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Pre-recorded Shows April 6th and 13th
I’m in Powhatan, Virginia, with daughter Sarah and family this week; Sarah and husband James are dual-handedly building a new house in the woods. Here is the view of distant maple blossoms from the back of the house, on the now-framed second story:
We drove in the Green Expy to Powhatan, but Sunday we are heading to Tampa/St. Petersburg on Amtrak’s overnight Silver Star, where we’ll visit my cousin Spike and his wife. Amtrak took the dining car off the Silver Star a few years ago (not on the companion Silver Meteor, but that doesn’t go to Tampa), so we’ll pack sandwiches (and beer) for dinner. We’re returning to Powhatan after a week of playing tourist in Florida, and thence back to cold New England (it’s been off-and-on cold here, too).
In the meantime, enjoy pre-recorded Generic Hours (no weather, no Country Calendar). The Country Masters are at the French Club this Sunday (the 7th); and remember The Seldom Scene at the Belleville in Newburyport on Saturday the 13th. As Frank Dudgeon likes to say, I’ll talk to you on the 20th—live, that is. Where is Frank, anyway? /CL
The 2019 Joe Val Festival—Photos!
Once again, another amazing festival produced and hosted by the Boston Bluegrass Union! Dr Janie and I got to a fair amount of the shows, but of course there was lots more going on that we didn’t see: workshops, jams, parties, etc. I’m continuing this blog’s tradition of posting photographs, mostly of the Main and Showcase stages. My Rebel 2Ti and Tamron 18-270 zoom lens combination is only barely adequate, so for purists a certain amount of forbearance is necessary (the Tamron is fairly slow so high ISO and motion blur are factors). Nonetheless, there are some good candids, I think. The photos here are low-resolution; higher-res versions are available on Flickr.com, HERE
Previous Joe Val Festival posts (all but 2015 with lots of photos)—click to visit:
- 2015: Thanks to the Boston Bluegrass Union . . .
- 2016: Another Great Joe Val Festival!—Part I
- 2016: Another Great Joe Val Festival!—Part II
- 2017: Another Excellent Joe Val Festival!
- 2018: The 2018 Joe Val Festival
I got over early enough Friday evening to catch a little of Level Best, which features old HAH friend and one-time Charles River Valley Boy, James Field. James has been living in France for some years, but is back in the States (at least part-time, he said). Besides James on guitar, Level Best features Wally Hughes, fiddle; Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes, mandolin (she and Wally are also members of Valerie Smith‘s band, Liberty Pike); Terry Wittenberg, banjo; and Joe Hannabach, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Level Best were competing with new Rhode Island friends (see Rhode Island’s Best-Kept Secret?) Rock Hearts in the Showcase Stage downstairs, so I hurried down to catch their set and grab some photos. Rock Hearts are Alex MacLeod, guitar; Joe Deetz, banjo; Pete Kelly, bass; Danny Musher, fiddle; Billy Thibodeau, mandolin. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
On the way down and back up to the Main Stage, caught a few of the many jam sessions that proceed apace, whatever’s going on in the performance stages (did not get any names): [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Back to the Main State auditorium (via some hallway and Green Room schmoozing), where ‘Jesse Brock presents’ Mainline Express were performing. I had thought Jesse had settled in with The Gibson Brothers for the long haul, as his tasteful mandolin playing fit in so nicely with the Gibsons’ great singing, but band members in bluegrass often seem to be in brownian motion, and elude permanence. Mainline Express features four established pickers who joined forces a decade ago at the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival and have finally decided to begin touring together. They are Jesse Brock, mandolin; John Miller, guitar; Rob Ravlin, bass; and Gary Filgate, banjo. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
The band I most looked forward to this year was High Fidelity. I had gotten an email tip from Rebel Records about their forthcoming album, and Rebel helped me to get copies of their two self-produced albums. Now the Rebel debut album, Hills and Home, is out, and I’ve been playing all three avidly. Hi Fi Bluegrass (as I call them) play mid-century bluegrass, country, and gospel songs, with amazing (high!) fidelity, panache, and expertise, yet are making this great old repertoire their own as well. They got a rousing reception Friday night, proving (as The Earls of Leicester do, too) that bluegrass audiences really appreciate the 20th-century heart of the music—and nobody does it better than High Fidelity. They are: Jeremy Stephens, guitar (and banjo); Corrina Rose Logston, fiddle; Kurt Stephenson, banjo; Vickie Vaughn, bass; and Daniel Amick, mandolin (and banjo). Kurt Stephenson was not with the band Friday, unfortunately, so Daniel Amick filled in on the double-banjo tunes. The first two photos show them warming up in the Green Room. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Well, since I mentioned double banjos, and since Kurt Stephenson wasn’t with the band, here he is in a YouTube video playing Don Reno’s ‘Follow the Leader’ with Jeremy Stephens:
How about that?
