|Andrew Weigel||Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival 2009|
These are pictures from the 57th Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, which ran between May 14th and 17th, 2009. Click on any picture to bring up full-size pictures of the performers. Last year's comments about the festival are applicable here as well.
The differences from last year's festival were interesting. Even with the bad economy there appeared to be as many attendees as last year. One area which was down was the number of vendors. Quite a few did not come this year. Surprisingly, Martin Guitars was one of the no-shows.
As a festival, the top acts this year were comparable to last year's. You can hardly quibble with Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, or Dailey & Vincent. What you did see were more bottom tier acts this year.
The workshops were once again great, but they seemed a step down as well. Rhonda Vincent didn't do a workshop, nor did Dailey & Vincent or Ricky Skaggs. Last year workshops were given by Rhonda Vincent (with Darrin helping out) and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
Back on the positive side, the fishing in the pond (in Colorado we would call it a lake) was better than last year, so I'm told by those who fish.
This year also saw a sizable number of problem drunks. Unfortunate, and I don't remember any from last year.
One of the oddities was the Missing Dobro. Last year it was commonly heard, and there were such great players as Mike Auldridge, Rob Ickes, and Josh Swift.
This year it was a rarity on stage. On Thursday it was completely absent. I chatted about this with Paul Beard, of Beard Guitars. He'd noticed the same thing, of course, and didn't really have an explanation. If you ever get a chance to visit him in his booth at one of these festivals, don't pass it up. Besides interesting conversation, it's not difficult to talk him into picking up a resophonic guitar and illustrating some particular lick or technique.
Though the dobro was a rarity, the Statler Brothers (well, their songs) seemed to be everywhere. I'm not aware of any particular SB anniversary, and it is certainly not a complaint (I'd happily listen to more of their songs). Just one of those things that's probably nothing more than coincidence.
A dangerous topic is the eternal question of bluegrass traditionalism. I do think the groups could be a little more venturesome. What's wrong with a harmonica on "Wahbash Cannonball"? If it was good enough for Flatt & Scruggs....
One thing that strongly characterizes a band is their sense of rhythm. Some groups swing, where you're pulled along, swaying to the beat. And then there are the ones that rock (as in a strong beat, not that it's rock and roll) and get the whole crowd going. Both types are noted below.
A sizable number of groups, even some of the better known ones, don't seem to swing at all. Perhaps it's just a personal style thing, but it's very noticeable by the audience reaction.
Something similar sometimes occurs with instrumentalists who get carried away with speed over everything else. Lots of notes, very impressive, but there sometimes doesn't seem to be much of a point. As Old Bill the Bluegrass Master said, it seems like so much "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
This seems to happen more commonly with the guitar and mandolin. At high speeds they just sound plinky. The fiddle, banjo, and dobro seem better able to maintain a noticeable pulse.
You can click on any picture here to see its full-size version.
Finally, what's a festival without bad weather? This year's had its share. At least the rain wasn't cold.
Thursday started nice, but then had rain off and on throughout the afternoon and evening.
This was the first indication of the Missing Dobro. No band used one on Thursday.
These pictures are from the Claire Lynch Band afternoon set, 3:40 to 4:20pm (all times are from the program; actual times were from 5 to 35 minutes later), and then at the reception tent at stage left.
This is her band which has been touring since 2005. Claire Lynch has been at Gettysburg before, but that was over ten years ago.
The guitarist, Jim Hurst, played some songs with a flatpick and others with fingerpicks (not that common in bluegrass). He also played banjo on certain songs, so the fingerpicking guitar makes sense (Earl Scruggs also fingerpicks a guitar at times). He's been the IBMA "Guitar Player of the Year" on a couple of occasions, and his playing was very impressive.
The pictures are from their performances of "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring" (more swing than bluegrass, a nice touch of variety) and "Unlucky 7", a banjo instrumental.
The band had a very nice rapport with the audience.
Claire Lynch and Jim Hurst at the reception tent after the first show.
They did a second set in the evening. Their first set was very good, and the second was even better. It had been raining off and on during the afternoon, but stopped by the start of their set.
They played a variety of songs. "We Should Only Have Time for Love (Enough is Enough)" is not really bluegrass, but it's nice to have a mix. "Leavin' on that Evening Train" was very much bluegrass. "Further in the Hole". "Wahbash Cannonball", which is always nice to hear and they did very well. And then on to "Freight Train Boogie", which is certainly not bluegrass, but was great fun.
