Archive for the ‘Blueberry Bluegrass’ Tag

Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival, 2017   Leave a comment

It isn’t often you get to reinvent yourself after 31 years, but that is what Blueberry Bluegrass needed and was able to achieve during their 2017 event, August 4-6. BBG

Held in Stony Plain, Alberta, the Society celebrated their 32nd edition by pulling out all the stops to even hold the event. The current organizing committee didn’t take the reins of the fest until late February, and with no advance work having been done for the 2017 event, many feared for the future of the festival. But thanks to the efforts of area bluegrass stalwarts, many associated with but separate from the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society, it happened. And thank goodness it did.

Blueberry has long been one of Canada’s premier bluegrass events, having been referred to (accurately or not) as the largest and oldest bluegrass festival in the country, going through periods of growth (and stints of fallow) over the course of its three decades. It has battled August snow storms, near tornado-like winds and rain, sound system failures, no-shows, and performance disappointments while also embracing warm, azure Alberta skies, life-altering shows from legends, facilitating friendships and an intermittently strong provincial bluegrass scene.

Prior to this year’s event, Blueberry had gone through the management of essentially three different teams of leadership, each featuring individual strengths, foci, perspective, and vision during their years of control. Respect for all who previously headed the fest. While no event can satisfy each and every bluegrass fan—and I stayed away out of dissatisfaction for much of the decade from 2004-2014—Blueberry has done a pretty good job of meeting the needs of most. Quibbles aside, the Alberta bluegrass community has been well-served by Blueberry, and many of the most important names and bands have played the fest, Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, and J. D. Crowe on through to today’s hottest bands including The Earls of Leicester, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, and the Del McCoury Band. Local heroes have developed at Blueberry, among them Jerusalem Ridge and Down To The Wood.

Without getting into gossip and ‘inside baseball’ territory—the details of which I am not privy—or criticizing prior practices, Blueberry Bluegrass dived into their next era this year, and the effect was immediately apparent.

While getting into the festival site was a bit of a mess on Saturday morning (the only day I was able to attend this year—I don’t believe I have the stamina to take in a three-day fest), the twenty minutes spent in line awaiting admittance was the only negative I experienced all day. Well, the weather wasn’t great but that is well-beyond anyone’s control.  So many positive adjustments were apparent, some of them very significant.

Most notable, the use of the available facilities was taken to positive advantage. Blueberry has long been fortunate to have a gravelled stage site, access to flushables, and a covered pavilion for venders and additional conveniences. A new building had been built on the site, and the new board grabbed it to allow a second stage, this one indoor. As we all know, any fest is at the mercy of the weather, and by taking advantage of the new building, the organizers  advanced the festival to its next level.

BMB

The Bix Mix Boys- well, most of them. Sorry, Jim.

Not only does the second stage provide an indoor respite for those looking for such (and additional washrooms) it also allowed the festival programmers the advantage of broadening their artistic vision. Providing listeners choice (something admittedly not all welcomed when competing stage times caused undesirable conflicts) the festival allows guests their preference: inside/outside, Band A/Band B, wet/dry. According to one of the performers, the ballroom is not particularly ‘sound-friendly,’ but no one would have discerned that. Why? The festival invested in excellent equipment and sound talent, going as far as bringing in Miles Wilkinson to head up the interior sound team. Amazing. As well, the second floor of the new hall allowed for a private green room for the performers, a separate area for volunteer meals and such, and an intimate workshop space. No complaints heard. A third stage was available for the workshops and jams as well as additional performances.

The organizing committee went extra lengths to provide opportunities for attendees to participate in a variety of activities, some related to bluegrass, some not. While the music is what matters to me, I am glad that the committee recognizes that ‘value added’ elements will help grow the festival. Among the many activities organized for younger guests were a petting zoo, an arcade, and colouring contest, as well as bluegrass-related films, instrumental and singing workshops throughout the days, and facilitated jamming tents. Additionally, the venders market was vastly expanded and improved, and this was only possible by re-establishing relationships with area venders and artisans. The concourse area was filled with tables featuring commercial products, handcrafted items, and instruments, providing additional energy and vitality.

Building relationships is part of all good festival experiences, and the Blueberry board recognizes this. To secure talent, they were able to draw on the personal relationships built with professional musicians through years of involvement within the bluegrass community. The time they committed to working with the local government, communities, and service groups was apparent. Also obvious was the liaising that had been done between Blueberry and other area music presenters, the folk clubs and other western roots music fests, many of which had information tables. Gary Glewinski provided ukulele workshops.

None of this would matter if the quality of the stage presentations was lacking. Despite challenges, this year’s Blueberry line-up was more than satisfying. Of the seven full sets I witnessed, not a single one disappointed and the diversity was appreciated. Each performer seemed to match and exceed those that came before: who was my favourite? Who played last?

