21 March 2023

Ketch Secor on Deering Live tomorrow (22 Mar. 2023)

The Deering Banjo Company announce that Ketch Secor (founder-member of Old Crow Medicine Show, multi-instrumentalist, and co-author of the hit song 'Wagon wheel') will be the featured artist on Deering Live tomorrow night (Wednesday 22 Mar.), probably at 11.00 p.m. Irish time. A link to YouTube has not yet been announced.

© Richard Hawkins


Quote of the month (2)

All his [Don Reno's] shows were about establishing that link with an audience... I found out later on with Monroe was to a degree - you know, that that was the most important thing about being a live performer is the rapport you're building up with that audience.

I love to play some of my tunes, like 'Forty years late', and 'Rural retreat', and some of those things; but when I do it in front of an audience they don't really mean anything to me. The tune doesn't mean anything sort of at all. If somebody hollers for 'Foggy Mountain breakdown' I'd as soon play that as I would to play one of my tunes. Because what you're playing, the music is just a vehicle for enhancing that interaction between the audience and the performer. And the tune really don't matter.

You know, it dawned on me after playing 'Mule skinner blues' to open every show for four years running that I played in, and I never got tired of it. And it was two years after I quit the band [the Blue Grass Boys] that I figured out why not. In hindsight. And understanding that those tunes are just vehicles for expressing that emotional moment that exists between the performer and the audience.

Butch Robins, from a tape recording on the Soundboard Chronicle YouTube channel.

© Richard Hawkins


20 March 2023

Detached notes

Thanks to East Public Relations for the news that on St Patrick's day Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, headliners at Omagh 2019, released their latest album, the twelve-track Let time ride on the Billy Blue Records label. The album was launched over the weekend at the spring edition of the Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival, which the Ramblers host twice a year in Wilmington, OH. A full track listing and many more details are on the East Public Relations press release.
Banjo enthusiasts have good reason to thank Jason Skinner for this six-minute YouTube video which gives a close-up tour of 'Nellie', Don Reno's 1938 Gibson RB-75 #518-1, obtained in an exchange with Earl Scruggs. 'Nellie' looks gorgeous, and the sound-track (a medley of 'John Henry', 'Dixie breakdown', 'Paddy on the turnpike', and 'Banjo signal') doesn't hurt either. Attention has been drawn on Banjo Hangout to the unusual tailpiece.
Those of us who like to hear original bluegrass in traditional style, infused with the character and personal musicianship of the players, should appreciate the recordings of Steve Bruce, banjo-player and preacher in La Follette, TN, who has released an instrumental album, What I know now. A recent single from the album, 'By the brook', can be heard on Bluegrass Today and YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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19 March 2023

The latest BU

The cover story of the March 2023 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine is on Appalachian Road Show (who were to have headlined Bluegrass Omagh 2020). The many other good features include Sandy Hatley's article on Fred Bartenstein, bluegrass historian, communicator, and facilitator; articles on the Foghorn Stringband (who will be here in May), Andy Thorn, the serenader of foxes; luthier Wayne Henderson; Lilian Werbin of Elderly Instruments; and Tunefox, 'the clever way to learn and practice bluegrass music'.

Perhaps not by coincidence, a feature on Josh Graves's 1935 Model 27 round-neck Dobro, which is now on display at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, is followed by one on the Farm Hands, led by Josh's son Tim. A video of the band's release 'Bluegrass DNA' can be seen on Bluegrass Today and YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins


Roger Ryan's Country Cuts, March 2023

Thanks to Roger Ryan of the Country Music Association of Ireland (CMAI) for the current issue of his 'Country Cuts' newsletter, with a quota of bluegrass and bluegrass-related news. The contents include details of the massive lineup of this year's MerleFest (27-30 Apr. 2023) in North Carolina; the Legends of American Country Show at Cork's Everyman Theatre (Sun. 26 Mar.); Record Store Day 2023 (Sat. 22 Apr.); Two Time Polka's March gigs; the plans of Garth Brooks for one (or possibly two) duet albums; The Chicks' 2023 world tour, which will see them at Dublin's 3Arena on 30 June; and a gig this coming Friday (24 Mar.) by The Raines (Ruth Dillon, Julia Erkonnen, and Yvonne Tiernan) at Seachurch, Ballycotton, Co. Cork.

The link to Country Cuts March 2023 has also been included in the BIB's compilation of Roger's newsletters.

© Richard Hawkins

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16 March 2023

For St Patrick's day

The Gold Tone Music Group announce on their website and Facebook a special St Patrick's day deal (probably only applying to customers in the USA) of free shipping and a pack of strings on all their 4-string banjos (including the IT-17 and IT-19 models with 12" pots, and the CC-Plectrum). The deal also covers their other 'Irish' instruments - two bouzouki models, a mandola, and an octave mandolin. More details are on the Gold Tone e-newsletter.

As a further connection between the day and the American South, the Bitter Southerner online magazine publishes an article by Harrison Scott Key - 'the planet's least serious writer' - on how Savannah, GA, celebrates St Patrick's day.

