29 May 2017

A work in progress

The Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) keeps its calendar updated, publishes news received, and adds new features whenever they come to mind. Send in news or queries by e-mail, please; we can't send a direct reply to a comment on a post.

Thinking of touring in Ireland? Look at the BIB's THINKING OF TOURING IN IRELAND? page (now updated). Click on the 'Welcome' label below for more about the BIB's background, purpose, and uses.

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15 May 2017

May e-newsletter from EBMA

EBMA NEWSLETTER - MAY 2017


The second issue of the new European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) monthly newsletter is now out. A good third of it consists of the first half of a very long and substantial interview with mandolin maestro Mike Marshall (USA) who now lives in Germany with his wife, classical mandolinist Caterina Lichtenberg. Gig schedules are contributed by leading European musicians and tour schedules are given for visiting artists, together with festival dates throughout Europe for May, June, and July.

There's a 'bluegrass royalty auction' - two wooden wall ornaments, with the outlines of a fiddle and an F-style mandolin, bearing the signatures of the members of the Earls of Leicester, the Steeldrivers, the Del McCoury Band, and other notable figures of the bluegrass world. Bids start at €30; you can place your bid by e-mailing the EBMA board.

Three CDs are reviewed, one of which is Cup O' Joe's six-track EP Bluebirds. The review opens with 'Over the last few years this family band from Northern Ireland have been recognised as one of the best talents around the European bluegrass scene', and ends with 'This CD is a tour de force that shows the best from the band... there should be more to come'.

You can sign up to receive the EBMA newsletter via the EBMA website; members get it automatically. For anything concerned with the newsletter, contact the EBMA by e-mail.

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14 May 2017

Band news

Two weeks ago Dublin's Blue Light Smugglers added to their Facebook a video of the highly progressive (by BIB standards) instrumental 'Spicy bean burger', which is also on YouTube. The musicians are Niall Hughes (electric bass, playing a lead break), Dan Egan (guitar), Gab Faure (fiddle), and Luke Coffey (banjo). Stimulating watching!
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Was any BIB reader at the April Verch Band (CAN) concert in the Market Place Theatre in Armagh city last night? April was hoping beforehand that their friends Cup O' Joe would be joining them for a tune or two...
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The Watery Hill Boys (right) updated their cover photo earlier this week. On the other side of the island Erdini have similarly been updating their Facebook photos and information.
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Greenshine will be playing 'Back to black' at the Schoolyard Theatre, Charleville, Co. Cork, on their double-header concert tonight with Thunder and Rain (USA). See their Facebook for a video of the song.
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Rackhouse Pilfer are playing three gigs each weekend from now into June; all dates are on the BIB calendar. The nearest is tonight (Sun. 14th) in John the Miners, Carrick, Co. Sligo, at 7.00 p.m. On Sat. 27th inst. they'll be playing at the Killarney Beerfest in Co. Kerry, where the Whileaways will be playing the following day. Later this summer the Whileaways will be special guests opening for the folk legend Donovan at Naul, Co. Dublin, in the Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre's 'Gigs in the Garden' series (Sat. 12th Aug.).

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Editorial not-business

Please note that the BIB editor will be out of the office (for reasons of pleasure) from Tuesday 16 May to Sunday 28 May inclusive. All news is still welcome, but if received after 15 May will not appear on the BIB till Monday 29 May at the earliest.

13 May 2017

The Original Five - date free for 11 June 2017

Thanks to Ola Persson, mandolinist of The Original Five from Malmö, Sweden - who will be in Ireland early next month for a tour that includes the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival - for this news. The band's confirmed dates are:

Wed. 7th: Campbell’s Tavern, Cloughanover, Headford, Co. Galway
Thurs. 8th: Black Gate Cultural Centre, Francis St., Galway city, 12.00 noon
Thurs. 8th: Mullarkeys Bar, Clifden, Co. Galway, 9.30 p.m.
Fri. 9th and Sat. 10th: Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, Westport, Co. Mayo
Sun. 11th: TBA

The band would be happy to find a gig for Sunday 11 June, anywhere between Galway and Dublin, and any help will be highly appreciated. For more information and bookings, Ola can be contacted by e-mail or mobile (0722967177).

Just to make clear the high quality of this band: The Original Five have played over 250 gigs in Sweden, Europe, and USA and released three albums: Greetings from Möllevången (2014), Across the deep blue sea (2015), and their latest, Happy landing (2016), which have received positive reviews in (among others) Bluegrass Unlimited and Bluegrass Today. Last year the band was invited to play the Bluegrass Ramble showcase circuit at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, North Carolina, an inspiring event for them. At the European World of Bluegrass 2016 in the Netherlands the band was voted #2 in the audience popularity awards. A year ago John Lawless wrote on Bluegrass Today:

In covering the Swedish bluegrass scene this past few years, we’ve been struck by the depth and maturity of the music made there. In particular, the songwriting stands out as fresh and original [...]. A perfect example comes to us today from The Original Five...

