13 July 2020

'My kind of town' video from the Special C.

The Special Consensus, 2020 model: (l-r) Nate Burie, Rick Faris,
 Greg Cahill, Dan Eubanks

Thanks to Bluegrass Today for the news that our longtime friends in Special Consensus have just released a second video from their latest album Chicago Barn Dance, and this time it's of their stunning all-instrumental version of 'My kind of town', the paean to Chicago made vocally famous by Frank Sinatra and many others. Watch it on John Lawless's Bluegrass Today feature, or on YouTube. Chicago Barn Dance is nominated for Album of the Year in the 2020 IBMA awards.

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Quote of the month

I'm reading a wonderful book about early jazz [...], and there's a comment by Joe Oliver, 'King' Oliver, one of the earliest hot bands in New Orleans, and he was talking about the dynamics of a jazz band, and the key word is texture - it's all about texture. I could say that about our conception of string band music. The other thing he said, and this is a paradox in a way, is that all the instruments of the band blend together to create that texture, one sound; but on the other hand, you hear each instrument separately...

Bill Dillof of the Canebrake Rattlers string band, interviewed in the Old Time Herald, vol. 11, no. 3 (Feb.-Mar. 2008)

BIB editor's note: This - combined with a feeling of 'this needs to be done now' - is also what I like most in a bluegrass band. It's exemplified in the classic Flatt & Scruggs band, and in bands from the Washington and Baltimore areas in the 1950s and '60s.

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11 July 2020

Late news (and we mean late)

The BIB editor writes:

Relying on what is shown on the website and Facebook, the BIB has been assuming that the 13th Ardara Bluegrass Festival, scheduled for next weekend (17-19 July 2020), was still likely to take place. We now learn that it was cancelled some months ago. It may be time for the BIB to stop pretending to be a news medium...

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10 July 2020

Athy Bluegrass Festival 2003 lives again TONIGHT amd TOMORROW

Thanks to Tony O'Brien, organiser of bluegrass festivals and weekends at Athy, Co. Kildare, since 1998, for this news:

As this would normally be the Athy weekend, I will post a 45-minute video tonight and a two-hour video tomorrow night at 9.00 p.m. of the 2003 Festival on my Facebook page to mark the weekend.

So, anyone interested in a virtual bluegrass festival - get yourselves a takeaway, a few beers, or a bottle of wine and re-live Athy Bluegrass Festival 2003.

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No connection with bluegrass

In memory

Sgt S.L. 'Mac' Bain, pilot
Sgt G.C.G. 'Todd' Hawkins, observer*
Sgt G.A. 'Geoff' Allison, wireless operator/ air gunner

Crew of Blenheim IV R3606 of 107 Squadron, 2 Group, RAF Bomber Command
Shot down and taken prisoner near Abbeville, France, on 10 July 1940 (first day of the 'Battle of Britain')
107 sent six aircraft on this operation against airfields, and lost five

* = navigator/ bomb aimer

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09 July 2020

'Deering Live' episode #13

The series 'Deering Tech Live', presented by Deering Banjos, will from now on be known as 'Deering Live' and will appear live on YouTube, so there is no need to view it on Facebook or Instagram as with the previous twelve episodes.

Today Jamie Deering, Jamie Latty, and David Bandrowski from Deering will be talking about the wide ProPik range of picks, which Deering acquired in February this year. Questions can be sent in as comments on YouTube. As usual, the episode will air at 3.00 p.m. PST (California time), which should be 11.00 p.m. BST.

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Top of the hill coming from April Verch

April Verch (CAN) announces that her new album for children, Top of the hill, is due for release on 24 July, and is now available for pre-order. The inspiration for the project arose during lockdown; April writes:

Nothing has been as constant throughout my life as family and music, and both have seen me through the best and worst of times. I felt called to create music that would appeal not only to children, but that might connect generations.

Seven of the ten tracks are original compositions, and the cover artwork is by April. More details are on her e-newsletter.