Saturday, after a post-radio-show nap and a little dinner, Dr Janie and I made our way over to the Festival. I came into a group on stage called Appalachian Road Show. It took a few minutes to figure out what I was hearing, and then I was stunned. There were Darrell Webb, mandolin (who I had last seen at the Festival a couple of years ago with Michael Cleveland, then playing guitar); Barry Abernathy, banjo; Jim VanCleve, fiddle; Bryan Sutton, guitar; and Todd Phillips, bass. And what were they doing? Playing old Appalachian songs, dances, gospel, and ballads, and talking about the history of the music and the region. This was an all-star band, to be sure, but unlike so many ‘all-star’ pickups, they had a clear program, which they presented with heart and conviction. They are taking this show on the road, with a new CD, and if you get a chance to see them, you will be enthralled. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Sister Sadie are an engaging all-girl all-star band, who started playing as a lark in 2013 at the Station Inn in Nashville, and are now touring and winning awards, turning out some mighty fine pickin’ and singin’. The band features Dale Ann Bradley, guitar (who has appeared live on Hillbilly at Harvard—and actually remembered when I asked her!); Tina Adair (amazing vocalist), mandolin; Deanie Richardson, fiddle; Gena Britt, banjo; Beth Lawrence, bass. Our grandkids were amused when Tina managed to pull out numerous items from her ample bodice). [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
And then, Laurie Lewis! It was a treat to see her again, along with four Right Hands (Tom Rozum did not come with her), a real trouper and a great entertainer, who holds an audience in her strong, gentle, musical hands. With Laurie were Brandon Godman, fiddle; Wes Corbett, banjo; and Haselden ‘Hasie’ Ciaccio, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Downstairs on the Showcase Stage were The Bluegrass Characters, a band (says the Festival band bios) “assembled in 2011 by the legendary Grammy-winning fiddler and Dobroist Stacy Phillips, and led by him until his untimely death in 2018.” The BBU this year gave their BBU Heritage Award posthumously to Stacy Phillips, writing, “His contributions to the world of music, especially bluegrass fiddle and Dobro, and especially in New England, are immeasurable.” In the Bluegrass Characters are Phil Zimmerman, mandolin; Andy Bromage, guitar; Rick Brodsky, bass; Pete Kelly, banjo (also playing bass in Rock Hearts); and guest Sofia Chiarandini, fiddle. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Bluegrass: The Band is one of Frank Drake‘s many Boston-area projects, along with Ethan Robbins, focusing on the music of the ’70s ‘roots rock’ group, The Band. I never listened to The Band, so remained at a disadvantage when listening to Bluegrass: The Band, but members of the audience recognized and enjoyed the songs. The players: Ethan ‘Robertson’ Robbins, guitar; Frank ‘Danko’ Drake, mandolin; Josie Toney, fiddle; and Paul ‘The Helm’ Chase, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Back upstairs for a bit of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, high-energy exponents of virtuoso jam-grass, Saturday evening headliners, billed for an ‘extended set’, which is appropriate given their numbers are easily twice as long as anyone else’s. I listened intently for a while, took some photos, and getting lost in all the notes, called it a night and went home. Even with a nap, it had been a long day. Dirty Kitchen are Frank Solivan, mandolin; Mike Munford, banjo; Chris Luquette, guitar; and Jeremy Middleton, bass. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Sunday it was time for Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass, long-time favorites at Hillbilly at Harvard. The Paisleys and the Lundys are transplants from the heart of mountain bluegrass, southwestern Virginia, and they have been the heart of The Southern Grass since the ’70s, now into the third generation with Danny’s son Ryan grown into a first-rate mandolin player. The band: Danny Paisley, guitar; Ryan Paisley, mandolin; TJ Lundy, fiddle; Bobby Lundy, bass; Mark DeLaney, banjo. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
I didn’t hear much of The Lonely Heartstring Band, who have a new Rounder album out. They make lovely music and are winning awards, but it’s not hard-core bluegrass, so not my cup-o’-tea. And I had missed lunch to hear Danny. But here are some pics. They are Gabe Hirshfeld, banjo; George Clements, guitar; Charles Clements, bass; Patrick M’Gonigle, fiddle; and Maddie Witler, mandolin. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