The Original Five comprise Dan Englund (bass, vocals), Johan Malmberg (banjo, fiddle, vocals), Daniel Olsson (dobro), Jonas Svahn (guitar, vocals), and Ola (mandolin, vocals). Their powerful music and imaginative videos are on Youtube - a few examples are
'Wrong turn right', 'Tomorrow’s just another night away', and the dobro-led instrumental 'The big Swede'.

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11 May 2017

Duets: a unique banjo combination

On 10 Feb. the BIB carried news of a collaboration between US banjo-players Mark Olitsky and Cary Moskowitz, on 5-string 'minstrel' banjo and 4-string plectrum banjo respectively. Thanks to Cary Moskowitz for the news that their CD Duets is now available from Bandcamp.com, where the seventeen tracks can be heard in full. All are tunes from the old-time repertoire, except 'Somewhere over the rainbow'.

The digital album costs $10.00, including unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. A limited-edition CD in a gatefold jacket, plus streaming and download, can be bought for $15, and will be shipped out within seven days.

More info about the project and live shows are at https://olitskymoskovitz.wordpress.com/. This is a banjo duet record like no other, because of the way the deep rumble of the minstrel banjo blends with the plectrum's crisp steel-string sound. Warmly recommended.

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Tim O'Brien and Jan Fabricius in Sligo (12 May) and Naul (13 May)

A reminder from the Séamus Ennis Arts Centre in Naul, Co. Dublin, that Tim O'Brien & Jan Fabricius will be playing in concert there on this coming Saturday (13 May). Doors open at 8.00 p.m. and the show starts at 8.30; tickets are €20 / €16 (booked in advance) and €22 / €18 (on the door). The event web page includes a performance video and online booking link. They will be playing the previous night (Friday 12 May) at the Hawk's Well Theatre in Sligo town, at 8.00 p.m.; tickets are €18 (under 18s half price).

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The Cabin Sessions, Dundrum, 25 May 2017 - last before July

Gerry Fitzpatrick, organiser of the Cabin Sessions series, 'Acoustic Music at its Finest', announces the Session for this month:

Hey Y'all!

We're back on Thursday 25 May with special guests Sarah Something (contemporary), Sarah Buckley (contemporary), and Clarksville (acoustic pop). Hope you can make it down.

PS: There will be no Cabin Sessions in June. We'll be back to ya in July.


The Sessions are held on the last Thursday of every month at Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dundrum, south Dublin (not far from Dundrum Luas station, in the city direction). Shows run from 9.30 to 11.30 p.m. and admission is 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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10 May 2017

Danny Jones, 3 June 1939-3 Feb. 2017

The Bluegrass Alliance c.1969: (l-r) Buddy Spurlock, Ebo Walker, Dan Crary, Danny Jones, Lonnie Peerce

We learn with regret of the death earlier this year of Danny Lee Jones of Kentucky at the age of 77 from cancer. His musical career included spells on guitar with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and on mandolin and guitar with the Bluegrass Alliance - a band that made a powerful impact on the US scene in the late '60s and '70s and provided a launch pad for the careers of Sam Bush, Tony Rice, and Vince Gill. A feature by Richard Thompson is on Bluegrass Today, including a substantial memoir and tribute by Danny Jones's fellow Alliance member Dan Crary.

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Simon on Sore Fingers - now in the latest BBN

The BIB editor writes:

Congratulations to Simon Humphries, co-organiser of Bluegrass Camp Ireland (right) - Simon's report on this year's Sore Fingers Summer School was first published on the Bluegrass Camp Ireland Facebook and appeared on the BIB on 27 April (with a very few cosmetic changes to suit the BIB's house style).

Simon's full original text has now been published in British Bluegrass News, no. 80 (spring 2017) as a two-page spread (pp 10-11) with seven photos, and it looks great - except that Simon's name is not mentioned, and the article appears over the byline 'Bluegrass Camp Ireland' with no contact data. In all other respects BBN is produced to extremely high standards; while it is a model of an association journal, its content ranges far beyond the British bluegrass scene (e.g. the feature on the two-millionth Martin guitar), and all contributors seem happy to write at considerable length.

The BBN appears quarterly and is sent free to everyone with BBMA membership.

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09 May 2017

Almost superhuman

Now, an artist who crosses the boundaries of bluegrass, old-time, and traditional music but undeniably belongs in all of them: Moving On Music (MOM) send a reminder that the Northern Ireland section of an imminent tour by the April Verch Band (CAN) begins tomorrow in Omagh, Co. Tyrone. MOM write:

We are delighted to welcome back the incredibly talented April Verch Band as they tour NI. On stage, Verch is almost superhuman. She stepdances while fiddling, sings while stepdancing, and sometimes sings, steps, and fiddles all at once (with apparent ease). It’s hard to believe unless you’ve seen it. Come along and leave astonished! Tickets £13, no booking fee.

The NI dates include Omagh (10th), Portaferry (11th), Antrim (12th), Armagh (13th), and Belfast (14th). MOM's full information on their part of the tour is here. All the band's dates, including those in the rest of Ireland, are on the BIB calendar.

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Not bluegrass - but...

From time to time the BIB receives news from venues or agencies about visiting artists from outside the categories of bluegrass or old-time music. In putting such news on the BIB, we try to indicate any common ground or link between what the artists may be doing and the BIB's primary concerns - usually if their material could be arranged or performed in bluegrass style.

