25 September 2020

More news of past visitors

Some familiar faces can be seen in the photos that come with Sandy Hatley's feature on Bluegrass Today about the 40th Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Bluegrass Festival, which is now well under way. Shown in the article are photos and videos of the Malpass Brothers (right), for whom three Omagh festivals were the first bluegrass festivals they played at; and Fast Track, the 'new' band of seasoned bluegrass campaigners, of whom Ron Spears and Jesse Brock are the best known over here. Also appearing at the festival are (of course) Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers (both of whom have been Omagh headliners in the past), and Sideline, who toured Ireland in July 2019. 
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Jordan Tice releases today a new eleven-track album, Motivational speakeasy on the Padiddle Records label, playing all-original material with his vocals and guitar. A member of the innovative string band Hawktail, Jordan has also played (and jammed) at Omagh. His parents Bob and Sue Tice played banjo and fiddle respectively in an earlier edition of Roger Green's Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition band which toured Ireland several times. The new album can be heard and bought on Bandcamp. Much more information and links are on the Hearth Music press release.

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24 September 2020

Women who 'made bluegrass better'

The Bluegrass Situation website presents via its latest Weekly Dispatch newsletter an article by Craig Shelburne, listing ten women who, in his words, 'made bluegrass better' in the 1980s and 1990s. BIB readers with good eyesight will be able to recognise them from the album covers shown above: they are Emmylou Harris, Claire Lynch, Laurie Lewis, Alison Brown, Lynn Morris, Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Gillian Welch, Dale Ann Bradley, and Dolly Parton. The article, which is part of the Bluegrass Situation's 'Bluegrass 75' series, includes a YouTube recording for each of the ten.

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Dom Flemons tonight on Deering Live

Deering Banjos announce that Dom Flemons, 'the American Songster' (and also songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, actor, music scholar, historian, and record collector), will be featured tonight in their 'Deering Live' series at 3.00 p.m. PT and 6.00 p.m. ET on the Deering YouTube channel. Dom has toured Ireland as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2008, and again as a solo artist in 2016. 

His website credits him as an expert on banjo, guitar, harmonica, jug, percussion, quills, fife and rhythm bones; the BIB suspects that dance and 'hambone' should be in there as well, and his talents have been widely recognised with honours and awards. Yes, that is a 4-string banjo in the picture. His bones 'duel' with Scott Miller can be seen here.

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23 September 2020

Learn Monroe-style mandolin with Chris Henry

For serious students of the music of the Father of Bluegrass, a comprehensive, deep, and intense online learning experience is offered by Chris Henry in his Monroe style mandolin improvising course. Chris put a brief introductory video on YouTube at the end of July; this is now incorporated in a twelve-and-a-half-minute video, half of which explains and introduces the course, with the rest composed of snippets and examples from various lessons. 

The full cost will be $250 for the twelve-week course, but it can now be booked for $199. More details are in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today, which also includes the longer introductory video.

PS 25 Sept.: For those interested in learning Bill Monroe-style mandolin online - note that the first Online Monroe Mandolin Camp was held last week (16-19 Sept.). A full report by Theresa Seiders is on Bluegrass Today.

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22 September 2020

Good news for lovers of clawhammer banjo music

Yesterday (21 Sept.) Adam Hurt (USA) announced on his 'clawhammerist' YouTube channel that from 1 October Back to the earth, his new album of music played on the gourd banjo, will be available for pre-order. The title harks back to Earth tones (see cover image), his third album and the first that he devoted to the gourd banjo. The new album will comprise both solos and collaborations.

BIB editor's note: This is some of the best news I've heard this year. When it was announced last year that the Steve Martin banjo prize had gone to another clawhammer player, my first thought was 'Is Adam Hurt dead?' Fortunately, he isn't.
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Ken Perlman (USA), father of 'melodic clawhammer', announces that he will teach a series of online clinics via Zoom on intermediate and advanced clawhammer banjo topics over the next few months. Both the first two are for players at intermediate level and upward. The first, 'Syncopation in clawhammer: a systematic approach', will be held on Monday 5 Oct. from 7.30 to 9.00 p.m. Eastern Time; entrants should be familiar with drop-thumbing, hammering-on, and pulling-off. Tickets ($20) can be bought here. The second, 'Strategies for playing up the neck in clawhammer', will be held two weeks later at the same time, and tickets (also $20) can be bought here.

Ken is a little hard on David 'Stringbean' Akeman, the first 5-string banjo-player in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Earl Scruggs was the second). Akeman, who had been hired basically as a comedian, wasn't 'replaced' for reluctance to play up the neck; he had quit to form a duo with Lew Childre. See Tom Ewing's magisterial Bill Monroe: the life and music of the Blue Grass Man, pp 118, 128-9.