The jams continued apace in the hallways. The fiddler in the red shirt was leading a rousing version of the old Spade Cooley classic, ‘Detour’, with everybody singing along in the chorus; I was impressed that he knew (most of) the words. His name, I found out later, is Bruno Bruzzese. [For high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
In the Showcase room I found Annabelle’s Revival getting started, a Boston-area band billed as playing “a tasteful blend of bluegrass and folk music, with an emphasis on great vocal harmonies.” They were tasty indeed, though none of them were named Annabelle: John Brunette, bass; Mark Therieau, guitar; Jon Pachter, banjo; Deborah Melkin, guitar; and Alex O’Brien, mandolin. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
Time for the eternal Seldom Scene! Ben Eldridge has finally left the band, the last surviving member of the original Scene, from back in the ’70s. But he’s been replaced by the always-amazing Ron Stewart, who plays not only banjo but fiddle (and doubtless anything else you ask him to), now the youngest of this second-generation ensemble. Still, they have an amazing ability to recreate the unique sounds of the original Scene, at the same time creating new and vibrant music. Extraordinary, really! Dudley Connell, guitar; Fred Travers, Dobro; Ronnie Simpkins, bass; Lou Reid, mandolin; and as mentioned, Ron Stewart, banjo and fiddle. [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
As if a Seldom Scene show were not enough, the BBU continued their recent tradition of closing out their Festival Sunday afternoons with a bang: The Gibson Brothers—not just the Gibsons, but a new incarnation, their ‘Country Show’. The first, bluegrass set was lovely as always, though Eric and Leigh seemed a bit subdued. While the stage was prepared with more amps, a drum kit, and a pedal steel, the boys did a ‘brother duet’ set, eminently worth hearing. Then we were treated to the ‘Mockingbird’ country set, featuring songs from their new album on Easy Eye Sound.
Those songs are pleasant, and the Gibson’s electric stage show (two guitars, steel, bass) offers better production than the album, which harks back to ’70s pop-country flavor. They even did a Waylon Jennings song, and I iked Eric’s rockabilly version of his ‘Highway’ better than the original on the In The Ground album. The show was definitely a departure for the Joe Val Festival (we won’t count Red Knuckles last year), but the Bluegrass Powers That Be reassured me that it won’t set a precedent. The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival won’t turn into one of those generic ‘roots’ and ‘Americana’ weekends.
Jesse Brock was gone; Clayton Campbell, their long-time fiddle player was nowhere to be seen, either. In their places was Justin Moses, alternating between mandolin and Dobro. And Mike Barber on bass (both upright and electric) was still their constant companion. For the country set, Eric, Leigh, and Mike were joined by Sam Zuchini on drums (a college friend, said Leigh), and Eric O’Hara on pedal steel. Turned out he had taught both Eric and Leigh on banjo and guitar when they were teenagers! [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
The Festival was not yet over. Time for the Wind–Up Hoe-Down! Hosting the dance were Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike. Valerie is a small, friendly, vivacious woman with a great voice. She admitted to nerves before playing a dance, but once she and Liberty Pike got going with a set of upbeat songs, breakdowns, and waltzes, it was all fun and games. Afterward she gave me her latest CD, Small Town Heroes (there’s a new one coming), and a charming collection of duets she and Becky Buller had recorded back in 2008, Here’s a Little Song. I’m playing both on HAH. I hope she’ll be on the Main Stage soon; she’s a crowd pleaser. Valerie Smith, guitar; Joe Zauner, banjo & guitar; Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes, mandolin; Wally Hughes, fiddle—and, it was a great pleasure to meet a legend in the bluegrass country world, who played bass with the original Country Gentlemen, and then with the Seldom Scene, Tom Gray! [Click on photos to view larger; for high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.]
We couldn’t stick around for the second band at the Hoe-Down, Mamma’s Boys, but there were still jammers in the halls and lobby when we left. Here’s the lobby group, and once again, Bruno Bruzzese with his red shirt and fiddle. The party never ends! [For high-res, visit the Flickr album, HERE.] /LEJ
Time for the 2019 Joe Val Festival!