© Richard Hawkins

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Henhouse Prowlers release 'My little flower'

Chicago's Henhouse Prowlers (above; aka Bluegrass Abassadors), who topped the bluegrass section of the bill at last year's Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, have just released a new single, 'My little flower', the first song from their new album Lead and iron. It was written by the band's mandolinist, Jake Howard. Their banjo player, Ben Wright, says:

The Prowlers have always straddled the line between traditional and progressive bluegrass, and we know Jake’s 'My little flower' exemplifies that perfectly. The drive and lyrics embrace both sides of the music we love so much.

The video of the song can be seen on Bluegrass Today and YouTube. See also the Dark Shadow Recording press release.

© Richard Hawkins

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15 March 2023

Ken Perlman teaches syncopation in clawhammer

Ken Perlman (right), master of 'melodic clawhammer' banjo, sends a reminder of his next online live instructional workshop in the current (third) season of his 'Clawhammer Clinics for old-time banjo' series: 'Adapting syncopated rhythms to clawhammer' (Mon. 27 Mar.). Ken writes:

Based on a very simple element called the 'skip-stroke' or 'ghost brush', here's a step-by-step method that covers everything from shuffle endings and pushing the beat to complex rhythmic patterns, the 'Turkey in the straw' lick, and even full-fledged ragtime. If you already own or have an interest in Ken's latest book, Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo, this is the workshop for you!

Each Clawhammer Clinic lasts an hour and a half. All Ken's previous Clinics are available as videos from his website at $25 each, and he can also be contacted for private lessons by Zoom.

© Richard Hawkins

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Lily Sheehan backs Deirdre Murphy at Listowel TOMORROW (16 Mar. 2023)

St John's Theatre and Arts Centre, Listowel, Co. Kerry, announces that Deirdre Murphy, 'songwriter, singer, choreographer, dancer, playwright, designer, and sartorial adventurer', will be playing there tomorrow night (Thurs. 16 Mar.) with her band. St John's e-newsletter says (links added by the BIB):

She will be joined by phenomenal multi-instrumentalists Jason McNamara (Acid Granny) and Lily Sheehan (Mules & Men). The trio delivered an electric set at the 2022 Electric Picnic, and and have been winning hearts and minds ever since. They will be performing music from Deirdre's debut album Matriotism, as well as an eclectic mix of additional original music with loop station, spoken word, and a cappella singing.

The photo above shows Lily (right) with Deirdre Murphy. The BIB congratulates Lily on making her talents felt in a new field.

© Richard Hawkins

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14 March 2023

New music from Alison Brown and Sister Sadie

Alison Brown and Gena Britt, both distinguished banjo-players and both previous visitors to Ireland, feature on new or coming recordings. Alison Brown, founder and director of the Compass Records Group, will be releasing on 5 May her new album On banjo, 'an inventive musical tapestry that includes forays into bluegrass, Brazilian choro music, classical, and swing-era jazz'. It is now available for pre-order, in several formats and bundle options. Gena Britt, who was here in 2019 as a member of Alecia Nugent's band, is a founder-member of Sister Sadie, and her strong lead singing is heard on the band's latest single, 'Well', written by Becky Buller (another previous visitor). More details are on the Mountain Home Music Company press release.

© Richard Hawkins

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12 March 2023

Quote of the month

The most common thing students need to work on is playing with less tension. Any physical tension interferes with tone and rhythm, as well as any expression that you want to achieve. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy to get rid of tension, but I believe it is the thing that often yields the biggest results. I would recommend figuring out where there’s extra tension in your body, and retraining your body to play without it, by playing extremely slowly and focusing on that muscle or motion.

Fiddler Alisa Rose, in response to Dave Berry's question 'What is the most common and relatively easy thing for students to fix?' in his interview with her on Bluegrass Today. The whole interview deserves to be read.

© Richard Hawkins

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10 March 2023

The Country Pickers bow out to a full house

The BIB learns with regret from Richard Thompson's feature on Bluegrass Today that the Country Pickers of Switzerland, originally founded in 1960 as a country music duo and subsequently developed into a full bluegrass band, will play their final show this coming Sunday (12 Mar.) at a hotel near Basel. The show is already sold out.

A brief history of the Country Pickers is supplied by Paolo Dettwiler (mandolin, vocals), who has also served European bluegrass as founder and editor of Bluegrass Europe magazine, co-founder and chairman of the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA), and international representative on the board of the IBMA. He has no intention of withdrawing from bluegrass activity after Sunday. Richard Thompson's article includes a discography and two videos, one of which is an eight-minute review of the band's history (also on YouTube).

© Richard Hawkins

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09 March 2023

News of past and coming visitors (update)

Bluegrass Today has some news of US bluegrass artists who have visited Ireland in the past or will be coming soon. In the first item, Compass Records announces a collaboration between two previous visitors, both multi-award-winners: a single by Missy Raines and Danny Paisley, who duet on 'These ole blues', written by the late Loretta Lynn and her daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell. It's a powerful recording, which can be heard on Bluegrass Today or YouTube; is due for release tomorrow (10 Mar.); and will be on Missy's next album, Highlander, scheduled for the autumn.
The BIB mentioned on 2 Nov. 2022 that Garrett Newton - who visited Ireland in 2017 together with his band and Lorraine Jordan, and was on the cover of Bluegrass Standard magazine last November - is now (still only in his early twenties) dedicating himself to the music of Hank Williams and the era of classic country. Bluegrass Today reports on Garrett as leader of the Lovesick Drifters, with a video of one of the band's recent performances.
Two months from now, audiences at Bluegrass Omagh 2023 will be able to hear Zoe and Cloyd with their unique blend of the traditions of bluegrass and klezmer music. They've embodied this in their coming album on Organic Records, Songs of our grandfathers, from which two new singles are now available: 'We'll meet again, sweetheart' and 'Bei mir bistu sheyn', which can be heard on YouTube via these links, and on Bluegrass Today.