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21 September 2020

The latest BBN

The latest issue of British Bluegrass News (no. 91, autumn 2020) maintains its usual high standard of presentation and solid content. The cover story is on Richard Holland, one of the most respected banjo-players on the British scene. There's a four-page interview by Chris A. Courogen with Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, fiddler with Mile Twelve, in which Cup O' Joe are mentioned (but not Mile Twelve's tours in Ireland); a three-page article by Steve Benson on making lockdown videos; and a major 'Tab Corner' feature by Jack Baker, with 'Clinch Mountain backstep' tabs for banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. And much more, including guitarist Hubert Murray of Tullamore in the list of music teachers.

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First World Virtual Flatpicking Contest, 21-28 Sept. 2020

Among all the virtual events that have taken the place of the normal calendar in this abnormal year, the Institute of Musical Traditions (IMT) in the USA presents the first World Virtual Flatpicking Contest, which any guitar picker in the world with an internet connection and a way to videotape can enter, for a registration fee of only $20 (though entry is limited to 150 contestants). It has been organised by Steve Kaufman and Marcy Marxer, and runs from today (21 Sept.) to a week from now.

Full details are on the IMT website, with more comment by John Lawless on Bluegrass Today, where you can see the criteria that will be applied in judging entries. As it happens, these are not bad criteria for any players to apply to their own playing on any occasion.

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18 September 2020

The Mountain Minor: soundtrack album available soon

Writer/ director Dale Farmer, heading the team responsible for The mountain minor, the film drama of Appalachian migration and old-time music, sends the news that the soundtrack album is finally finished and will be released on Friday 16 October. It includes thirty-nine tracks of complete songs and snippets of background music, and will be available on most digital platforms as well as on CD.

The CD will have an insert booklet with essays by Dale and by Gerry Milnes (retired Folk Art Coordinator at Augusta Heritage Center), Gloria Goodwin Raheja (professor of anthropology, University of Minnesota), and Trevor McKenzie (musician and archivist, Appalachian State University). It will be available for pre-order very soon, so keep an eye on the project's Facebook. More details are on the e-newsletter.

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Prairie love letter from Brennen Leigh; and more

Brennen Leigh (USA), who has toured here several times (thanks to Electric Cave Productions) as part of the duo McKay & Leigh, is releasing today her sixth solo album, Prairie love letter (see her Facebook and website). A review by Steven Ovadia appears on the No Depression website.

All the songs are related to the region Leigh comes from. The review includes a video (also on YouTube) of the song 'Don't you know I'm from here', which she describes as her version of 'Rank stranger'.
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A keen homesickness (with a less bitter taste) is also the theme of 'Sleepy little town', the new single by the Grascals on the Mountain Home Music label, which can be heard on John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today. More detail is on the Mountain Home press release.
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Old-timey-sounding banjo, played by Michelle Haft, can be heard behind most of a five-minute video on artist Kyle Brooks, on the Bitter Southerner YouTube channel.

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17 September 2020

The Bluegrass Situation: New Grass Revival interviews and more

The Bluegrass Situation website announces in its Weekly Dispatch newsletter a two-part interview with members of the epoch-making New Grass Revival band, who are being inducted this year into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. In part 1, mandolinist and fiddler Sam Bush and bassist/ lead singer John Cowan talk about the band's first ten years from 1971; in part 2, they're joined by alpha banjo player Béla Fleck and guitarist Pat Flynn for the story from 1981 till NGR ended in 1989. The two parts include many YouTube recordings from their albums or live shows. It's a gripping account of life inside a band that was exploding with energy in all directions.

Both interviews are contributed by Emma John, an English journalist who after training as a classical violinist went to the USA to become a bluegrass fiddler, learned that playing music could be enjoyable, and wrote Wayfaring stranger: a musical journey in the American South, which BIB readers should enjoy.* The NGR interviews form part of the Bluegrass Situation's 'Bluegrass 75' series of features. BIB readers should also see Jon Weisberger's article on the founding fathers of bluegrass, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991-5, and articles by Neil Rosenberg.

*BIB editor's warning: She didn't take to old-time music at all. I am grateful, nonetheless, to the late Frank Robinson for introducing me to this book.

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Deering Live: Hank Smith, Dan Walsh

Hank Smith, the highly accomplished and adventurous banjo-player and co-leader of Hank, Pattie & the Current, has been giving frequent video instruction lessons on the Deering Banjos blog and YouTube channel since the early spring of this year. He will be the featured artist in the Deering Live series TONIGHT (Thurs. 17 Sept.); so send in by e-mail any questions you'd like Hank to answer.

