Review- Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival
Not the Way Bill Played It - Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival 2007
“A couple of years ago, I was worried about the future of bluegrass,” Chuck Wentworth, Saturday afternoon’s announcer on the main stage of Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, told the crowd of about 8,000.
Not any more, though.
Several younger bands have since arrived to replenish the ranks of an
aging corps of bluegrass musicians, a now-hopeful Wentworth explained.
Some of these 20-somethings were at Grey Fox on Saturday, the marquee
day of the area’s premiere annual acoustic-music event, and delivered
such sizzling shows that they held their own with the veteran performers
who are festival’s top draw. (This year’s festival stretched from
Thursday to Sunday, with 20-somethings Nickel Creek headlining Friday’s
bill.) In between the sunny, warm weather, the spectacular westward view
over the Berkshires clear to the Catskills, and playing this good, you
couldn’t have asked for more.
Shortly after 1 PM on Saturday, the festival’s host band, the Dry Branch Fire Squad, consisting of dobro, mandolin, upright bass and guitar, were well into their set. “Someone Play Dixie for Me,” a mournful number about the last request of a dying Confederate soldier, was the standout among the songs I heard them do (sorry if I was unmoved, though—I’m for civil rights).
At 2 PM, Crooked Still, a quartet of young Bostonians sporting the odd combination of cello, five-string banjo, and string bass, fronted by the sultry vocals of Aofie O’Donovan, opened with the old-time standard “Darlin’ Corey,” Rushad Eggelston’s cello punching out a syncopated middle voice below Greg Lizst’s unconventional four-finger (rather than the usual three) banjo rolls. Better yet was the follow-up, Delta bluesman Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down,” here given such an inventive treatment that at first it was hardly recognizable.
Off from the main stage stood the Masters Tent, where the artists demonstrated musical techniques and took questions from the audience. The 4 PM workshop “Low and Gorgeous” featured upcoming bassists Missy Raines of the Waybacks and Eric Frey of the Red Stick Ramblers, along with Crooked Still’s Rushad Eggleston on cello, explicating the art of holding down the bottom end. Eggleston, who began playing a Suzuki violin at age 3, shined with his funky, unorthodox bowing techniques. He also offered an amusing piece of surrealist doggerel, “Mister Blinguino,” the sing-along chorus of which went, “Mister Blinguino, tell me where to go, because I’d like to see the blinguinated clouds. But when the ramblesnatchers come, spelunking in the mud, I tremble in the mire of the snoud.” Roll over, Dr. Seuss, and tell Lewis Carroll the news.
Of the five acts on the evening’s bill, the last three were stellar. Former Lester Flatt mandolinist Marty Stuart was by far best singer that day, even though he sounded more country than bluegrass. After kicking off with a peppy version of Chicago blues-harp great Little Walter’s “You Know It Ain’t Right,” he sailed through a string of high lonesome classics, including “I’m Working on a Building,” “In the Pines,” and “The Whiskey Ain’t Working Anymore,” which he co-wrote with Travis Tritt. In a tongue-in-cheek tribute to his new next-door neighbor, Bee Gees vocalist Barry Gibb (who had moved into Johnny Cash’s former house and vowed to rebuild it after it burned down last April), the band did a hilarious bluegrass version of “Stayin’ Alive.”
“That ain’t the way Bill [Monroe] played it,” proudly reads the quote on the Web page of the Waybacks, another Generation Y group, who went on next. Although lead singer James Nash’s voice lacked power and was stylistically too jam- bandish for serious bluegrass, the Nashville-born musician was a hellacious flatpicking guitarist, scorching his way through daunting solos with aplomb. The band also proved versatile, performing in quick succession a swing tune, “Savannah,” the Grateful Dead’s “Brown Eyed Women,” a traditional British ballad, and an Eastern European-sounding instrumental topped with a scintillating classical violin cadenza.
Last up was mandolin god Sam Bush, whose band had the night’s only full drum kit. This let them vary their sound from bluegrass standards like “On and On” to a hard-charging cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” They also offered a tune in the rarely used 5/4 time, “Dancing on the Road.”
That wasn’t the way Bill played it, either, but it was big fun anyway.
©2007 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.
©2007 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.
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