Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ 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

2016 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, part 2   Leave a comment

I am really missing the IBMA live stream: all the asides and quips, and especially the various “thanks” that are offered—you can learn a lot about a person by the way they accept an award. The ‘in memory’ segment is something for which I have great respect. Also, I regret not being able to hear the Rounder folks receive their Hall of Fame honours; I am certain Ken Irwin had fine words. Finally, the live performances are almost always memorable.

I can’t imagine why there is no live stream this year beyond a lack of sponsorship, which is too bad. I wonder why the IBMA can’t just ‘do it’ on their own…even if only on Periscope!

Mountain Faith, a band that made their name on a reality series, was just awarded Emerging Artist of the Year. Sigh. The less I say…

Song of the Year just went to a song originally released in 1990. I called it. I wouldn’t have voted for it. “You’re the One,” by Flatt Lonesome, giving them two awards tonight, and I predict they will get the hat trick later on. I believe it is the weakest performance on their (quite enjoyable) album; what the hell do I know?!

Again, the less I say…

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen were awarded Instrumental Group of the Year…my prediction percentage is falling—barely over 50% now. I heard The Earls of Leicester and Dirty Kitchen side-by-side this summer. No offense…to these ears and when it comes to ‘bluegrass,’ it ain’t close.

That is after self-revision/editing.

Penny Parsons, author of Foggy Mountain Troubadour, was named Bluegrass Media Person of the Year. I had placed her bio of Curly Seckler on my ‘to buy’ list, but then forgot about it…need to correct that.

It is hard for the bluegrass industry to receive true, critical coverage when folks are eligible (vying?) for recognition from the professional industry. No? Looking at the list of very fine past winners, perhaps Bluegrass Media Promoter of the Year would be a better name for the award.

Other Special Awards presented earlier went to the IBMA’s new chairperson, Joe Mullins, as Broadcaster of the Year, and his son Daniel for Best Liner notes for a Traditional Grass compilation…a band featuring Joe Mullins. Yes, the industry is a bit incestuous…

Flatt Lonesome won Album of the Year, an album much, much stronger than their previous and one I positively reviewed. Still, Runaway Train wouldn’t have been in my top 25 bluegrass albums of the year, and where I predicted the ‘hat trick’ above, I thought they would get Entertainer of the Year. The SteelDrivers got themselves robbed.

The evening’s final award—Entertainer of the Year—rightfully goes to The Earls of Leicester! As it should be. (I predicted Flatt Lonesome, but hoped for the Earls.) I believe that puts me below 50% for the night on the predications, probably better than I have ever done before…not exactly pleased about that, but glad about many of them.

I wonder what I missed? Hopefully next year the video live stream is back…or at least someone in the audience decides to Periscope the event.

 

2016 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards   Leave a comment

Most years I live blog about the awards as they occur, but this year I am having to rely on Twitter, and specifically @StacyChandler for information as they are not streaming the awards this year. I am sure there is a reason for this, a good one, but it is disappointing.

Therefore, I will only post a couple times tonight and leave the instantaneous reactions to those present.

I posted my thoughts and predictions over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass earlier this week, if you care.

The first award of the evening goes to The Special Consensus for Instrumental Performance of the Year, “Fireball.” I’m one-for-one…it won’t last.

I am not surprised that Recorded Event of the Year was awarded to “Longneck Blues” from the popular Junior Sisk and Ronnie Bowman despite my belief that it isn’t a terribly strong song. No longer batting 1.000.

Banjo player of the year: Charlie Cushman of The Earls of Leicester. I didn’t call this one because I (for some reason) felt the noodlers would have their way, but I couldn’t be happier. Cushman knows how to play bluegrass. Beautiful.

Dobro player of the year: Jerry Douglas, the true Earl of Leicester, for the tenth time and second year in a row. Called that one. I also believe it will be cold this winter.

Bass player of the year: Barry Bales, making the E of L three-for-three. My mistake in not going with BB: with Rob McCoury ‘finally’ winning as Banjo player of the year last year, I thought maybe this time the organization would get behind the Del McCoury Band/Travellin’ McCoury’s other member that has never been crowned by the IBMA, Alan Bartrum. I was wrong.

Getting all the instrumental awards out of the way, apparently. Next, Mandolin player of the year, and a first time winner- Sierra Hull. I hedged on this one, backing both Adam Steffey and Sierra Hull: not my kind of music—barely in the big tent last time I listened—but not surprised that the powerbrokers of the industry went with her.

Fiddle player of the year: Wow! I got another one—Becky Buller.

Guitar player of the year is Bryan Sutton, for the tenth time—well deserved. He is one heck of a player, and released an excellent album. And, I called it. Let’s see…that makes me four-and-a-half for eight, which is spooky.

Now, onto the vocalists…I’m surprised that Becky Buller has just been named Female Vocalist of the Year. She didn’t release a new album, but I guess her increased presence in the industry has been rewarded. Deserving. Not as deserving as Dale Ann Bradley, but…

Gospel recorded performance of the year, “All Dressed Up” by Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, a song I thought was pretty good initially, but which in retrospect is too ‘by the books’ for my tastes. Still, a fine performance, I just happened to enjoy what Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands did more. My prediction that she wouldn’t win was correct, so I’m counting this one!

Male vocalist of the year, Danny Paisley. Some would say, “About time!” I’m one of them as I predicted this one. Again, I would have voted differently, but—again—deserving.

I called another one, which is frightening…Flatt Lonesome is Vocal group of the year. Again, not to my taste, but I take some satisfaction in at least being able to predict the direction the wind is blowing…even from a distance.

Hit the Shuffle Button   Leave a comment

This morning I’ve spent a few hours reading and listening to music, quietly, so as not to wake the house. Found myself following a few links, one of which took me to Robert Ellis Orrall and a couple of videos and http://www.countrycalifornia.com/lets-shuffle-shall-we/ for a ‘what are the next 20 songs that come up on your device’ feature. My 20 are posted below, with added thoughts- none too deep: [somehow italics came on and I can’t get it off; double sigh.]

1.Niall Toner- William Smith Monre (also the most played song in my iTunes)
2.Blaze Foley- Livin in the Woods in a Tree
3.Diana Jones- Cold Grey Ground
4.Foster and Lloyd- Picasso’s Mandolin (a Guy Clark song from their latest)
5.Dave Alvin- Johnny Ace is Dead (a standout track from Eleven Eleven)
6.Merry Clayton- Country Road
7.Dale Ann Bradley, Alison Krauss, and Steve Gulley- I’ll Take Love
8.Laura Branigan- Gloria (proof I didn’t cheat)
9. Fred J Eaglesmith- Johnny Cash (You sure do like Johnny Cash now, now that they’ve put him in the ground)
10.Joe Cocker- Look What You’ve Done
11.The Jolly Boys- Ring of Fire
12. Rosie Flores- God May Forgive You (But I Won’t) (I believe the first song I heard from Rosie; still my favourite)
13. Stone the Crows- Penicillin Blues
14. Sylvia- As Soon As I Find My Voice (a Cheryl Wheeler song)
15.Bobby Blue Bland- Two Steps from the Blues
16.Darrell Scott- Every Road Leads Back to You
17.Jane Hawley- Why Do I Always Fall for You (Alberta content, finally)
18.Jeff Black- New Love Song (one of several Nashville-based connections)
19.John K Samson- www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle (not a link; a song encouraging Reggie Leach’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame
20. John Paul Keith- Too Hip and
21. Katrina Leskanich- My Open Arms (of & the Waves)

Posted 2012 May 18 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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