Monday, October 5, 2009

2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Sunday

We slept in a little on our last day of the 2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and this time sat next to members of Cadillac Sky during breakfast. We were already lamenting our long ride home, until band member Andy Moritz shamed us with his travel plans of dropping others off in Nashville, and then having to drive to Houston. Six hours didn't seem so bad.

Since Sunday's schedule started late, we arrived early and decided to catch Ed Snodderly, who we learned is native to the region and was featured in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". He played the fiddlin' village tramp. And we knew we made a wise decision when we saw Tim O'Brien take a seat near us. We also learned later that John Cowan had attended this set. Snodderly is a traditional roots player - "hillbilly" music - we read from his bio and is usually accompanied by other outstanding artists such as Missy Raines and Roger Rasnake. But today we heard him solo - along with a bass playing his original songs. Snodderly is an accomplished songwriter - we really enjoyed "Diamond Stream" - which celebrates the music heritage of the Bristol area; "Crying Boy" - any parent relates to; and "Working in the New Mine". Now we know why other artists wake early in order to see his act.

After purchasing a CD, we rushed to the Virginia Folklife stage where Jon Lohman, of the Virginia Folklife Program, was moderating a performance by Jim Lauderdale and Reverend Frank Newsome. The three had collaborated on a gospel CD Frank Newsome: Gone Away With A Friend. According to the notes: "Elder Frank Newsome, a coal miner's son and himself a veteran of the mines, now preaches at the Little David Church in Buchanan County, Virginia. He and his congregation of Old Regular Baptists are among the last practitioners of a spirited 400-year-old song tradition called lined-out hymnody. Many of these old cherished hymns, recorded at Little David Church one summer evening, feature only Frank Newsome's a cappella voice, one of the few times this singing style has been captured this way.". From the performance we heard - this must be an excellent CD. During the session, Lauderdale displayed why he is the nation's premier songwriter by creating a song spontaneously about the current discussion. Lohman had noted that Newsome's congregation still gets baptized in the river next to the church and that's all dandy when one is Born Again in the summer. He asked Newsome what happens in the winter; in which Newsome described situations when they had to break the ice. Immediately after Lauderdale cranked out a song based on this discussion. It was phenomenal. We also highly recommend checking out the Virginia Folklife Program website to learn about more local unheralded artists.

We had a half hour to kill, so we stepped into neighboring KP Duty and found a packed house listening to The Smart Brothers. These guys had played the streets at last year's festival and so many people watched their impromptu performances that they were invited to perform this year. We understand why. They play straight Americana music - acoustic with great harmonies. This week we've heard all their songs on myspace and are ready for a CD - listen to The Hymn.

We've had Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed on our radar and have missed out seeing them at various festivals. We scheduled our day to listen to their set and were pleased we did. They played some favorite covers including Long Black Veil and Walkin' Cane as well as several nice originals. Even after breaking two strings McGee kept playing through - we just like this sound - sort of like The Randy Rogers Band or Cross Canadian Ragweed. Afterward we stumbled upon a band with a similar sound: Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels, after not seeing a lineup change from Justin Townes Earle. They are based out of Harrisonburg VA and play roots and from what we heard a little blues and soul. We'll be headed to the Clementine Cafe to hear these guys again.

The final act for the festival that we had to catch were our friends, Bearfoot. We had becomes fans after Merlfest and almost overdosing on CD Doors & Windows. They had made the trip from Nashville for Sunday and although we had heard the same perforance multiple times - enjoyed it like the first. It also helps when David Mayfield of Cadillac Sky adds comic relief by disco dancing onstage to "Good In The Kitchen". I wish we good hear more live performances from this band - they provide great harmonies, pickin' and lead vocals from Odessa Jorgensen.

What more can we say about this festival. Its one of the best. We'll be looking forward to next year and wish Andy Moritz a safe 18 hour journey.

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