RockyGrass | 07.27 – 07.29 | Lyons, CO
RockyGrass :: 07.27.07 – 07.29.07 :: Planet Bluegrass Ranch :: Lyons, CO
RockyGrass carried on its unfailing tradition of bringing in the best in acoustic bluegrass this year as David Grisman returned to join artists including Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Jesse McReynolds, Chris Thile and legendary country and bluegrass artist Marty Stuart.
Friday’s “big” acts kicked off with Chris Thile And The How To Grow A Band. This group has ties to Colorado in the form of Leftover Salmon-ites Greg Garrison and Noam Pikelny and also boasts the playing of Bryan Sutton and Gabe Witcher. The talent-packed group delivered a mixed set before passing the stage on to the Peter Rowan Quartet (minus Tony Rice, who was listed on the program, but who was replaced, apparently at the last hour, by Bryan Sutton).
Sharon Gilchrist continues to shine in Rowan’s quartet, which is a great platform for her sparkling mandolin work. New bassist Catherine Popper (who has replaced Bryn Davies) held down the low-end with fine form as the awe-inspiring Sutton added his flat-picking guitar runs to Gilchrist’s sprightly mandolin lines, where their solo trade-offs had the crowd hooting. There was no formal mention of why Rice didn’t appear, but the set included plenty of Pete “Red” Rowan’s between-song anecdotes including the legend of the Free Mexican Air Force.
The Del McCoury Band finished up the evening with a crowd-thrilling performance that showcased the lightning fast mandolin playing and tasteful banjo plucking of Del’s sons Ronnie and Rob McCoury, respectively. A crowd-frenzying version of “Nashville Cats” was among the group’s highlights, as were nice takes on “The Traveling Teardrop Blues” and “1958 Vincent Black Lightning.” Del was his usual magnetic self, joking with his band and even inviting the crowd to shout out requests. Grisman and Thile emerged from the wings with mandolins for the encore. One fan’s t-shirt said it all: Del Yeah!
Bush and Grisman talked at length about Jesse’s innovative “split-string” style, which pairs a banjo roll with a technique that employs the little finger hammering the string like a pedal steel. Overall, it was a historic meeting of the masters that took on classic material from the Jesse and Jim McReynolds’ catalog as well as some surprises, such as a multiple-mando version of “Johnny B. Goode.”
Laura Love Bluegrass Band: Laura Love made some new fans with a very energetic performance during which she invited people to let their freak flag fly. Naturally, the audience responded very enthusiastically.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver played one of the most “bluegrassy” sets of the weekend. Much like Del, Doyle – a former member of the Country Gentleman who won a National Heritage Fellowship last year – is a practitioner of the high lonesome sound, and he sang some amazing harmonies with the help of his guitar player, Jamie Dailey.
Tapping into his seemingly endless reserves of festival energy Sam Bush threw down a characteristically spirited performance to cap off Saturday’s bill. Chugging through high-octane bluegrass-styled material, including some of his recent gems off Laps of Seven, and sprinkling in some genre-expanding covers, Bush had the crowd howling at the moon.
Many festivarians considered Bush’s set to be the peak of this year’s RockyGrass. With banjo player Scott Vestal tearing it up and Byron House holding down the bottom it’s not hard to see why the Sam Bush Band pleases. From a John Hartford cover (“On the Road”) to a stone classic (“Nine Pound Hammer”), the Sam Bush Band continues to be a cornerstone of the bluegrass festival scene. The group’s final jam took in guests including Chris Thile, Casey Driessen, Gabe Witcher, David Grisman and Sean Watkins and Mark Schatz of Nickel Creek.
The Australian-English folk trio The Greencards established a name as the opening slot on the Bob Dylan – Willie Nelson tour a couple years back. Several of the group’s tunes have a pop sensibility to them, with the songs taking center stage as opposed to any real virtuoso playing. The group’s strengths includes female lead vocalist Kym Warner, who brought it home more than once.
Cherryholmes seemed to be the favorite group among the musicians hanging out backstage. A six-piece band formed completely from one family, with the youngest being 15-years-old. They were all impressive musicians and each song spotlighted a different family member. The mom, Sandy, sang most of the songs. The band’s banjo playing daughter, Cia, sat in with Marty Stuart’s band, which gives you an idea of the level of talent in this band.
Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives delivered a very well received set. The band selected great tunes and played fired-up bluegrass renditions of old-school rockers such as “I Used to Lover Her (But It’s All Over Now)” and “Mystery Train.” The silver-haired Stuart is a great performer with a commanding stage presence, which he no doubt honed during his years playing with Lester Flatt and later Johnny Cash. And who knew how well Stuart could rip the mando!?! Fine stuff and, for many, a nice introduction to this great artist.
In final thoughts, a tip of the hat should be given to the Spring Creek Bluegrass Band, winners of this year’s band contests in Telluride and at RockyGrass – a first for any group. As well as to Bearfoot on their sixth appearance at RockyGrass, the inimitable Mark Schatz and Friends, North Carolina’s Biscuit Burners and the recycling staff who helped keep RockyGrass green.
Note: This summer marked the debut of The Wildflower Pavilion, a beautiful new facility on the Planet Bluegrass Ranch that played host to some amazing workshops, including a much-buzzed-about Saturday session with Casey Driessen and Noam Pikelny. The Pavilion will also be home to the Wildflower Concert Series, with Tim O’Brien kicking things off on September 7.
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