Singer/ songwriter Krista Detor (USA) is an artist of this kind. She plays keyboard instruments and is accompanied on guitar by her husband and producer David Weber. Among other shows (see below), they will be at Ballymore Acoustic Gigs on Monday 15 May; the blurb on the Ballymore Acoustic Gigs blog indicates the high regard in which she is held. The videos that can be seen here show her as a powerful and moving singer; and yes, her songs would lend themselves to a bluegrass treatment, but only a very good band could do them justice. The full schedule in this island is:

Fri. 12th: White Horse Inn, West Village, Ballincollig, Co. Cork, 9.00 p.m.
Sat. 13th: Croc An Oir, Ballycullen, Co. Tipperary, 8.00 p.m. (Croc an Oir Concert Series)
Mon. 15th: Mick Murphy's Bar, Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare; doors 8.30 p.m., €12 (Ballymore Acoustic Gigs)
Fri. 19th-Sun. 28th: 10-day songwriting residence retreat - 'Music in the Mournes with Krista Detor & Rod C. Taylor, Ph.D.', Rostrevor Cottages, Rostrevor, Co. Down
Mon. 22nd: 'An evening with Krista Detor & friends', The Rostrevor Inn, 33-35 Bridge St., Rostrevor, Co. Down, 8.00 p.m.

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08 May 2017

More international acts at Rotterdam, 23-5 June 2017

On 28 Mar. 2017 the BIB forwarded news from the organising team of the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival in the Netherlands, announcing that this year's event (23-5 June 2017) will feature Sierra Hull (USA) in her only appearance in Europe on this trip.

The team now announces that more international acts will be on the Festival lineup, including Bob Wayne (USA), the Legendary Shack Shakers (USA), Los Hermanos Cubero (ES), the Pete Allen Family Band (USA), Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy (USA), the Pine Street Ramblers (USA), Flats & Sharps (UK), Leadbeaters (NL), Picking Ivy (NL), and the famous Belgian writer Christophe Vekeman. At least two of these names will be familiar to Irish fans from their Westport appearances. More details, including links to performance videos, are on the Festival's latest e-newsletter.

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07 May 2017

Riley Puckett, born 7 May 1894

George Riley Puckett, born on this day in 1894 in Georgia, was one of the first generation of American rural musicians to be heard through radio and recordings.

Many of us know of him primarily as the guitar player of one of the archetypal old-time string bands, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, with their image of hell-for-leather, rough-and-ready, moonshine-making Georgia 'crackers', and a repertoire of older songs and tunes. Puckett, however, like his bandmate Clayton McMichen (a crooner and swing violinist in his solo career), foreshadowed the future course of country music with his smooth singing, wide-ranging repertoire, and adventurous guitar work. He may have been the first country singer to yodel on records.

Much of his recorded work can be heard on the BBYMRLCCOTN YouTube channel. An example of his solo singing is Old Joe Clark.

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06 May 2017

Thunder and Rain (USA) in Ireland, 11-22 May 2017

The BIB labelled May 2015 a mensis mirabilis (wonderful month) for the number of American acts in Ireland during the month. May 2017 is not yet level with it, but is coming up fast. Thanks to John Nyhan for this news:

Thunder and Rain from Colorado will be touring here from Thursday 11 May to Monday 22 May - a Colorado invasion hot on the heels of High Plains Tradition and Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. Also we had Martin Gilmore for a few days. All acts were superb.

Thunder and Rain are a four-piece country /bluegrass band. They got a fine write-up in Bluegrass Today. They feature Errin Peet-Lukes (guitar, vocals), Pete Weber (mandolin, vocals), Chris Herbst (dobro), and Ian Haggle (bass, vocals; previously here with the Martin Gilmore Trio). They play the following shows:

May 2017
Thurs. 11th: McGregor's Bar (upstairs), Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare, 8.30 p.m. (Sixmilebridge Folk Club presentation), 086 8464509

Fri. 12th: Central Hotel, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, 8.30 p.m. (Clonbony GAA fundraiser), 087 6881650

Sat. 13th: The Old Still, Clashmore, Co. Waterford, 10.00 p.m., 086 0454458

Sun. 14th: The Schoolyard Theatre, Charleville, Co. Cork (double act with Greenshine), 8.30 p.m., 087 7921771

Mon. 15th: Merry Bar and Restaurant, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford (upstairs), 9.00 p.m. (Dungarvan Singers Club presentation), 087 064 0542

Tues. 16th: Mitchelstown Library, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, 11.00 a.m., 025 41939; Mallow Library, Mallow, Co. Cork, @ 3.00 p.m., 022 21821

Wed. 17th: Charleville Library, Charleville, Co. Cork, @ 11.00 a.m., 063 89769; Kanturk Library, Kanturk, Co. Cork, 3.00 p.m., 029 51384; O'Donovan's Hotel, Clonakilty, Co. Cork, 9.30 p.m., 023 8833250

Thurs. 18th: Spailpin Fanach, South Main St., Cork city, 9.00 p.m. Support act Venetian Blue. 087 7921771

Fri. 19th: Millstreet Library, Millstreet, Co. Cork, 11.30 a.m., 029-21920; Newmarket Library, Newmarket, Co. Cork, 3.30 p.m., 087 7921771; Nosh and Coffee Restaurant, Ballincollig Shopping Centre, Ballincollig, Co. Cork, 8.00 p.m.