Last week's episode of Deering Live, featuring Dan Walsh, can now be seen on the Deering blog and on YouTube. The first tune played is a jig in 6/8; and the hoo-ha about 'playing clawhammer on a resonator banjo' will remind older BIB readers in Ireland of hearing the powerful New York clawhammerist Allen Feldman* play Irish music on his bow-tie Gibson Mastertone, with resonator, over forty years ago.

*PS: Allen explains here why old-time and bluegrass music are not the same.

UPDATE: All episodes of 'Deering Live' can now be seen on the dedicated web page.

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16 September 2020

Birthday greetings to Roger Bush and Leroy Mack

The Kentucky Colonels had a powerful influence as young bluegrass pioneers in California and the western USA and on national TV. Despite the dates on the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame website, Roland White, the only surviving member of the original Country Boys group from which the Colonels were formed, is still very much alive and musically active. His brother Clarence White (1944-73) was the first to bring Doc Watson-style lead guitar into a bluegrass band context.

Two other core members of the band, born in California within a few days of each other, have had distinguished careers in music: Roger Bush (bass), born 16 Sept. 1940. and Leroy Mack McNees (dobro), born 19 Sept. 1940. Longtime supporters of the Athy bluegrass festivals will remember Leroy playing there twelve years ago (see the BIB for 22 July 2008). Congratulations to Roger and Leroy on their birthdays! The photo above shows (l-r) Leroy, Roger, Billy Ray Lathum (1938-2018), and Clarence White. More information on the Kentucky Colonels is here.

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A treat for instrument nerds, 28 Oct. 2020

Thanks to John Lawless and Bluegrass Today for some good news for anyone interested in the iconic instruments of bluegrass and country music. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN, is holding a special fundraising event on 28 October, under the title 'Big Night at the Museum', in which instruments from the museum's 'Precious Jewels' collection will be played by some very distinguished musicians.

The collection includes Bill Monroe’s F-5 mandolin, Earl Scruggs's Gibson Granada banjo, Mother Maybelle Carter’s L-5 Gibson guitar, Charlie Daniels’s fiddle, the Martin D-28s of Lester Flatt (see photo above) and Hank Williams, and Jimmie Rodgers’s 00-18. The event will be streamed on the Museum's YouTube channel.

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15 September 2020

'Many moons ago' from Danny Burns; features Sarah Jarosz

Following the news reported by the BIB on 25 Aug., the Bonfire Music Group in Nashville, TN, announce that Danny Burns (raised in Co. Donegal) releases today 'Many moons ago', the first single from his next album, due to appear early in 2021. The track features Sarah Jarosz on vocals and octave mandolin. An official video is on YouTube.

The song commemorates the 'Great Gift' from the Haudenosaunee tribes to the Irish during the great famine, in return for which Ireland has given support for Covid-19 treatment in First Nations Territory this year. More details are on the Bonfire press release.

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14 September 2020

Ensemble music continues despite COVID

Thanks to William Duddy in Belfast, who despite COVID restrictions and the uncertain prospects for live music events (see last week's news on the 2021 Gainsborough old-time festival) can report:

Strangely, even as the limitations continue, I'm getting all the music I want - and mostly dulcimer by choice, in addition to the Thursday night Folk Club which is increasingly being populated by the traditional (unaccompanied) singing brigade.

Online, William has taken part in the Quarantune 2 Dulcimer weekend (nine one-hour workshops over a weekend), and he sends a link to the ensemble video (below) produced recently by the UK's Nonsuch Dulcimer Club, featuring sixteen Appalachian dulcimer players, a hammered dulcimer player, and an autoharpist. The last image on the screen is William's just-vacated rocking chair.

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Alec's greeting to 'Long Journey Home' 2020

Following on from the BIB post of 8 Sept., we have more on this year's 'virtual' edition of Long Journey Home, the annual celebration of the musical heritage of Johnson County, TN. On 9 Sept. the festival's YouTube channel published this 10-minute video with the introduction:

Going all virtual this year had a few perks that we just couldn't have had in an in-person event. Having Alec Somerville join us as a special guest contributor all the way from Donegal in Ireland was definitely one of those perks. He was part of the Sawmillin' and Lassy Makin' site but we also wanted to share with you the entirety of the content he sent us which speaks hugely to the international influence of traditional mountain musicians from Johnson County.

You can see and hear Alec talking about his personal involvement with the festival and about G.B. Grayson and Clarence 'Tom' Ashley, and playing 'The cuckoo', 'Short life of trouble', and (fittingly) 'Long journey home'.

