Archive for the ‘Greg Blake’ Tag

Blueberry Bluegrass, 2018- in review   2 comments

The 32nd Blueberry Bluegrass Festival delivered.

While featuring several acts well-familiar in Alberta due to regular appearances over the last several years—Slocan Ramblers, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado—these groups brought their expected ‘A’ game while other, less-frequently encountered performers including quality area  and regional artists  also quickly enamoured themselves to the healthy-sized bluegrass audience.

In its second year of rejuvenation, the current board of directors, led by Anna Somerville, executed  a flawless festival. Charged with creating an event atmosphere similar perhaps to what Big Valley Jamboree (minus the boisterous silliness) or even Edmonton Folk Music Festival (without the hill) have established, the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival has been reborn: it doesn’t matter so much as to ‘who’ is appearing or what the weather is like, what is important is the fest itself.

Several features have contributed to the festival’s rebirth. New blood on the organization side has brought in new ideas and approaches. The Bluegrass Patio beer tent proved popular as the temperature climbed on Sunday afternoon, the petting zoo and balloon man were hits, as were the nightly country dances and terrific food trucks and vendors who appeared to do steady business. Working to establish relationships with the community has been successful, with the Pioneer Museum proving popular not the least of which because of the indoor stage which offered intimate performances.

Further, the availability of three-stage choices throughout the day is a huge boon to the festival’s patrons, providing considerable choice allowing for weather influenced or music selection and crowd-size preferences. It was also great to have CKUA on-site to broadcast a one-hour Blueberry Opry radio show featuring the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, Pharis & Jason Romero, and Kayla Hotte and hosted by Darcy Whiteside, and was a welcome addition.

One would have to have been searching with a mighty cynical eye to identify shortcomings with the 2018 edition of Blueberry. Some highlights:

The Travelin’ McCourys, making their Alberta debut, closed the festival in a manner that would be impressive absolutely anywhere. Energetic and at the absolute peak of their creative and musical capabilities, the quintet delivered a set including most of their recently released album, standards, and songs from solo projects. Some in the audience may have expected more of a ‘Del’ show, but the greatest majority were held enthralled by this modern, forward-looking interpretation of bluegrass.

The appreciation shown to singer-songwriter Braden Gates (and hisGates banjo-wielding accompanist Elliot Thomas) who, while having nothing to do with bluegrass, held discriminating listeners rapt with his personable manner and strong songs. Ditto the reception offered old-timey duo Pharis and Jason Romero (a personal favourite) whose music bridged the sometimes sizeable gap between folk and bluegrass listeners. Pharis Jason CKYAThere was a time at Blueberry when such would not have been encouraged, and I am certainly glad entertainment director Carolyn Hotte, Somerville, and their board possess the wisdom to envision the positive possibilities of broadening the festival’s palate.  

The Kody Norris Show, while deliberately gimmicky, won me over with their entertaining and high-quality presentation of old-time, country and western influenced ‘grass; like slippin’ through the folds of time, this outfit is. NortonTheir humour, banter, and hijinx certainly proved popular on their first trip into Canada. A great find for the festival, their sets were highlighted by several quality Norris originals, four gifted vocalists, an enduring rendition of “Tennessee Flattop Box,” and lively dancing. A caution is offered: shtick where the front man ‘picks’ on his sidekicks, mocking them, gets old…fast.

The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, recently signed to Rounder Records and nominated as IBMA Emerging Artists of the Year, demonstrated in their multiple performances the growth that occurs when a band is fully committed to their craft. PRB CKUAWhen we saw them two years ago, they were good; now they are world-class, ready to meet the challenges top-tier professional bands encounter with stronger songs and more intricate arrangements and harmonies.

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, buoyed by Ellie Hakanson who can sing a Hazel Dickens song and is a heck of a fiddler, Greg Blake who can sing anything, and the nimble-fingered Tristan Scroggins, showed why they are currently the most frequently booked US-based bluegrass band in Alberta. It was also great to see Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder again; while not as lively or engaging as some of the other groups—Skaggs tends to talk a touch too much, in my opinion— the music presented was enjoyable.

Musically, no act sent me running from my chair! The most overwhelming sensation felt at Blueberry Bluegrass was the tangible sense of community that is developing. While the festival has always provided welcome opportunity to reconnect with acquaintances and friends, the positive vibes emanating from every aspect of the festival—leadership, volunteers, performers, and patrons—were most obvious.