Sat. 20th: House concert plus workshops. Workshops start 7.00 p.m., followed by concert. For details tel. John (087 7921771) or Susanne (087 6913980)

Sun. 21st: The Welcome Inn, Garryspillane, Co. Limerick, 5.00 p.m., 087 7921771

Mon. 22nd: Village Arts Centre, Kilworth, Co. Cork, 8.15 p.m. Support act The Pioneers. 087 7921771

BIB editor's note: Previous Colorado bands to visit Ireland include (as well as those John mentions) Hot Rize, the Bluegrass Patriots, and the Railsplitters. Thunder and Rain are also on Facebook.

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Latest BAND Festival news

Thanks to Riona McGrath of the BAND Festival (also on Facebook), coming in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal (23-25 June), for these updates:

Our lineup has been expanding: we have not announced everyone yet but there's a good few added to the website since we last spoke. A few points of interest may be a young bluegrass group coming over from Scotland, the Dirty Beggars; Erdini; Geordie McAdam & Co; and Alec Somerville.

We also now have a few ticketed events. They are:
  • a Niall Toner full band show,
  • a Niall Toner solo show in the Holy Trinity Church in Dunfanaghy (it's a really beautiful place and has been used for a couple of music events in the past),
  • and finally a duo that is more along the Nashville route - Brian Willoughby & Cathryn Craig, who will be doing two early evening events.
There's more info. on each of these on www.thebandfestival.com/special-performances.

Each of those four performances are €10 each, but we're selling festival passes for €25 that mean you can access all of these performances.

There will be a mix of music throughout the weekend, we're adding updates to the lineup at www.thebandfestival.com/bands. It's all coming around pretty quickly but we're really excited about it all!

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04 May 2017

11th Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival: official launch 13 May 2017; tickets on sale online


Thanks to Uri Kohen for the news that the 11th Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival will be officially launched at 9.30 p.m. next Saturday (13 May) in McGing's, High St., Westport, Co. Mayo, by Ann McCarthy, arts officer of Mayo county council.

The night will be hosted by Westport Community Radio and MCed by Liam McNamara. Guest speakers: Uri (as festival producer) and Councillor Tereasa McGuire. Music on the night will be provided by the hot young Dublin band, the Breadwinners (photo below).

The new festival poster (top right), designed by Desmond Downes, and programme (below) will also be on display. Both can also be seen on the Festival Facebook.

Tickets for the festival are now available online via the festival's website. There are five different options:
  • individual ticket for the main shows of each night of the festival (Friday €20, Saturday €20, Sunday €12)
  • weekend pass covering all three concerts, €45
  • Friday & Saturday combo, €35
Uri adds: 'Tickets are limited and it is very much advised to purchase them in advance. Note that the combo ticket and the weekend pass are much better value for money. Looking forward to see all bluegrass fans in Westport on 9 June!'

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03 May 2017

Bill Bryson

The Bluegrass Cardinals: Don Parmley, Bill Bryson, Dennis Fetchet,
David Parmley, Randy Graham

We learn with great regret of the death on Sunday (30 April) of Bill Bryson from cancer, at the age of 70. A brief feature by Richard Thompson appears on Bluegrass Today. Among the many accomplishments of his career, he was the bass player of the original Bluegrass Cardinals, shown in the photo above from a Cardinals discography. The Cardinals' powerful 1976 debut album had a strong influence in reasserting the vitality of 'traditional' bluegrass.

The link to Bill's name in the Wikipedia article on the band erroneously leads to an article on Bill Bryson the author (b. 1951).

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Rhiannon Giddens at Vicar Street, Dublin, 25 Nov. 2017

Rhiannon Giddens, founder member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops (USA), will be performing in Dublin six months from now during a series of shows in these islands (17-28 Nov. 2017), as part of a world tour with her latest album, Freedom highway.

The album was produced in Dirk Powell's studio and released on 24 Feb. 2017. It can be bought (CD or digital download) from Rhiannon Giddens's website. The show will be at Vicar Street, Dublin; tickets can be booked through her online tour schedule. A video of 'Come love come', from the album, is on YouTube.
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A reminder that at the end of this month (27 May) Aoife O'Donovan will be in concert at Whelan's, 25 Wexford St., Dublin 2. Seats can be booked here.

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Proposed tour by Rebecca Pronsky, July 2018

Loudon Temple of the UK's Brookfield Knights agency draws our attention to yet another artist from outside bluegrass, Rebecca Pronsky from Brooklyn, NY, who with her husband and accompanist Rich Bennett is planning a tour in these islands for 7-22 July 2018. Two YouTube links are given for samples of their work. Both songs could well be played by a bluegrass band; indeed, the official video of 'Better this way' has a banjo on the soundtrack. The video of 'Aberdeen' was shot at a performance by the duo. Event organisers, venue owners, and others who are interested in booking them for next year should contact Loudon through the links given on his e-newsletter.

