27 January 2015

The Bluegrass Ireland Blog: still alive

Although the editor retired from proactive bluegrass blogging on 15 February 2013, the Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) is still alive. Its calendar is kept updated, and news received is posted. Send in news for the calendar by e-mail; and please also send it by e-mail to Wendy Connolly for publication on the 'Bluegrass in Ireland' Facebook page, which is the interactive medium in Ireland for bluegrass news.

The resources already on the BIB, including archives and links, remain accessible and may be improved for the convenience of readers. The BIB's background and purpose are explained here, and tips on using it are here. To reach both, click on the 'Welcome' label below.


A treat, and an education

The International Bluegrass Band at IBMA's World of Bluegrass 2007: Arnold Lasseur of the Blue Grass Boogiemen, Kazuhiro Inaba, Sean McKerr (now of KingBlue), Butch Robins 
Source: the Butch Robins website

Many thanks to Dick Bowden of New England and Bluegrass Today for a feature on banjo legend Butch Robins and a series of videos he has made with Radford University in Virginia. This adds up to several hours of Butch talking to the camera, and every minute is worth it. There is just too much to say about this, but Butch's words are what counts. As Dick Bowden says:

This video series is highly recommended if you’re interested in Butch Robins, Bill Monroe, the history of bluegrass and those who make it, music theory, trivia, or even 'art' as a concept.

And it’s free.

You can't beat that. The feature, with links to the four videos and brief outlines of what is in each, is here.

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Bluegrass by appointment! - at Armagh, 6 Feb. 2015

Thanks to Nigel Martyn of the Old Flattop agency in Belfast for this poster image for the concert by KingBlue at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh city on Friday 6 February. The show starts at 8.00 p.m., and tickets are £11.00. Online bookings can be made through the Market Place's website.

The photo shows KingBlue's members (l-r): Mel Corry, Caolan Derby, Clem O'Brien, and Sean McKerr. Nigel also reveals that the band's name derives from Jimmy Martin's car licence plate. No better choice...

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26 January 2015

Awards for old friends

High Country (l-r): Tom Bekeny (fiddle), Larry Cohea (banjo), Glenn Dauphin (bass), Butch Waller (mandolin), Bob Waller (guitar), Jim Mintun (dobro)

We think that without presumption the members of the premier California bluegrass band High Country can be called 'old friends'; they were on the bill at the very first Athy Bluegrass Festival in 1991, and again in 1993 and 2008. Anyway, the main point is that, as reported in Bluegrass Today, the 8th annual Northern California Bluegrass Awards were given out during the past weekend at the Bluegrass on Broadway festival in Redwood City, CA.

The awards for Best Banjo Player and Best Dobro Player went to Larry Cohea and Jim Mintun, while Louise Mintun, who plays with Jim in the four-piece band Slide Road, tied with Lisa Burns for Best Bass Player. Jim has now won the Best Dobro Player title five times (Kathy Barwick, who toured in Ireland in 2013 and 2014, won the title in 2010).

On Slide Road's website, you can see a video of High Country with Jim Mintun singing the Bill Monroe song 'Body and soul' - plus there's a good view of Larry Cohea, who is next to him on stage. Congratulations to both!

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24 January 2015

Fish & Bird back in Oct.-Nov. 2015?

As announced on the BIB two weeks ago, the neo-old-time string-plus-percussion band Fish & Bird from British Columbia played at the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre at Naul, Co. Dublin, last night (Friday 23 January), their only performance in Ireland during the current tour in which they are taking part in the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. Loudon Temple of the UK's Brookfield Knights agency reports:

The band has just completed a first-ever UK tour and has been very well received, with several sold-out shows and universal praise from every venue and promoter. As a result, they have been invited to take part in the London Folk & Roots Festival that will be happening from 30 October to 15 November and we are going to try to build a second tour (three weeks in duration) around that. Could you please let us know if you would like to grab the band for a slot and indicate what your availability (mid-October to mid-November) might be?

Loudon also reports that the current issues of the Maverick and R2 magazines both carry features on the band. While in Glasgow, Fish & Bird are being filmed for a new roots-music series being produced by BBC Alba, so by the time they return they will be even better known this side of the Atlantic.

This YouTube link shows them performing 'Winnipeg', one of their more uptown and modern numbers.

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From DanGem: Happy Banjo New Year!