With leadership focused on the patron experience, top-flight bluegrass entertainment, and facilities that would be the envy of any acoustic, folk, or country music festival, Blueberry Bluegrass has turned the corner toward a dynamic future of their own determination. I’ve attended a baker’s dozen Blueberrys over the last 21 years, a mere newcomer compared to many: despite the lack of attention delivered to the festival by the greater Edmonton print and broadcast media, Blueberry has never been a better choice for bluegrass entertainment.



Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- Ramblin Feels Good review   1 comment


Over the past year, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado have become one of Alberta’s most popular bluegrass acts. They are not from Alberta, but savvy bookers have brought them in for a couple events, including the upcoming Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival this coming weekend, August 19-21, 2016. Member Greg Blake returns this fall to the Acoustic Music Workship at Camp He-Ho-Ha this autumn, and I’m told the group played a well received if poorly advanced concert in Edmonton in February.

They are a good, mid-level bluegrass band, lacking the polish of the top-tier bands- not a criticism. From their posted YouTube videos, it appears the groups sometimes falls into the trap of enjoying themselves a little too much during their between song blather: I’d prefer less chat and more playing, but the group reveals themselves to be both personable and spontaneous while delivering a bluegrass sound all their own.

My review of their third album has been published at Country Standard Time. Ramblin Feels Good is a completely enjoyable album lacking only a couple band-written songs to push it over the top. Greg Blake has quickly become one of my favourite bluegrass singers. I wrote a review of his album last October.

As always, thanks to the bands and publicists who forward to me albums for review. I do my best to get to as many as I can. Admittedly, this summer has been a bit sparse…hopefully this coming week sees some improvement. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.


Greg Blake: Songs of Heart and Home review   1 comment

blakeGreg Blake Songs of Heart and Home

When the acoustic roots world lost Doc Watson in 2012, we lost a bridge to the past. Through Doc Watson, if we were listening, we could travel through the hills of time to the post-Civil War era and a time when mountain traditions and lifestyle was much more than an affection. Through his family history, Watson could take us to Tom Dula and generations shaped by Child ballads before they were collected and such-identified.

Similar thoughts entered me wee noggin as I listened to this exceptional album from Greg Blake, a flat-picker with whom I was previously unfamiliar, although I had unknowingly heard him with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. To steal a phrase, there are ancient tones living in these songs.

One imagines that each of the songs contained on Songs of Heart and Home mean something to Blake. Whether they were important to his musical development in West Virginia isn’t explicitly stated in the notes, but one makes that guess, and therefore allows latitude to the inclusion of some songs that have been (too) frequently recorded.

Laurie Lewis duets with Blake on her “The Hills of Home,” and this is the first track that truly reveals Blake as an artist. The performance captures the ‘heart and home’ of the title, and brings the album’s theme not only to the fore, but to vitality. Bill Monroe (“Thinking About You,”) Bill Staines (“Where I Live”) and Ian Tyson (“Summer Wages”) are visited, as are numerous other ‘home’ songs including the album’s finest performance, the lively “Home Is Where The Heart Is.”

The album is mostly bluegrass in spirit and execution, with a bit of meandering into conventional (although not modern) country territory. The fiddling of Blaine Sprouse and John Reischman’s mandolin contributions are personal listening highlights. The album is most definitely a showcase for Blake, and he demonstrates that he is an excellent picker and capable vocalist. Scroggins takes care of the 5-string, Mark Schatz the URB and clawhammer-style banjo playing, while Sally Van Meter is the featured Dobro player.

Claire Lynch appears vocally on three tracks, and is nicely featured bringing her all to the songs including a gentle rendition of “Dreaming of a Little Cabin,” and Jeff Brown adds guitar to four tracks. “Dreaming of a Little Cabin” is highlighted by deft-Reischman notes that make me yearn for a new Jaybirds recording!

On the negative side, the inclusion of two Johnny Cash songs near the start of any album is, I believe, a mistake. “Hey Porter” and “I Still Miss Someone” are among the most overdone of Cash classics, and while the versions included herein are pleasant, they are little more.

Blake contributes one original, “50 Miles from Nowhere,” and one wonders with a number of this quality in his back pocket why additional songs from his pen were not included.

Songs of Heart and Home is an album that many will miss completely or overlook through carelessness. It isn’t going to change the bluegrass and acoustic worlds, but it just might positively impact your day. It’s a good one.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Posted 2015 October 10 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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