28 June 2022

Knotty Pines and Broken Strings at Ulster American Folk Park, 2-3 July 2022

The Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh, Co. Tyrone, home of annual festivals of bluegrass and Appalachian music since 1992, announces on its Facebook that on the coming weekend (2-3 July) the American Independence Weekend Celebrations will present a varied programme of events and entertainments for visitors. Of special interest to BIB readers, live music will be played from noon to 4.30 p.m. each day in the Pennsylvania Log Barn: by Omagh's own Knotty Pine String Band on Saturday 2 July, and by Belfast's Broken String Band on Sunday 3 July.

The BIB notes that the iconic (an overstatement? perhaps not) photo from 2011 of Geordie McAdam fiddling inside a cabin, with the rest of the Broken Strings in the background, is in the Folk Park Facebook's 'Profile pictures' photo album. At present, there are no comments on it.

© Richard Hawkins

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27 June 2022

The Raines - featured in RTÉ Guide

See the BIB of 19 June for Roger Green's enthusiastic report on the Galway-based trio The Raines (also on Facebook) at the Galway Folk Festival earlier this month. Diligent readers of the RTÉ Guide will have seen that the current issue (25 June-1 July) includes a two-page illustrated feature, 'Here come the Raines', chiefly consisting of an interview with Yvonne Tiernan (centre in photo, with Ruth Dillon and Juliana Erkonnen) by Janice Butler.

© Richard Hawkins

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Attention, Dublin and Galway!

Lukas Halter, a German bluegrass banjo-picker, is bringing his banjo to Ireland for the period 8-14 July. He writes that he

will go first to Dublin and then to Galway... but I can also still adjust. I wanted to ask if you can recommend jams or pubs where I can jam? I would be very happy to get an answer.

Lukas can be contacted by e-mail.

© Richard Hawkins

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24 June 2022

We Banjo 3 release 'Gift of life'

As reported on the BIB on 4 June, Galway's We Banjo 3, kings of Celtgrass, invited their fans and friends to send in appropriate footage for use in the official music video for the band's song 'Gift of life'; a song 'about how sometimes you might have to stumble into the unknown and trust yourself to choose the right turns'. (Followers of the Special Consensus will remember that the video for the Special C. recording of the Greg Brown song 'Early' was made with photos sent in by their friends and fans.)

We Banjo 3 now announce that the video for 'Gift of life' is here on YouTube, together with a minute-and-a-half video in which the band comment on the song.

© Richard Hawkins

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First series of Duhallow Bluegrass Sessions to conclude, Sun. 26 June 2022

Thanks to Owen Schinkel of the duo Long Way Home, who announced back in April the launch of the Duhallow Bluegrass Sessions, a new series of bluegrass concerts-cum-jam-sessions at Bobs Bar & Restaurant, 16 Percival St., Kanturk, north Co. Cork. Owen now reports:

I'm gearing up to run the last session this upcoming Sunday. Hank Wedel & Ray Barron are playing a set, and Kevin & Geraldine Gill (aka the Prairie Jaywalkers 'Lite') will also take the stage for a good handful of songs/tunes.

The events have been a nice addition to our town and a lot of (local) people have now seen what bluegrass music, and especially a bluegrass jam session, is like. The overall attendance was good. Also lots of new connections have been made between different musicians, guest artists, jammers/pickers, and audience members. Which was a big goal for the session initially.

Big thanks again to the Cork County Arts Office and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for making this possible in the first place.

Congratulations to Long Way Home on their welcome contribution to the recovery of live bluegrass in this country - and on their active performance schedule, including their coming appearance in the big Bluegrass in La Roche festival in France (3-7 Aug. 2022).

© Richard Hawkins

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23 June 2022

Beauty, clarity, and lightness: the Manann resonator banjo

Apologies to BIB readers in Ireland and to Marcin Pijanowski in Co. Donegal, in particular, for delay in drawing attention to Marcin's Manann Instruments and especially to the lightweight carbon-fibre resonator 5-string banjo shown in this video.

Marcin, a full-time maker of carbon-fibre guitars, decided to experiment with banjos. The results with an open-back instrument encouraged him to tackle the greater technical challenges of making a resonator banjo. He reported the results, together with this video, on Banjo Hangout at the start of this year, and received very positive reactions from luthiers and players on both the looks and the sound of the instrument, which weighs 3 kg - a considerable reduction from the weight of an average Mastertone-type banjo. In response to the BIB's questions, Marcin replied:

The resonator shape was dictated by the shape of the flange and the way the mould was built as well as the heel design itself. I wanted the instrument to look light and different from every other banjo - that's why I decided to go with small heel and worked the resonator around it. It's worth mentioning that the neck, pot, tone ring, and flange are moulded in one-piece carbon-fibre composite, resulting in very light, stable, and robust structure which produces good sustain and sound projection.

The tension hoop is made with unidirectional carbon fibre which makes it very stiff and prevents deflection while tightening the head. The armrest is decorated with maple veneer and it’s integrated with the tension hoop. The tailpiece is hand-carved from moulded piece of carbon which makes it very stiff, providing good amount of down force on the bridge which is carved from solid carbon sheet as well.

I wanted this banjo to be special and I asked my friend Franck Saucian to decorate it with the Celtic design which I think gave the instrument its soul. I would like every instrument to be special and unusual; that's why lot of work is done by hand using simple tools and techniques, but standard banjos are being put into production as well.

Marcin Pijanowski can be contacted by e-mail at mananninstruments@gmail.com.

© Richard Hawkins

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22 June 2022

JigJam: two June shows in Ireland

Following upon the BIB news yesterday that JigJam (above) have been selected for the showcase programme of this year's IBMA World Of Bluegrass (WOB) in Raleigh, NC, the band send their own latest e-newsletter. They spent the first half of this month resting with their families after a strenuous spring tour schedule in the US, where they will return in July for more touring. In the interval, they will play two shows in Ireland: tomorrow (Thurs. 23 June) at Whelan's, Dublin 2; and this coming Saturday (25 June) at Clonacody House, Fethard, Co. Tipperary E91 HF40.