These pictures are from the Dailey & Vincent afternoon set, 4:30 to 5:10pm, then at the reception tent at stage left, and one picture from their evening (8:55pm) set.
It's hard to know what more to say about these guys. Easily the best vocal group at the festival. Great energy and stage presence, and they look like they're having fun. Tremendous rapport with the audience.
It's real easy to understand their 2008 IBMA awards: Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year (Jamie Dailey). The same for their 2009 SPGBMA Bluegrass Awards: Bluegrass Band of the Year [Overall], Vocal Group of the Year, Gospel Group of the Year [Contemporary], Male Vocalist of the Year [Contemporary] (Jamie Dailey), Bass Fiddle Performer of the Year (Darrin Vincent). Their new album, "Brothers From Different Mothers", debuted at #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums chart.
They're fairly traditional, without being a Bill Monroe tribute band. The songs included "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die" (from the new album), "Do You Know You Are My Sunshine" (the old Statler Brothers hit), and "I Believe (in a Man, His Name is Jesus)" (from the first album).
A great band overall, with great 4-part harmony; it's not just the D&V show. They ended with a towering a capella rendition of "Do You Want to Go to Heaven When you Die" (first album bonus track). Great performers who truly seem to be having a great time.
They received a great standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the set.
Darrin Vincent on the left and Jamie Dailey on the right (plus fans).
Their evening set was equally outstanding. They did "How Come You Did Me Like You Do", "Silver Medals and Sweet Memories", and another Statler Brothers song, "Something that Happened Long Ago". They featured Joe Dean, Jr. (not yet 20 at the time of the festival) on banjo for a brilliant rendition of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".
The only glitch was the sound mix. It saturated at high volumes, resulting in some physically painful distortion of the vocals. The bass was also mixed rather low, so they didn't swing as much as other performances.
These pictures are from the Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out afternoon set, 5:20 to 6:00pm. They play fairly traditional bluegrass, with some Celtic thrown in. They did a lot of 4-part harmony and a fair amount of a capella singing, particularly on the gospel numbers.
Songs included "The Eastern Gate" (gospel) and "My Angeline", both from their new CD.
As one of the other members said about Russell's new shirt: "I like it – there's a '74 Buick somewhere that's missing a seat cover."
These pictures are from the Gold Heart evening set, 6:10 to 6:55pm. These are the Gold sisters, from Virgina. Left to right are Shelby (fiddle), Analise (mandolin), and Jocelyn (guitar). On bass is their father, Trent Gold.
They play fairly traditional bluegrass. They ended their set with an a capella rendition of "Walk on the Water (Peter, Trust in Me)".
Midway through their set the rain started again.
These pictures are from the Steep Canyon Rangers evening set, 7:05 to 7:50pm, and then at the reception tent at stage left (Nicky Sanders looking at the camera).
These guys rock. They're always an audience favorite.
Songs included "Have Mercy" and "What's that Yonder" (a capella gospel). From the new CD were "Call the Captain (I'm not going Down in the Mine Today)" – deservedly popular – and the title track "(If I Could Make a Livin') Lovin' Pretty Women".
There was rain off and on, sometimes heavy.
Earlier in the day Nicky Sanders conducted a very nice fiddle workshop.
Friday started sunny and hot!
These pictures are from the J D Crowe and the New South afternoon set, 1:35 to 2:25pm, plus one from their evening set (8:20 to 9:10pm). The performance was similar to last year's, though somewhat better. It still failed to really resonate with the crowd, unfortunately.
Songs included "Tennessee Blues", "Down Where the River Bends", and "Lefty's Old Guitar".
Their evening set was better received. It included the Fats Domino hit "I'm Walking", "Shuckin' the Corn" (banjo piece), Merle Haggard's "Back to the Barrooms Again", and "The Old Home Place".
These pictures are from the Rhonda Vincent & The Rage afternoon set, 2:35 to 3:25pm.
Rhonda Vincent is a perennial crowd favorite. If you tally the pictures on the t-shirts people are wearing. Rhonda Vincent easily outpaces the competition.
Songs included "After the Fire is Gone" (country) and "Bluegrass State of Mind".
This was the first time a dobro was used at the festival.
These pictures are from the Gibson Brothers afternoon set, 3:35 to 4:25pm. The mandolin player is a stand-in for the the regular player.
Rhonda Vincent is a very hard act to follow, but these guys pulled it off. They do a fair amount that is country-ish, not just bluegrass. And they really swing.