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12 September 2020

Releases by past US visitors

Fast Track (with Ron Spears and Jesse Brock the members best known to Irish audiences from past visits) released today their first album, Fast Track. You can hear 30-second samples of all tracks in the review on Bluegrass Today by John Curtis Goad, who ends with the words: 'you’ll definitely want to add Fast Track to the top of your "to listen to" pile.'
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Embodiments of the North Carolina bluegrass sound Sideline, who toured here last July (thanks to mygrassisblue.com), have brought their trademark drive to their first single of the year, also released today: 'Fast as I can crawl'. More details, and links to music platforms, are on the Mountain Home Music Company press release and the band's Facebook.
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The Dillards, led by Rodney Dillard, only surviving member of the original band, release their latest project, the 11-track album Old road new again, and five singles from it, all in different genres, reflecting the readiness to take new directions that characterised the Dillards from their beginnings. More details, including an outline of the band's career and an endorsement from Elton John, are on the Pinecastle Records press release.

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10 September 2020

Events at the Earl Scruggs Center

The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC, reopened for regular hours on Tuesday this week (8 Sept.) at 10.00 a.m., with comprehensive procedures to keep visitors, volunteers, and staff safe and healthy.

Last weekend, which should have been the occasion of the First Earl Scruggs Music Festival (now postponed to 3-4 Sept. 2021), WNCW and the Festival organising team produced a successful Drive-In Concert featuring four festival acts: Jim Lauderdale, Chatham County Line, Dom Flemons, and Anna Lynch. See this press release from Hearth Music.

Jim Lauderdale (photo: Daniel Coston)

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Dan Walsh (GB) on Deering Live TONIGHT at 8.00 p.m. BST

The Deering Banjos blog announces that Dan Walsh of Stafford, England, will be the artist featured on 'Deering Live' on the Deering Banjos YouTube channel tonight (Thursday 10 Sept.) at the new time of 3.00 p.m. ET = 8.00 p.m. BST. His mastery of clawhammer and his wide-ranging tastes make him (roughly speaking) England's down-picking counterpart of Ireland's up-picking Paddy Kiernan.

Last week's guest was Valerie June from Memphis, TN, and a 77-minute interview with her can be seen on the Deering blog and YouTube. According to Deering, 'We get into how she approaches the banjo, music being good for the soul, and the personality of her instruments.'

BIB editor's note: Deering's newsletter calls Dan Walsh's resonator banjo an instrument 'that many would argue should be reserved for bluegrass'. This is a modern heresy: plenty of old-time players in the 1920s, '30s, '40s, and later were happy to play resonator banjos if they could afford them - even Uncle Dave Macon, though open-back banjos were better for juggling.

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09 September 2020

Wookalily sign with MIG music (D)

Belfast's Wookalily ('Morricone meets early B52s') announce with pride on Facebook:

WE JUST SIGNED A RECORD DEAL!!! Yes, all it took was a worldwide pandemic...

We're ecstatic to announce we've just signed a record deal with MIG music and we're now label buddies with Matthews Southern Comfort, Blackbird & Crow, and many more. MIG have also worked with Clannad, Planxty, and Muddy Waters on some great live releases so we're feeling rather privileged to now be part of their prestigious list of artists.

Here's a wee video of us getting together for the first time since lockdown to sign on the dotted line and celebrate with some bubbly (socially distanced of course). Thanks to all our fans who have supported us for the last 10 years. We can't wait for the next 10 still to come.

The band have also been invited by Hot Press magazine to contribute to Van Morrison's 75th birthday celebrations as part of the 'Rave on Van Morrison' series, and will be featured live on the Hot Press YouTube channel tonight at 7.00 p.m. Those also taking part in the series include Hozier, Imelda May, Bob Geldof, Liam Neeson, Sinead O'Connor, and Irish president Michael D. Higgins.

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A message from Greg Blake

The BIB reported earlier that Greg Blake (USA), well known to bluegrass fans in Ireland from successive tours arranged by John Nyhan, had launched a Kickstarter campaign to aid him in developing the songwriting side of his career, and we noted with pleasure on Monday that this had been successful. Greg yesterday sent his own message to everyone who supported the campaign:

On Sunday evening, we crossed the threshold of our goal of $9,500. A little bit more came in on Monday before the deadline, 'just for good measure'. There was even someone today who came on the page, ready to add their support. All I can say is... 'Thank you', from the bottom of my heart. Your enthusiastic generosity has set the tone of my mood as I go into the studio next month... you have given from hearts full of love - I promise I will do the same when I’m laying down those vocal and guitar tracks!

Okay... here we go... LET’S MAKE A RECORD!!!

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08 September 2020

Long Journey Home commemorates masters of mountain music

Thanks to Alec Somerville for drawing our attention to Long Journey Home, the Heritage Arts and Music festival held every year on Labor Day weekend in Mountain City, TN. The festival celebrates in particular the music of G.B. Grayson and Clarence 'Tom' Ashley, both outstanding musicians and early recording artists.