Far and away the major winter bluegrass event in this part of the country, and maybe in the whole country (as Alex MacLeod of Rock Hearts corrected on the show back on the 26th), it’s time again for The Joe Val Festival this weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 15-16-17Feb, at the Sheraton Framingham.
From the Boston Bluegrass Union’s Joe Val page:
Join the Boston Bluegrass Union and celebrate the legacy of the late Joe Val with three big days of indoor bluegrass at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel.
We have a great lineup of national and regional talent, expanded workshops, Kid’s Academy, music vendors, and round-the-clock jamming. Our 2006 event won the coveted “Event of the Year” award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
the lineup of bands that will appear on the Main Stage:
- The Gibson Brothers
- The Seldom Scene
- Sister Sadie
- Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands
- Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass
- Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
- Appalachian Road Show
- Tony Trischka with Michael Daves and special guest Kenny Kosek
- The Lonely Heartstring Band
- Shawn Lane & Richard Bennett
- High Fidelity
- Jesse Brock presents Mainline Express
- Carolina Blue
- Southern Rail
- The Feinberg Brothers
- Level Best
- Rock Hearts
- Berklee All-Stars
Go to the Festival page for capsule descriptions of the bands and links to their websites, plus the schedules for the Main Stage, and for the Showcase Stage for regional up-and-comers (and stalwarts).
One band that I hadn’t heard of was Level Best, and there is not yet a link to their website—but, it turns out they have one, HERE. They’re an aggregation of veterans from up and down the East coast, including an old friend, James Field, a former Charles River Valley Boy. Has he moved back from France? We’ll find out Friday evening, when Level Best makes their debut at 7:15 PM.
Two of the members are touring with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, who will be playing the Joe Val Wind-up Hoe-down, the post-festival dance, along with a group called Mamma’s Boys (four-fifths of Mamma’s Marmalade), both bluegrass outfits, so no old-timey and swing this year. But still bound to be fun. /CL
Rhode Island’s Best-Kept Secret? Rock Hearts on HAH!
I had heard the name, but knew nothing of the band when Tony Watt asked if I’d like to have them on live. They are scheduled to appear at the Joe Val Festival this year, so I said, sure, if you help. Tony did, along with Gerry Katz, and so Rock Hearts showed up promptly at 9:30 Saturday.
What a treat! Rock Hearts (named after a Jimmy Martin song) is a traditional bluegrass-style country band, based in Rhode Island. The members are spread out a bit: Alex MacLeod (guitar) lives in Charlestown, RI; Joe Deetz (banjo) lives in Mendon, MA; Billy ‘BT’ Thibodeau lives in Cumberland, RI; Danny Musher (fiddle) remained in Providence after graduating from Brown; Pete Kelly (bass) lives in Farmington, CT. All of them are seasoned pickers (even the youngest, Danny), and they settled right in, playing one tune after another, for the better part of an hour, including a lovely original by Alex, ‘Starry Southern Night’.
Danny is originally from Maryland, so we played do-you-know-places; Alex also lived in Maryland when young, and as my paternal grandmother was a McCleod (no ‘a’), we are probably cousins of some degree. Billy retains his French Canadian name, but his Maine father and uncle anglicized theirs, as Sam and Bob Tidwell (the Kennebec Valley Boys). I remembered Joey Deetz when he was a much-younger New England Bluegrass Boy (though my hazy memory confused him with Karl Lauber). Pete Kelly is I think a Connecticut native, but may have the most national-touring experience of the group: he’s a noted banjo player who has worked with Dale Ann Bradley and Michael Cleveland (in both Dale Ann’s band, and in Flamekeeper). He says he’s happy playing bass with Rock Hearts.
These guys are going to be at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, Friday the 15th on the Showcase Stage at c. 7:20 PM; and Saturday the 16th on the Main Stage at 10 AM. Check ’em out!