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08 July 2020

Pilgrim St release Ash Into gold dust 10 July 2020

After months of cancellations and enforced inactivity, it's good to learn of a genuine new event on the scene here; so thanks to Eugene Donegan for the news that Pilgrim St, based in Navan, Co. Meath, will release their debut album Ash into gold dust this coming Friday (10 July). It will be on sale from that date from the band's online shop, and available later for streaming.

The image below right shows a gift card, also available from the band's shop. Thanks also to Eugene and the band for the following press release:

Irish band Pilgrim St crown a two-year run of sold-out theatre and festival shows with the release of their long-awaited debut album – Ash into gold dust – this July.

A democracy in the best sense of the word, Pilgrim St’s sound - influenced by bluegrass, old time country, and folk music from home and abroad - is based around a stunning selection of songs written by the band’s three songwriters, whose different styles blend beautifully.

Witness Peadar Farrelly’s gorgeous 'Never gets old' (the first single from the album) nestling alongside Eugene Donegan’s bluesy 'Hurt people hurt people', Eoin McDonnell’s beautiful mandolin-led instrumental 'Go dtí sin' and Brendan Kelly’s brilliantly cinematic opener 'Ballad of Anton Dunne' and you’ll start to understand why the band has built up such a ferocious live reputation over the last couple of years.

Ash into gold dust was co-produced by the band with their long-time live sound engineer Mark Cahill at Crookedwood Studios in County Meath and is available on CD from the band’s web store at https://www.pilgrimst.com/shop.

Ask any member of Pilgrim St to list their influences and the responses will more than likely be very similar: any of the grittier characters from Appalachian old-time, bluegrass, and the folk canon from both sides of the Atlantic. They might single out Springsteen (particularly in Seeger sessions mode), Hank Williams, or Woody Guthrie, but if you expect them to play some sort of Americana mish-mash, you’d be mistaken. For running deeply through the band’s core is that unmistakably Irish phenomenon, a gift for rousing tales and stirring choruses - hearts wide open and going for broke - just like those loveable predecessors The Pogues or The Saw Doctors. Pilgrim St have become one of the hardest-working and best-respected bands on the Irish circuit since they first formed four years ago, winning solid approval for their true-grit passion and delivery in theatre and festival venues including Vicar St and Electric Picnic.

Pilgrim St consists of Peadar Farrelly (guitar, vocals), Eugene Donegan (banjo, vocals), Eoin McDonnell (mandolin, vocals), Francis McGinn (bass), Mark Lynch (dobro), Brendan Kelly (accordion, vocals) and Cathal McQuaid (fiddle).

Contact Eugene Donegan: e-mail, tel. 087 6258275

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07 July 2020

Highlight Review for Special C. in July 2020 BU

Congratulations to the staff and contributors of Bluegrass Unlimited for the magazine continuing to appear despite this year's global crisis. The July 2020 issue may look slim, but all that's missing are (understandably) festival adverts and the personal appearance calendar; all other normal features are present and as good as ever.

The review section includes Cup O' Joe's album In the parting; Chris Goertzen's book American antebellum fiddling, which should clear up myths on tune origins; Aaron Jonah Lewis's album of Joe Morley compositions, The Mozart of the banjo (see the BIB for 24 May); and a Highlight Review rating for the latest Special Consensus album, Chicago Barn Dance, which (the reviewer concludes) 'presents one of bluegrass music’s most enduring bands at their big-shouldered peak'.

By the way, Greg Cahill, leader of the Special C., was featured on the cover of the June 2020 Banjo News Letter and interviewed inside by Ned Luberecki.
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No Depression magazine lists the new albums by Jake Blount and Sarah Jarosz among its ten 'favourite roots music albums of 2020 (so far)'.

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Michael J. Miles online concert this Friday (10 July)

IN his latest e-newsletter, Michael J. Miles (USA) - the man who showed that Bach could be beautifully played on the clawhammer banjo - announces that he will be among the artists playing in an online streaming concert this coming Friday (10 July) to raise funds for Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, where Michael has taught for many years. The concert will also mark the launch of his new CD, Mississippi River suite. You can tune in online, where there are more details.