Update: See John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today and East Public Relations' press release for details and an official video (also on YouTube) of 'Black and white', the latest single released by Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Omagh headliners in 2019.

© Richard Hawkins

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08 March 2023

Mighty Poplar release two singles today (8 Mar. 2023)

A month ago the BIB drew attention to the new bluegrass supergroup Mighty Poplar, comprising Andrew Marlin (mandolin) of Watchhouse, Noam Pikelny (banjo) and Chris Eldridge (guitar) of Punch Brothers, Greg Garrison (bass) of Leftover Salmon, and Alex Hargreaves (fiddle) of the Billy Strings Band. The band was also featured at about that time on Bluegrass Today and No Depression.

Mighty Poplar is now No Depression's Spotlight band for March, and editor Stacy Chandler has marked this with a major interview article, which deals at length with the making of their ten-track debut album, scheduled for release on Free Dirt Records at the end of this month. Thanks to Devon Leger of Hearth Music for the news that two singles by Mighty Poplar are being released today (8 Mar.): the fiddle tune 'Grey eagle' and 'A distant land to roam' (from the singing of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard). Devon writes:

It feels like bluegrass is moving into the mainstream more than ever before [...] These master musicians are coming together in celebration of the spirit of bluegrass. By which I mean, the magic of making handcrafted music in the moment, pushing each other further and further.

Update: Thanks again to Devon Leger for the news that videos of both the new singles have been premiered: 'A distant land to roam' on Fretboard Journal, and 'Grey eagle' on Folk Alley. See the online Hearth Music press release.

Update 15 Mar.: John Lawless has now posted on Bluegrass Today about both videos.

© Richard Hawkins

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Kyle Tuttle on Deering Live tonight (8 Mar. 2023)

The Deering Banjo Company announce that Kyle Tuttle will be the featured artist tonight (Wed. 8 Mar.) on Deering Live. Their blurb states:

International Banjo Champion Kyle Tuttle is shredding his way through the jamgrass scene. Since moving to Nashville in 2012 Kyle has shared the stage with many epic performers, most notably as a member of the Jeff Austin Band for three years. Kyle has also worked closely with jamgrass legends Larry Keel, Travelin’ McCourys, Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings, and Railroad Earth. In addition to being seen around the jamgrass circuit, Kyle is a studio musician in Nashville, and recently produced the Chain Station album Backroads. Currently on tour with Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway!

The interview can be watched live on the Deering page from 11.00 p.m. tonight, or on YouTube then or later. Kyle Tuttle's music can be heard on his website and YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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07 March 2023

Durrow MIni Bluegrass Festival, 5-6 May 2023: a reminder

Thanks to Tony O'Brien for this reminder:

Woodbine host mini Bluegrass Festival May 5th & 6th in Bob's Durrow, Co. Laois, featuring High Plains Tradition (Colorado) both nights supported by the Gill Family on the 5th and Woodbine on the 6th. Tickets €20 per night or €30 if you book the two nights. Booking essential as it's a 50-seat venue. Pickin' session on Sat. all day.

For more details, see the BIB for 3 Feb. and 13 Feb.. The concert venue, 'Bob's Hideaway', is shown above.

© Richard Hawkins

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Westport 2023: concert, workshops, and square dance tickets

The organising team of the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival (9-11 June 2023) announce:

Tickets for all festival events are now available via the festival's website. As in previous years, most of the festival gigs are free to the public, and each night there will be one fully ticketed and fully seated concert.
Fri. 9 June, 8.00 p.m., Westport Town Hall: Celebration of Old Time Music, €25: Austin & Courtney Derryberry with special guest Greg Reish / Bill & The Belles
Sat. 10 June, 8:00 p.m., Westport Town Hall: It's All About Bluegrass, €25: Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman / Fog Holler / The Kody Norris Show

* Friday and Saturday combo ticket €45

Sun. 11 June, 9.00 p.m., Matt Molloy's Yard Bar: The Folky Thing, €20: Irish singer/ songwriter and fiddle player Niamh Dunne (right)

Sat. 10 June, 12.30 p.m., Westport Town Hall: workshop €10: Restoring the Haley Family recordings, with Greg Reish

Sat. 10 June, 2.30 p.m., Westport Town Hall: workshop €10: Fiddle workshop with Austin Derryberry

Sun. 11 June, 4.00 p.m., Clew Bay Hotel (back room): Square dance €10

© Richard Hawkins

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Westport 2023: very special workshops

Thanks again to Uri Kohen, head of the organising team of the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival (9-11 June 2023), for this news, particularly exciting for old-time enthusiasts:

Each year Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival is staging two workshops, and for 2023 we have something very special in store.