As with many other events, the Long Journey Home team have responded to the pandemic by presenting a virtual festival this year. The result is a series of videos, each of up to or over twenty minutes, all worth watching for this view of one of the hotbeds of old-time music, which also influenced early bluegrass. All the videos can be seen on the Long Journey Home website and on YouTube, and two in particular should interest viewers in Ireland.

The Kody Norris Show, who were to have headlined this year's Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, present a 25-minute tribute (filmed in black and white) to the music of G.B. Grayson, with Kody playing fiddle, showing the band's dedication to, and knowledge of, the roots of bluegrass.

The 22-minute video 'Sawmillin' and lassy-makin'' was shot on the Ashley homestead with Kenny Price and Jerry Moses picking on the front porch - note in particular Kenny's left-handed clawhammer playing on a right-handed banjo. Note also the presence of Alec on screen in two places (beginning at 8:25 and 12:02). In previous years Alec won prizes twice at the festival, and he was consequently asked to contribute this year for an international dimension:

So I have provided them with some picking of music of the two, some talkin' and hopefully a view of their local heroes from afar. They were, by the way, outstanding and dedicated performers, and it was a privilege to me to be so requested...

A 7-minute trailer of the film 'Short life of trouble: the legend of G.B. Grayson' can be seen on Facebook as well as on the Long Journey Home website.

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It's not me, again

The BIB editor writes:

Blogger has decided to ignore my repeatedly stated preference for the original format of this blog, and has unilaterally introduced the new dashboard, which is not as easy to handle as the old one. Apparently as a result of Blogger's action, the space between the main column of the blog and the sidebar has been increased, and all the text in the sidebar has been centred. I neither want nor approve of this, but at present it doesn't look as if anything can be done; and I must with regret ask BIB readers to put up with it.

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FOAOTMAD defers Gainsborough 2021

Tim Rooke, festival organiser of FOAOTMAD, the UK's organisation for old-time music and dance, announces this grave news for the premier old-time event in these islands (links have been added by the BIB).

As a result of the restrictions imposed by the government relating to mass gatherings and the use of theatres etc. it has been decided that we must cancel the Gainsborough Festival weekend planned for February 2021. For further information please see the next issue of the Old Time News.

A seven-minute compilation of highlights from this year's event (14-17 Feb. 2021) can be seen on YouTube, including a clip of Ireland's Grits & Gravy Stringband at 2:27. Also on YouTube is a forty-one-minute podcast by Ian Rattray, including interviews with Emily Schaad, Travis Stuart, Hilarie Burhans, and Ivy and David Sheppard.

More information on online old-time music in Britain is on the FOAOTMAD news blog.
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The blog also gives ample details of the programme and lineup of the 49th Annual Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddlers' Festival, normally held in California, which will be an online event this year on Sunday 11 October. The programme includes concerts, workshops, contests in fiddle, banjo, and singing with a $400 first prize in each category, a raffle for a unique gourd banjo, and more.

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07 September 2020

Next Dublin TradFest, 27-31 Jan. 2021

The organising team of Dublin's TradFest (which in past years has put on several artists of special interest to BIB readers) announce that they have been working hard to ensure that next year's event can be safely held on 27-31 January 2021. They will be glad to receive answers to a survey they're conducting - a TradFest hoodie will go to each of the first five respondents. Meanwhile, Tradfest Podcasts can be accessed on the festival website.

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04 September 2020

Online tuition and much more from Ken Perlman

Ken Perlman (below; USA), master of 'melodic clawhammer' and fingerstyle guitar, sends his latest newsletter; the headlines are as follows:
* Ken to offer online banjo 'clinics' *
* American Banjo Camp sponsors all-star concert online on Sunday evening, 12 Sept. *
* Ken's new book Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo recently published *
* Study clawhammer with Ken privately via Skype or Zoom *

More details on all these and on Ken's other publications, recordings, folklore work, and instruction are on his website. See also Pat Kelleher's review of Ken's new book on the BIB for 29 June.

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Help wanted!

On 19 Aug. the BIB reported that Greg Blake (USA) has - among other things - launched a Kickstarter campaign, 'People, places, and songs' in support of the songwriting side of his career.

So far, 107 backers have pledged a total of €6,442 towards the target of €8,017 (the odd figures result from converting US$ into euros). Less than three days are left before the deadline, 1.00 a.m. (BST) on Tuesday 8 Sept. If the target is not reached, Greg gets nothing; so if you're thinking of pledging support for him, there's very little time to lose.

Update 7 Sept.: We're delighted to report that the target has now been hit.

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03 September 2020

John Scully

Tony O'Brien sends this sad news:

John Scully, another great friend of the Athy Bluegrass Festival over the years, has sadly passed away. A fine lead guitar player with local showbands The Adelaids, The Escorts, and The Gibson Country Sound in his day, John was video man at the Athy Fest' for many years and has left us a treasure of great memories.