Blue Highway, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, and David Peterson & 1946 (two sets) displayed different shades of ‘grass, and showed that this music has room for the traditional and original, for the progressive and that which emulates a previous time. (However, I still don’t need yodelling in my bluegrass.) While I didn’t catch their sets, reports were that the Spinney Brothers and Feller and Hill were also well received, while Fervor Coulee faves In With the Old, Russell DeCarle, and Nomad Jones performed on days when I wasn’t present.

OML

Old Man Luedecke…and his mic stand

Old Man Luedecke provided a bridge to the folk world, while Foghorn Stringband brought in the country/old-time element. Both received extended ovations. Local and area bluegrass talent was also given additional prominence this year, something that had been less respected in recent years. The Bix Mix Boys, whose energetic set I did catch, and Kayla and Matt Hotte were appreciated by their audiences.

While some criticized the lack of BIG NAMES (whomever that is supposed to be- you don’t get bigger than Blue Highway) this year’s festival has to be considered an artistic and entertainment success. Notable was the inclusion of eastern Canadian acts this year—The Spinney Brothers, The Foggy Hogtown Boys, and Old Man Luedecke—when it was previously asserted that it “wasn’t worth the money” to bring talent west. A Canadian festival must support developing and established Canadian bluegrass.

1946

David Peterson & 1946

I was familiar with all the performers I witnessed on Saturday, but there were still surprises. David Peterson brought Mike Bub along, the bassist making his Blueberry debut twenty years after missing due to illness his scheduled appearance with the Del McCoury Band. Also with Peterson was his tenor foil Mickey Boles, a terrific mandolinist and vocalist, and the team of Corrina Rose Logston (fiddle) and Jeremy Stephens (banjo). What a band, and as a bonus Corrina and Jeremy gifted me a pair of albums, including their highly impressive High Fidelity band release. I had forgotten how powerful a singer Peterson is, and as he was singing “In The Mountaintops to Roams,” he just kept twisting emotion from the song. I’ve already filled a couple holes in my DP&1946 collection purchasing two downloads this week.

Adding to the enjoyment and in another essential progression, a rotating cast of personable MCs worked the stages, keeping the focus where it belongs—on the festival and the talent.

Of all the developments apparent at the 2017 edition of Blueberry, none seemed to be better received than the ‘late night’ old-time country dances. Featuring ever-popular local legends Calvin Vollrath & Alfie Myhres Friday and The Caleb Klauder Country Band on Saturday, reportedly the audience filled the hall and dance floor for high-spirited, communal celebration. These dances were a risk for the Blueberry folks, and it appears to have paid off in full.

FHSB

3/4 of Foghorn Stringband

The festival would be nothing without its volunteers, and while I understand some long-serving volunteers were not brought into the fold this past year, those who were working the festival were unfailingly polite and helpful. Hopefully those who were overlooked this time out, perhaps due to the lack of transition support received by the new organizers, will be encouraged back into the event.

During the course of the weekend—and as a result of meticulous planning and effort—Blueberry Bluegrass was completely revitalized!

The Board of Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival must grow their event, attracting additional paying guests and sponsorship. Keeping the focus on bluegrass will be a must, but incorporating the folk, old-time, traditional (but high-quality) country, Americana, and broader acoustic roots worlds will be an important part of the festival’s long-term health and vitality. Similarly, continuing to network with the local communities and governments will be vital, as will ensuring the festival offers its attendees more than just the music—opportunities for families to experience the music together being paramount.

My relationship with Stony Plain, Alberta goes back well before I discovered bluegrass or attended my first Blueberry in 1997. Stony Plain was where I had my first milkshake (at the long gone Gulf station restaurant out on the highway), attended my first pancake breakfast, and saw my first parade. Stony Plain was where Dr. Patterson was, where I went for speech therapy, and where once—as a four-or five-year old—I got onto the floor of the high school gym during a basketball game. It was the town of significance nearest our farm, and I thought I would always live near. Turns out, I haven’t—but for a weekend (or part of one) each year, I return. A dozen times I have driven into town for the festival, and I immediately feel at home. This past Blueberry Bluegrass was that much more significant for its improvements, and I have seldom felt so welcomed.

Way to go, Blueberry organizers: here’s to the next 32 years! See you August 3-5, 2018.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

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The Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar review   1 comment

the-earls-of-leicester-rattle-and-roar-album-cover

The Earls of Leicester Rattle & Roar Rounder Records

Before most North Americans had heard of Premier League champions Leicester City, bluegrass fans well knew how to pronounce the name of the East Midlands municipality. That’s a result of Jerry Douglas’ brilliant, timely idea: celebrate the ongoing influence of Earl Scruggs (that’s the Earl) and Lester Flatt (there’s the Leicester) by gathering some of his finest musician friends to not only recreate but reinvigorate the songs of the (in the opinion of many) preeminent bluegrass band, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The  Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music (to use the popular vernacular,) this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years.