Thanks to DanGem Bluegrass for New Year greetings from their completely refurbished website, and the news that their first Bluegrass Get-Together of 2015 will be held, as usual, on the last Saturday in the month (Sat. 31 Jan., in this instance); at the usual place and time (the Lagan Valley Island Civic Centre, Lisburn, Co. Antrim BT27 4RL, from 10.00 a.m. to noon); and with the usual schedule:

10.00-10.30 Warm-up
10.30-11.00(ish) Breakout time for beginners; rest of players, jam time
11.00(ish) to 12.00(ish) All back together

DanGem add: 'So let everyone know. Bring along your banjos, guitars, mandolins, fiddles, dobros, and bass, or just come along and enjoy us make music. Look forward to seeing as many of you who can attend.'

The DanGem Get-Together combines a jam session for those who are already active pickers, with the opportunity to learn for those who are beginners or just want to listen. DanGem's e-newsletter includes a location map for the Get-Together, and a reminder that they have the largest range of banjos for sale in this island - not to mention the other bluegrass instruments.

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23 January 2015

Detached notes

Not all of us who have enjoyed seeing and hearing Jan Michielsen as guitarist with 4 Wheel Drive (NL/D/B) may know that Jan is also the mandolinist in the all-Belgian hard-core bluegrass band Blue Maxx. They're releasing their CD The wicked path of sin on St Valentine's day in Jan's admirable home town of Hoogstraten, near the Dutch border; details are on the poster image. A fortnight later they will be on a joint concert with Rawhide, the premier Belgian bluegrass band who played at the Omagh festival in 2013.
Closer to home: thanks to Roger Ryan of the Country Music Association of Ireland and the Rockies GAA club in Blackrock, Cork, for the news that country singer Lana Gibson and her band will play for dancing at the Rockies on Saturday 31 January, starting at 9.30 p.m. - no cover charge. Not bluegrass, but music from an era of country music that many bluegrassers enjoy, and certainly from before the 'Murder on Music Row' about which Larry Cordle wrote his award-winning song (IBMA Song of the Year 2000).

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22 January 2015

Old-time at the Glenside: first 2015 get-together

Cathal Cusack (guitar), Tim Hawkins (fiddle), and Richard Hawkins (banjo) announce that their next meeting to play old-time music upstairs at the Glenside, Landscape Road, Churchtown, Dublin 14, will take place on 28 January 2015.

The original plan to meet on the third Wednesday of each month was modified to avoid a clash with another event. Normal service should resume with the next meeting on 18 February. For the format of the session, see the BIB of 20 Aug. 2014, where a list of tunes is given.

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21 January 2015

Special C. capture the castles

Following on from the news of a week ago, Bluegrass Today publishes a further report from Greg Cahill of the Special Consensus on the band's tour in these islands, with special detail and photos on their shows at Leap Castle, Co. Offaly, and Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare (the latter as part of the Shannonside Winter Music Weekend). Greg adds:

Three more shows in England after tonight and then we ferry back to Ireland for three shows before heading home on 28 January. By then we will have played twenty shows in nineteen days and will be ready to get home to see our families.

All Irish dates in the Special C. tour are on the BIB calendar.

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Jarrod Dickenson in Ireland, 5-11 Feb. 2015

Thanks to Uri Kohen and his organising team at the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival in Co. Mayo for the news that - in association with the Cap and Beard and Turning Pirate agencies - they are presenting the award-winning Texas-born singer/songwriter Jarrod Dickenson in a tour of Ireland early next month, with the following dates:

Thurs. 5th: The Spirit Store, Dundalk, Co. Louth, 8.30 p.m.
Fri. 6th: Mono Café Restaurant, Westport, Co. Mayo, 7.30 p.m.
Sat. 7th: Monroe's, Galway city, 10.00 p.m.
Sun. 8th: JJ Harlow's, Roscommon town, 6.30 p.m.
Wed. 11th: Whelan’s, Dublin 2, 8.00 p.m.; special guests Young Folk, Michael MacLennan

On 3 Feb. Jarrod Dickenson is releasing his fourth recording: the five-track EP An evening in the SUN, recorded live in the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, TN. Also on the EP are British songwriter and musician David Ford (piano, harmonica, harmony vocals) and Emily Grove, alt.folk musician (harmony vocals). Full details are in this Westport press release.

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18 January 2015

Register now for the European Bluegrass Gathering in Munich

Following on from the information on the BIB post of 16 December, the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) announces that registration for the 2015 European Bluegrass Gathering (13-15 March) in Munich, Germany, is in progress, and you can take advantage of reduced-cost block bookings at the IBIS hotel in Munich by registering before 30 January.