RIP John

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The Foreign Landers (NI/USA)

Thanks to John Lawless of Bluegrass Today for the news that David and Tabitha (née Agnew) Benedict have formed a new duo act in addition to their existing band memberships: The Foreign Landers.

Late last month they released on Facebook a video, shot in Co. Armagh, of the John Hartford song 'Put all your troubles away'. It's an excellent example of how satisfying the music of just two people can be. The video can also be seen on Bluegrass Today and on YouTube. They had, indeed, appeared as 'The Foreign Landers' on David's YouTube channel two months earlier, when they played the Alison Brown composition 'Shake and howdy' in a sitting-room setting.

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Valerie June on Deering Live TONIGHT

Valerie June from Memphis, TN, will be the artist featured on 'Deering Live' on the Deering Banjos YouTube channel tonight (Thursday 3 September) at 6.00 p.m. (ET). Deering announce:

For those that aren't familiar with her music, definitely check her out! She has an amazing blend of soul, country, folk, blues, and world music. She also has an incredible positive energy about her that is truly palpable and will pick you up.

Two of her YouTube recordings with banjo are 'Rollin' and tumblin'' and 'Man done wrong'. A bright, cheerful version of Jimmy Martin's 'Drink up and go home' is on the Bluegrass Situation website.

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02 September 2020

A treat (update)

The Wilson Pickins agency (USA) announce in their latest press release that Ronnie Reno's TV show 'Reno's Old Time Music' recently featured an interview with the legendary Bobby Osborne and master fiddler Glen Duncan, leading up to a video - recorded under lockdown conditions - of the Don Gibson song 'I can't stop loving you', with Bobby (of course) singing lead.

Watch the video here. It's a remarkable demonstration of the voice of a supreme bluegrass singer: one notices first the power, precision, and clarity, then the astonishing range and the subtlety of phrasing and timing. Bobby Osborne will be 89 in December. However much you watch, don't miss the last seconds.

Update 4 Sept.: More information is in John Lawless's post on Bluegrass Today.

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Tribute to New Grass Revival - from Brazil via Galway city

The BIB editor writes:

On 13 May the BIB presented a video from Juliana Erkkonen (fiddler for the Molly Hicks, the Raines, and the Rocky River Bluegrass Show) playing Kenny Baker's 'Bluegrass in the backwoods', with César Benzoni (guitar) and Mila Maia (flute). And on 18 August the BIB gave a link to a video by Co. Armagh's Cup O' Joe, celebrating the induction of New Grass Revival into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

We love it when things come together, so we're delighted to receive from César Benzoni a further tribute to New Grass Revival - the video shown above of the band's 'Can't stop now', recorded by César and his friends in Brazil: Gabi Silvestri (lead vocal, bass, kick drum), Edson Moreira Araujo (banjo, background vocal), Leo Mancini (acoustic guitar, background vocal), and César on mandolin and background vocal.

César (right) is originally from Brazil, where he ran the São Paulo Bluegrass Music Association in succession to its founder, Erio Meili. He is now based in Galway city, where as well as playing mandolin and guitar in the Rocky River Bluegrass Show, he is a sound engineer and video maker, operating Yodel Recording Services.

The Yodel website is well worth visiting, especially if your group is considering making an audio or video recording - even if you're not, there's good listening on a playlist of previous recordings by the studio, and a similar selection of videos from César's YouTube channel. We recommend a seven-minute documentary made in 2012 when the São Paulo Bluegrass Music Association visited the annual ROMP Festival in Owensboro, KY.

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01 September 2020

Sacred Harp in No Depression - and from Cork, too

In its '50 States of Folk' series, No Depression magazine posted on 21 Aug. an article by Kara Kundert entitled 'The Sacred Harp of Henagar, Alabama'. Though Kundert singles out Liberty Baptist Church in Henagar, Alabama, as an important centre, the article is a much more wide-ranging survey of Sacred Harp singing and serves well as a general introduction to this powerful genre.

Moreover, one of the videos embedded in the text shows 146 'Hallelujah' being sung at the second Ireland Sacred Harp Convention (3-4 March 2012). This can also be seen on YouTube, where it is one of the many videos on the Cork Sacred Harp YouTube channel. (The Cork Sacred Harp logo is shown above because it's neat; with no disrespect to the Sacred Harp communities in Belfast, Dublin, and Galway.)

A playlist of thirty-second samples of shape-note singing is appended to the article.

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For mandolinists

Tristan Scroggins (seen over here several times in his father's band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, and most recently filling in on mandolin with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers in their 2019 tour) has transcribed all the mandolin breaks on the classic 1979 Tony Rice album Manzanita - breaks originally played by Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, and David Grisman.