Their self-titled album of 2014 was a stunner. That much-heralded recording not only won the Grammy as Bluegrass Album of the Year, but the group received six awards at the most recent IBMA festivities including Instrumental Group of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year for country and bluegrass veteran Shawn Camp. With extensive touring, The Earls of Leicester are most definitely at the fore of contemporary bluegrass performers. So, where to from there?

The lineup of the group has been tweaked, with Tim O’Brien departing and the highly respected Jeff White now filling Curly Seckler’s spot within the group: this noted musician, songwriter, and past member of Union Station more than admirably and seamlessly took over when O’Brien was unavailable to tour with The Earls of Leicester, and throughout this recording contributes additional spark within the vocal trios.

The balance of The Earls of Leicester remains consistent from last time. Jerry Douglas is the bandleader and his Dobro© is prominent within the arrangements, many of which are ‘note-perfect’ to the Flatt & Scruggs’ originals. As example, “Buck Creek Gal,” compared with a television appearance featuring Scruggs and Paul Warren, is near duplicated at the tail-end of Rattle & Roar. Still, this isn’t mimicry: The Earls of Leicester have taken the time to deconstruct the songs, challenging themselves to reassemble the arrangements with mindful awareness that a judicious balance between the original, timeless approach and modern innovation is essential.

Shawn Camp takes the lead vocals, and sounds even more confident in assuming the role of Lester Flatt. Johnny Warren is the fiddler, Charlie Cushman is on the 5, and Barry Bales handles the bass.

While the group largely limited themselves to material from the mid-50s to mid-60s last time out, on Rattle & Roar The Earls of Leicester have broadened their selection of songs. Hitting early 1950s sessions, they pick off “Why Did You Wander?,” “Pray For the Boys,” and “Flint Hill Special” this time out. Most everyone knows “The Train That Carried My Girl from Town,” “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind,” and “Will You Be Lonesome, Too?” but no one should object to the vibrant renditions contained herein.

The group continues to choose numbers that are familiar without being overly-recorded and performed. “Branded Wherever I Go,” “All I Want is You,” and “A Faded Red Ribbon” present different facets of the band’s personality. On the sacred side, a mid-set interlude of “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep” and “I’m Working on a Road (To Glory Land)” is particularly effective, along with the acute, harmony-drenched “You Can Feel It In Your Soul.” “Steel Guitar Blues,” often associated with Roy Acuff, is a number that Flatt & Scruggs performed but didn’t record. Utilizing Paul Warren’s performance diary has afforded The Earls of Leicester with an insight into the history of The Foggy Mountain Boys that others can only envy.

While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Douglas nodding to Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Camp encouraging Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and White grinning to Bales as the song is brought home.

With hundreds of songs still waiting to be recorded (drop the harmonica, and I think The Earls of Leicester would destroy “Last Train to Clarksville”) one hopes they continue to perform this music that they most obviously relish and respect. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless—and the ability to pull it off— Rattle & Roar is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.

Two weeks to Blueberry: you’ll want to be there to catch The Earls of Leicester!

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald

Inserted chronologically, and originally published elsewhere:

Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Festival, Canada’s largest bluegrass fester-and one of its longest running-goes the August long weekend, which in atypically contrary Canadian fashion falls on July 29-31 this year.
Blueberry occurs in Stony Plain, Alberta one of many charming small towns and cities (population 15 000, give or take) surrounding the province’s capital city, Edmonton. Blueberry started in 1985, had the requisite growing pains, and bloomed into maturity in 1995 hosting Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys. The festival experienced a spurt in growth-and budget-around 2005 and has continued, during the last decade, to bring to Alberta some of the finest bluegrass bands performing. The festival grounds underwent a complete upgrade a few years ago, and it is difficult to imagine a better small town festival location.
The sustainability of the festival is a tribute to the efforts of the volunteer-based organization.
(I started showing up in 1997, attending regularly until I became so overly involved in my own bluegrass-promotion efforts-through my association with a Red Deer-based club-that the last thing I wanted to do during the summer was spend time surrounded by people far more interested in talking through sets than they were in listening…fortunately, that rude behaviour appears to be less prevalent today. Also, I got tired of the shameless self-promotion and other irritants I felt had become rampant at the fest. I’m not sure that has stopped, but I have become much better at worrying about only things I can control. I’ve returned the last couple years, and have enjoyed myself quite thoroughly.)
I heartily recommend that Americans looking for something a little different take advantage of the excellent exchange rate and visit Stony Plain and Blueberry this summer. As far as line-ups go, you can’t help but be impressed: The Earls of Leicester, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition, Bluegrass, Etc., and The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys will provide a range of bluegrass interpretations throughout the weekend. Unlike some other festivals, artists usually play sets on two or three of the days of the event. (The schedule for this year isn’t yet posted.) I also understand that they are switching from 45-minute sets to sixty and ninety minutes sets, resulting in fewer transitions. A band competition is also featured, as are free workshops in the mornings.
As Blueberry includes-for some damn reason-the words “& Country Music Festival” in its name, there is almost always a couple acts that play some form of the music. Some years it is a well-regarded, welcome name-Suzy Bogguss, Marty Stuart, Michael Martin Murphey-and other years it is a local or area ‘noisy boy’ who plays some semblance of rock ‘n’ roll-inspired country. This year, the country element of the bill will be represented by a set of well-known area country music veterans collectively billed as ‘Canadian Country Music Legends.’ Depending on what they perform, Young Medicine, a First Nations duo, may end up being of most interest.
The management group of the festival work hard to present a family-friendly environment. The local economy is supported via several food trucks and concessionaires on site, as well as a small market of area crafts and other offerings. There are a lot of (unserviced) sites for RVs and the like, and there are many area campgrounds that offer additional amenities.
If there is a criticism of the festival, I would suggest that they have not done enough in recent years to support Canadian bluegrass bands (I well know that Chris Jones has long lived in Canada.) Non-local Canadian bluegrass bands have become a rarity at the fest, and that may be a reflection of the dearth of quality groups across the country-although other fests seem to be able to feature some. Alberta bluegrass bands often get ‘less-than-prime’ performance slots. Why precious financial resources were/are earmarked for less than impressive outfits-musically amateurish (I still haven’t recovered from Trick Ryder a couple years ago) or awkward electric-guitar focused schedule fillers-over the last couple years while ignoring the potential of (reasonably priced) Alberta roots acts-I’m thinking Matt Patershuk, John Wort Hannam, Laura Vinson, or Maria Dunn-to further expand their aural texture, or Canadian bluegrass bands is puzzling. Most likely, these are ‘inside baseball’ factors that will not concern most patrons: if uninterested in the stage performance, most will simply break for lunch or go back to the camper for a nap. Me, I fret and think about what I ‘could’ be listening to if only someone had greater (or at least, more flexible) vision. Okay, so I haven’t completely succeeded in worrying about only that which I can control.
See, for me, anyone can book the top three bands for a bluegrass festival-as long as the group is touring and you have the budget, those deals are easy. Where the skill comes in is in booking the rest of the fest-Who is the under-known band that will be the fan favourite? Which act, a little left (or right) of center, is going to surprise everyone with something different? What veteran can be brought in to connect to the roots of the music? Who can be hired to expand your audience beyond the essential seniors? Which band will be hitting the charts in a year or two? (The bands that would have pushed the fest even further this year might be the likes of The Hillbenders, Della Mae, Sister Sadie, The O’Connor Band, Irene Kelly…still, this year’s Blueberry lineup is very strong.)
No one goes to Blueberry Bluegrass for anything but bluegrass, and with a line-up of stellar American acts playing this year (and a Canadian dollar that is very favourable to south-of-the-border visitors) there is no better time to discover this Alberta festival.
If you are looking for more Canadian content in your bluegrass, there are other festivals from which to choose.
A few weeks after Blueberry, a smaller bluegrass festival goes further south in the province. Near Nanton, the Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival occurs August 19-21. Housed on the Broadway Farm, for a few years a decade ago, Shady Grove gave Blueberry a run for its money. Currently, the festival appears content to be the less flamboyant cousin, quietly going about its business presenting an emerging American act (this year, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado) as well as several Alberta and Canadian bluegrass groups-the very capable Canyon Mountain, 5 on a String, Misery Mountain Boys, All Day Breakfast Stringband, Steve Fisher, Prairie’s Edge, and the Spitzee Post Band.
Again, unserviced camping, a family atmosphere, and plenty of jamming will be present.
In north-central Saskatchewan, near Prince Albert Provincial Park and Big River, is the Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old-Tyme Music Festival, August 12-14. I’ve never attended this fest, but it has been going for more than a decade to good word-of-mouth reviews. The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are the featured Americans, with a variety of Canadian acts rounding out the bill- The Fitzgeralds, from the Ottawa Valley, The Annie Lou Band-an act I have great regard for-Quebec vets Notre Dame de Grass, All Day Breakfast String Band, Rugged Little Thing, Andrew Sneddon and Matthew Hornell, and others appear. A music camp is held the week following.
The Steep Canyon Rangers and The Kruger Brothers are about all the Edmonton Folk Music Festival is offering this time out for bluegrass, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of great roots music-starting with John Wort Hannam, Mike Farris, Dar Williams, and Colin Linden amongst the usual assortment of bigger names-on offer. The fest goes August 4-7 in the province’s capital city.
July 21-24, the Calgary Folk Music Festival is on in the tranquil environs of Princess Island Park. No hardcore bluegrass, but The Steel Wheels appear, as do Robbie Fulks, Eilen Jewell, Ian Tyson, and Elizabeth Cook, as well as a huge slate of roots, folk, and world acts. Always a good time.
Consider coming north this summer:there is a great deal of bluegrass and roots music occurring in Alberta’s prairie provinces. I would suggest you are not only assured excellent music, but the company of some friendly folks who share your passion for bluegrass music.