© Richard Hawkins

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Eilís Boland on Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival 2022

The BIB editor writes:

Eilís Boland's report on this month's Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, which appeared yesterday on the Lonesome Highway online magazine, begins by describing the festival as 'a little gem', ends with thanks to the organising team for 'yet again producing a welcoming and musically excellent event', and in between demonstrates why these words are fully justified.

One of the main challenges for festival attenders is to see everything one should see; meeting people is often as important as hearing the music. Eilís (shown at the bottom centre of the image above, with festival director Uri Kohen) was at a commendable number of gigs and concerts, but admits to missing some. I saw considerably less; but hearing the same band twice, by chance, taught me a lesson.

Seeing Johnny & the Yooahoos from the middle of the concert hall, I'd decided they were extremely clever and extremely capable, but was left unmoved. Fifteen feet away from me in the Clew Bay Hotel next day, they sang a cappella 'Bright morning stars' - possibly the best rendition I've ever heard, and unquestionably moving. Moral: you can form snap judgments, but don't expect them to last.

© Richard Hawkins

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21 June 2022

JigJam picked for World Of Bluegrass official showcase programme

JigJam (originating in Tullamore, Co. Offaly) are among the sixteen bands in the first half of the showcase programme of this year's IBMA World Of Bluegrass (WOB). Like the other acts chosen by the IBMA as official showcase artists, they will be playing at select venues throughout downtown Raleigh, NC, during 27-9 Sept. 2022, in the 'Bluegrass Ramble' section of WOB. Congratulations to JigJam on being selected (and to Niall Toner for his place in IBMA's songwriter showcase programme).

Other familiar names in the showcase prgramme include Cedar Hill, Kristy Cox, the Lonesome Ace Stringband, and Mile Twelve. The photo of JigJam shown above appeared on their Facebook exactly a year ago - 21 June 2021.

© Richard Hawkins

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Reliving Westport experiences

The atmosphere of a session at the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival is well conveyed by the video above, showing Roger Green (guitar, lead vocal) and César Benzoni (mandolin, harmony vocal), with Kylie Kay Anderson (mandolin) and Owen Schinkel (dobro) of Long Way Home, playing 'Eight more miles to Louisville' in Blouser's bar.

The video is on César's YouTube channel, but (as he makes clear) it was made by Ger Kenny's Pervege Free Films, who regularly film the Westport festival as well as other musical events. Twenty-three videos from this year's festival, and many more from previous years at Westport, can be enjoyed on the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival YouTube channel, and the festival's organising team have expressed their 'massive thanks' to Ger Kenny on Facebook.

© Richard Hawkins

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27th Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival, 26-28 August 2022

Thanks to Mick Daly, director of the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival in Co. Waterford, for the news that following last year's successful one-day event at Creadan, the festival is returning to Dunmore East village this year and presenting ten acts over three days, all free. The lineup is to be announced in ten days' time, on Friday 1 July.
© Richard Hawkins

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20 June 2022

Detached notes

The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) announces the appointment of board members, who include Ben Wright (banjo-player of the Henhouse Prowlers) newly elected as a Member at Large, and Joe Newberry, re-elected to represent Artists, Composers, and Music Publishers. More details are on the IBMA press release.
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Nick Dumas, who toured Ireland twice as mandolinist with the Special Consensus, has had his second single, 'Riding the Boston and Maine', released last Friday (17 June) by Skyline Records. The song was written by Tim Stafford and Rick Lang - for Lang, writing it was (as with Niall Toner's 'Railroad dreams') informed by his childhood fascination with railway trains. 'Riding the Boston and Maine' can be heard on Bluegrass Today.
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People sometimes speak of Earl Scruggs as if he alone brought three-finger banjo picking to a world where only clawhammer style existed. Comments on the BIB post of 14-18 Aug. 2020 mentioned two articles by Bob Carlin which showed deep and extensive research on the musical environment in which Scruggs's style emerged.

Now Richard Thompson reports on Bluegrass Today that Carlin's researches have culminated in his What Earl Scruggs heard: String music along the North Carolina–South Carolina border, published by McFarland Press as a 212-page book with 97 photos, appendix, bibliography, and index, at $35.00. Bob Carlin's publications - reviews, liner notes, articles, instruction books, and monographs on banjo history and wider musical history - already form an impressive list, to which this is a very welcome addition.

© Richard Hawkins

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Familiar faces at Rotterdam

The organisers of the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival, to be held this coming weekend (24-26 June), announce that despite the loss of three US acts from the lineup they have 'gone into overdrive' to fill the gaps with two Dutch bands and one Belgian band, together with a mystery guest. The complete lineup, comprising thirty-five acts, can be seen on the front page of the festival website. It includes, among other familiar names, the Henhouse Prowlers, Stillhouse Junkies, and Johnny & the Yooahoos, all of whom were playing in Westport just over a week ago.

© Richard Hawkins

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19 June 2022

The Raines at Galway Folk Festival

L-r: John O'Dwyer, Julia Erkonnen, Ruth Dillon,
Yvonne Tiernan, César Benzoni

Thanks to Roger Green (USA) for the following report. Roger brought his Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition band to Ireland on several tours in the past, and has recently been playing gigs with César Benzoni, including this year's Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Roger and César will be playing today (Sunday 19 June) from 5.00 p.m. at Campbell's Tavern, Headford, Co. Galway. Roger reports that he and his wife Deborah

... were fortunate to attend the Galway Folk Festival last night [Fri. 17 June] and saw The Raines for the first time. It was a wonderful show and their three-part harmonies were 'angelic'. They were expertly accompanied by César Benzoni on mandolin and John O'Dwyer on double bass. John was very effective on a few songs when bowing the bass.