* On Saturday 10 June at 12.30 p.m. Greg Reish of the Centre for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University and its Spring Fed Records label will present a workshop on the early recordings of the Haley Family and on the restoration of the Haley Family recordings.

Ed Haley was a legendary early-20th-century Appalachian fiddler whose music has influenced generations of old-time and bluegrass musicians. Although he never recorded commercially, in the late 1940s Ed and his wife Ella made a series of home recordings on lacquer discs. In this workshop, co-producer and Spring Fed Records director Greg Reish describes the painstaking process of restoring and reissuing these rare recordings in a landmark boxed set released in 2022 [above left]. He will also discuss the Haley family’s complex and lasting legacy in the canon of American old-time music.

* On Saturday 10 June at 2.30 p.m. old-time fiddle maestro Austin Derryberry [above right] will run a fiddle workshop, showcasing his unique approach to fiddle playing and old-time music.

Austin is an awarded multi-instrumentalist, specialising in the fiddle, guitar, and banjo. He has been featured at the Country Music Hall of Fame and has performed at festivals and workshops throughout the United States and Europe. In addition to being a highly accomplished musician, Austin is also a skilled luthier who often performs with instruments of his own design and making. Austin was part of the inaugural class of the 2017 Tennessee Arts Commission Apprenticeship programme, where he studied violin making under Charles Horner. He won the 2019 Traditional Grand Masters Fiddle Competition in Nashville, Tennessee, and performed on the Grand Ole Opry.

© Richard Hawkins

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06 March 2023

Detached notes

Master fiddler Michael Cleveland (above; photo: Amy Richmond) is the Bluegrass Situation's Artist of the Month for March, and the BGS staff have marked this with an article that heralds his latest album Lovin' of the game (released last Friday), together with a video of the title track and a playlist of his recordings. There is also a link to a 2018 interview (well worth reading) in which he explains why Benny Martin is his favourite fiddler.
For fans of Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, the Fretboard Journal features them in a one-hour podcast in which they talk about many things, including their latest album Living in a song. The FJ includes a link to the YouTube video of them playing and singing 'Moonshine run'.
The Compass Records Group - in addition to Compass itself, a major bluegrass label - has a world-class catalogue of recorded Irish and Celtic music, on which the Group is holding a St Patrick's day sale with 20% off selected titles. The scores of albums in the sale can be browsed and shopped here.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, TN/VA, announces its new special exhibition, 'I’ve endured: women in old time music', which will begin on 23 March and continue till the end of 2023. More details are in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.
Today's bluegrass world is fortunate to have a crop of astounding young musicians. In the 1970s a similar wave of outstanding young talent included Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley, Tim O'Brien, Carl Jackson, Jerry Douglas, and Mark O'Connor. Mark O'Connor, who won the Grand Masters fiddle championship at the age of 13, is now releasing two books on his life and a CD of his early recordings. John Lawless on Bluegrass Today gives an overview (with video and audio recordings) of 'his meteoric rise from a teenaged phenom to a bluegrass music powerhouse in little more than a decade'.

© Richard Hawkins

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More acts for Westport 2023

Uri Kohen, head of the organising team of the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival (9-11 June 2023), announces:

Last month, the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival (June 9-11) has announced a number of extra acts to the already unique and exciting lineup.

Austin & Courtney Derryberry with Greg Reish will join Bill & the Belles on the main Friday concert which will present old-time music in all its glory.

The Demolition String Band (NY, USA) will return to Ireland for the sixth time and will play our festival for the first time.

Lunch Special is a three-piece bluegrass band from the UK. For their first ever festival appearance, they will be joined by highly acclaimed banjo player Chris Lord of The Vanguards fame.

Mayo-based folk musicians Freda Hatton, Julie Langan, and Declan Askin will be joined by friend of the festival Brendan Butler for a session combining folk, trad, and bluegrass.

Along with the acts that have been announced last December, this is the most ambitious and unique programme we have ever presented.

BIB editor's note: Some particularly exciting Westport workshop news, together with full information on concert programmes and ticket-buying, will be announced very shortly.

© Richard Hawkins

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The EBMA - to be or not to be?

The board of the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) has announced on the EBMA Facebook that it will recommend to the membership that the Association should be dissolved. The board's statement continues:

This decision has come after serious consideration about the role and ambitions of EBMA, its resources and its effectiveness, as well as the growth in national and local initiatives that play a much greater part in supporting and promoting bluegrass music around Europe.

EBMA has made a large contribution to bluegrass music in Europe and has been a strong advocate for the music originating from within Europe. Now, it is time to recognise that EBMA, as an association of members, is not sustainable.

The Board has set in motion a plan to close down EBMA over the coming months in accordance with its rules and to meet its financial and legal obligations.

It is reported that a more comprehensive and detailed statement will be sent to all EBMA members for their comments; that the EBMA has no financial problems; that all moneys received since 1 Jan. 2022 are being refunded; that any remaining financial assets will be distributed to organisations with similar aims through a clear and transparent process; and that as the EBMA is constituted under Swiss law, all appropriate procedures will be followed.