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02 May 2017

Alec Somerville joins BAND Festival lineup

Alec Somerville is now on the bill at the BAND Festival in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal (23-5 June). The blurb for Alec on the lineup page of the festival website reads:

Originally from Canada, banjo legend Alec Somerville now finds home in Co. Donegal. Alec plays his music in the 'clawhammer' style on the 5-string banjo. He has a large repertoire of music and songs, many of which were taken overseas by the early Scots and Irish settlers; and a real knowledge of the music which eventually gave birth to country music and later to bluegrass!

More on Alec's career appeared on the BIB for 15 Sept. 2012, since when he has made an important contribution to Canadian military history (also noted on the BIB). The BAND Festival Facebook yesterday published a nice video (also on YouTube) of Alec playing 'Waterbound'.

Artists also on the BAND lineup include the Niall Toner Band, Two Time Polka, Geordie MacAdam, Woodbine, Erdini, and many more. A fundraiser for the Festival was held in Dunfanaghy two weeks ago on Easter Monday.

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01 May 2017

Fretboard Journal 38

Someone once described the Fretboard Journal as a guitar collector's magazine, which it is not: a collector's magazine would have price lists in it. The FJ is a top-quality, beautifully illustrated magazine about stringed (and predominantly fretted) instruments and the people who make and play them; and for a magazine not dedicated to bluegrass, it carries a lot of material to interest bluegrass instrument enthusiasts.

The current issue, no. 38, includes a twelve-page feature by Walter Carter on the restoration by Stephen Gilchrist of the earliest known Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5 mandolin (70281, dated 1 June 1922); a sixteen-page feature by Larry Howe on Mike Kemnitzer of Nugget mandolins; a Vega Tubaphone banjo with ornate neck by Doug Unger, shown in a glorious photo by Amanda Kowalski, sometime bass player with Uncle Earl; and a major interview with legendary fingerstyle guitarist Leo Kottke by Nick Forster of Hot Rize.

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29 April 2017

New tour for masters of 'Celtgrass' begins at Whelan's. 17 May 2017

Now a quartet and looking more like a bluegrass band than ever, We Banjo 3 are back from touring the USA and preparing for a tour in Ireland in the second half of May. The tour begins on Wednesday 17 May with a show in Whelan's, 25 Wexford St., Dublin 2, together with special guests JigJam from Tullamore, who have also been touring in the US. The two groups are acknowledged masters of what is becoming known as 'Celtgrass', a fusion of Irish traditional styles with American tunes and ensemble work. Samples are on We Banjo 3's own YouTube channel; here's their 'Soldier's joy'.

We Banjo 3 (also on Facebook and Twitter) have reached the level of recording with Ricky Skaggs and the Chieftains, and sharing stages with Bela Fleck, Los Lobos, Jerry Douglas, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the Punch Brothers. The band comprises brothers Enda Scahill (tenor banjo, vocals) and Fergal Scahill (fiddle, viola, dobro, percussion, guitar, mandolin, vocals) plus brothers Martin Howley (tenor banjo, mandolin, vocals) and David Howley (lead vocals, guitar).

Doors open for the show in Whelan's at 8.00 p.m. on 17 May; tickets are €15, available online from WAV Tickets or Lo-Call 1890 200 078 (1.00-7.00 p.m. Mon.-Fri.). A 50c per ticket service charge applies on phone, internet, or credit-card bookings. Entry is strictly for over-18s; ID may be required. The show will be followed by Whelan’s Silent Disco plus Late Bar. We Banjo 3's complete tour schedule is:

Wed. 17th: Whelan's, 25 Wexford St., Dublin 2, with JigJam
Thurs. 18th: Set Theatre, Kilkenny city
Fri. 19th: St Luke's, Cork city
Sat. 20th: National Opera House, Wexford town
Sun. 21st: Birr Arts Centre, Birr, Co. Offaly
Wed. 24th: Hawk's Well Theatre, Sligo town
Thurs. 25th: Dolan's, Limerick city
Fri. 26th: Black Box, Galway city

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28 April 2017

Cup O' Joe on IBMA WOB 2017 showcase schedule

Thanks to Bluegrass Today for the news that the International Bluegrass Music Association has released the names of the artists on the 'Bluegrass Ramble' showcase schedule at this September's World of Bluegrass convention-cum-festival in Raleigh, NC - and the list includes the multi-talented Cup O' Joe (above) from Co. Armagh. As Bluegrass Today says, this

... offers them an opportunity to perform multiple times in front of agents, record label reps, talent buyers, and other influential members of the industry who assemble at the annual get-together.

Congratulations from the BIB to Cup O' Joe on this well deserved step in their career. Other artists on the list include Flats & Sharps (GB), who played the 2015 Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival; Mr Sun, the 'other band' of Darol Anger (USA), who will be here shortly with Republic of Strings; and the Po' Ramblin' Boys (USA), whom we hope to see over here next year.

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AVB European tour schedule - and more

The latest e-newsletter from the April Verch Band (CAN) shows the complete schedule for their forthcoming European tour, with eight dates in this island and six in the rest of Europe. Full details with links to venue websites are shown here; all dates in Ireland are on the BIB calendar. The newsletter also gives a link for online buying or listening to The April Verch anthology.