His transcriptions are now available on an e-book via his Patreon account. More details (including a vivid recollection of the impact of Manzanita when it first came out) are in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.

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'The happiness of having you' from Linda Lay

On 21 Aug. the BIB reported that Linda Lay has signed with Mountain Fever Records and is recording new material, with a single due for release on 1 September 2020 and an album in preparation. The single is now out - the Ted Harris song 'The happiness of having you', which was first made famous by country superstar Charley Pride in 1975.

The new recording features Linda on lead vocal and bass, her husband David (low tenor vocal, guitar), Sammy Shelor (banjo), Darren Beachley (baritone vocal, dobro), Aaron Ramsey (mandolin), and Bryan McDowell (fiddle). More details, and a link to hearing and buying the single, are on the Mountain Fever press release.

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28 August 2020

Roscommon County Line from Mules & Men

On the eve of lockdown Dublin's Mules & Men released The John Keavney singles (see the BIB for 19 and 21 Mar.). Today, the band have released their full ten-track, 99.9%-original* album Roscommon County Line, with this announcement on their Facebook (bold type and links added by the BIB):

Here it is! We've been incubating this baby for almost a year, like so many other bands delaying the release until we can launch it with a gig but sure that's life.

We're very happy to share Roscommon County Line. It was a real pleasure to record and is our first record with Paddy and Niall and sure aren't they great.

You can support us here on bandcamp if you want, or listen for free on the usual digital distribution services. Funnily enough, we made a small typo when we were handing over our cash to Spotify and the album's called Roscommon Country Line. Haha, imagine, Roscommon, a country! Profound. They say they will amend it in a week or two.

Anyway, enjoy and share. Thanks from Luke, Paddy, Lily, and Niall, for all the great support we continually receive. We miss the gigs greatly, but at least we had great fun doing the streams over the summer and getting to connect with you again.

We want to dedicate this album to Aran Wooly Sheehan who we lost this year, who promoted 'havin' it' , and without whom there would be no Dublin Bluegrass Community, which still plays in his honour, with the same spirit.

Love & Rockets xxxx

*The track 'Disco' includes the Ronnie McCoury tune 'Noppit Hill breakdown'.

Mules & Men is Lily Sheehan (guitar, vocals), Niall Hughes (bass, vocals), Paddy Cummins (mandolin, vocals), and Luke Coffey (banjo, vocals). During lockdown they've been far from idle, turning out in June a punchy, bouncy, hard-driving, wide-ranging ninety-minute online set, and two weeks ago their version of the neglected gem 'Lost' by Buzz Busby.

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27 August 2020

Jens Kruger on Deering Live TONIGHT

Jens Kruger, 'one of the world’s most musically sophisticated and technically accomplished five‐string banjo players' (Happy Traum), whose close relationship with Deering Banjos includes helping to develop their finest instruments, will be playing and talking on tonight's interactive instalment of 'Deering Live' at the new time of 7.30 p.m. EDT on Deering's YouTube channel, where you can also watch last week's 90-minute instalment in which Jens discusses banjo strings with Jon Moody of GHS.

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26 August 2020

Balla Bluegrass Festival 2020 CANCELLED

Sad news from the organisers of the Balla Bluegrass Festival in Co. Mayo:

With continued uncertainty regarding the reopening of the pubs and the general future of the live music industry, the organisers of the Balla Bluegrass Festival had no choice but to call off this year's festival which was due to take place on the October Bank Holiday [23-26 Oct. 2020].

Like everyone else, we are very much looking forward for the reopening of the pubs and music venues and the return of domestic and international live music. We are looking forward to seeing all our friends back in Mayo in 2021.

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Support for Ron Kavana in hospital (Update)

Ron Kavana (second from left) with Tony Rice (extreme right) at MerleFest

Thanks to Ray Barron of Two Time Polka for this news; Ray writes:

Just heard today that a friend of mine, Ron Kavana, is unwell and is hospitalised at the moment. Some friends of his have set up a GoFundMe page at this link: https://gf.me/u/ytz6g2

You may not know Ron but he was in many great bands such as Juice on the Loose, Balham Alligators, Loudest Whisper, and the Alias Ron Kavana band.

He’s a great guitar and mandolin player with a special feel for gospel music. I’m sure lots of people who visit your blog will know him and may want to donate.

Donations for Ron can be made here.

Update 8 Sept.: Two-thirds of the €20,000 goal has so far been raised. Organiser Katie Theasby writes:

Blown away by your support so far, thank you so much. Quick update; Ron is out of hospital and is now staying with a friend until his home is ready to welcome him back. He has a long road ahead with dialysis but is so glad to be out.

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AOIFE plans Day of Action for 16 Sept. 2020

Thanks again to Mick Daly of Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, for a view of the Association Of Irish Festival Events (AOIFE) August 2020 report for the arts sector.