There have already been responses urging that the EBMA can and should be continued, and further developments are sure to come. Since its foundation in 2001, the EBMA has shown its recognition of bluegrass in Ireland: in 2013 Niall Toner received the first ever EBMA award of European Bluegrass Personality of the Year (see the BIB for 10 Mar. 2013), and two years later two gifted young Irish banjo-players, Evan Lyons of Co. Tipperary and Tabitha Agnew of Co. Armagh, were awarded the first two EBMA Youth Scholarships to attend the 2016 Sore Fingers Week in England (see the BIB for 13 Nov. 2015). In 2014 the EBMA received the International Bluegrass Music Association's Distinguished Achievement Award.

© Richard Hawkins

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05 March 2023

Gold Tone revive the Bowtie: the OB-2, due out next month

The Gold Tone Music Group announce a new banjo model: the Mastertone™ OB-2 Bowtie (right), a replica of one of the main banjos the Gibson company produced after the second world war.

Marc Horowitz, banjo expert and Gold Tone representative, explains on the OB-2 web page how the development of the 'mystique' of pre-war instruments led to the qualities of the Gibson Bowtie RB-250s being overlooked and undervalued. His experience in rehabilitating original Bowties convinced him that the time was ripe to reintroduce the model.

Full specifications are on the Gold Tone website, together with a demonstration video. Production models of the OB-2 are expected to be available in April and can be pre-ordered now at $1999.99.

© Richard Hawkins

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03 March 2023

More celebrations of Doc Watson at 100

John Nyhan's celebration of Doc Watson appeared on the BIB yesterday. Jason Verlinde, the Fretboard Journal editor, has now collected several of his 'favorite Doc-inspired moments from the magazine' to mark the occasion. They include a video (also on YouTube) of Billy Strings playing 'Tennessee Stud', plus one of 'John Henry'. Billy Strings is tonight leading a Doc Watson tribute concert in North Carolina, where in June the North Carolina Guitar Celebration will feature a Doc tribute concert led by Bryan Sutton. A story of how two young Californians made a 1966 pilgrimage across the States to see Doc can be read here; a video of Jack Lawrence playing 'Red rockin' chair' is here; Bryan Sutton and a heap of leading pickers play 'Sitting on top of the world' (also on YouTube); banjoist Tray Wellington tells in a podcast how Doc's music changed his direction; and Doc's legacy is illustrated by a video (also on Bluegrass Today) of Tommy Emmanuel and Molly Tuttle playing 'White freightliner blues'.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings have also marked Doc's centenary with a display of the many recordings he made for their catalogue, and a video of him playing 'Deep river blues' can be seen on the Smithsonian Folkways Facebook.

© Richard Hawkins

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25th anniversary of bluegrass in Kilworth, Co. Cork

Thanks once again to John Nyhan for this announcement:

On Monday 5 May 1998 (the May bank holiday), 5 For The Gospel from Kentucky played the first bluegrass concert (to a capacity audience) at the Village Arts Centre, Kilworth, Co. Cork.

Now, twenty-five years later to the day, on Monday 1 May 2023 (the May bank holiday) High Plains Tradition from Colorado (no strangers to Ireland) will play the Kilworth Community Centre (the Arts Centre is closed for repairs) at 8.00 p.m. What a great band to celebrate the 25th anniversary of bluegrass in Kilworth!

High Plains Tradition are wonderful pickers, great entertainers, and fabulous vocalists. They consist of Doug Elrick (mandolin/ vocals), Steve Gilmore (guitar/ vocals), Bobbie Vickery (fiddle/ vocals), Kenny Pabst (bass/ vocals), and Ron Lynam (banjo/vocals).
[BIB editor's note: The banjo player shown above and in all the band's website photos is Mark Leslie, who played on the first HPT tour in Ireland. Ron Lynam (right) has played with them on subsequent tours abroad.]

Over the past twenty-five there have been great nights of bluegrass in Kilworth. All the bands have maintained an incredible high standard. Thanks to each and every one of them.

I want to especially mention the visit of J.D. Crowe and the New South to Kilworth in August 1999. J.D. Crowe is one of the most respected banjo players and band leaders in the world of bluegrass. It was his 1975 album J.D. Crowe and the New South (Rounder 0044) that copper-fastened my interest in bluegrass (like thousands of others) when I heard it in 1976. Frets magazine said about the album: 'The New South's recording in 1975 created a sensation. The album catapulted bluegrass into the forefront of progressive American music and drew a whole new generation of young musicians into the acoustic fold.'

A special thanks to you, the audience, for your loyalty and constant support for live bluegrass music in Kilworth over the last twenty-five years. Of course to the staff at the Arts Centre (who do it all voluntarily): the incredible Liam Howard, his wife Maureen, and the wonderful Molly Abernethy. Thanks a million for all your work and dedication. It is very much appreciated. Hopefully there will be a packed hall to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary.