Just a coincidence, but there seemed to be a lot of transportation songs. They played "The Railroad Line" and "The Open Road" from the Bona Fide CD, and then "The Lonesome Road Blues" (highlighting the banjo). From Iron and Diamonds were "The Cabin Down Below", "Iron and Diamonds" (featuring very nice 2-part singing), and "The Picker's Blues". They also did Jimmy Martin's "The Prisoners' Song".
The crowd demanded an encore, which are not frequently allowed during afternoon sets. The obliged with "The East Bound Train".
These pictures are from the The Farewell Drifters afternoon set, 4:35 to 5:15pm. They're from Nashville, old college buddies.
Songs included "Let the River Flow" and "Sweet Summer Breeze". They're as much country as bluegrass. They also played "Ticket to Ride" (there seems to be a rule that every festival include a bluegrass Beatles song).
These pictures are from the Next Best Thing evening set, 6:20 to 7:10pm, and then at the reception tent at stage left. From Tennessee, they're centered around the Sandker sisters, Sally (guitar) and Tensel (bass). (They're the daughters of Rhonda Vincent.) They were the second group at the festival to feature a dobro.
Their songs included "Westbound Train" (with the guitarist switching to mandolin), "Two Lonely Hearts" (the Osborne Brothers song), "Nothing to Lose", "Lovesick Blues" (Hank Williams), "Dark and Shady" (done by the guys), and "Movin' On".
They got a very nice ovation and a demand for an encore.
These pictures are from the Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass evening set, 7:20 to 8:10pm.
This is another of those bands that rock. And has a sense of humor. They said about Bobby Lundy: "a car salesman and a banjo player – that's two strikes."
Their songs included "Blackmail Your Heart" (from the The Tradition Continues CD), "Where Will I Shelter My Sheep Tonight", "Don't Throw Momma's Flowers Away" (from the current CD, The Room Over Mine), "Daybreak in Dixie", "I'll Break Out Again Tonight" (The Tradition Continues CD), "The Old Swinging Bridge" (Back in the Blue Ridge CD), and "Raising Cane in Texas" (also from the current CD).
The entire set was very well received, followed by a standing ovation and an encore.
There were some clouds, but the day started out clear.
These pictures are from the Mountain Heart afternoon set, 1:35 to 2:20pm, and then at the Workshop Stage (4:00 to 5:00pm).
These guys are well worth going out of your way to see. A great crowd favorite, they play with tremendous enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment. In addition to solo shows, they're touring with Tony Rice.
They play in a variety of styles – bluegrass, country, blues, Celtic. Always, they rock.
The pictures are from "It Works Both Ways", a blues number by Josh Shilling from their current live album, Road That Never Ends. They also did "Gospel Train" (a capella, from the live album), "Blue Ridge Mountain Home", and "Lee Highway Blues" (a fiddle piece, from No Other Way).
At a festival full of standouts, their guitarist was absolutely stellar.
After their afternoon set they did a very popular workshop.
Their evening set included "The Ride" (the Hank Williams, Jr. country hit), "You Better Run", and "A Memory Like Mine" (Force of Nature). The audience prevailed on them to repeat a song they'd done at the workshop, "(Tied to the) Whipping Post" (catch it on the live album). It would make you forget the Allmans.
At the end of their second set the rain began in earnest....
These pictures are from the The Seldom Scene afternoon set, 2:30 to 3:15pm.
These guys are very relaxed and look like they're having fun. For this set Chris Eldridge (the banjo player's son) joined on guitar (stage right in the pictures). And they have a dobro player!
They played "110 in the Shade", "Lots in a Memory", and "How Mountain Girls Can Love".
Unlike most groups, they actively solicit audience requests, which is nice. The crowd wanted "Old Train", but the the leader wanted "Muddy Waters", and "Muddy Waters" it was. After he forgot the words halfway through, and after a little ribbing by his bandmates, "Old Train" was next on the program.
They went on to play "Love in the Mountains" (aka, "Two Trees"), "A Small Exception of Me" (the old Dean Martin song), and "I'll Be No Stranger There".
These pictures are from the Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain afternoon set, 3:25 to 4:10pm, and then at the reception tent.
Carrie Hassler is a rarity in bluegrass, a singer who doesn't feel it necessary to carry an instrument. She's also more than good enough to get away with it.
