Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Saturday

After a good night's rest and breakfast with members of Peter Rowan's band - they just happened to be staying at the same hotel, we took an early shuttle downtown. Saturday is Kids day, and even though we thought we were early, we saw long lings at the moon bounce and slides as families arrived way before us. The festival provided several events for the kids this day: cartoon characters, rock climbing walls and other rope inspired activities, and several inflatable slides. Maybe next year we will consider bringing ours....

We knew we had a full day of music so we sat to plan a schedule and listened to Molly Dee and the PP. Ms. Molly is a terrific singer - the talent young people have. And the Possoms are a good band, a mix of everything (old-time/country/western swing/cajun) - love the resonator guitar and the accordion. After a few songs we proceeded to our first agenda - the Virginia Folklife stage and Dale Ann Bradley. Jon Lohman, the Program Director of the Virginia Folklife Program, moderated each session at this stage and we applaud his style. He kept the conversation moving, then left the stage to allow the audience to focus completely on the entertainer. Ms. Bradley was performing with Kim Fox, the the two took turns playing either songs they had written or songs that they really appreciated. Ms. Fox included one of her's that was just recorded by Reba McEntire. But for us, the show belonged to Ms. Bradley - who tonight just won her third consecutive award for Female Vocalist of the Year. What a treat - being five yards away and hearing that voice. Why did it have to end?

We wanted to attempt and see an act at each venue, so we ventured into a pool hall - Borderline Billiards - and listened to Rich n poor folks. These guys were really entertaining singing mostly about the coal mines of east Kentucky. These guys are Appalachia - the fiddle, mandolin, banjo and their songs have real meaning - describing the lives of families who venture into mines. Next, we had a real treat when we saw Sierra Hull and Highway 111 at the small Eatz on Moore stage. Here's a band that we last saw on the main stage at Merlefest playing at a stage that had a dozen seats. Awesome. We always liked Highway 111 and Ms. Hull's mandolin playing, but she sang one gospel song that sent shivers down our spine. We never really appreciated her as a gifted vocalist - until now.

Several other attendees had spoken of the Hackensaw Boys as a must see - and although - we have heard of them, we've never heard them, so we left Sierra Hull a little before their set finished and headed back to the State Street stage. And these guys are pure Americana - roots, alt-country - bluegrass - at 200 miles per hours. These guys jam - how they play so fast - constantly - I don't know. But there's a method to their music, that's just not how fast I can play the guitar or mandolin. They have great chemistry with vocal harmonies and solos - they are definitely a band worth seeing. They were the perfect lead in to The New Familiars who performed next on the stage. We were going to head over to see Dale Ann Bradley again on the other main stage - but were in a roots groove and stayed put. Don't understand the rabbit - but loved the music.

One band we had targeted was NYC based The Morning Pages, so we ducked into Machiavelli's to listen to music and watch UT play UF. In what festival can you hear great music, watch college football, eat pizza, and drink beer. We knew we made a good choice when we bumped into members of Scythian catching the act and when the rain burst through outside. The band adds a little soul to their roots - and have a great sound. New York is blessed. And we found out the reason Scythian was present is that they were picking up the band to perform at their upcoming Sunflower Fest (October 10th). We will see them then.

The rain stopped just in time for us to venture out and listen to the swingin' sound of The Belleville Outfit. Regular readers know we have covered this band throughout this year and we never tire of each performance. Rob and Pheobe provide great vocals and the band is awesome - great guitar work - and keyboards - no where else can you hear jazz, swing, blues, and country in one outfit. By this time the festival was packed and we knew we had to find a spot for dinner so we headed back to KP Duty and listened to Susan Brown and Friends before finding a table. We were very impressed with the ensemble - she provides nice vocals and her friends are fantastic. Let's see, the dobro, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle - what else do you need. As soon as they finished the Whitetop Mountain Stringband took over with a spirited session that brought several to their feet - dancing. We first saw this band at Floydfest and they are just fun to listen to.

However, we couldn't stay for too long, because it was time for one of the acts of the day, Justin Townes Earle. We've been following him for a couple years now and love his pickin' and songwriting. In fact, his Yuma EP is still one of our favorites. He's also come along way developing a stage act and tonight sounded more like a vaudeville entertainer - "Ladies and Gentlemen, now a song in E". The stage area was quite populated, with portable seats aligned to beyond the intersection and onto the sidewalks. And he delivered a performance - some new songs, some old, and some covers. There's still seems to be a little bad blood between him and his father - which is exhibited by the song dedicated to his mother.

After the set, we rushed through the crowd in order to watch our local favorites. Funny we have to travel 6 hours to watch Scythian - but the band is always on the road. The stage was behind schedule which allowed us to arrive on time, but the delay would force us to miss Holy Ghost Tent Revival. We had already missed so many other performers from schedule conflicts: Cadillac Sky, David Schultz, Tim O'Brien, the Boulder Acoustic Society, Blue Mother Tupelo, Junior League, Yarn, Corey Harris, The John Cowan Band, M.S.G. - Acoustic Blues Trio - what's one more. By the time Scythian took stage the divers crowd of young-ins, college aged fans and us old folks were already clapping away. And for the next hour these guys provided their usual high temp gypsy dance music, intertwining self depreciating humor into their act. A true Immigrant Road Show. Scythian is so beloved in Bristol that the festival organizers watched from the back stage and they are bring the band back in November to play at the train depot.

We finished the day at the main stage, watching The Dan Tyminski Band. Tyminski shouldn't need any introductions, having played with the Lonesome River Band, Union Station, and his work on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. But this is a true band, where Tyminski is just one part - mandolinist Adam Steffey even introduces most songs. And in their own right, each member is a premier performer with their chosen instrument - Adam Steffey on mandolin, Ron Stewart on banjo and fiddle, Barry Bales on bass, Justin Moses on fiddle & dobro. Moses is truly amazing and we learned the next day from a fellow attendee that he heard Tyminski praise him by saying he can play each instrument better than the other band members. Maybe that's why the band playfully harasses him onstage. Once you hear this band - you know they are in the big league - the kind of chemistry gained from years in the industry. A great ending of the day - yea, we were too old to stay for the Hackensaw Boys midnight show. But perhaps the best single day of music, we've ever encountered. Wow.

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