Concert Review - Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival 
Oak Bridge, NY, 7/18/09 
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland, July 23
, 2009

Strictly Bluegrass

By Glenn Weiser

Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival

Walsh Farm, Oak Hill, July 18

Because the performers at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival are cherry-picked from the genre’s top tier of talent, it’s hard to imagine writing an unfavorable review of this four-day concert. For the audience of 6,000, this year’s Saturday lineup at the event’s new site in the hills of Greene County was pretty much hog heaven as usual.

On the main stage at 2 PM was one of bluegrass’s ascending lights, the angel-faced young singer and mandolinist Sierra Hull of Tennessee, taking her band through her “That’s All I Can Say,” which in May topped the Sirius/XM Bluegrass Junction broadcast’s Most Played Tracks list. Hull, 17, has been gigging since she was 10 and has a pure soprano voice that recalls Alison Krauss. Although she is already a formidable picker, her playing sounded a little stiff owing to a lack of legato technique. But it was clear that, given her youth, she is all but destined to become a smoother and even better player. And then, look out.

Up next was the festival’s host band, the Dry Branch Fire Squad. First, Ron Thomason, the group’s drawling spokesman, sat down on a chair and began with a hambone routine, patting out rapid rhythms on his thighs and chest as he sang. Then the quartet assembled around a single microphone as the first bluegrass groups did in the 1940s, and sailed through a string of chestnuts including “Pain in My Heart,” “Midnight on the Stormy Deep,” and the wistful “Aragon Mill.”

Over at the Masters Tent, where the performers delve into their playing styles, three flatpicking guitarists, Josh Williams, Danny Knicely and Chris Eldridge, focused mostly on fiddle tunes. Their superb efforts, though, were marred by repeated failures of the sound system (the wet ground, soaked from Friday’s heavy rainfall, could have been a factor). Still, the show went on. Williams sang beautifully on Norman Blake’s “Ginseng Sullivan,” Knicely spat fire with dizzying 16th-note riffs during the reel “Cattle in the Hay,” and the influence of jam-band guitar could be heard in Eldridge’s noodlely variations on “The Big Scioty.”

Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives led off the evening’s bill on the main stage with a ripsnorting set of mostly famous country tunes. Stuart, whose baritone vocals are consistently clear and strong throughout his entire range, was for my money the best singer of the day, and more than any performer radiated the sheer joy of musicmaking. Although the band shined on classics like “Long Black Veil” and “Working on the Building,” the standout was a killer boogie-woogie guitar solo by Kenny Vaughn on “Walk Like That.”

Representing old-school bluegrass were Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, who paid homage to Bill Monroe. “Honor thy father,” the devout Skaggs intoned, citing the Fifth Commandment, and explained that for him, keeping Monroe’s music alive was part of abiding by the Biblical injunction. Once church was out, the band tore into the canon of high lonesome classics: “Uncle Pen,” “Mother’s Only Sleeping,” and a performance of the Louvin Brothers’ “The Family That Prays” rendered with such righteousness that it could have raised the dead. All of Skaggs’ soloists were outstanding; Jim Mills in particular played Scruggs-style banjo with verve on the warhorse “The Bluegrass Breakdown.”

Topping the bill were mandolinist and tenor vocalist Tim O’Brien and his band. O’Brien writes some refreshingly goofy songs, such as taking the fiddle tune “Cotton Eyed Joe,” with its “Where did you come from/Where did you go” chorus and hilariously substituting Osama bin Laden for old Cotton Eyed Joe. He ended the night back where bluegrass began: Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

See the article on the Metroland website 
Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2009 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  


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