Schedules of Michael's one-time-only workshops for banjo and fingertstyle guitar are on the e-newsletter.

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06 July 2020

News from the Mother Country

Charlie Daniels (photo: Tennesseean files)

Thanks to Uri Kohen for the sad news that Charlie Daniels, the most prominent, flamboyant, and controversial fiddle player in country music, died early today after a stroke at the age of 83. He joined the Grand Ole Opry cast in 2008 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Born and raised in North Carolina, he absorbed bluegrass among other musical influences, and could play banjo and mandolin as well as fiddle and guitar; his many achievements included being Bob Dylan's guitarist of choice on three albums. A full obituary by Dave Paulson and Matthew Leimkuehler appeared today in the Nashville Tennessean.

Update 10 July: The funeral service is being held today at Murfreesboro, TN, followed by private burial at Mount Juliet, TN. John Lawless gives details on Bluegrass Today.
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Thanks to Ed Bowes of Virginia (see the BIB for 23 June) for the news that the online instruction programme of the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV, is now under way. Ed reports:

We have already watched a couple of the classes and they were very good. One was on swing drumming and the other on Cajun fiddle. Both were surprisingly relevant to banjo or any other instrument. The classes will be up on YouTube and available until sometime in early September.
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Also from West Virginia: a fifty-seven-minute video on YouTube since last September, 'In tune: a community of musicians', in which the Augusta Center and many other aspects of traditional music and culture are mentioned. Near the end there is a stunning clip of Hazel Dickens singing a cappella 'Hills of Galilee' (which she sang in the 1987 film Matewan). You can also hear her sing the whole song here.

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03 July 2020

A future recruit for Special Consensus

Congratulations to Rick and Nicole Faris (Rick is known to audiences over here for playing mandolin, and more recently guitar, with the Special Consensus), who have a new son, Kent, born last night. Full details, with photos and a solid message from Rick, are on Bluegrass Today.

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News from Oldtime Central: The Hoot and much more

THE editors of Oldtime Central (OTC) announce in their latest e-newsletter that they are still hard at work advertising and preparing for their first (online) festival, The Hoot (see the BIB for 24 June), due three weeks from now. Registration is now open, and they supply the following links to The Hoot:

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The following articles have appeared on OTC since the last newsletter:


BIB editor's note: The 'ten resources for learning the history of the music' are well worth exploring in detail; fiddlers in particular should learn something.

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02 July 2020

An invitation to Banjoland from We Banjo 3


Galway's We Banjo 3 extend a heartfelt invitation to their fans to join them in a new community space, Banjoland, with a choice of five levels of support for the band, each with its corresponding range of benefits and access to instruction on Irish music, Irish culture, and much more.

You can also see We Banjo 3's invitation delivered in person by all four members of the band on video, above and on YouTube.

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01 July 2020

Europe's oldest bluegrass festival keeps on going!

Congratulations to our fellow bluegrassers in the Czech and Slovak Republics, who held Europe's oldest bluegrass festival this summer for the forty-eighth time while festival schedules elsewhere have been in ruins. The Banjo Jamboree, founded in 1973, took place at Čáslav in the Czech Republic on the weekend 19-20 June 2020, with eighteen bands taking part, including several (G-runs 'n Roses, Blackjack, Sunny Side) who have played at Irish festivals.

The board of the Bluegrass Association of the Czech Republic confirmed (just a week before the date announced for the Jamboree) that in accordance with the lifting of offical restrictions, a gathering of up to 500 people would be allowed, and the Jamboree would be organised as normal with extra provision for health safety. Video footage from Čáslav can be seen on YouTube.

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30 June 2020

Livestream from Cornwall, 11 July 2020

On 2 June the BIB (thanks to the FOAOTMAD news blog) was able to pass on the news that the Alsia Fest old-time and bluegrass campout festival in Penzance, Cornwall, would not be held this year because of the pandemic.

