of the band members entered the bus and joined in with us and it was just such a pleasant way to spend a few minutes. I went on up to the book table to check on Judy and Leon and Bobby Osborne was up onstage when I heard him saying something about a "medical emergency." I said a quick prayer for whoever was in trouble and maybe about 15 minutes later went on down to the stage because Ralph was due to come on just any minute. Passing backstage on the deck that looks out over the bands' tour busses, I happened to see a whole bunch of folks crouching down around someone on the ground, and Mrs. Niida among them and I thought, "oh God..." Yes, my friend Mr. Niida had succumbed to the heat and had an attack but don't worry folks, it all turned out all right. Just for a minute there I thought the worst. The ambulance came quickly and this is where the great folks come into my story...seems like help came from everywhere when that medical emergency alert was announced by Bobby Osborne and various medical people and friends rushed forward to assist Mr. Niida in getting taken care of. It wasn't long before he was taken to a hospital about half an hour away and treated and later on that same night he was picked up and taken back to the festival.

Bean Blossom and Great Folks in Bluegrass - Part 4

Sadly, in all this, he missed Dr. Ralph Stanley's show - and those of J.D. Crowe and the Cherryholmes and I'd been told by someone that as he came to backstage besides being so apologetic for all the fuss he was upset to be missing the shows. You see, the Niidas came way over here from Japan JUST to come to the festival at Bean Blossom!!! And here he had to miss Saturday night.

So I got this idea to videotape what was left of Ralph's show and took up a note to get Ralph to send well wishes to Mr. Niida. Earlier in the afternoon they'd been talking up at Ralph's record table and Mr. Niida said he'd been at a show Ralph did in Japan way back in 1970; they had a nice little chat about that. So Ralph sent out a very nice message to Niida. I caught J.D. Crowe and then Molly Cherryholmes who each graciously sent along their own nice wishes to Mr. Niida. Then I went and got each Clinch Mountain Boy to send along some nice words. It was fun to gather all that personal good will to take to a friend who was SOOOO very far from home. Niida does a pretty good job of speaking English but still! Imagine being jetlagged, dehydrated, worn out and excited all at the same time and being many thousands of miles away from home and taken to a strange hospital in some little country town! He had great care there and as we rode back to the festival he got to see some of Ralph's and JD's shows on the videocamera -- and most importantly hear how all those bluegrass stars and idols of his were taking time to wish him well!!!!! He was, well, very touched by all those caring messages and I think that despite missing the shows he came so far to hear that he'll carry back some very good memories of how his many American friends indeed care about him.

So now Mr. Niida is all better and has been cautioned to drink bunches of water and he and his wife head back over to Japan tomorrow - so wish them well! It was so nice to get to spend some time with them and watch how all the good folks at a bluegrass festival lend a hand or a bottle of water or a hug or whatever is needed to help even a "rank" (only a Stanley reference here!) stranger from another country in his time of need. It was beautiful to witness the caring and compassion that spread like a perfect sunrise over our Japanese friend and seemed to revive his incredible, joyous vitality and restore him. That's what the bluegrass world is all about folks. And maybe none of this would ever have happened but for a cross-eyed, backward Kentucky child who grew up to be one of the greatest musicians of our time. I'm sure glad I lived in the days of Bill Monroe, Bean Blossom, and the good folks I've met through bluegrass music.