AOIFE's offices will reopen fully from 1 Sept., but the report presents the grim view that 'we as a society will be living in the limbo land of stage 3 with occasional visits back to stage 2 for the autumn, winter, spring ahead [...] we wlll be inhabiting this twilight world of living cheek by jowl in a pandemic for a period of two to three years.'

AOIFE asks everyone concerned with this sector to share in a Day of Action, planned for 16 September.

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Nechville Musical Products support We Banjo 3 event

This coming Saturday (29 Aug.) Galway's We Banjo 3, originators of 'Celtgrass', will be holding 'Follow the Light', their 'virtual festival experience celebrating Irish traditions', in which they will be joined by Gaelic Storm, Sharon Shannon, Nathan Carter and the East Pointers, with non-music festival features throughout the programme (see the BIB for 10 Aug.).

Nechville Musical Products, originators of the most innovative developments in banjo construction in the past fifty years (and makers of Enda Scahill's recent custom-built instrument) are supporting the event by offering two free tickets to persons on their mailing list.

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25 August 2020

Danny Burns signs with Bonfire Music Group

The Bonfire Music Group in Nashville, TN, announce that Danny Burns (right), raised in Co. Donegal, has signed with them to bring out his sophomore album early next year, with a first single - 'Many moons ago', featuring Sarah Jarosz - to be released this coming September. This follows his successful and critically-acclaimed debut album North country (2019). More details are on the Bonfire press release.

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Jack Lawrence interviewed by Darin and Brooke Aldridge

Jack Lawrence with John Nyhan at the Meeting Place, Midleton, Co. Cork: 2006?

Thanks to Eilis Boland of Lonesome Highway for making us aware of a fascinating hour-long interview in the 'Carolina Sessions' series conducted by Darin and Brooke Aldridge (headliners at the 2018 Omagh festival). Their guest last week was Jack Lawrence, probably best known as musical partner to Doc Watson for a quarter-century; but as the interview shows, this was just one part of the long, varied, eventful career of a musician from one of the richest source areas of bluegrass. Eilis writes:

He talks about his personal history of bluegrass music and characters in NC from his childhood in the '50s right up to now. Great anecdotes etc. Enjoy!

You can enjoy the interview on YouTube.

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Dunmore East Festival obliged to postpone to 2021

Thanks and condolences to Mick Daly, organiser of the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival, Co. Waterford, for the sad news that this year's festival, which it was hoped would be held this coming weekend (29-30 Aug.), has had to be cancelled after constant efforts by Mick and his team to make an event possible in one format or another. Mick writes:

You will understand that we had to pull the mini bluegrass festival because of the latest directives. Plan D was to have a 100-people event outdoors. I would like to thank all the acts that were to play and hung in there with all the changes over the summer. We had hoped that the situation would improve over the summer, but alas...

Roll on 27/ 28/ 29 August 2021, and a big thank you to all our Dunmore East supporters.

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24 August 2020

News from Gold Tone


Gold Tone Musical Instruments announce in their latest e-newsletter that select B-stock 25"-scale fretted Microbasses are available at 50% off retail price. A complete list of B-list stock is here. Gold Tone also announce that they are now selling the highly regarded Rickard Cyclone 10:1 geared 5-string banjo tuners at $223.70 for a set of five in nickel or gold finish.

Wayne Rogers, owner of Gold Tone, and some of the company's instrument makers recently experimented with cutting down the weight of a 5-string, and achieved encouraging results which may result in a production model weighing five pounds (2.268 kg). A brief video of the test model being played, with details of its components, is here.

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Tom Mindte to be honoured by DC Bluegrass Union, 26 Aug. 2020

Thanks to Jamie Daly of the Constituents band of Arlington, VA, who were playing over here last year (and see the BIB for 20 Mar. 2019), for the news that the DC Bluegrass Union (the august association for bluegrass in the region of the US capital) will present their annual Washington Monument Award this year to Tom Mindte. The DCBU announcement says (links added by BIB):

Tom Mindte has many bluegrass identities, including performing musician and bandleader, audio engineer, and record label owner. Our bluegrass music community for many years has enjoyed the great benefit of all his work. We see his influence especially through the successful studio operation of his Patuxent Music label, whose catalogue features traditionalists and innovators alike, with important attention to younger artists. Thank you, Tom!

Tom is known in Ireland for several memorable visits, festival performances, and tours with his Patuxent Partners band, who in past years have featured such rising young fiddlers as Patrick McAvinue, Nate Leath, and Daniel Greeson. The presentation will be made live online this coming Wednesday (26 Aug.) on the DCBU Facebook at 8.00-9.00 p.m. EDT. Congratulations to Tom, and a big hand to the DCBU for making the award.

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