Instead, a virtual event will be held with livestream performances and videos 'from all our favourite musicians'. The organisers now announce that livestream will begin at 5.30 p.m. on Saturday 11 July. You need to be on Facebook to watch it.

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12th Bluegrass Jamboree postponed to 2021

OUR good friend Rainer Zellner and his Music Contact agency, based in Tübingen, Germany, have been bringing artists and entertainers in a wide variety of genres to central Europe for many years. Rainer himself plays bluegrass mandolin, and since 2009 his annual 'touring bluegrass festival', the Bluegrass Jamboree, has become an institution on the bluegrass calendar, presenting a programme of three fine visiting acts in bluegrass, old-time, and related music to audiences in prestigious venues throughout Germany and adjoining countries.

This year the 12th Bluegrass Jamboree was scheduled to present the Kody Norris Show, the Buffalo Gals, and The Farmer & Adele in over twenty shows between 18 November and 13 December. Rainer now announces with regret that in consequence of the pandemic the Jamboree has been postponed to 2021. Other tours affected by the crisis include the 'Far beyond the stars tour' by Donegal's Henry Girls, who would have been playing dates in Germany in July, August, and October.

To compensate, Rainer has set up Radio Bluegrass Jamboree, the first German bluegrass radio station, streaming 24/7, with playlists by DJ mandoyogi (who could that possibly be?). In half an hour's listening one can hear - for instance - the Del McCoury Band, Don Reno, Flatt & Scruggs, Hank Williams, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, Jimmy Martin, and the Hot Club of Cowtown. Strongly recommended.

Like everyone connected with live music, Rainer and Music Contact have endured a major loss of income during the crisis. Donations to support their efforts can be made through GoFundMe.

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29 June 2020

Pat Kelleher reviews Ken Perlman's latest book

THANKS to Pat Kelleher for this review of Ken Perlman's latest publication, mentioned on the BIB earlier this month:

Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo is a newly released 156-page clawhammer banjo instruction book by Ken Perlman, renowned pioneer of the melodic clawhammer playing style. It comes in both paper and digital formats as well as 124 online-accessible audio tracks. Ken is well known for collecting and adapting note-for-note arrangements of authentic fiddle tunes for this banjo style.

It becomes immediately evident that there were hundreds of hours dedicated to the production of this publication on the Mel Bay label. The introduction chapter and concise description of the playing techniques are very well explained along with clearly laid out tablature.

For such an advanced virtuosic player as Ken, it is consoling that he recognises the need to include tunes to suit basic to advanced levels of player skills. Most tunes contain 'tech tips' and 'syncopation guides' to help the player. Tunings are explained in detail and accompanying guitar chords are suggested. The tunes are organised by the key that they are played in, except for 'Try these tunes first' in Chapter 5. Some of the advanced techniques will certainly take a lot of dedication and practice to master.

About half of the tunes are learned from his virtuoso fiddle-playing musical partner Alan Jabbour, to whom the book is dedicated, Alan also being a collector of tunes, while the remaining tunes were collected from other old-time fiddlers both past and present through either direct contact or from recordings - including contemporary players like Brad Leftwich and Bobby Taylor.

This book of 100 Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo is certainly an excellently put-together publication that will stand the test of time, and the virtuosity of this master player will be preserved and respected for generations to come.

Ken has toured in Ireland a few times in the past to great acclaim, including a performance at the first Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in Longford in 2002 and a nationwide tour in 2013.

The book is available from Mel Bay, Amazon, and many more sources, including directly from Ken Perlman’s own website. At just under $25 (USD) for the paperback edition and a few dollars less for digital, this is excellent value for such a highly acclaimed player disclosing his techniques for our playing betterment. He has many more publications to his credit as well as CDs and digital format audio music. Congratulations on yet another job well done.
Pat Kelleher

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'European Bluegrass Country Hour' on CMR Nashville

RONNIE Norton (left) of Dublin, ace bluegrass photographer, critic, reporter, radio presenter, and co-founder of Lonesome Highway, has taken up a major role in promoting the cause of bluegrass in Europe (see the BIB for 1 June).