 

Blueberry Bluegrass Music Festival July 31-August 2, 2015   Leave a comment

untitledWestern Canada’s and most likely Canada’s largest bluegrass festival celebrates its 30th edition later this month with a roster that includes Hot Rize, the Seldom Scene, the Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, and several Alberta acts. Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I advance the show and speak with one of the festival’s organizers, my bluegrass pal Sheila Hallett. If all works out, I’ll see you there…but, don’t let that stop ya!

Blueberry Bluegrass Music Festival 2014 August 03   Leave a comment

BlueberryposterThe incredibly successful 29th annual Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival concluded with a spectacular day of music on August 3 at Stony Plain, AB. I attended only the final day of the of the three-day set, and found no end to the elements that impressed.

The Society put together a very strong bluegrass lineup comprised of bands that complemented each other, featuring performers who have- for the most part, and certainly within these configurations- not appeared previously at Blueberry. Lacking a ‘massive’ headliner this year- after all, you can only bring in Rhonda, The Spinneys, The Gibsons, DLQ,  and Marty so many times, no matter how popular they are- the list of scheduled performers was, from my perspective, impressive.

The delightful Suzy Bogguss was the biggest name on the bill, with The James King Band, The Rambling Rooks, The Larry Stephenson Band, and Grasstowne providing the greatest name recognition from a bluegrass standpoint.

Having not attended Blueberry for seven (!) years, much has changed since I last found opportunity and inspiration to purchase a ticket to this event. As I’ve previously written, I loyally attended Blueberry from 1996 to 2002, but became unimpressed when the previous leadership left the fest. Still, I attended on an intermittent basis to 2007.

Billing itself as “Canada’s Largest Bluegrass Festival,” Blueberry has consistently booked high calibre line-ups that have balanced the bluegrass and country elements of its name (about 90/10, traditionally) featuring regional acts as well as the up-and-coming groups, veteran bands with drawing power, musician’s musicians, and ‘top tier’ bluegrass acts. Few is the high-profile bluegrass act that hasn’t appeared at Blueberry over the past three decades.

Of the things that have changed since I last attended, the site itself is most notable. Several years ago, the exhibition grounds that house the festival had a complete makeover, and having not seen this improvement prior to this past Sunday I have to say from logistical and amenities perspectives that this is clearly the best site I’ve seen for an outdoor bluegrass festival.

Parking has been improved, and the concert seating area is now graveled. The pavilion was greatly expanded- perhaps even rebuilt- and the surrounding grounds have been completely redeveloped. The stage, which was once little more than a shed, is now a study, freestanding building with ample room for instrument storage and staff movement.

Since I only attended the Sunday, I missed Donna Ulisse & the Poor Mountain Boys completely, as well as some of the regional performers including the Steve Fisher Band. Talking with many people throughout the day, the feedback about this year’s festival and lineup was uniformly positive. The two negative elements repeatedly mentioned was the apparent over-booking of ‘country’ and ‘rock’ acts, and this was apparent on the Sunday schedule, and an annoying, continual hum in the sound mix.

While Blueberry has always included one or two non-bluegrass acts, according to those I spoke with there was a perception this year that some of the acts booked, specifically the retro-country bar band Trick Ryder and classic rock act (a weak description, but best I can come up with) Jimmy Wiffen didn’t fit with the established atmosphere of the festival.

Not being privy to the details, I’m told attendance this year was healthy, but down from last year’s apparent peak when Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder appeared and the site was overflowing with attendees. On the positive side, it didn’t rain this year!

From what I gathered, the weekend belonged to James King. His Friday performance was, by all reports, fantastic, and on Saturday Don Rigsby joined him for a couple songs. James’ recent health challenges have been widely reported, and he had a set back while at Blueberry; James shared that he had to avail himself of our health care system on Saturday, spending several hours at an area hospital.

Noticeably gaunt and obviously not in peak physical condition, Sunday’s set wasn’t as strong as his previous ones were reported to have been. Grasstowne’s Kameron Keller stepped in on banjo, while James’s regular bassist John Marquess and mandolin player- whose name I missed beyond Ron- greatly assisted in helping King get through this final set.