But, the highlight of the show for me (a dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass fan) was Juliana and César's rendition of Bill Monroe's 'Lonesome moonlight waltz' and Kenny Baker's 'Bluegrass in the backwoods'. They had the audience spinning in circles with that. They also performed the Raines' interpreted version of a Stephen Foster classic, 'Oh Susana', which was simply a delight.

Good stuff!

© Richard Hawkins

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Noel McKay (USA) in Ireland, 23 June-2 July

Thanks to Uri Kohen for this news of a tour, beginning next week, by Noel McKay, who with Brennen Leigh has toured Ireland several times and headlined the 2019 Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival:

***** BIG ANNOUNCMENT *****
Nashville singer/ songwriter Noel McKay returns to Ireland for his first ever solo tour. Catch him while you can!

Thurs. 23rd June: The County Sessions, Jerry Moynihans, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary (Clonmel World Music)
Fri. 24th: bridge st, Castlebar, Co. Mayo
Sat. 25th: Blazing Saddle Saloon, Limavady , Co. Londonderry
Sun. 26th: The Red Room, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
Tues. 28th: DeBarra's Folk Club, Clonakilty, Co. Cork
Wed. 29th: The Greyhound Bar, Kilkee, Co. Clare
Thurs. 30th: Cleary's Window Sessions, Newcastle West, Co.Limerick
Fri. 1st July: Levis' Bar, Ballydehob, Co. Cork
Sat. 2nd: The White Horse, Ballincollig, Co. Cork

© Richard Hawkins

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18 June 2022

Something for the weekend

On 5 June the BIB reported that Seth Mulder & Midnight Run had announced on their Facebook: 'We got to shoot a special video session in Ireland a few days ago. Stay tuned for what’s to come'.

Thanks now to Dave Byrne jr of mygrassisblue.com for this link to a video in which the band visit Mark Cahill's Sound Shop in Drogheda, Co. Louth, to play a snatch of 'Ghostbusters' and a full rendering of their recent single 'My, my, my', with Mark on melodica and piano. The video can also be seen on the Sound Shop Facebook and Ivory Sessions Facebook.

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The BIB also mentioned on 6 June the new album Tell 'em you were gold, by Pharis and Jason Romero. The album was released yesterday (17 June) and is available as a 16-track CD or 22-track double LP; samples of all tracks can be heard on the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website. Smithsonian Folkways have now released on YouTube an eighteen-minute video documentary illustrating the making of the album, including glimpses of the Romeros' lives, their children and friends, their making of songs and instruments, and more. John Reischman (see yesterday's post) is one of the guest musicians on the album. Warmly recommended.

© Richard Hawkins

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17 June 2022

Peter Rowan remembers Sligo in 'A winning hand'

Thanks to Hearth Music for a press release on the new album Calling you from my mountain by the great Peter Rowan. The release announces that an audio track from the album, Rowan's 'A winning hand', has been premiered by Garden & Gun magazine. In the feature, Matt Hendrickson calls the song '... a piece of Rowan nostalgia, contemplating the restlessness of his decades of work and finding comfort in one of his favorite places, the shores of Ireland'.

Rowan is quoted as dating the song from before he moved to Texas from Nashville in 1990, and recalls a beach in Sligo on 'a bright clear morning after an all-night jam with Bill Keith and Jim Rooney'. The album is due out a week from now (24 June 2022) and can be pre-ordered here.

© Richard Hawkins

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Omagh 2022: brickbats and conclusions

Thanks once more to Declan Fox for the fourth instalment of his review of last month's Bluegrass Omagh festival, concluding with a detailed analysis of the event.

Part 4: Brickbats - festival organisation

Many of us regular Omagh attendees had a bad feeling going into the weekend. We knew months back that National Museums of NI had outsourced it to Snow Water Ltd, an events management company. How, we thought, could non-bluegrass experts possibly run a good festival?

In the event, there was a decent number of good artistes to appeal to many of us. I've mentioned the totally non-genre acts and I hope that mistake will not be repeated. I attended with a group of twelve and we all had a good time this year, but several bluegrass friends either did not attend or left early. Regardless of views on exact mix of bluegrass/not-quite-bluegrass acts, a programme which had that effect on some dedicated bluegrass fans was not a good programme. In all the years I've been attending this festival, I have never heard so much upset and disappointment.

Programming aside, the festival was truncated compared to previous years, down to two days instead of three days and only three stages.

Some NI/Irish bluegrass musicians were not invited this year; people like Northern Exposure and Niall Toner and others who have been festival stalwarts for years. And talking about stalwarts, where was the respect due to the memory of the late great Geordie McAdam? I remember him fiddling at the first ever Omagh festival and complimenting his wife on coming out to hear him perform in public — he said he had been fiddling for thirty years and that was the first time she came to a show. This festival should have been dedicated to his memory.

But the biggest omission from the lineup was Frank Galligan, our indefatigable MC who has done a superb job for so many years. His knowledge of bluegrass, his love for live music, his willingness to get to know the band members, his on-stage banter and the way he encouraged us to call for an encore when one was deserved - all of that was missing this year. Frank tells me he didn't even get a text message about his dismissal.