Ronnie is now regularly presenting two hours of the best bluegrass music on European Radio, featuring both new, classic, and obscure bluegrass tracks from around the world, on CMR Nashville, 'Europe's #1 country music station'.

Ronnie's 'European Bluegrass Country Hour' is broadcast every Monday at 6.00 p.m. and Tuesday at 2.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m. He can be contacted by e-mail at the studio. CDs and other news from European bands are welcome. More details are here.

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Two projects commemorating John Hartford

JUST a year ago the BIB mentioned the publication of a collection of 176 original fiddle tunes composed by John Hartford (1937-2001) - a testimony both to Hartford's unbounded creativity and his extensive and intimate knowledge of American fiddle music.

No Depression reported recently on two albums, the first being a significant development arising from this collection. The John Hartford fiddle tune project, volume 1 is a seventeen-track album featuring twenty-four eminent musicians. YouTube audios of two of the tracks are included in the No Depression feature.

Secondly, the innovative, groundbreaking side of Hartford comes out in On the road: a tribute to John Hartford - fourteen of his songs with complete lyrics, performed by another impressive set of eminent musicians. Again, YouTube audios of two of the tracks are on No Depression, together with much more detail. All proceeds from this project go to MusiCares, an organisation set up by the Grammy Foundation to help musicians in need.

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26 June 2020

Nominations for IBMA awards; inductees for Hall of Fame

THE complete list of nominations for the 31st IBMA Awards has just been issued, together with the names of this year's inductees to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Full details are on the IBMA press release. The presentation of the awards will form part of this year's World Of Bluegrass.

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No summer from Cinder Well

THANKS to Devon Leger of Hearth Music for the news that Cinder Well (Amelia Baker) will release her album of 'doom folk' No summer on 24 July. From California, she is now based in Ennis, Co. Clare, and studying Irish music at the University of Limerick, in consequence of meeting the Dublin folk band Lankum.

There are some powerful echoes of Appalachia among the nine tracks on the album - especially the first, the unaccompanied 'Wandering boy'. 'The cuckoo' is essentially the same song as Clarence Ashley's, but the setting here makes it a different experience. And 'Queen of the earth, child of the skies' is Eddn Hammons's West Virginia version of the tune known in Ireland as 'The blackbird'. Much more about her music is on the Hearth Music website.

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25 June 2020

Deering Tech Live, episode #12 TONIGHT

FOLLOWING on from previous BIB posts, Deering Banjos will bring out tonight (Thurs. 25 June) a further episode of 'Deering Tech Live'. The e-mail announcing it is headed 'Banjo relatives' (title of the episode in which Jamie Deering, the company's CEO, talked about several international relatives of the banjo), but as shown on Facebook, David Vega of Deering Customer Service will be answering viewers' questions.

As usual, the episode will air at 3.00 p.m. PST (California time), which should be 11.00 p.m. BST. Viewers can tune in via Facebook or Instagram and leave questions in the form of comments on Facebook. The episode in which Sam Miller, head of repairs at Deering, talked about the 6-string banjo (banjo-guitar), and about learning the 5-string as a guitar player, can be seen here.
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The Gold Tone Music Group announces major discounts on B-stock (with minor blemishes) and a draw for a PBR Paul Beard Signature Series round-neck resonator guitar. The BIB suspects, with regret, that Gold Tone's offer of free shipping on all instruments applies only to the USA. More details and links are in this e-newsletter.

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The mountain minor: latest news

WRITER/ director Dale Farmer, heading the team responsible for The mountain minor, the film drama of Appalachian migration and old-time music, sends the project's latest newsletter. Dale reflects on having completed the film only to have the whole programme of screenings cancelled, leaving no prospect of recouping the investment. Releasing the film free on Amazon Prime came about this way:

In our first meeting with our publicist, Fred Anderson, he asked Susan and me what we wanted most: to make the most money or to have the most people see the film. We pretty much answered in unison that we wanted the most people to see it. That became our mission for the film and has informed our decisions going forward.