Here’s Rock Hearts playing the old blues standard, ‘Stagger Lee’ bluegrass style at the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival; they played it on the show (turn up the sound!):
Rock Hearts’s website is HERE. /CL
The Legendary Al Hawkes Dies at 88
I met Al Hawkes at one of the Joe Val Festivals, back in the Green Room. It was not the one where he received the 2009 Heritage Industry Award from the Boston Bluegrass Union. It might have been 2016 when he answered a question about the now-famous Coke bottle that he used for the sound of the spike-hammer on the Lilly Brothers‘ recording of ‘John Henry’. The Lillys with Don Stover were in his Event Records studio back in 1957. You can hear Al at the beginning, striking the ‘spike’ (video HERE):
That’s Everett Lilly on the vocal and mandolin, B Lilly on guitar, and Don Stover on banjo, my favorite recording of ‘John Henry’. Here’s Al in his signature red hat, talking about the Coke bottle (video HERE):
Here’s the text of the award from the BBU:
Musician, entertainer, record label owner, and collector Al Hawkes has contributed to bluegrass and country music in nearly every possible capacity. In 1956 in Westbrook, Maine, he founded Event Records and released early recordings by such key artists as The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover, Charlie Bailey (of the Bailey Brothers), Dick Curless, and many more. Born in 1930, Hawkes formed his first band in high school, singing and playing an array of stringed instruments. To this day, he continues to be an active performer, and has received over 25 awards. In addition to releasing a number of important recordings on Event, Hawkes is one of the foremost record collectors in New England, whose archive includes over 40,000 45s, 78s, and LPs.
Even at an advanced age, when I met him briefly, Al was an indefatigably energetic man, which characterized his whole career of adventures in sound and music. As a youngster he got his father to string an high antenna so he could listen to early country music on AM radio. In his teens he started an independent (pirate) radio station; after a year or so the FCC threatened legal action, and his father shut it down. In the meantime, in the late ’40s, he formed a trio, The Cumberland Ridge Runners, with a black kid named Alton Myers playing guitar, Al on mandolin, and another guitarist, Don Williams. Al and Alton often performed as a duo, Allerton and Alton; their recordings were issued by Bear Family Records (Germany) as ‘The First Interracial Country Music Duet’ in 2010. When I met Al, he gave me an Allerton and Alton card, saying he’d send me a copy for airplay. Unfortunately, I never got it; I’ll have to remedy that, belatedly. Here’s a promotional video from Bear Family (video HERE):
Al went to Broadcast School in Boston. The invaluable Hillbilly-Music.com records subsequent events:
During the Korean War, Al was an activated Maine Air National Guard and stationed on an air force base in Tripoli, Libya – North Africa. He worked as a disc jockey and engineer on the AFRS radio station that was located there.
He appeared live on the AFRS radio station with Don Fields’ western band and then formed his own hillbilly group called Al Hawkes and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, doing five live radio shows a week.
After returning to civilian life, Al started a retail Television and Stereo business that he ran for 35 years with his wife Barbara.
In 1956, along with Barbara and Richard Greeley, he formed Event Records and built a recording studio with offices in an abandoned blacksmith shop building in Westbrook, Maine. Many country and bluegrass artists were recorded there – some going on to national fame, such as the Lilley Brothers, Don Stover, Dick Curless, and, Lenny Breau, to name just a few.
Unhappily, Event records was going strong, with not only country and bluegrass records, but rockabilly as well, when a fire in a Boston distributor’s warehouse destroyed some 20,000 records, and the company folded. But we should mention Lenny Breau, the son of Hal Lonepine (Harold Breau) and Betty Cody, popular New Englanders achieving national ‘country and western’ recognition. Lonepine and Betty would sometimes drop Lenny off at Event Records in Westbrook when they had business in Portland. In the first part of this video (up to about 14:00, introduced by a rockabilly song, “Baby, Baby,” that Al Hawkes wrote), Al tells how he first came to record the 15-year-old Lenny, the short-lived guitarist whom Chet Atkins called the “greatest guitar player to ever to walk the face of the Earth”. The conversation moves to the recording of “Baby, Baby,” in which Lenny played lead (video HERE):
Lenny Breau became famous as a jazz guitarist, only to die in what are described as “mysterious circumstances” in his 40s. The informal tracks of young Lenny that Al recorded were later released on a CD, displayed during the conversation above.
The video is also neat because it shows the inside of Al’s Event studio, including the wall clock that plays a role during Al’s recording of the Lilly Brothers, as Al describes in this video with Everett Alan Lilly and Jim Rooney (video HERE):
Back in 2010, Maine Public Radio produced a video (from Rockhouse Mountain Productions) called, cleverly, The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes. It’s available via Vimeo HERE. (Thanks to Gerry Katz for the link.) I’ll try embedding it, but if it doesn’t work, go to the link. It’s 47:40, and well worth your time.
RIP Al Hawkes. The more I learn about him, the more I wish I’d gotten to know him back when I was just getting interested in country music. /CL