I'll go through the event from beginning to end now:

  • The online ticket sales worked well enough. Admission price was up quite a bit when you factor in two days instead of three, three stages only, and absence of A-list American bluegrass bands.
  • We were all a bit disturbed by the presence of G4S security personnel at the gate. Thirty years of festivals and suddenly we have private security? When asked why, the security men — who were all very pleasant — said they had to check for alcohol. I entered at least four times over the weekend and my bag was not checked, nor those of the people with me, so the checking was intermittent at best.
  • A nice printed programme was available free of charge on admission, but it should have been up online days in advance to allow people to plan their visit.
  • The sound from the main stage intermittently drowned out quieter performances on the Smoky Mountain Stage. That should have been sorted out in advance and if not, then a careful manager of the calibre of Richard Hurst or Paddy O'Kane would have picked it up as they walked around.
  • The general atmosphere was not the same as previous years. Granted we have had two years of Covid, granted any change of management would have had us on edge, but it just wasn't the same.
  • Bar and food stalls seemed to be working well though I have to say I didn't eat inside and others had some complaints about the food service. Some complaints also about the price of drink (e.g. £4 for a smallish glass of Fanta orange wasn't pleasant), but hats off to Bogan's for having plenty of staff on the bar. There was one man pulling pints all day. I bought Prosecco a few times and each time the barman took a few minutes to fill the glass to the brim. Good work, guys.
  • Two nice wee touches near the toilets; warm water for hand washing — plenty of places would not bother — and drinking water on tap all weekend for filling bottles. Again, some cunning operators would encourage attendees to buy water.
  • Only one word for the standard of MC-ing; abysmal. Please bring back Frank Galligan.
  • I thought that in previous years the Saturday night exodus and drunken dancing had settled down. Anyone remember for sure? Unfortunately it was all back this year, and fair play to the Slocan Ramblers for powering on regardless. This needs to be sorted out.

Overall, did the new dispensation work in terms of pulling in people? The NMNI post-event press release trumpeted the figure of 4500 visitors, up from the 2019 total of 3300. It was possibly a bit disingenuous to say that, when NMNI's own figures show that the 2018 festival attracted 6400 and 2017 pulled in 6700.

I don't know what the future holds for this festival but I, like many others, will likely go elsewhere unless this year's mistakes are corrected.

© Declan Fox

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For mandolinists - and others

David 'Dawg' Grisman (right), one of the founding fathers of modern mandolin playing, can be seen on the Fretboard Journal YouTube channel, talking recently about his 1922 Lloyd Loar F-5 mandolin 'Crusher'. Nine years ago John Reischman, then already one of the most respected contemporary mandolinists, talked on the FJ channel about his 1924 Lloyd Loar.

Reischman, who was nominated for the Canadian Juno award earlier this year, has now been interviewed at length in Dave Berry's 'California Report' series on Bluegrass Today about his music career and his current projects, including his latest album New time & old acoustic. The interview also has five videos.

Also on YouTube, Darren Nicholson talks about his 1923 F-5 (named 'Ferdinand' after its original owner) and how it came to him.

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For fans (which most of us are) it's easy to forget that bluegrass at a professional level is a business. On Bluegrass Today, Chris Jones (who toured Ireland with his Night Drivers band in 2018 and 2019) deals with a major aspect of the business: recording contracts, which, as he says, 'can be problematic for all parties involved, especially now when people have stopped, you know, actually paying for music'.
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Award-winning Australian singer Kristy Cox toured Ireland with her band in 2019, thanks to mygrassisblue.com, and would have been back in 2020 on a European tour but for the pandemic. She has since relocated to the USA and signed with Billy Blue Records, who have released her album Shades of blue. An official video of 'Good morning moon', a single from the album, has now been released and can be seen on Bluegrass Today and YouTube.
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Blue Highway, who headlined the bluegrass section of the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in 2009, have (as John Lawless remarks on Bluegrass Today) 'a well-earned reputation for consistently choosing and recording the very finest new material introduced in the bluegrass genre'. Rounder Records have now released 'On the roof of the world', written by the band's guitarist Tim Stafford - a song about death on a mountain, but not the location you might expect from a bluegrass song (and with none of the history-distortion of 'Matterhorn'). It can be heard on Bluegrass Today and YouTube.
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The Mountain Home Music Company announce the release of Heyday, the new album from the Lonesome River Band, headliners at rhe Omagh festival in 2013. 'Mary Ann is a pistol', a single from the album, was released earlier this year; a video can be seen on Bluegrass Today or YouTube. Full details on the album are on the Mountain Home press release.
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The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum's Rompfest, to be held on four days next week (22-25 June) in Owensboro, KY, includes many acts and artists familiar to Irish audiences: the Del McCoury Band, Rhiannon Giddens, Brennen Leigh, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Lindsay Lou, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Gibson Brothers, Punch Brothers, Hackensaw Boys - and Galway's We Banjo 3, whose single 'Gift of life', released today (17 June), can be heard here.

© Richard Hawkins

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16 June 2022

Declan Fox on Bluegrass Omagh 2022 (continued)

BIB editor's note: Thanks again to Declan Fox for the second and third instalments of his analysis of this year's Omagh festival. The concluding instalments will appear here tomorrow. This is the fullest review of a festival that has appeared to date on the BIB.

Part 2: More bouquets and 'Is it bluegrass?'

I'll write here on the artistes who struck me as not quite pure dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass but still pretty close. Do not take my classifications too seriously - this is more to do with my impression at the time.

No Oil Paintings are described as a rowdy Belfast Americana outfit. They play guitar, banjo, upright bass and drums. Their original songs on CD lean towards the morbid and melancholy end of the spectrum but when I saw them on the main stage on Saturday evening they were very much the living manifestation of bluegrass meets rock and roll. 'Outlaw bluegrass' would be my monicker for them. They were lively, they were up-tempo, the lead singer made me think of Robert Plant with his vocal power, and it was a knock-out set. I cannot even remember all the songs they played but I made sure to see them again on Sunday in the school field when they were quieter but still very good. They offered a bluegrass-y version of a Pink Floyd song from Dark side of the moon and were delighted with our response. They went out with 'Foggy Mountain breakdown'.

Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno are two young American musicians with great stuff in their DNA. Quite simply, awesome talents. Initially I thought not pure bluegrass, but in retrospect I think they would be fully accepted at purist festivals. Originals and standards, beautiful singing by her and great picking by him, her voice was high and sweet and angelic. I saw them once on the main stage and they really shone there with the better sound and acoustics.

Long Way Home is another duo I initially thought 'no, not the pure thing', but in retrospect was probably wrong. She is American, he is Dutch, they live in Cork and are pretty active performers. They both sing and while her voice does not match Vivian Leva's, it is pretty good. They did covers mostly, she picked well on mandolin and guitar and he played dobro. A pair which could go far, crying out to be heard and enjoyed in a small venue with good acoustics.

Aaron Jonah Lewis is one of these performers who both entertains and educates. He is an authority on the banjo, he also plays fiddle and sings. He opened our minds to some great banjo history. He talked about seeking out banjo tunes from 100 to 120 years ago and finding some of them on old wax recordings. He told us about Joe Morley, described as 'the Mozart of the banjo'. I bought Aaron's CD of Joe Morley pieces and it is certainly worth a listen. He wears a three-piece suit, has a massive beard and a pair of what looks like dime-store sunglasses but are probably some expensive designer make. Again, more suited to a small venue but nevertheless a worthy addition to the Omagh lineup.

Part 3: Definitely non-genre

The act which provoked the most negative reaction among the bluegrass fraternity was the trio of entertainers, Katie Richardson, Rachel McCarthy, and Jackie Rainey. I caught them on Sunday on the Smoky Mountain stage and they were down to two, Rachel McCarthy having gone home sick. First problem was their choice of songs. The only one they did with any relation to bluegrass or old-timey was 'Down to the river to pray' and their rendition was just about adequate to my ears. There followed a forgettable set of covers, mostly performed competently, although their vocal limitations were clear on Gram Parsons' 'Ooh Las Vegas' which most of us know better from the Emmylou Harris version.

Second problem, related, was their failure to stick to their brief. The festival organisers spoke several times of how these musicians would do old songs which had inspired them. Now maybe there was a misunderstanding along the way but there wasn't much homage to bluegrass or old-timey in that set. I sat to the end, bored, thinking of what I was missing on the other stages.

Joshua Burnside is a great talent. I'm not really into folk music these days but I think he is a fine exponent of some quite unusual field of folk and I mean that as a compliment to him. He has a great voice, is good on guitar, and his songwriting has been critically acclaimed. He also has good stage presence. I saw him on Saturday evening doing his own stuff and I thought: 'This guy is really good but he is at the wrong festival'. The Omagh bluegrass festival has always been non-purist and many of us are very happy about that, but Joshua was way outside the tent.

Anthony Toner, on the other hand, made a significant effort to fit in. He appeared with the Doone brothers (half of No Oil Paintings) who do have good bluegrass credentials, but unfortunately a banjo and upright bass are not automatic bluegrass passports. We all know Anthony's stuff, he is a major talent, good singer/ songwriter/ guitarist, but he is not bluegrass or anything near it. He did do one number with a good bluegrass feel but again, not much homage there either. While I enjoyed his set I sat there thinking he too was at the wrong festival.

[To be concluded]

© Declan Fox

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15 June 2022

Ardara Bluegrass Festival returns, 15-17July 2022

Thanks to Tony O'Brien for forwarding this welcome news from Pat McGill of the Beehive Bar, Ardara, Co. Donegal: this year the Ardara Bluegrass Festival will once again be held, on 15-17 July 2022. The schedule of events is as follows:
  • Fri. 15th July: Beehive: Opening night pickin' session.
  • Sat. 16th: Beehive: Pickin' session all day.
  • Nesbitt Arms Hotel: Evening concert featuring Colin & Janet Henry, Mules & Men, and Woodbine (augmented by Joe Meehan, mandolin, and Dessie Crerand, fiddle)
  • Sun. 17th: Beehive: Pickin' session all day. Sun. night: wind-up Jamboree hosted by Woodbine.
Tony adds: 'Woodbine's segment on the Sat. night concert will be dedicated to the late Mel Corry and P.J. Coleman. Mel was an original member of Woodbine and filled in with the band many times over the past twenty years, while P.J. was one of Woodbine's most loyal followers.'

BIB editor's note: Those who attended last weekend's Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival were glad to see commemorative pictures of Mel and P.J. in the entrance of the Westport Town Hall Theatre, the main concert venue.

© Richard Hawkins

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14 June 2022

Bringing It Home and BAND Festivals merge in Dunfanaghy Music Festival, 24-26 June 2022

The BAND Festival (Bluegrass And Nashville Dunfanaghy) announces that it will be joining forces this year with the Bringing It Home Festival in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, to produce

one bouncing Summer Festival! There will be music throughout the bars in Dunfanaghy Village from Friday through to Sunday night on the weekend of the 24th-26th June as well as a wrap-up night on Monday 27th!

The bluegrass (and related music) elements will be provided by Luke and Lily of Mules & Men and by Donegal's own Erdini. Full details of the combined lineup are on the Bringing It Home website and the BAND Facebook.

© Richard Hawkins

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Open the road coming from We Banjo 3

Galway's We Banjo 3, kings of Celtgrass, announce that their new album Open the road, due for release on 15 July, can now be pre-ordered from the music section of their website, at $30.00 as an LP and $15 as a CD. There is also related merchandise. The band can be seen on YouTube performing 'Hummingbird', a single from the album, live at MerleFest earlier this year.

© Richard Hawkins

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Westport weekend in retrospect

Thanks again to Des Butler for these photos and the following report on last weekend:

Well, thankfully Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival is back with a bang, and a great weekend of bluegrass, old-time, and folk music was to be had by all attenders.

