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.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Great Time on Jerusalem Ridge!

The Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration ("JR"), just concluded, may be in its infancy (as compared to festivals such as Bean Blossom which have been going for decades) but let me tell you folks that a GREAT time was had by all who made the trip up the road that winds up the hill from Route 62 to Monroe's boyhood home (and these days there IS a light in the window). Even the New York Times saw fit to send both a writer and a photographer out to check out the action at JR.

Over the course of the 3 happy days I spent there in the dappled light cast by trees standing in groves throughout the concert area I heard a WHOLE lot of good music - good traditional bluegrass, traditional country (a bit), and even some old time music. Make no mistake about it, nobody fooled around playing jazz chords or taking breaks that went too far out on the limb.

There were two stages going during the daytime, the smaller one up across from the Monroe homestead where folks like Merlene Austin and other volunteers gave detailed and interesting tours of The House Where Bill Lived.

I met a nice older gentleman (somewhere up in his 70s) named John from 970 miles away, somewhere in Wisconsin, and he told me he'd driven all the way to Jerusalem Ridge just to volunteer to park cars! He's a big RFD-TV fan and he just wanted to help out.

All around the grounds I engaged folks in conversation and almost without exception I learned one thing: these folks came to this spot on this weekend because they heard about it on RFD-TV...and they wanted to come and hear the Cumberland Highlanders and some of the other folks they'd seen on TV - to meet Doc Mercer and see his living room where the shows are taped. I heard this story again and again. There were THOUSANDS of folks at Jerusalem Ridge; seems like it was one of the biggest crowds I saw all summer.

I last attended the JR festival two years ago. At that time I thought they had a very respectable crowd but this year's crowd was HUGE...must have been four times as many people as I saw just two years ago! For the most part they were older folks (retirement age and older) but they weren't afraid to bring their lawn chairs and sit all day listening to the likes of Ralph Stanley, Larry Sparks, David Davis, Melvin Goins, and about 40 other bands. I met folks from several foreign countries there as well, some of whom were on their way down to IBMA. There was even some very good jamming, especially in front of Monroe's homeplace where the jams seemed to go day and night. Most of the people jamming were young people (well, under 50!) but there were plenty of older folks who were keen to sit and stand around listening for hours.

I heard a 12-year-old named Julie from NC, a fiddler with a powerful voice....when first I heard her singing I had to go over close and see if maybe she wasn't a dwarf....a whole lot of sound and a deep, far more mature voice was bellowing from those childish lips! She could hold her own in a jam that's for sure as she sang old time country songs like the Great Speckled Bird.

As with several other festivals I've been to this summer, the kids who could pick and sing were encouraged to come out on the stage and sing or play for the huge audience that cascaded all down the ample hillside toward the stage. Wish I could post a photo on here of what the crowd looked was a glorious sight! It was a good, responsive, patriotic, God-fearing crowd, too, and they didn't mind at all when Larry Sparks began telling of his personal relationship with the Lord and how he loved singing gospel music. That love came right through his voice and touched my heart I'll tell you. Isn't "The Last Suit You Wear" a great song? I talked a little with Larry after the show and he's sure looking forward to being in Nashville for the IBMA.

The bands said they did quite well selling CDs; I didn't hear much grumbling from anyone, just a few observations that if the festival crowd grew much next year they'd have a job finding enough parking places and chair spots on the hillside in the concert area (there are quite a few places short of bringing a spade and "digging in" where you simply can't keep a chair upright!).

So there was a lot of fine traditional music and I heard folks saying that "this is just like the old days of bluegrass..." made me smile (you'd like it there, RaymondE). Some folks I spoke with said they used to be fans of bluegrass music long ago but had lost touch with it and didn't know where to hear it -- until they started finding it on RFD-TV. Through that they'd come to this festival and were so happy and planning to return next year. So there's a new market for bluegrass, folks.

Ms. Lizzie Lewis, president of the Florida delegation of the Bill Monroe Fan Club, and about 90 years old, sat onstage the entire weekend listening to all the music, not letting the evening chill faze her, and giving several of her prized Monroe photos to the homeplace for display. Gloria Belle and Mike Long were there doing several guest spots. I had the great pleasure of meeting Jim Smoak and hearing him get up and pick and sing.

Tom Ewing was there selling his "Bill Monroe Reader" and Danny Jones was there playing mandolin with Melvin Goins; Wayne Lewis was around all weekend playing with the Cumberland Highlanders; there were several Blue Grass Boys there keeping up the tradition. I had to miss the Sunday morning graveside service in Rosine since I was due to work as a volunteer for IBMA in the afternoon, but it was a gorgeous early fall morning when I headed down the hill past Charlie Monroe's place and on out into the modern bluegrass world. I was more than a little sad to leave the cocoon of "real" bluegrass and good folks I found there at Bill's childhood home.