James did quite a bit of talking on stage, emotion entering his voice several times when talking about his band members and his

James King, right with Fervor Coulee; Stony Plain, Aug. 03 2014

James King, right with Fervor Coulee; Stony Plain, Aug. 03 2014

appreciation for the audience. Performing seated, King appeared to gain energy as his set unfolded. Apparently working without a set list, the band members did their best to perform the songs King called out. It didn’t help that I had a hard time hearing King’s guitar in the mix for the first third of the set.

“Iron Curtain” was more ragged than right, and an impromptu “Bill Cheatham” almost didn’t make it onto the rails, let alone fall off of them, but by the time he launched into “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” King’s voice had warmed up, and things just kept getting better. Promising “something old and good,” he launched into “Darling Say Won’t You Be Mine” before slipping into the always impactful “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore.”

By this time, I could hear his guitar. King paid tribute to both James Alan Shelton and George Shuffler by picking out “The Wildwood Flower” (at least, I think that’s what it was! Without words, sometimes I get confused) and “Home Sweet Home.”

More Stanley music followed with “Our Last Goodbye” and his set closing “I Am Weary, Let Me Rest.” “Thirty Years of Farming” was shouted from the audience, and King performed this bluegrass chart-topping Fred Eaglesmith song as his encore.

Few were seated as King left the stage, with the Blueberry audience showing genuine affection for The Bluegrass Storyteller. Having seen six or seven James King sets over the years, this was certainly not the strongest I’ve seen him, but I am sure glad I got to hear him again.

Far from being a country music has-been, Suzy Bogguss continues to produce albums of excellence, and while her evening set was short on ‘show,’ she exhibited talent and taste in abundance. That the mainstream chooses to pass her by is simply to our benefit.

Opening with “I Still Miss Someone,” Bogguss held onto the crowd for the full fifty-minute set. With Charlie Chadwick on upright bass and Craig Smith on guitar, she delivered several familiar songs from the Americana songbook including an exquisite rendition of “The Wildwood Flower”- man, she sings that one well- and “Careless Love.” She went back twenty-five years for her first Top 20 hit “Cross My Broken Heart,” and reminded some of us of her participation on the Remembering Buddy Holly project by ripping through “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”

Lucky was represented by “Silver Wings” and my favourite Hag song, “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room.” Finishing with John Hiatt’s “Drive South” and “The Red River Valley,” Bogguss’s set was ample demonstration of the breadth of the footprint she has placed on country and roots music since 1989.

Unlike some of the other ‘country’ music on the bill, Bogguss’s unvarnished but up-tempo approach to roots music went well  with the largely acoustic proceedings of the day. When looking to expand the festival’s appeal to non-bluegrass devotees (as almost every bluegrass-based fest must, and seems to struggle with) the Blueberry booker would be wise to follow his instincts in this direction.

Until the Earls of Leiscester were announced, it looked like The Rambling Rooks were the latest bluegrass supergroup. Comprised of three stalwarts of the bluegrass wars, The Rambling Rooks made plenty of fans this weekend.

Kenny Smith, Ronnie Bowman, and Don Rigsby joined by Justin Moses on banjo successfully bridged the gap that exits when a band a) doesn’t have an album that listeners are familiar with and b) is bringing together under a single new umbrella three distinct performers with independent careers and repertoires.

Another Stanley tune was performed- this time “Heart to Heart (Think Of What You’ve Done)”- and I finally got to hear a fiddle as Moses picked it up on “The Kentucky Waltz.”

An aside- has anyone else noticed that fewer bluegrass bands are traveling with a fiddler? Of the six bluegrass bands I heard Sunday, Moses was the only fiddler I heard and that was only on one song. As most if not all bluegrass albums feature fiddling, I don’t think we’re seeing an adjustment to the music. Is this simple bluegrass economics? Is it too expensive to carry a fiddler far from home? With the bands I saw at Blueberry carrying only four musicians, I recall that five was once the norm. When did this change? I know I feel a little ripped off when I see only four on the stage.

Back to The Rambling Rooks. Rigsby and Bowman split the songs fairly evening- I’m guessing Don got one or two more leads, but

Local Heroes- Down to the Wood (Curt, Mark, and Glen) visiting at Blueberry, August 3 2014

Local Heroes- Down to the Wood (Curt, Mark, and Glen) visiting at Blueberry, August 3 2014

Ronnie’s rendition of his “Three Rusty Nails” was pretty powerful. With three-part harmony on the chorus over tasteful picking from Smith, this performance was a highlight of the day. Familiar songs performed included “I’m Ain’t Broke, But I’m Badly Bent,” an energetic “Nine Pound Hammer, ” and “Bootleg John.”

Look for an album from The Rambling Rooks early in the new year.

Nu-Blu, with ten years as an entity, represented the ‘up and coming’ element of bluegrass. Having built a positive relationship with the audience the first two days, their set on Sunday afternoon was very well received. Performing songs from all of their recordings, the four-piece outfit impressed with a good blend of male and female lead vocals from Daniel and Carolyn Routh, and strong instrumentation.