The Gathering will be combined with the 5th Munich Bluegrass Festival, the 3rd European Bluegrass Pioneer Awards, and the EBMA's Annual General Meeting. Full details, together with online facilities for registration and booking, can be found in the EBMA's latest news release.

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Goodies in this month's BU

The BIB editor reports:

The January 2015 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine includes the annual Festival Guide, listing hundreds of bluegrass and bluegrass-related events around the world. Supplementary lists will appear in later issues.

The lists, compiled from data that festival organisers voluntarily send in, cannot be fully comprehensive. Outside the USA, the country with most events listed is Canada (15); in the rest of the world, Ireland comes equal with Australia, England, and Germany (3 each). The three shown for Ireland are the Shannonside Winter Music Weekend (this year's is in progress as we write), the Kilkenny Roots Festival, and the Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival.
Plenty of other good things are in this issue, notably a bumper crop of new CD reviews (four of them Highlight reviews); features on three individual festivals, including the big Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention combining bluegrass and old-time music; and the invaluable 'Notes & Queries' section by Walt V. Saunders, which this month includes the full original (pre-Carter-Family) lyrics to 'Wildwood Flower'.

Of special interest to mandolinists: the photo by Garland Gobble of a Gibson F-12 belonging to the late John Duffey; and a two-page feature by musicologist Dick Spottswood on Ernest Ferguson, who died in October 2014 at the age of 96. Ernest Ferguson belonged to a generation of country musicians who were playing professionally before the emergence of bluegrass, and his picking influenced several major bluegrass mandolinists. His 1940s recordings can be heard on CDs from Bear Family Records: two by the Bailes Brothers, and one by Johnnie & Jack.

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17 January 2015

Dixie Hall

Dixie and Tom T. Hall

Bluegrass Today publishes the sad news that Iris Violet May Hall, 'Miss Dixie', wife of the great country music singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall, died last night at her home 'Fox Hollow' in Tennessee, at the age of 80.

Her remarkable career featured just over a year ago in an article by Nancy Cardwell in Bluegrass Unlimited magazine - 'Dixie Hall: gifted songwriter, organizer, and patron saint of bluegrass - Fifty years in the music business'. Born in the English midlands, she was a trick rider in Wild West shows till a chance meeting with Tex Ritter led to a career in record promotion and publicity in the US, where she became friends with the Carter Family and many other stars of bluegrass and classic country music.

She was already writing songs before she married Tom T. Hall in the 1960s, and together they wrote hundreds of songs and set up Blue Circle Records, 'a coalition to further the growth and appreciation of bluegrass music', and Good Home Grown Music. She has almost certainly done more for bluegrass than anyone from these islands apart from the record producers Art Satherley (1889-1986) and Don Law (1902-82). Nancy Cardwell's article ends with a quotation from Miss Dixie:

Bluegrass music speaks to my heart. It's what comes out. It's the best thing that happens.

Further appreciations will appear on Bluegrass Today and in other media.
The BIB mentioned Miss Dixie and her health problems early in December 2014, when we also drew attention to the major health problems that James King, one of the most respected singers in traditional bluegrass, has had for much of this year. Yesterday the Prescription Bluegrass Blog published a letter by Gary Reid - 'James King still needs our help'. Read more about the James King Medical Fund here.


I Draw Slow at Whelan's, Dublin, 14 Feb. 2015

Thanks to Dave Holden of Dublin's I Draw Slow (above) for the news that just before heading off on their next US tour, the band will play Whelan's, Dublin 2, on St Valentine's night, 14 Feb. 2015. Doors open at 8.00 p.m., and tickets are €15. Dave adds:

We have been invited to showcase at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, Missouri (as director's pick), in mid February, then go on to do a short tour of the Pacific North West. Later in the year we will be touring the US, Canada, and the UK. It's going to be a busy year, so come kick it off with us in Whelan's...

I Draw Slow have earned many very enthusiastic reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, some of which can be seen on their website. Dave also attaches these YouTube links to videos of their performances of 'Souvenirs', 'Mama don't cry', and 'Valentine'.

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16 January 2015

New major book from Ken Perlman

Thanks to Ken Perlman (USA), maestro of 'melodic clawhammer' banjo, for his latest quarterly newsletter, which includes news that a major publication is now imminent. Ken has already had published the magisterial 400-tune collection The fiddle music of Prince Edward Island: Celtic and Acadian tunes in living tradition, followed by a two-CD set of field recordings from PEI on the Rounder label.