PS: A video demonstration of Canadian fiddle styles, made by April eight years ago, can be seen here.

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27 April 2017

Simon Humphries on Sore Fingers 2017

Thanks to Simon Humphries (who with T.J. Screen organises the annual Bluegrass Camp Ireland) for his perspective on this year's Sore Fingers Summer School. Simon's original text is on the Bluegrass Camp Ireland Facebook.

Roughly eleven-hour trip for us travelling via Rosslare ferry. Finally rock up to Kingham Hill School situated in the very lovely Cotswolds area of England. Fabulous campus set on beautiful, mature grounds [right]. There was a quick registration process and we were directed to our house where we shared a dorm-style room with maybe ten others. Individual beds with modern furniture. Showers and toilets bang up to date. Terrific accommodation. Ear plugs at the ready - but never required at night (could have been excessive alcohol in the system at bedtime).

All the music activities based were held over several separate buildings with a couple of minutes walking. The grounds of the school were rather large. The English Public School system is alive and kicking. (Wouldn't be quite the same at Grange Hill methinks).

Every person I meet seems to have been here before - many have been several times. They have certainly built an incredibly loyal following. All age groups are represented, but generally the largest cohort were in the 60-plus age group. First impressions: this is incredibly well organised.

After early breakfast (often a little too early), the structure of the day is mapped out by the organisers at an assembly meeting thereafter. Classes 9.00-lunch, 2.00-3.30 practice, 3.30-dinner more class, After dinner: tutorial electives, 7.30 show. 10.00 and on, bar and jamming. It's incredibly well organised, everything starts on time, and there's tons of stuff to keep you interested and busy all day.

Sore Fingers has rightly build a reputation for top-level instructors. There were twenty-one in total.

Ned Luberecki [left] is my tutor (banjo) for the week. Twenty banjo players of all ages and nationalities in my class. He's a terrific player and teacher. He's a radio host, has a ton of experience teaching banjo, and is highly entertaining. His approach is to deliver a lot of 'fake it till you make it' tips and strategies. I picked up a lot of simple stuff that I will definitely incorporate into my playing. I've great material for a couple of months - so, job done, I valued it a lot. The classes were snappy, he played us through everything he brought up, and covered topics such as tips on practising, setting goals, how to improve tone, Scruggs, melodic, and single-string styles. Intros, endings, unusual licks, backup, blues style, role of the banjo in a band, care of the instrument, and good tips on stringing the thing. In short, course content was terrific.

Food is grand, with plenty of it. Two choices followed by dessert (those English sure like their custard). Vegetarian option available. It was a help-yourself school-dinner vibe. In short, functional - but not a place to linger with fine wine (in fact no one drinking anything alcoholic at dinner). Meal times are strict and maybe a little early for my liking (5.30 dinners). Breakfasts were steadily becoming harder and harder to attend (mea culpa).

After dinner, there were a number of extra elective tutorials: Stagecraft and making a band work, music theory, improvisation, using swing chords, harmony singing, and one other. Again, these were professional, informative, and a lot of fun. In short, I would have gone to them all if I had the time. Really top notch.

In the evening, there were professional concerts featuring the tutors doing their stuff. The stage setup was top notch. Everything miked up, professional-grade sound system and lighting, with an entrance fee of £6 for one show and £10 for two. In short, these were great. Ron Block, Becky Buller, Mark Schatz, Bill Forster, Billy Cardine, Tyler Grant, John Reischman. Joe Newberry, Val Mindel, Percy Copley etc. Loved them.

A unique feature of the week were the scratch bands, consisting of students put together in a band format. I got to play with Jamie on bass, Holly on fiddle, Bob on mando, Jackie on banjo, and Frank Manigrasso on vocals/ guitar. We were allocated a practice room for three days for one-and-a-half hours. We had to agree a small set of two songs, come up with a name, and try to make it sound OK. On the Thursday, we were allowed to play on stage in a concert with fifteen other bands in front of 250 people. This was a great experience and, like everything else, very professionally managed. We got exposure to fine sound engineers, and were tutored along the journey. After initially tense band negotiations, it was a blast. Great to get through it all.

Evenings after the concerts was a chance to find others to get playing. There were a number of bluegrass jams around and about. Every night, there was the chance to play with other attendees. Maybe three hours every evening. In the bar area, there were some amazing jams going - mostly old-time. All the top players were chipping in. Great, trippy music. On the bluegrass side, the top tutors and players were less accessible, I would have relished the opportunity to play with some of the top guys, but very little chance. There seemed to be a bit of a cliquey thing happening with the tutors. They seemed to have been corralled and segregated by a number of the volunteers who tended to be pretty good and were not letting the unwashed anywhere near their heroes. Even Luke Coffey struggled to play with these guys (however, that didn't stop him, 'cause he's such a talent and a lot pushier than the writer). A bit of a shame. Further, seemed to be a lot of jamming with the top guys in the staff room - civilians not allowed. This is something they should look at.