The gospel side was represented by “Little Mountain Church” and Carolyn Routh’s “Hammer,” a great song. They mixed things up a little, going for different sounds including a bass, guitar, and mandolin arrangement for several songs.

The treat of their set was the stage debut of Nu-Blu’s strong new single, “Jesus and Jones;” this song went over especially well with the audience. Nu-Blu was a good band to kick-off the day’s bluegrass offerings.

Without offense to anyone, it is always wonderful to hear Steve Gulley. Last through Alberta with Dale Ann Bradley this past autumn, Gulley was filling in with his former-Grasstowne mates this weekend. Alan Bibey’s band is always top drawer, and being the true pro that he is Bibey ensured his band of Gulley (guitar), Justin Jenkins (banjo) and Kameron Keller (bass) was ready for their final set for the weekend.

Great songs abounded. The “In the Blue Room” instrumental flowed into “Blue Rocking Chair,” and then Gulley just killed it. His a capella rendition of “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” was maybe the best vocal performance I have ever heard him give in concert…and I’ve heard some pretty amazing stuff from him. Gulley also performed “The Door,” a song he usually sneaks into his sets, while he did his best Del to accompany Bibey on the closing “The County Fool.”

My favourite bluegrass set of the day came from The Larry Stephenson Band.

Celebrating his 25th year as band leader, Stephenson’s high tenor should be welcome on any bluegrass stage, and his afternoon set appeared to be appreciated by most in attendance.

Utilizing a single vocal mic, the band worked it with meticulousness. Standing back two feet and more on the choruses, Stephenson’s voice pierced the afternoon heat. It was an amazing thing to hear!

When I think about bluegrass, this is the kind of music I want to hear- drivin’, subtle only in its vocal and instrumental precision, straight-ahead, no nonsensical humour or lame banter: The Larry Stephenson Band was exceptional.

The spirit of the Osborne Brothers’ music was certainly palatable throughout the set. The forlorn “Give This Message To Your Heart” obviously brought this to the fore, as did ” Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Stephenson’s mando breaks were a wonder to hear in such an intimate setting, while Kenny Ingram remains as powerful as ever. His signature “Pike County Breakdown” was mighty crisp. Guitarist Colby Laney took the lead on “Lover’s Lane,” while the bass was handled by Matt Wright.

“Poor Old Cora,” “The Many Hills of Time,” “The Pretty Blue Dress” kept things moving, and by the time Stephenson was holding that note in the show-stopping “How High Is That Mountain?” he was just showing off. The spirit of the Osborne’s returned as the set closed with “The Sound That Set My Soul of Fire” and “Me and My Old Banjo.”

Vocally, instrumentally, song selection and balance- not that it is a competition, but The Larry Stephenson Band performed the strongest set of bluegrass I heard all day. Amazing stuff.

By the time The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band hit the stage, it was dark and I was ready to hit the road for home. I did stay to listen to about half of their scheduled allocation, and while it was obvious the group- including Herb Pederson, Brad Davis and a bass player- advertised as Mark Fain, but I know better to believe bluegrass festival programs; Jon Randall was advertised as part of the band, but obviously didn’t make the trip)- favoured extended jams on tunes including “It Doesn’t Matter,” “Lady’s Love,” and even Rodney Crowell’s “Wandering Boy,” they didn’t do so much noodling to cause me to drift away.

The crowd had considerably thinned by this time, and whether it was the time of evening or that the group was a bit too progressive, I thought these impressive players meshed and presented good music. I guess you either ‘get it’ or you don’t, and that’s okay.

Congratulations to the entire Blueberry board and volunteers, especially first time talent booker Kenny Mak, on a very successful bluegrass fest. It was great to catch up with so many folks, and Elsa even brought over a piece of saskatoon pie. Trust me, it doesn’t get better than that!

I’m already looking forward to the 30th Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Fest next August long weekend. Maybe I’ll even get there!

Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Festival, Stony Plain, AB August 2-4, 2013   Leave a comment

Prairie%20Sky%20Home%20Page%20PhotoI truly became a bluegrass music fan while attending the Blueberry Bluegrass fest in the late ’90s; while I had heard the music before, it was on those often wet, occasionally sunny August long weekends beginning in 1997 that my appreciation for the music was extended and solidified. I attended the festival faithfully for six or seven years, and the 2000 fest inspired my father-in-law and I to get things moving with a bluegrass society in Red Deer. However, as times changed, and especially as personalities involved evolved- and I became overloaded a little on the music- I stopped attending: while the names within the festival’s line-up became bigger and bigger, the spirit of the festival seemed to be lacking the previous magic. Following 2003’s excellent ‘farewell’ Tames’ fester, I found other events to fill my summer music needs, largely folk festivals in Edmonton and Calgary and the Shady Grove Bluegrass fest. I returned for a day in 2007, but haven’t been back since.