His book Couldn’t have a wedding without the fiddler: the story of traditional fiddling on Prince Edward Island is now scheduled for publication in March 2015 by the University of Tennessee Press as the inaugural volume in its Charles Wolfe series. A pre-publication reviewer describes it as 'the most thorough and comprehensive exploration of any fiddling tradition anywhere'. Have a look at the corresponding website, which at present is just an introduction to the resource that it will be. Ken also writes:

Fiddler Alan Jabbour and I have recently finished work on a new joint CD called You can't beat the classics. We are joined on this project by Alan's old friend, guitarist Jim Watson, who was a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers and currently plays bass with Robin & Linda Williams. The CD focuses on tunes that Alan collected way back and has played for years, but has never had a chance to record. The project is going through pre-production right now and we expect that copies will be available shortly.

All this and much more news can be seen on Ken's newly refurbished website.

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15 January 2015

Bluegrass gives Dublin firm a helping hand

L-r: Dan Eubanks, Dustin Benson, Rick Faris, Greg Cahill

Thanks to Bluegrass Today for a feature on the latest Special Consensus tour in Ireland, with a report on the band's progress up to yesterday by its leader and founder, Greg Cahill.

Last night the Special C. were in Grange, Co. Sligo; today and tomorrow they're in Belfast and Lisburn; and at the weekend they'll be playing in Leap Castle, Co. Offaly, and at the Winter Music Weekend in Co. Clare. All dates, including those for their return from Britain later this month, are on the BIB calendar.

While here, the Special C. have noticed a Dublin firm that seemed to deserve support, and they have consequently decided to give it a little publicity (see the photo) and use its products whenever they can.

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14 January 2015

Punch Brothers at the NCH: workshop as well as concert

Thanks to Cathal Cusack for drawing our attention to this feature on the website of the Journal of Music, announcing that in addition to their concert at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, at 8.00 p.m. on Wednesday 21 January, the Punch Brothers will also give a performance workshop in the NCH at 3.00 p.m. that day. The Journal of Music says:

... During this event, the band will discuss and demonstrate their approach to composing and performing, and offer feedback and advice to participants. While not a master class, participants may be invited to play during the workshop.

This event is aimed at music students and musicians, and offers a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the workings of one of the most virtuosic and freewheeling bands working today. Please contact education@nch.ie to book a place, or for further information.

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Full details of Gainsborough old-time festival

Thanks to the FOAOTMAD news blog for full details - including this poster/flyer image - of FOAOTMAD's forthcoming Old-Time Music Festival a month from now (13-15 Feb.) at the Queen Elizabeth High School, Morton Terrace, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire DN21 2S, England. Details include making online bookings, what to bring and not to bring, when to arrive, where to stay, and more. As noted on the BIB four weeks ago, the lineup includes:

Erynn Marshall & Carl Jones (USA)
Howard Rains & Tricia Spencer (USA)
Jason & Pharis Romero (CAN; Saturday night only)
Little Hoedown (Friday night only)
The A & E String Band
Legs Levens with the Limestone Cowboys
Issy Emeney (clogging)
Old-time singing workshop with Roger Jackson
Sacred Harp singing with Cath and Phil Tyler
Ukulele workshop with Cathy Mars and Colm Daly
Plus workshops from Erynn, Carl, Howard, and Tricia

'Europe's largest and best old time festival' say FOAOTMAD. We won't argue.

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12 January 2015

The Cabin Sessions, Dundrum, Dublin, 29 Jan. 2015

Gerry Fitzpatrick announces the next show in the Cabin Sessions series, 'Acoustic Music at its Finest', at Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dundrum, south Dublin (not far from Dundrum Luas station in the city direction):

Hey Y'all,

Happy New Year to you!

We're back at the Cabin on Thursday 29 January with our all-star house band The Cabin Crew! - Spats Davenport, Con Butler, Gerry Fitzpatrick, Christian Volkmann, Dave Hardy, and featuring Richard Hawkins (banjo). Special guests: Laura Slattery (contemporary), Jak Jones (contemporary), and the Flukey Ukes (ukulele orchestra - there are nine of them!). 9.30-11.30 p.m., adm. FREE.

If you or someone you know would like to perform at the Cabin Sessions, let Gerry know by e-mail. The Sessions are particularly interested in featuring local musicians and singers.

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Foghorn Stringband (USA) in Ireland, 8-16 May 2015

Thanks to Sharon Loughrin for the news that the Foghorn Stringband - the throbbing nucleus at the heart of the prolific old-time music scene in Portland, OR, and in the very front rank of old-time bands of the present day - will be back in Ireland in May 2015, in the first leg of a tour of these islands.