Booking: tel. 087 792 1771
High Plains Tradition Irish tour 2023: 28 April-6 May
  • Fri. 28th-Sun. 30th: Cahersiveen Mountain Roots Weekend, Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry; tel. 087 706 9935
  • Mon. 1st May: Kilworth Community Centre, Kilworth, Co. Cork, 8.00 p.m.; tel. 087 792 1771 (25th Anniversary Concert)
  • Tues. 2nd: The Copper Buoy Restaurant, Lower O'Connell St., Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, X35 FE09, 8.00 p.m.; tel. 087 064 0542
  • Wed. 3rd: St Senans Church of Ireland, Ardrum, Inniscarra, Co. Cork, T23 T934, 8.00 p.m., support act Pat Kelleher; tel. 087 792 1771
  • Thurs. 4th: O Gliasain's Bar (concert room), Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare, 8.00 p.m.; tel. 086 607 9864
  • Fri. 5th-Sat. 6th: Bob's Bar, Durrow, Co. Laois, R32 YY38 (Durrow Mini Bluegrass Festival); tel. 085 165 6685
For further enquiries on any of the above, tel. John Nyhan 087 792 1771 or e-mail.

© John Nyhan

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02 March 2023

Celebrating Doc's 100th anniversary

BIB editor's note: Many thanks to John Nyhan for this celebration of Doc Watson (born 3 Mar. 1923, died 29 May 2012). The image of Doc above publicises a Boston performance early in his career. John writes:

If Doc Watson was still alive he would be 100 years old on this Friday, 3 March 2023. Doc Watson was born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, on 3 March 1923, becoming blind in his first couple of years from an eye infection. It did not hold him back. He has been described by the great authority on country and roots music, Bill C. Malone, as the greatest roots musician America has ever produced.

It is hard to pigeonhole Doc's music. It covers Appalachian ballads, blues, jazz, rockabilly, bluegrass, and songs by contemporary songwriters. Of course his flatpicking of fiddle tunes on the acoustic guitar mesmerised guitarists and audiences alike. Bringing the guitar from rhythm, to a fully fledged lead instrument. He is also a great fingerpicker.

He was discovered at the beginning of the 1960s by folklorist and musician Ralph Rinzler, was then brought to New York and Boston to perform, and made a huge impact on the folk revival. He influenced many bluegrass guitarists, who then started taking solos in bluegrass ensembles - players like Clarence White, Tony Rice, and young flatpickers today like Molly Tuttle, Trey Hensley, and Billy Strings (who sometimes sounds like a reincarnated Doc Watson), to mention but a few. Tommy Emmanuel was also greatly influenced by Doc. Doc also plays banjo and harmonica and is a wonderful unaccompanied singer: he has a great baritone voice.

Doc started as a solo act, but was later joined by his son Merle. Merle was an excellent guitarist and was especially a great slide player. Merle sadly was killed in an accident in 1985. Doc and Merle became a trio when T. Michael Coleman joined them on bass.

Doc has won many awards, Grammys and lifetime awards, and was also awarded by the president of the USA. In spite of his adversities, Doc kept going. When Merle passed on, flatpicker and friend Jack Lawrence filled in. Doc kept playing up to a couple of weeks before his death at the age of 89.

I first heard Doc's music in the early 1970s on a folk music programme on BBC Radio. Then when I got the record Doc Watson on stage, featuring Merle Watson, I was completely captivated. One thing I really love about Doc is that every song he sings, he makes it his own. I feel no one can sound like Doc. His uniqueness is incredible.

I was one of the lucky few to see Doc, Merle, and T. Michael live in Connolly Hall in Cork in 1981. What an incredible concert. I now have over seventy records, CDs, DVDs, books, and many articles in magazines, on Doc, which I dearly treasure. On Friday I will be celebrating the centenary of Doc's birth in my home with some friends. We will be immersing ourselves in the music of Doc Watson. We will also of course be including Merle Watson, T. Michael Coleman, and Jack Lawrence.

Here are some quotes on Doc by other famous musicians.

Earl Scruggs: 'If I was going to pick guitar, that's the way I would want to pick, like Doc.'

Joan Baez: 'My early lmpressions of Doc were the same as my later impressions of Doc... the best guitar player I ever knew... and what a great singer. I wanted to sing "Alberta" with the same soulful clarity and purity that Doc did.'

Sam Bush: 'When you are playing along with Doc, if you try and throw in too much it sounds horrible. It is the classic three Ts that Doc has, the taste, the tone, and the timing. He is the king of all of those.'


© John Nyhan


28 February 2023

Gold Tone High Moon banjos now available for purchase

The Gold Tone Music Group announce that their new HM-100/HM-100A High Moon open-back banjos optimised for the clawhammer player, and developed over some ten years by Chris Pariso, Gold Tone's in-house luthier, are now available for purchase, and can be bought via a link in the e-newsletter. More details (including prices) appeared on the BIB on 29 Jan.

© Richard Hawkins

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27 February 2023

The first banjo in Antarctica

The BIB editor writes:

The BIB has already made a couple of mentions (16 Dec. 2010, 4 Mar. 2015) of the 5-string banjo that went with Dr Leonard Duncan Albert Hussey (1891-1964) on Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition. Special thanks to Alec Somerville for this link to 'Leonard Hussey's banjo: brain food', a splendid article by Dale Jacobsen, with two photos of the instrument itself, an English-made Windsor zither-banjo. Dr Hussey (also pictured in the article) donated the banjo and its leather case in 1959 to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, south of the Thames and east of central London. Other articles on the banjo are cited in Hussey's Wikipedia biography.

