By: Anson Burtch
Mountain Song Festival :: 9.15.07 :: Brevard Music Center :: Brevard, NC
On what felt like the first weekend of autumn, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, bluegrass music rang from the hills. The second annual Mountain Song Festival brought some of the best talent in bluegrass together for a day of great music and giving back to the community. The lineup featured The Del McCoury Band, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, the Claire Lynch Band, and hosts the Steep Canyon Rangers. The festival is put on as a benefit for the Boys and Girls Club of Transylvania county and last year donated over $33,000.
| Steep Canyon Rangers :: Mountain Song |
By Coke Whitworth
The beautiful covered pavilion venue has seats and plenty of room on the lawn for dancing. Vendors including artists, instrument makers, and restaurateurs with delicious food added local flavor to the festival. A real treat were the cans of Dale's Pale Ale and Old Chub brought all the way from Lyons, CO especially for the occasion.
Kicking things off was IBMA emerging artist of the year Steep Canyon Rangers. Their first set included "Waiting to Hear You Call My Name" and the haunting ballad "Norma Jean." The gospel number "Be Still Moses," which starts with full instrumentation and finishes as an a cappella number, showcased the band's amazing four part harmonies.
A unique round robin schedule had the first three bands each play a set and then cycle through again for a second set. Steep Canyon Rangers' second set picked right up with blazingly fast traditional tunes and strong original numbers. The title track from the new album wistfully speculates what it would be like to make a living "Lovin' Pretty Women." The best number was "Call the Captain," written by banjo player Graham Sharp. In this song, lead singer-guitarist Woody Platt sang about a coal miner who's had enough and refuses to go down in the mines again. Platt's clear melodic voice gave emotional depth to the miner's plight.
| Claire Lynch :: Mountain Song |
By Frank Serio
Towards the end of the set, the band got to jam out a bit on one of mandolin player Mike Guggino's instrumentals and again on the grand finale, "Orange Blossom Special." Fiddle player Nicky Sanders absolutely tore it up, throwing in a number of teases (or "quotes" as he calls them), including a short passage of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." The Steep Canyon Rangers looked sharp in their suits, too. They carry on the bluegrass tradition well with a professional look that reinforces their talent. A host normally defers to their guests, but Steep Canyon took no prisoners and played one of the best sets of the festival.
The Claire Lynch Band is a collection of award-winning pickers who play toe-tapping bluegrass with a bit of sass and twang. Lynch's voice sounds a bit like Dolly Parton, putting her sound on the country end of the bluegrass spectrum. Up-tempo numbers like "Freight Train Boogie" got the crowd going. A highlight was "Kennesaw Line," a song about the civil war that matched her voice well. During extended solos, fiddle player Jason Thomas was extraordinary. Guitar player Jim Hurst got a big solo slot, which he used to play one of his originals. Missy Raines expertly held down the low end on bass. The band ranged easily from bluegrass to ballads to swing, and finished their second set with a rowdy "Wabash Cannonball."
| Peter Rowan :: Mountain Song :: By Coke Whitworth|
Peter Rowan and Tony Rice are friends, collaborators and legends. Rowan reached into his bag of hits to start the show with "Dust Bowl Children" and "Panama Red." Not to be outdone, Rice took an extended solo in "Midnight Moonlight," throwing in his signature jazz licks to the delight of the crowd. Together, the pair crossed numerous genres with ease, so it was no surprise when they turned "Shady Grove" into a psychedelic newgrass jam. Ricky Simpkins, a longtime member of the Tony Rice Unit, did a great job on mandolin, receiving appreciative applause after many of his solos. The biggest surprise of the festival was when Bobby Hicks joined Rowan and Rice. Hicks is a famous fiddle player who spent his formative years as a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. The group ripped through some of those old songs including "Walls of Time." Their second set contained vintage Peter Rowan yodeling with "Land of the Navaho" and "Wild Mustangs." With Hicks joining them for the second set as well, the intensity shot up during the traditional bluegrass numbers like "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Cheyenne." Given that Hicks was the original fiddle player on "Cheyenne," the fiddle line sounded exactly like listening to an old Bill Monroe record.
Festival headliners The Del McCoury Band hit the stage to thundering applause. Consummate professionals, the band danced around a single mic, controlling the dynamics simply by leaning in and out or trading places. Starting with "Traveling Teardrop Blues" and "Count Me Out," the crowd was on their game from the get go. One of the last elder statesmen of bluegrass still touring, McCoury stood out from his bandmates in a white suit and his shocking white pompadour.
| The Del McCoury Band :: Mountain Song |
By Frank Serio
McCoury's voice, along with the harmonies of his two sons, Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo), give the band that classic high lonesome sound. Their song "Asheville Turnaround," whipped the crowd into a frenzy since the festival was just down the road from Asheville. Lest anyone think McCoury is out of touch, the band played "Mountain Song" by contemporary bluegrass outlaw Larry Keel. The song was featured on their most recent album, The Company We Keep.
Having seen the Steep Canyon Rangers raise the bar with their vocals and playing, McCoury busted out "Working On A Building" with a big a cappella ending. He immediately followed with two big hits, "Snake In The House" and Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." Very few artists take requests seriously or even take them at all but McCoury always asks for requests towards the end of the set. This time he honored a loud call for "It's Just The Night." With the crowd on its feet, the McCoury Band returned for an encore that included "My Love Will Not Change" and the rousing "Gone But Not Forgotten."
Bluegrass lives in the mountains of North Carolina. Generations of famous musicians hail from that part of the country, and the tradition continues with the Steep Canyon Rangers. Their commitment to the area and to the Boys and Girls Club means the Mountain Song Festival is in good hands for many years to come.
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