This summer, I am more seriously than in recent years considering making the drive north to Stony Plain for at least a day this August long weekend: I know I couldn’t do a whole weekend, no matter how strong the line-up. I have, in the intervening years, become burned out attending large folk festivals, and found myself less tolerant of morons attending the same (even small) shows as I at Kansas City’s Middle of the Map fest so I know that one day of crowds, even those gathered for the bliss that is bluegrass, is my maximum.

This year’s Blueberry schedule follows a pattern of recent years: three ‘big name’ bluegrass bands, a couple or three ‘second and third tier’ groups, several local bands, and some country artists who usually play opening act during country fairs and the like. Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, The Boxcars, and Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice comprise the ‘big name’ category, and I would really like to catch Sisk and his boys as well as The Boxcars. The Whites are travelling with Skaggs (I presume) and they don’t tour very widely, so they may be a good catch this time out. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado is a band whose name seldom comes up, so I can’t say anything one way or another about them: Scroggins played with the Blue Canyon Boys and KC Groves was with Uncle Earl, as well as performing on her own. Some time ago, Groves released an album that I reviewed for Bluegrass Now that I quite liked. I am hopeful that they’ll be a nice surprise.

The Spinney Brothers are also performing, but they have never done a lot for me; I just find them one-dimensional, without a lot of harmony depth. Locally, I’d like to catch up with the gals and Kenny from Prairie Sky and Black Lightening, too.

The complete Blueberry Bluegrass schedule is available on their website.

So, if you attend Blueberry- especially on the Sunday- keep an eye open for me. I’ll be the guy shaking my head at the folks talking all through the concert sets.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Blueberry Bluegrass 2012…and post 500!   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass (http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=912) I’ve advanced the forthcoming Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Festival to be held at Stony Plain Aug.3-5, 2012. Blue Highway, The Gibson Brothers, Rhonda Vincent, and others appear over the course of three days.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Fairly Random Links for today   Leave a comment

As we all are, I’ve been quite busy these last weeks. What with watching (too much) Olympic action- after vowing not to watch any, but come on- how can you not watch more skicross or snowboard cross once you see it- and trying to keep up with my real job and life, writing sometimes has to take a back seat. Compound this with things I stumble across on the Internet when doing research, and I’m surprised I accomplish anything anywhere. Below are a few sites I’ve discovered the past few weeks- I have no interest in any of them and do not advocate their content beyond the fact that I found them interesting. Don’t blame me for the time you spend visiting them. Best, Donald.

http://1000awesomethings.com/about/ What it says.

http://www.outinthestorm.com/ Alberta singer-songwriter Ruth Purves Smith’s site with music and video.

http://redneckerson.blogspot.com/ One of my favourite places for out of print and often obscure country recordings.

http://tinyurl.com/y8wcab3 My newest favourite album- Strange Creek Singers, featuring Hazel Dickens, and somehow I had never heard of it before last week. On eMusic and YouTube.

http://www.blueberrybluegrass.com/ Once upon a time my favourite bluegrass festival. It is still great, but has went a bit ‘big’ for my tastes- whatever that means- but their lineup is usually pretty good. This coming July’s festival lineup will be tough to beat.

http://www.countrystandardtime.com/countrymusic.asp I usually find something of interest here.

http://www.carrienewcomer.com/ Not a new discovery by any means, but I’ve been delving into her back catalogue and am liking everything I hear. Her new album is fabulous.

http://redbeetrecords.com/ For all things East Nashville, Eric Brace, and Peter Cooper.

http://www.archive.org/details/audio I’ve recommended this site before. Legit live recordings approved by the artists. You will spend hours here if you allow.

http://www.jennywhiteley.com/home/index.php Her new album is quite good and “Cold Kisses” is one of those songs that screams “You won’t hear anything better this week.” Really.

http://www.killbeatmusic.com/ For those of us in the business- okay, I’m not in the business, but whatever- Ken is one of the best promoters of independent and mostly Canadian talent. You can get lost here listening and viewing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OjDalPzTz4 James Reams is one of my favourite bluegrass singers and people. There are several Barnstormer clips on YouTube.

http://www.oldmanluedecke.ca/ His new album (coming late March) is a huge step forward. Much of this is due to the presence of Tim O’Brien, never a bad idea, but also due to OML’s development as a songwriter, singer, and performer. Covers Willie P. Bennett’s “Caney Fork River.”

http://btxmp3index.freeforums.org/index.php The Springsteen mp3 archive. O my gosh. If he wanted it down, I’m sure it would be. An amazing resource. I can’t get enough of the late 2009 shows.

and finally http://record-fiend.blogspot.com/search?q=Africa A website that I found while doing some searches after reading the 2003 Oxford American music issue last week. This album is one I can’t stop listening to.