So overall:

Pros
  • Top-notch instructors. Must be the best selection outside of the US.
  • Classes informative, fun, and professional.
  • Great selection of extra electives.
  • Terrific stage shows.
  • Opportunity to play in a concert - great fun, and well run.
  • Accommodation and facilities very impressive.
  • Extremely well run, organised, and professional. John and Moira, the husband-and-wife team who put it all together, manage to stamp some personality on the week too.
  • Food efficient, again well run.
  • A lot of fun, committed and interested/ interesting punters there. Everyone delightful. We met a lot of new friends.
Cons
  • It cost me over €1,300 euros with travel, entrance, and spending money. (Don't tell the missus).
  • The bluegrass side maybe a little too cliquey. I'd like to have had the opportunity to jam with some of the top guys. Not really possible. An 'us and them' sort of situation unfolding here. Not necessary at such an event.
  • Some of the areas of main action around the bar are pretty harsh late at night - full-on fluorescent lighting steals a little romance and sense of occasion.
  • Sleep deprivation (OK that one's totally on me).

Conclusion

It's great. Try and make it at least once. Almost everyone I talked to is going back next year. (Almost everyone, Luke!)

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American epic screening at SEAC, 4 May 2017

Thanks to the Séamus Ennis Arts Centre (SEAC) in Naul, Co. Dublin, for this announcement:

As part of this year’s Séamus Ennis commemorations, we invite you to an exclusive preview screening of American epic: the Big Bang.

At the height of the Roaring Twenties, music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology set out across America to capture the breadth of American music and discover the artists that would shape our world. The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratised the nation and gave a voice to everyone. From the hills of Appalachia and the streets of Memphis, from the sanctified shout of the gospel church, to the coal mines of West Virginia and the cotton fields of Mississippi, music provided relief from tough lives and hard times. New rhythms were born in the echoes of stomping feet, the bite of pickaxes, and the ambling gait of tired mules. For the first time, a woman picking cotton in Mississippi, a coal miner in Virginia, or a tobacco farmer in Tennessee could have their thoughts and feelings heard on records played in living rooms across the country. It was the first time America heard itself.

As told by music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses, American epic travels back in time to the 'Big Bang' of modern popular music.

American epic (110 minutes) is directed by Bernard MacMahon and presented by T-Bone Burnett, Jack White, and Robert Redford, who is also the narrator and has called it 'America’s greatest untold story'.

It will be shown at SEAC on Thursday 4 May. Doors open at 8.00 p.m. and the film starts at 8.30. Admission is free to SEAC Friends and Members; concessions and guests of SEAC Friends/Members pay €4 in advance, €6 at the door; non-members pay €5 in advance, €7 at the door. In all cases, advance booking is essential. Online booking facilities, as well as a video preview and trailer, are at the event website.

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26 April 2017

New release by the Po' Ramblin' Boys

The BIB mentioned last week that The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys from Tennessee will be touring Ireland next year, coming with a strong recommendation from Jan Michielsen, guitarist with 4 Wheel Drive (NL/D/BE).

Bluegrass Today announces that the Boys have just released, as a tribute to the late James King, a single - 'Just as the sun went down' - from their forthcoming gospel CD. A video of them performing the song on stage earlier this year can be seen on Bluegrass Today and also on YouTube. Their arrangement follows that of the James King Band (see here).

Longtime supporters of bluegrass in Ireland may remember the song as performed and recorded by the Bluegrass Patriots from Colorado, headliners of the very first Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival in 1995, with the magnificent lead singing of Glenn Zankey. Among other memorable performances in Ireland, the Patriots played the first gospel set to be featured in an Athy Bluegrass Festival - an eye- and ear-opener, as they provided a programme of over an hour, drawn entirely from the gospel repertoire of bluegrass and older country music, without the slightest hint of monotony.

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25 April 2017

Two Time Polka: April and May gigs

Ray Barron of Two Time Polka sends this news:

Here are details of our next few gigs:

Fri. 28th April: The South County Bar, West Village, Douglas, Cork. Start 10.30 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 021 4891574

Sun. 30th: Fertha Bar, Main St., Caherciveen, Co. Kerry. 4.00-6.00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 066 9472023

Sat. 6th May: Sarah Walker Gallery, The Pier, Castletownbere, Co. Cork. Doors open 8.00 p.m. Adm. E15. Tel. 027 70387

Sun. 21st: The Brewery Tap, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Start 6.00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 057 9321131

Regards & thanks,
Ray & TTP

Two Time Polka's latest CD, New road, is available at their gigs and from Music Zone, Douglas, Cork, and Custys Music, Ennis, Co. Clare; or on line from both outlets, www.musiczone.ie and www.custysmusic.com. You can also contact Ray directly.

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Madison Violet (CAN) in Ireland, 4-7 May 2017

Geraint and Deb Jones of G Promo PR announce that Canadian folk-pop duo Madison Violet (right) will tour in these islands next month in support of their new album The Knight sessions, due for release on 5 May by Big Lake Music.

Madison Violet - Brenley MacEachern (vocals, electric, tenor and acoustic guitars, Omnichord, harmonica) and Lisa MacIsaac (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, violin, mandolin) - have been a duo since 1999. The current tour is said to involve 'No backing band. No big light show. No rock star after-show dance parties.'