The band will in fact be ending their all-too-brief Irish tour in the Red Room at Cookstown (run by Sharon and her husband Arnie) before going over to Britain. The dates shown on their online schedule are:

Fri. 8th-Sun. 10th May: Baltimore Fiddle Fair, Baltimore, Co. Cork, 8.00 p.m. (more info TBA)
Wed. 13th: The Linenhall, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, 8.00 p.m.
Fri. 15th: The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, 8.00 p.m.
Sat. 16th: The Red Room, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, 8.00 p.m.

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Vincent Cross to tour Ireland in July 2015

Vincent Cross (photo: Jack Hirschorn)

Thanks to Vincent Cross, the Irish bluegrass scene's ambassador in New York City, for the welcome news that he will be back in Ireland on tour this coming summer. Here's his press release:

Vincent Cross is an Irish-born, Australian-raised, NYC-based folk roots-oriented songwriter, and will be touring Ireland in July of 2015. He is seeking house concerts, folk clubs, workshops, festivals, and intimate venues that will help him sustain his promotional tour. He will be joined by Sean McKerr (bass) and Tom Portman (dobro).

He can be reached by e-mail.

Vincent adds:

Check out the links to live videos, and information on my recent solo Australian tour, which took me all over the east coast for twenty-three shows.

Live on the song 'Childish things'
Live from the Troubadour: Australia
Video: 'Home away from home'
'The song' (TV interview)
YouTube video channel
Full discography: SoundCloud

Press reviews:

'... I heard a crystal clear voice that took me back to when I was being introduced to mountain music... It was a pleasure to hear such beauty coming out of Vincent Cross.' (The legendary Odetta)
'Edge-pushing stuff' (Big City Rhythm & Blues: USA)
'Solidly written, impeccably played and gifted with the sort of nuance one doesn’t often hear' (Rapid River Arts: USA)
'... powerful and unique vocal' (Red Line Roots: USA)
'Cross has a way with aphoristic old-time vernacular…' (NY Music Daily, USA)
'A new high, lonesome edged lead voice emerges on the bluegrass scene...' (IBMA)

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11 January 2015

Open House goes on the road, 28 Feb.-4 Mar. 2015

Thanks to the Open House Festival team in Belfast for their New Year e-newsletter, announcing

... the start of a brand new adventure for Open House, as a stellar festival lineup goes on tour, to visit unique venues, create good vibes... and make some great music.

At the end of February and beginning of March, Open House is bringing a choice assortment of music 'to visit our audiences who live off the main drag... in unusual and bespoke venues around the country'. This is the same package-tour concept on which Rainer Zellner in Germany has based his well-established Bluegrass Jamboree! (see the BIB for 22 Dec. 2014).

The first five-show Open House package doesn't include bluegrass or old-time music, but who knows what may happen in the future? Info and tickets are now available from the Open House team's website, where you can also find details of their year-round programme.

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Fish & Bird at Naul, 23 Jan. 2015

Thanks to the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre at Naul, Co. Dublin, for the news that the neo-old-time string-plus-percussion band Fish & Bird from British Columbia will be playing there on Friday 23 January, in their only performance in Ireland after their own exclusive headline show at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow.

A video of them is on the SEAC event page, together with online booking facilities, and more are on the band's own website. As with all SEAC evening shows, doors open at 7.30 p.m. and the show starts at 8.30. Tickets are €16 / €13.

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10 January 2015

How to hit the ground running

The BIB editor reports:

The first show in the current tour by the Special Consensus (USA), put together by Nigel Martyn's Old Flattop agency, was also the first 2015 show of Gerry Lawless's Clonmel World Music series, held in the big function room of the Raheen House Hotel, Clonmel (above). And the results gave great satisfaction to all parties: the Special C., Nigel, Gerry, the Raheen House, and especially the large and very enthusiastic audience.

I have seen and heard the Special C. on every tour they've made in this island since 1995, and it has always been a treat, a tonic, and an education combined. I don't think I have ever seen the band in stronger form than last night - and this has to be taken in the context that it was the first night of the tour after a relaxed holiday period, so they expect to warm up as the tour progresses. Moral: seize any opportunity of seeing any of their shows listed on the BIB calendar.

The size and enthusiasm of the audience (the show was completely sold out in advance) also says a lot for the way Gerry Lawless has built up Clonmel World Music (also on Facebook) since 2010, with a first-class sound system in a first-class venue. Add to that the fact that the Raheen House Hotel is an idyllic place to reach at the end of any length of journey, and you have several good reasons to visit Clonmel...

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