SAVORING THE SPIRIT OF SUWANNEE

After the Tony Rice Unit played an exciting set, and shortly before 8:00 p.m., The Laura Love Band took to the Main Stage. After their well-loved set, the Del McCoury Band stepped up. Somehow we ended up in the "Scramble Zone" up front, with the ensuing paint splatters, as Scramble Campbell fed off the energy and rhythm of the music in creating his artistic impression of the performances. Scramble and his soon-to-be-wife, Shay Berry first met at a Refried Confusion show almost ten years ago. Refried Confusion will be reconvening for the first time in three years to perform at their wedding.

The Del McCoury Band, all suited up in country's finest, played "Body and Soul" an old Bill Monroe tune to a full but not frenzied crowd, before launching into a the title track off their new album, It's Just the Night. Playing to the outdoors crowd in the darkened evening, the words "bats come out when the moon is in the sky, you hear a hoot owl in the distance, you tremble and sigh, it may seem a little spooky but don't you worry, its just the night" were almost chilling (perhaps they too had noticed the owl in the trees). Launching into "My Love Will Not Change," also off the new CD, the crowd was in happy bluegrassville.


Mike Marshall
Around 9:00 p.m., we headed back to the Dance Stage, past colorful glowstick flowers that had suddenly appeared in the field, to join the crowd of over a thousand people for Psychograss's Saturday night show. Mike Marshall was swaying and smiling, as he did his mandolin calisthenics, moving up and down as the notes rose and fell as they launched into "Rebecca" and "Hot Nickels." Known for whipping up a totally tearing tempo, and then dropping it back down to a waltz, the crowd cheered loudly at the changes. They wrapped into "Key Signatore" and "Big Dirt Clod" before Darol asked the crowd if they should play the five-string banjo tune "New York Chimes" fast or really fast. A fan in the crowd shouted "you're scaring me now" as we were all holding onto the safety bars on the wild Psychograss ride. At this point the group's all instrumental focus was broken as Matt sang (or perhaps more accurately rhyme-talked) "In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines, Darol Anger shivers when the cold wind blows" (and of course Darol shivered humorously along) before laughing and announcing that that will be the only singing the audience will hear out of the group. They are often asked why they don't sing and that was their performed explanation.


Josh Pinkham
Josh Pinkham was brought on stage to assist with the next song, "Battle" which they dedicated to Bill Monroe who they said loved his mandolin so much that he once left it on the back of his car and accidentally drove over it and it got hurt. Mama (Terry) Pinkham then joined the rowdy crew to sing "Sweetheart of Mine." Her throaty, bluesy voice was a great accompaniment to the energetic (but wordless) musicians. The frenzy was kicked up a notch with their encore of "Sitting On Top Of The World." After running almost twenty minutes overtime, the several hundred strong and enthusiastic crowd that had not left for the start of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones was disappointed as the show finally stopped. Psychograss's new album, with all new music, is planned for release soon, tentatively titled, This Is How We Do It.

Meanwhile, back at the Main Stage, the crowd swelled as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones headlined the evening. With Scramble Campbell painting in front of the packed crowd, Bela walked on stage alone playing an electric banjo. One by one the entire band joined him in "Big Country" off their 1998 album Left of Cool. Their upbeat set followed with "Earth Jam" and several songs from their most recent CD Little Worlds including "Latitude," "Puffy," "Next," "Poindexter" and "Sherpa," sandwiched around "Sunset Road" from their seminal album, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones.


Vic Wooten & Jeff Coffin (Flecktones)
After a tribute to John Hartford, the father of progressive bluegrass, during which Bela played on the acoustic banjo that belonged to his late friend, they launched into another older tune "Sinister Minister" before ending as they began with a song from Left of Cool, "Sleeping Dogs Lie." Many threads of jam could be heard throughout the show, including notes from the "Odd Couple" theme. During the set, the music loving owl that had been perched and sleeping in the trees over the stage most of the afternoon, woke up and flew off, (and also ended up flying with wings spread over the band in Scramble's painting).

Donna the Buffalo then started an amazing end-the-night set at the Main Stage at 12:15 a.m., only about fifteen minutes late. Starting with "These Are Better Days," and wrapping into "Tides of Time," "Positive Friction," "Family Picture," "This Goes," "Part Time Lover" (with guest Amy Glicklich on rubboard), "Rock of Ages," and "Senor," they then segued into "Way Back When." Guest Peter Rowan joined them onstage for "Pulling the Devil by the Tail," before the final songs "Blue Skies," "Conscious Evolution," "No Place Like The Right Time" and the final encore "Greatest Love of All." A fitting end to a wonderful day, filled with much musical happiness.


The Simpsons
As we headed back to the campgrounds we noticed that many creatures of the night had come out, including moving red and green dinosaurs and a florescent "Simpson" family. Creatures of the night we were not, and only the next day did we find out we missed a campground set of Redheaded Stepchild, who played late into the night in "Sloonerville."

After being serenaded awake Sunday by our nearby campground musicians, whose set didn't end until 8:30 a.m., the scheduled activities began on the Main Stage only an hour and a half later. The Magnolia Family Jam featuring the New Traditionals was a nice replacement for Rev. Jeff's "Sunday Morning Revival" as in festivals past.

Performances by Josh Pinkham and the Pinkham Family Band, Verlon Thompson and the Del McCoury Band whose Sunday morning gospel set including a stirring rendition of "Get Down On Your Knees And Pray" had the audience screaming requests. This gave way to the Magnolia Bluegrass Sunday featuring Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements & Friends, and guests including Billy and Bryn Bright, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, and Josh Pinkham. Jim Lauderdale was also brought out to lead a tune called "Blue Lonesome" who commented on the great bunch assembled. The Habanero Honeys soon joined the crowd, who said they were having so much fun rehearsing their song backstage that they picked up another honeybabe, Tara Nevins. As they "sailed down the Old Suwannee," the cloggers arrived to join in the dancing frey. The festival ended with a set by Jim Lauderdale who performed acoustically with Jeb Purveyor and Jim Miller from Donna the Buffalo, and the weekend's final set by The Duhks.

After a way too short musical homage to the arrival of spring, we packed our gear, and began the four-hour journey homewards. Our travels were certainly not done, and it was more than just five miles home. Anxious for hot showers to wash the layers of north Florida dirt off our skin, we briefly reflected on our adventure and concurred that we had found our peace in music. Randy and Beth's seventeenth festival, Magnoliafest, will be held at the Suwannee Music Park October 21-24, 2004.

Words by: Randi Whitehead
Images by: George Weiss
JamBase | Florida
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[Published on: 4/26/04]

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