The Friday night concert kicked off with the Horsenecks [photo above], an old-time and bluegrass duo with Gabrielle McCrae from Oregon on fiddle and Barry Southern from Liverpool on banjo. They gave us some fine renditions of Stanley Brothers material as well as some original tunes.

They were followed by the Slo Country Stumblers [above] who played some hard-driving fiddle tunes and spirited songs, heavily influenced by the string bands of the 1920s and '30s. Their sound was of pure Appalachian dance music and the more one listened the more one felt like dancing.
Saturday night's concert commenced with a delirious, head-spinning mixture of original roots, blues, funk, swing, and bluegrass music superbly interpreted by Stillhouse Junkies, a trio comprising guitar, bass, and fiddle. They were followed by Johnny & The Yooahoos [above] from Germany. They describe their music as a mixture of Indie Folk, Americana, and Retrobluegrass.
They were followed by Chicago's Henhouse Prowlers [above], who play a mixture of traditional bluegrass and what is being described as uptempo, retro, and sometimes progressive bluegrass music. All in all, the concert was most interesting, enjoyable, and highly entertaining.

As regards Retro and Progressive Bluegrass I would have to paraphrase a well hackneyed saying from a well known Sci-Fi TV series and film franchise to describe it; 'There's bluegrass there, Bill, but not as we know it.'
The Sunday concert which is described as 'The Folky Thing' saw Seamie O'Dowd and Tony Reidy [above] give some solid entertainment with interpretations of traditional folk songs and instrumentals. Tony's contributions going from the whimsical to emotional ballads that pulled at the heartstrings. Seamie O'Dowd is a ballad singer and multi-instrumentalist of immense talent. Having heard him in the past at Longford Banjo Festival when he was playing with 'The Unwanted', the resonance in his voice and his expert musicianship complement greatly his choice of folk material. He has shared the stage and played with such artists as Christy Moore, the Chieftains, Dervish, and Martin O'Connor, to name but a few.

There were many other fine musicians and singers who gave solid, entertaining performances at various venues throughout the festival, too many to go through here, but thank you for making it a great entertaining weekend of music and song, and God knows it was badly needed.

Many thanks to Uri and his team for organising this festival for the enjoyment of all. With the Athy, Mohill, Longford, and Bunratty festivals no longer with us and Omagh teetering, and with promoters of solid bluegrass bands such as John Nyhan (responsible for getting some of the best pure bluegrass bands ever to grace our fair isle) practically retired, Uri, his team and the Westport festival need to be promoted, supported, and nurtured for the future of our music here.

© Des Butler

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13 June 2022

Familiar faces in Germany

Thanks to our good friend Patrick Fuchs - director of the International Bühl Bluegrass Festival in the bluegrass-friendly city of Bühl, Baden-Württemberg, south-west Germany - for news of the 18th Festival, which was held a month ago (13-14 May). The bill included three US bands who have played in Ireland in the past: Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, Chatham County Line, and the Hackensaw Boys, as well as Belgium-based Old Salt and Blue Side of Town (D).

Regional press reports are uniformly positive about the festival, with fine photos taken both at the main concert venue and at open-air performances in Bühl. Audience response was enthusiastic. Photos on the Festival Facebook include the shot below of Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, who performed at this year's Bluegrass Omagh festival two weeks ago, and concluded a week ago their European tour organised by mygrassisblue.com.

© Richard Hawkins

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12 June 2022

New weekly bluegrass event in Dublin 7: Dangerfield every Wednesday

Thanks to John Denby for the above poster image and the news that there is now a new weekly bluegrass night in Dublin: Dangerfield will be playing weekly in Kavanaghs at 1 Aughrim St., Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, on Wednesdays from 8.00 to 10.00 p.m.

Dangerfield (John Denby, mandolin and vocals; David Payne, guitar and harmony vocals) are an old-timey 'brother duet'-style country and bluegrass act, reminiscent of the sound of the Monroe Brothers, Skaggs & Rice, and Doc Watson. Their music can be heard on their YouRube channel.

John, who also gives mandolin lessons, launched a luthiery and instrument-repair service in Dublin earlier this year (see the BIB for 24 Mar. 2022).

© Richard Hawkins

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10 June 2022

Stillhouse Junkies on their way to Westport, England, and Rotterdam

Colorado's Stillhouse Junkies (Cody Tinnin, bass; Alissa Wolf, fiddle; and Fred Kosak, guitar) are featured on Bluegrass Unlimited in an article by John Lawless entitled 'Stillhouse Junkies heading for the UK', which however does make it clear that their first stop will be this weekend's Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, and that this is not in the UK. The article also lists the eight dates they will be playing in England before crossing to the Netherlands for the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival.

It's worth repeating here what John Lawless wrote on Bluegrass Today on 14 May: 'The hands down favorites at the 2021 World of Bluegrass convention were Stillhouse Junkies, who won over every audience they appeared before...'

© Richard Hawkins

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08 June 2022

Deering preview of new album by Ron Block and Damien O'Kane

Deering Banjos announce that Ron Block, longtime banjoist with Alison Krauss & Union Station, will be featured on Deering Live tomorrow (Thurs. 9 June) at 10.00 or 11.00 p.m. Irish time. The interview, with musical illustrations, will be available on YouTube. You can also hear here previews of two tracks from the forthcoming album Banjophonics, Ron Block's second collaboration on record with Damien O'Kane (tenor banjo) after their 2018 album Banjophony. The duo performed in Ireland several times in the six months before the onset of the pandemic. The tracks are 'Happy sevens/ Monster rabbit' and 'Woman of no place', featuring Kate Rusby.