All right, but should news about them be on the BIB? Well, among their many favourable reviews, the blend of their harmonies has been described as combining 'a kind of bluegrass-old-time sensibility with rock 'n' roll attitude that packs power as well as disarming honesty' (The Herald), and some of their material would lend itself well to bluegrass treatment. Performances can be heard on YouTube and SoundCloud. Their shows in Ireland are:

Thurs. 4th: Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, Co. Tyrone
Fri. 5th: Colfers Pub, Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford
Sat. 6th: Bronte Music Club, Rathfriland, Co. Down
Sun. 7th: Black Box, Belfast

For further information, interview, session or guest list requests, contact Geraint and Deb Jones, G Promo PR. Contact: 'phone +44 (0) 1584 873211; e-mail.

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24 April 2017

Tammy Sullivan, 2 Oct. 1964-20 Apr. 2017

On 3 June 2014 the BIB carried the news of the death on 31 May of Jerry Sullivan of Alabama and of the renowned bluegrass gospel group, the Sullivan Family. Jerry is shown above with his daughter Tammy; they performed and recorded as a duo, and were twice (2003, 2008) on the programme of the annual Appalachian and Bluegrass Music Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park, Co. Tyrone. Richard Hurst, head of the Festival organising team, wrote a tribute to Jerry on the occasion of his death.

Today Bluegrass Today carries the sad news that Tammy Sullivan died last Thursday (20 April) of cancer, at the age of 52. The funeral was yesterday. Richard Thompson, who published an account of Jerry's life and career in music on Bluegrass Today in 2014, has written a piece on Tammy today, including a video in which she sings the lead on 'Working on a building'.

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Billy Lee & the Swamp Critters in Ireland, c.20 June 2017

(Standing, l-r) Roger Daschle, Gary Nieves, Sandra Stram, Bob Pruitt; (seated) Billy Lee Corwin

Thanks to Billy Lee Corwin of Billy Lee & the Swamp Critters - a 'Cajun/ Zydeco/ Western Swing/ New Orleans Mardi Gras' band from Texas and Louisiana, currently based in San Diego - for contacting us with the news that the Swamp Critters will be touring the UK this summer. There's a brief window of opportunity (19-22 June) in which they would love to visit Ireland AND if possible perform before getting back to play in Camden, London, on 24 June.

The Swamp Critters comprise Billy Lee Corwin (accordion, vocals), Bob Pruitt (guitar, vocals), Roger Daschle (bass, vocals), Sandra Stram (fiddle, vocals), and Gary Nieves (percussion, vocals). The UK tour comes out of their performances at the Glastonbury and Americana International festivals in England two years ago. The photo above was on the cover of the Dec. 2015 San Diego Troubadour magazine, with Jon Kanis's major article on the band, the last paragraph of which begins:

The Swamp Critters are a sterling example of what happens when you freely share your passion with the world at large.

Billy Lee says: 'Our forte is music to DANCE to. If there might be a venue with a dance floor that’s ideal for us. [...] We like harmonies and our main strengths are feeling out an audience and gravitating to what seems to working on a particular night or venue. And we put on a “show”... it’s more than just playing our instruments!'

Billy Lee is a member of the organising board of San Diego's Gator by the Bay festival; this year's event will be on 11-14 May. He and Sandra Stram (fiddle) also give dance lessons and/or demos. Venue owners and event organisers can contact him through the band's website or by e-mail.

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23 April 2017

Darol Anger & Republic of Strings (USA) in Ireland, 3-13 May 2017

Thanks to Cathal Cusack for the news that fiddle maestro Darol Anger & Republic of Strings will be touring Ireland early next month, including a concert set and workshops at the Baltimore Fiddle Fair. The ensemble comprises Darol Anger (5-string fiddle), Tristan Clarridge (cello, fiddle), Emy Phelps (guitar, voice), and John Mailander (octave mandolin, fiddle). Bio details on all members are here. The schedule is:

Wed. 3rd: Sugar Club, Dublin 2, 8.00 p.m., €20/ €15/ €10 (students) (online booking fees apply); 01 6787188
Thurs. 4th: Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow, 7.30 p.m., €14/ €12; 0402 38529
Fri. 5th: National Opera House (Jerome Hynes Theatre), Wexford town, 8.00 p.m., €16/€14; 053 9122144
Sat. 6th: Fiddle Fair Marquee, Baltimore, Co. Cork, 9.00 p.m., €35/ €30/ €25; 086 3753380
Tues. 9th: Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow, 8.00 p.m., €16/ €14; 01 2724030
Wed. 10th: glór, Ennis, Co. Clare, 8.00 p.m., €18/ €16; 065 6843103
Thurs. 11th: Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, 8.00 p.m., €17/ €14; 094 9023733
Fri. 12th: McGrory's Hotel (The Back Room), Culdaff, Co. Donegal, 9.00 p.m., €10; 074 9379104
Sat. 13th: Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Co. Kildare, 8.00 p.m., €15/ €12; 045 448327

Most of these concerts are under the auspices of Music Network, and full details (including online booking links) are on the Music Network website.

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