The Hussey banjo, like zither-banjos generally, has a slotted head with standard three-a-side guitar geared tuners (my first banjo, a Clifford Essex of about the same vintage, had friction pegs like a violin) and a fifth string that passes through a tunnel from the tuner to the fifth fret (like my second banjo, a Jedson 6006 'Symphonic' of about thirty years later). The commemorative 'Shackleton' banjo made by the Great British Banjo Company from c.2010 also had a slotted head, with four geared tuners, but in other respects was a regular open-back banjo with a fifth-string peg at the usual place.

Update 28 Feb.: Alec reports that credit is due to Wilson Salter, banjo-player of Ontario, Canada, for drawing his attention to Dale Jacobsen's article.

The zither-banjo design made for a robust instrument that could stand up to hard conditions. Such a banjo might have been in Rudyard Kipling's mind when he wrote his 1894 poem 'The song of the Banjo', which sets the instrument in many demanding environments. Don't be put off the poem by Karen Linn's comments in That half-barbaric twang (1994) - there's more in it than she suggests.

© Richard Hawkins

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25 February 2023

Dwight Diller, 17 Aug. 1946-14 Feb. 2023

The BIB editor writes:

With great regret, I learn from Banjo Hangout of the death last week, from brain haemorrhage after a fall, of Dwight Diller, one of the most influential players of old-time music of the past fifty years. His influence derived from the strength of his respect and love for the old music and the generations who had made it. His friend and biographer Lew Stern concluded his Dwight Diller: West Virginia mountain musician (2016) with the words:

The central message he sought to communicate was this: a person will only be able to play music that emerged from and resonated with their own character and life experiences, and that ought to be sufficient.

The image above right, showing Dwight aged 27, is from the cover of Lew Stern's book (the most informative biography of a musician that I have so far read). The tributes by friends and fellow musicians on Banjo Hangout and on a commemorative web page should also be read. The Banjo Hangout notice of his death gives four videos of his playing and a link to his YouTube channel.

His website announces that his body will be cremated, and the ashes received by family on 4 March from 2.00 to 4.00 p.m. at Lantz Funeral Home, Marlinton, West Virginia. No extended memorial gathering is planned at this time, but friends are welcome.

© Richard Hawkins


24 February 2023

More news of past visitors

The latest Dark Shadow Recording company press release announces that Rick Faris (singer, songwriter, luthier, and IBMA New Artist of the Year 2022) is releasing today a new single, 'The power of love', a hit song in the pop world of the 1980s. It will appear on his third Dark Shadow album, Uncommon sky, which is due for release in June 2023.

Rick was a member of Special Consensus for eleven years on mandolin and (later) guitar, and toured Ireland several times with the band. As the press release says, 'Under Greg Cahill, he learned the meaning of professionalism and giving back to the bluegrass community.' More details are in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today, where you can see a video of the song being recorded (also on YouTube).
The BIB mentioned in June 2020 an important album, The John Hartford fiddle tune project, involving many outstanding musicians. Two of them - Megan Lynch Chowning (fiddle) and Tristan Scroggins (mandolin), both of whom have toured here - have joined with Adam Hurt (banjo) to form a touring trio playing the tunes live on stage. They can be seen and heard on Bluegrass Today and YouTube playing a sprightly Hartford composition, 'Tennessee politics'. Warmly recommended.
Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Omagh headliners in 2019, will have their new twelve-track album Let time ride released on St Patrick's day, a single 'Black and white' released a week today (3 Mar.), and a 'fun concept video' on 10 Mar. More details are on the East Public Relations press release.
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, who also played Omagh 2019 as part of their last tour here, have a new single, 'The price of falling', on Mountain Home Music. Chris says: 'We really had fun with this one in the studio.' It can be heard on Bluegrass Today and SoundCloud.

Update 11/16 Mar.: The band have now released a video of 'The price of falling', which can be seen on Bluegrass Today, on YouTube, and on this Mountain Home Music Company press release.
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass have a new single on Pinecastle, the song 'What crosses your mind', written by David Stewart and Sage Palser and featuring Palser herself (lead singer and mandolin player of the Wyoming-based band Prairie Wildfire). More details are on the Pinecastle Records press release, and on John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.

© Richard Hawkins

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23 February 2023

Tickets go on sale TOMORROW for Bluegrass Omagh 2023, 26-28 May

One of the open-air venues at Bluegrass Omagh 2022
(looks like Aaron Jonah Lewis on stage)

The Ulster American Folk Park at Omagh, Co. Tyrone, announces on Facebook that tickets for this year's bluegrass festival, Bluegrass Omagh 2023, will be going on sale from 9.00 a.m. tomorrow (Friday 24 February). An Early Bird ticket offer, giving up to 25% off, will extend to 31 March.

The Friday festival programme takes place entirely at the Silverbirch Hotel on the Gortin Road (B48), where an open Pickin' Party will begin at 4.00 p.m. before the main concert at 7.00 p.m, featuring the Honey Dewdrops (USA), Zoe and Cloyd (USA), the Truffle Valley Boys (I), and the Niall Toner Band (IRL). The programmes for Saturday and Sunday are not yet set out on the website, but other acts shown for the weekend include the Blue Grass Boogiemen (NL), Viper Central (CAN), and Old Baby Mackerel (ENG). A Spotify playlist comprises tracks recorded by all the acts named above; more names are to be announced. Weekend tickets also include entry to the Park's Bluegrass Family Day on Monday 29 May. Tickets can be bought here.