The (very good) band includes a 17-year old banjo player and identical twins on mandolin and guitar. As a final plus, they're sponsored by Moon Pies, which gives away free Minis in the reception area.
It takes a lot of nerve to tackle Patsy Cline, and Carrie did a great rendition of "(If You've Got) Leavin' on Your Mind" (from their eponymous CD). They continued with "Something's Coming On", "I Surrender All" (gospel), "Faith & Hope" (from CHHr2), and "I Can Go Back Any Time" (CHHr2), which was #1 on Bluegrass Unlimited's singles chart.
Carrie did a very nice workshop on vocals after the first set, with lots of good information on warming up, taking care of your voice. etc. She's generally one of the more personable people in bluegrass.
This picture is from the Dudley Connell & Don Rigsby evening set, 4:20 to 5:00pm. The camera batteries were running low (Carrie Hassler had offered me a couple, but they were incompatible, unfortunately), so there are fewer pictures going forward. Tough luck for Ricky.
Dudley Connell (on guitar, doing double duty with "The Seldom Scene") and Don Rigsby (on mandolin, here without "Midnight Call") were joined by Ira Gitlin on bass. Peter Wernick was to have been the third member, but he was not able to attend due to his wife's illness.
The trio's songs included "Meet Me By the Moonlight" (a standard, often identified with the Stanley Brothers) and "So Sad" (the Everly Brothers).
On Friday Ira had done a very nice "Jam Session" workshop. He had a mix of players, from newbies (self-described as "rhythmically challenged") to intermediate. He addressed the two biggest concerns of those who've never participated in a jam session: I'm too bad (or too) good, and I don't most of the songs.
Starting with the second concern, most bluegrass songs have only a few chords (two or three, usually major). He said the trick is to watch a guitar player, and you can pick up the chords by watching his/her hands. Even non-guitarists can quickly learn to recognize a C vs. a D vs. a G on the guitar. The structure is also fairly standard: verse - chorus - solo.
For the first concern, it's simply that jams are primarily social events and only secondarily musical events. They're not about virtuosity, they're about people playing together. When it comes around to you, you can simply stay to the chord notes if you want – it will sound fine (playing always sounds more impressive to others than to yourself). The amount of time you're in the spotlight is also quite limited; you're not Jimmy Page taking a 20-minute solo.
Ira also explained how certain events are signalled: taking a solo, repeating the chorus, ending the song.
At the end of the hour the group was cooking away.
The take-aways were to join a jam session NOW, and to take a class from Ira if you ever get a chance.
One nice feature of these kinds of festivals is the opportunity to chat with other players. After this workshop a banjo player named Peggy led a discussion about using fingerpicks, backed up by her friend on autoharp.
This picture is from The Special Consensus evening set, 6:50 to 7:30pm.
They did a variety of songs, including "Signs" (title song of their most recent CD), "Too Late Now" (Signs), "Josie's Reel" (from Trail of Breaking Hearts), "Footprints" (gospel, from Signs), "Mountain Girls" (Signs), "Gone to Carolina" (highlighting Greg Cahill on banjo, from Signs), "(Nothing But) Blue Skies" (a swing number from Trail of Breaking Hearts), "I"ll Go to My Grave Loving You" (a Statler Brothers song, from Signs), and "Carolina in the Pines" (from Route 10).
All the songs were very well received. Called out for an encore, they did "Roving Gambler" (from Bluegrass Smash Hits - Vol 1).
These pictures (very few as my batteries were running out) are from the one Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder set, 8:45 to 10:20pm.
It took a long time to get the stage set up, and by the time they started playing it was a drenching downpour. At least there was no lightning.
It's an interesting line-up: fiddle, guitar (absolutely fabulous), RS (mandolin and guitar), archtop guitar, guitar, and banjo (great). A little guitar-heavy and, again, no dobro.
Ricky has obtained the masters for his old country albums from Sony and has been re-releasing them on Skaggs Family Records. He's also re-recorded many of his old country hits with a bluegrass approach, available on The High Notes, available from Cracker Barrel, both the stores and on-line.
He did a variety of music, both country and bluegrass, many of which were both. These included "How Mountain Girls Can Love" (you may have been counting how many times this was played), "Crying My Heart Out Over You", and "Cajun Moon".
As you expect with Ricky, the musicianship was superb. The guitarist was as fast as anyone you'll ever hear.
Last updated: June 21, 2016. Copyright 2005-2017, Andrew H. Weigel (AHW). E-mail: Web2013@andrewweigel.name.