© Richard Hawkins

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'Trout don't live in ugly places' from Milan Miller

Fishing has been a favourite pursuit for more than one notable member of the Irish bluegrass and old-time scenes, and they should appreciate the latest recording by Milan Miller, the well-respected bluegrass songwriter who has often visited this island. His song 'Trout don't live in ugly places' was written with Beth Holland. However, John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today quotes him as saying that it is 'a song about fish that really has very little to do with fishing at all'. His website states: 'Hidden just beneath the surface of the quirky and comical title, this new single offers a great reminder about the simple pleasures and restorative powers of the great outdoors.' It can be heard on all streaming platforms, on Bluegrass Today, and on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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07 June 2022

I Draw Slow in Ireland, 10-16 June 2022

Dublin's I Draw Slow (above), who have just been playing in North Carolina, will be in Ireland this month with three concerts on their schedule:

They have also completed 'their most ambitious album to date', for release in the coming autumn on the Compass Records label.

© Richard Hawkins

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Peggy Seeger at Listowel

The unique Peggy Seeger and her son Calum MacColl have already played an afternon concert yesterday (Mon. 6 June) at St John's Arts Centre, Listowel, Co. Kerry, as part of their 'First Farewell Tour'; but they are due to play there again tonight (doors 7.30 p.m., onstage 8.00 p.m., €30). St John's Arts Centre have issued a nice publicity e-flyer, which includes links to two music videos from different stages of her life, as well as a list of other upcoming shows at Listowel.

© Richard Hawkins

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06 June 2022

Mini Bluegrass Festival, 1-2 July at Bob's Bar, Durrow, Co. Laois

Thanks to Tony O'Brien, his family, and friends for the news that they are presenting a Mini Bluegrass Festival in Bob's Bar, Durrow, Co. Laois, on 1 and 2 July 2022, with two evening concerts, both held in the new venue, Bob's Hideout (photo above). The concert programme is: 
  • Fri. 1st: Woodbine + Long Way Home (USA/NL), 8.00 p.m. sharp. Adm. €10 
  • Sat. 2nd: Woodbine + Geraldine & Kevin Gill (Cork), 8.00 p.m. sharp. Adm. €10 
Booking is essential for both concerts as the venue holds a maximum audience of 50 people. Call 085 1656685 (Tony) or 087 6165484 (Bob). 
All musicians are welcome to the pickin' sessions that will be held after shows and on Saturday afternoon.
Bob's Bar (above), beside the River Erkina at the north end of Durrow, has for a long time been one of Woodbine's favourite places to play. It is also the focal point for rallies of the traditional 'High Nelly' upright bicycles, and anyone interested in local history should visit its unique museum.

© Richard Hawkins

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'Joy in Westport as Folk and Bluegrass Festival returns' - on RTÉ website

Thanks to the organising committee of the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival for the news that while putting the final touches to ensure an enjoyable and smooth-running event over this coming weekend (10-12 June), they were excited to see a very positive feature about the festival on the Entertainment page of the RTÉ website. The feature - with four fine photos including the one above showing Tim Rogers leading an old-time session in Blouser's - is well worth reading.

The committee is looking forward to welcome all to Westport, Co. Mayo, and would like to remind festival-goers that a limited number of tickets for the major events are available through the online facilities on the festival website. During the weekend, tickets (if any are left) will only be available on the doors of the events. The full programme of events is shown below; it will be available in hard copy at all the festival venues and hotels around town.

© Richard Hawkins

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More news - mostly of past visitors

On 10 Feb. the BIB mentioned a ten-minute video by Bill Evans which encapsulates his presentation on the developments in banjo construction, music, and playing styles over the last two-and-a-half centuries. John Lawless on Bluegrass Today now reports that Evans's The banjo in America, a 65-minute DVD/CD set from the Old-Time Tiki Parlour, featuring nineteen songs and medleys played on ten different instruments, can now be pre-ordered for $19.99.
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Smithsonian Folkways Recordings announce 'The brain on banjos', a thirty-three-track playlist, curated by banjo maker and player Jason Romero. Smithsonian write: 'Jason moves slowly through the deep and beautiful forest of North American banjo music, meeting the greats and the obscure along the way.' He and his wife Pharis have a new album, Tell 'em you were gold, due for release on 17 June. A video of a performance of 'Cannot change it all', one of the tracks from the album, can be seen here.
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Thanks to Richard Thompson for a link to this YouTube video showing Alison Krauss & Union Station on tour in these islands in 2005. The video is entitled 'UK tour 2005', but as Richard points out the first fifteen minutes (out of forty-three) are set in Ireland, and specifically in Dublin, where the band played at the Olympia Theatre on Dame St.
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The Steep Canyon Rangers, the very last American band to play in Ireland before the Covid lockdowns began, announce their new single 'Sweet spot' and their forthcoming bookings, including the Mountain Song Festival in September. More details, including their new T-shirt designs, can be seen on their latest e-newsletter.
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Radio Bristol at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, TN/VA, announce that a special edition of their 'Farm and Fun Time' show will be held on 21 July to mark the 95th anniversary of the historic 1927 Bristol Sessions, widely known aa the 'Big Bang of Country Music'. The distinguished cast will include Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Bill & the Belles (formerly on the bill at Omagh), and Roni Stoneman, who visited Ireland in 2013 and 2016 and whose father Ernest V. Stoneman can be given much of the credit for the Bristol Sessions having been held. More details can be seen here.
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Fast Track released on Friday (3 June) their third album, Heartache and trouble, and a playlist of all ten tracks can be heard on this Engelhardt Music Group press release. With Jesse Brock having left to join Authentic Unlimited, Ron Spears is now (we believe) the only member of Fast Track who has previously played in Ireland.

© Richard Hawkins

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05 June 2022

Omagh 2022: 'Bouquets and brickbats' from Declan Fox

Thanks to Declan Fox for the first instalment of his comprehensive examination of last weekend's festival:

Part 1: Bouquets and the pure drop

I've been to nearly all of the Omagh festivals since 1992. I got most of my bluegrass education there and I'm writing this from the point of view of a fairly low-level fan.