© Richard Hawkins

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Special Consensus celebrates Canada

Compass Records announce that the Special Consensus (who left these shores just over a week ago) will release tomorrow (Fri. 24 Feb.) a new single: the Gordon Lightfoot song 'Alberta bound'.

The single is from their coming album Great blue north, due for release on 12 May and conceived as the band's tribute to Canada, with songs by Canadian writers and guest artists from Canada or based there: the Jaybird Trio (Patrick Sauber, Trisha Gagnon, and John Reischman), Pharis & Jason Romero, Ray Legere, April Verch, Claire Lynch, and many more. Greg Cahill explains:

Special Consensus has toured regularly in Canada since our earliest days and counts many great Canadian bluegrass players and singers among our musical friends. After we released Cape Breton-based J.P. Cormier's song 'Blackbird' last year, we began to think that recording an album of all Canadian songs would be a great way to tip our hats to the immense talent in the Canadian bluegrass community. Getting to collaborate with some of our northern friends on the project was the icing on the cake.

More details are on Bluegrass Today. You can hear the single there or on YouTube.

Update 1 Mar.: Compass Records now announce that Great blue north can be pre-prdered, and that all CDs pre-ordered will be signed by the members of the Special C.

© Richard Hawkins

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22 February 2023

Cahersiveen Mountain Roots Music Weekend, 28 Apr.-1May 2023

Thanks to Celine Kavanagh MacCarthy in Co. Kerry for this news:

Cahersiveen Mountain Roots Music Weekend returns this May Bank Holiday for its seventh year. It kicks off in CAMO'S, with a gathering featuring Ger Wolfe and local and visiting talents. Open sessions will be inclusive and varied throughout the weekend. Saturday a.m. features markets with music, poetry, workshops, and a showcase from Sparrow Performing Arts.

Concerts include Freddie White on Saturday 29th and Hank Wedel and Friends on Sunday 30th at the Haven. Late night gigs at the Sheebeen backroom venue will host the return of the much anticipated High Plains Tradition and Two Time Polka. Gigs feature the Dizzy Blues Band, Fiona Kennedy and Band, Strunky, Reverse the Hearse at night, along with early afternoon gigs and early evening gigs on Sunday 30th featuring a John Nyhan special and High Plains Tradition. Come and see what we have in store and keep an eye on our website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Cahersiveen Mountain Roots Music Weekend, hosted by Teacht Thar Sáile Folk Club, will run from 7.00 p.m. on Fri. 28 April to 1.00 a.m. on Mon. 1 May 2023. Celine can be contacted by 'phone (087 706 9935) or e-mail.

© Richard Hawkins

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'One glass of whiskey' from Robbie Fulks

Robbie Fulks - Grammy-nominated Americana singer, recording artist, instrumentalist, composer, and songwriter - was a member of the Special Consensus in the 1980s; his name came up in Eilis Boland's January interview with Greg Cahill for Lonesome Highway; and Greg in turn mentioned him from the stage during the recent Special C. tour. By coincidence (if that's what it is) Robbie Fulks has just had released on Compass Records a distinctly bluegrassy single, 'One glass of whiskey', from his album Bluegrass vacation which is due for release in April. More details, and a chance to hear the new single, are on Bluegrass Today.

© Richard Hawkins

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21 February 2023

Two centenaries

Ten days from now (Fri. 3 Mar. 2023) will be the centenary of the birth of Arthel 'Doc' Watson, the most influential steel-string acoustic guitarist of the past sixty years. Forming part of the celebrations will be the release of the fifteen-track album I am a pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100. Stacy Chandler's No Depression article 'Dolly Parton, Steve Earle, and more featured on 100th birthday tribute to Doc Watson' lists all the tracks and the artists taking part, and includes a video (also on YouTube) of Dolly Parton singing the Tom Paxton song 'The last thing on my mind'.
British Bluegrass News, the magazine of the British Bluegrass Music Association, has just brought out its 100th issue.* Trevor Hyett marks the occasion with a well illustrated four-page feature on its development since the 1970s, and Chris Lord, the present editor, describes the work that goes into producing an issue. The cover story is on the five-piece all-woman band Blue Lass from northern England. Among other features, 'Tab corner' has tabs for 'Denver Belle' on banjo and mandolin, with notation for fiddle, plus a detailed survey by Jack Baker of the life of Kenny Baker; and Trevor Hyett's article on going to Sore Fingers week in England mentions seeing Noam Pikelny giving a private lesson to Paddy Kiernan. And for instrument nerds - Malcolm Harrison, a mainstay of the Cambridge bluegrass scene in the late 1960s and 1970s, writes (with photos) about his extremely rare Vega electric 5-string banjo.

*BIB editor's note, 26 Feb.: According to a well informed source, the landmark of 100 issues of BBN must have been reached over ten years ago. This is supported by the volume numbering of my own (very incomplete) BBN collection, which shows that volume 23 had been reached in 2001. At some date after this, a new system of consecutive numbering was adopted, in which the Feb. 2004 issue carried the number '28'.

© Richard Hawkins

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