If you haven't been to the festival at Rosine and you love traditional music you really need to get there next year. Ralph Stanley will be appearing there again for two days and it looks like they'll have another wonderful lineup. Campbell and Julie Mercer and their volunteer staff do a marvelous job making folks welcome and putting on a class act show.

Live from Jerusalem Ridge

I am here at Bill Monroe's old home place in Rosine, Kentucky, and let me tell you this place is hopping! Though I arrived several hours later than I'd planned to, I got here just in time to hear the evening sets by Ralph Stanley and David Davis. Life is good!

If you've never been to Jerusalem Ridge you honestly owe it to yourself to visit this place. Driving up the drive that winds off Highway 62 a whole bunch of memories started to drift into my mind. On the left coming up the road is the old house where Charlie Monroe once lived. I first visited it a bunch of years ago when friends of my former partner were living there. Their names were Rusty and Mary Margaret. I think it was the first time I came up here many years ago when Mary Margaret and Mike and I walked up here to Monroe's old homestead and looked around just about every nook and cranny here. How this place has changed and I can't help but shout how very proud Mr. Monroe would be to see this place with the old house fixed up so beautiful and a gigantic crowd assembled on every kind of lawn chair, stump, and even down in the dirt on the hillside that leaves up from the natural amphitheater where the big old wooden stage sits down there behind the House Where Bill Lived. Makes me smile just to think of it.

I was last here in 2005 and what a change! Back then there were plenty of folks here but let me tell you this time that the grounds are absolutely full of folks. I'm told there are 300 or 400 campers out there in the field and the entire amphitheater has been full of folks all day.

Dr. Ralph and the Clinch Mountain Boys with Danny Davis sitting in on rhythm guitar and vocals wowed a huge crowd this evening for over an hour. Ralph even picked up the banjo to clawhammer his usual medley and sang some favorites such as "Pretty Polly," "Little Maggie," and a bunch of others. Nathan got up and sang a gospel song he'd written as well as playing "Sandy Ridge," a mandolin tune he wrote a few years ago. Ralph gave everyone in the band a chance to shine and even told a joke or two. He seemed to be in good spirits. As I told you the other day, it's a rare occasion to be at a festival where Ralph is appearing two consecutive days. He doesn't even do that at Bean Blossom here's an opportunity to "Got Ralph?" where are you? If you're reading this you probably aren't here.

After Ralph's wonderful set, David Davis and the Warrior River Boys did a fine set. Owen was in even deeper voice than ever (and that's deep) and David sang several new favorites from his latest album. A real class act! David did "In the Pines," always a favorite, and it seemed so right to here on a beautiful September night under a full harvest moon up here on Jerusalem Ridge listen to one of my favorite Monroe-style mandolin players up there singing "In the Pines" and playing his wonderful mandolin. It was powerful. A few songs later, David gave a big intro to one of my favorites, the "Evening Prayer Blues," that DeFord Bailey used to play on the Opry.....I've heard that tune played a bunch by a lot of different folks but have never heard it played any better than it was tonight by Mr. David Davis, right here on the ground where Monroe used to play as a boy. What a fitting way to close out his set!

Tonight after dark I was driving east through Kentucky on Route 62 from Beaver Dam toward Rosine under a big orangey round moon searching for the little road that winds up the hill to Monroe's place. Ah, there it is....moments later I was walking down the hill grinning from ear to ear as I saw Ralph take the stage. It's a beautiful big stage here, down at the bottom of the hill with folks ranging all across the hill above looking down onto the stage that's adorned with a full-scale harvest theme....I'll try to describe it better tomorrow, after I can see it in the daylight! There are good bright stage lights and the crew from RFD TV are hard at work documenting this fine festival.

"There is something about this experience here that is noticeably different here than at any festival I go to. It's different and it's cool; positive; it's working! I see that as I walk around here" so says David Davis as he sits here to my right talking with Campbell Mercer who started this festival. David is talking about RFD TV and how it has drawn a whole lot of new fans to bluegrass. There are folks here at this festival that have never been to a bluegrass festival before. They have come here because they heard about it on RFD TV. "It just thrills me to see a crowd this big here on Thursday" says Davis.

If you're anywhere within driving distance (hey, I drove 300 miles to get here) get yourselves down here tomorrow. The must starts at 9 am and runs till 11 pm tomorrow night. The weather forecast is great- so come on down and join us