My last one was 2018 and I was so looking forward to this festival, getting back to the Folk Park, meeting old friends, hearing great music and having my genre boundaries expanded. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes. And no. Of which more later.

Mind you, it was great to have a festival at all this year, following two years of Covid and all our worries about Richard Hurst's retirement.

Duration was reduced to two days which made the £40 ticket somewhat more expensive than previous festivals but still one of the best deals around for lovers of good live music.

Talking about good live music, there was plenty of that on show, despite stage count being reduced to three and some slots occupied by very non-genre artistes. We could debate until the cows come home about the boundaries of bluegrass, about who and what is canon, so I will start with the more-or-less pure drop.

Festival favourites the Broken String Band played two sets on the outdoor stages on Saturday. They were competent and entertaining, having recovered from the loss of Geordie and Walty, playing their usual mix of standards leavened with Neil Young's lovely 'Harvest Moon' and Springsteen's 'I'm on fire'. Plus plenty of banter! Individually and collectively they have done a lot to keep bluegrass alive in Northern Ireland over the years now and like good wine, they get better with time. I particularly enjoyed Ivan's guitar picking.

Glasgow-based four-piece The Fountaineers, another classic bluegrass band, played three sets over the weekend plus one at the launch party. They do a mixture of standards and original songs; they seemed pretty good instrumentally but vocals were an issue, both at the launch party and their outdoor set on Saturday. Unfortunately I missed their last set on the main stage on Sunday due to the cold chilling my bones and really would have liked to hear them in that venue. I thought they were simply not close enough to the mike but I saw others using the same setup without problems. Their name, by the way, came from practice sessions outside in a park either near or actually in a fountain during Covid. Seems the council turned off the water to the fountain to discourage people coming out...

Another local band, Cup O'Joe, impressed me on the main stage on Sunday. I last saw them as three siblings several years ago at Omagh when they were starting out and their talents were obvious then. Tabitha (banjo/vocals) has since acquired a husband, making Cup O'Joe a four-piece. She also got a Momentum award from the IBMA for her banjo playing and the band has already had the whole IBMA showcase experience. Definitely serious bluegrass chops there! They in fact describe their music as progressive bluegrass and folk. They have come a long, long way in a very short time. I really enjoyed their set of mostly originals, all beautifully crafted and delivered, and would go some distance to hear them again. Of note is Tabitha's performance with another brilliant band, Midnight Skyracer, a previous visitor to Omagh.

And later on Saturday, we had a superb high-energy/ high lonesome set from the amazing Seth Mulder & Midnight Run. Truly a classic bluegrass powerhouse outfit of five massive talents blending into a wonderfully cohesive whole, they played standards and originals and did them all exceedingly well. And the speed of them on the fast numbers!! Seth Mulder is a big man and his mandolin looks tiny in his hands but when he plays a fast run, oh man you wonder how the fretboard doesn't melt! Seth, Colton on banjo and Ben on guitar share the vocals and have a nice mix of styles. Ben is the funny man and his performance on the more humorous songs was a treat. They did the rooster song, which many of you probably know but I didn't, the one about the rooster coming into the yard and getting up to rooster tricks with various other inhabitants of the yard. Written by Bob Gibson, who was a big name in the folk revival of the '50s and '60s, Ben and the guys added animal noises to it, plus a more vulgar final verse than Gibson would have entertained.

They are not yet bluegrass royalty, no IBMAs yet but only a matter of time. And talking of bluegrass royalty, we have had many great bands here over the years but I have to say Seth Mulder & Midnight Run are right up there with any of the long-established big names.

The graveyard slot on Saturday night landed on the broad shoulders of Toronto's Slocan Ramblers. Their set was marred by drunk people up dancing, other folk leaving because it was bedtime or they needed to get home for the Sabbath, a very poorly adjusted set of stage lights, and low volume on the PA. Maybe the volume has to go down late on in the night, I don't know. And I do not like it too loud either, but it was just right for the Seth Mulder set and it seemed much lower for the Slocan Ramblers. At any rate they acquitted themselves well. They told us of their early days, they started off playing pure bluegrass for a weekly residency in a Toronto bar which they described as a sh*thole — I wondered if the drunk dancers reminded them of that? The bar was nicknamed 'The Puke and Stagger' which told us all we needed to know about that venue. They played a lot of original numbers, what I would call bluegrass in evolution — doubtless most of you will have your own terms. They are basically a four-piece bluegrass band experimenting with classic bluegrass form and content and giving it a gentle modern spin. They already have a major bluegrass award — 2020 IBMA Momentum band of the year — which testifies to their talent and confirms their essential bluegrass-ness. And if only to hammer that home, they did a few bluegrass originals later on in the set and played them superbly. One nerdy observation: they did a version of Tom Petty's 'A mind with a heart of its own' and - something new to my eyes - the banjo player slipped on a slide and played a type of slide banjo on that number. Doubtless familiar to many readers but I cannot recall ever seeing slide banjo before at Omagh.

Next time I'll tell you about some great artistes who were somewhere on the borderline between bluegrass and other stuff.

© Declan Fox

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Two small footnotes

The BIB editor writes:

The BIB calendar has been carrying for some time an erroneous lineup for last weekend's Bluegrass Omagh festival, which listed two GB bands who did not in fact appear, and omitted the Broken String Band, who certainly did appear. In order not to perpetuate a misleading record of the event, the calendar has now been corrected.

On Thursday last (2 June) Seth Mulder & Midnight Run announced on their Facebook: 'We got to shoot a special video session in Ireland a few days ago. Stay tuned for what’s to come', with a link to the Facebook of the Ivory Sessions.

© Richard Hawkins

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