The decision has its own rewards, as explained in the newsletter. Meanwhile a soundtrack album is being prepared with thirty-seven songs and tunes from the film, five bonus tracks including a 1980 field recording, plus a twelve-page booklet.

The mountain minor had its broadcast premiere on the Heartland TV network on Sat. 6 June and subsequent showings with the last still to come this Saturday (27 June). It will also be shown on educational stations, beginning with Kentucky Educational Television. Much more information is on the newsletter, together with a reminder that the full-time musicians who took part have lost their income during the lockdown.

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24 June 2020

Oldtime Central presents The Hoot, 24-26 July 2020

THE editors of Oldtime Central (OTC) announce in their latest e-newsletter that their first festival, The Hoot, will be presented online a month from now - from 8.00 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) on Friday 24 July to 10.00 p.m. on Sunday 26 July, offering

a weekend of top-notch concerts, workshops, and a chance to share a little bit of much missed and much needed community.

For Facebook users, news and updates will be posted here; the complete schedule of workshops and concerts can be seen here. Workshops in fiddle, banjo, guitar, and harmonica will be hosted by some of the leading musicians on the US old-time scene today. The charge for each workshop is $25; an all-in-one weekend registration is $150. You can register here.

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Sacred Harp Singers of Dublin and new pandemic guidance

Sacred Harp Singers of Dublin have just added the following announcement to their website:

From 29 July Ireland will enter Phase 3 of easing COVID-19 restrictions. Singing is permitted subject to specific guidance published by the government. We are keen to ensure the health and safety of our members and the general public and will follow these guidelines.

We will not be resuming our regular Friday night singings during Phase 3 as our venue has been used for other, very worthy, causes and it is not currently available to us. During Phase 2, some of our regular members have been trialing outdoor gatherings of fewer than 15 people, maintaining distance and wearing face masks. Our experience with this is that we can sing successfully and safely but due to weather and other people in the area we are not able to guarantee that singings will go ahead. For that reason, we will not publish times and dates of planned singings. If you are interested in attending, please get in touch with me or one of the other singers and we can discuss when and how we can sing together. As always, we are delighted to welcome beginners and newcomers (and old friends!).

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23 June 2020

Augusta 2020: online summer schools from West Virginia

Good to hear from Ed and Trish Bowes of Virginia, who visited Ireland with their daughter Beth three years ago (see the BIB for 28 Aug., 11 Sept., and 16 Sept. 2017) and took part in some memorable sessions. Ed and Trish, both multi-instrumentalists, are regular attenders at the music summer schools of the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV; so thanks especially to Ed for the following news.

Although all the normal in-person programmes have been cancelled this summer due to the global pandemic, you can register for the Augusta 2020 digital project for access to over 150 video lessons, concerts, cultural sessions, music-making events, and more.
  • June 21: Cajun, Country, & Swing video lessons available to registrants
  • June 28: Blues, Vocal, and American String Band video lessons available to registrants
  • July 5: Bluegrass and Old-Time video lessons available to registrants
  • July 6-10: Cajun, Country, & Swing live online events
  • July 13-17: Blues, Vocal, and American String Band live online events
  • July 20-24: Bluegrass and Old-Time live online events
Detailed schedules of what's on offer for all instruments can be seen on the Augusta home page and downloaded as pdf documents. Keep in touch with developments through the Facebook group 'Augusta 2020: Learn – Create – Connect'. There is a suggested contribution of $100 for registration, but a sliding scale applies and everyone is encouraged to take part.

Looking further ahead, Augusta's October Old-Time Week (11-16 Oct.) is still scheduled to go ahead as planned, to be followed (17 Oct.) by the West Virginia Fiddlers’ Reunion.

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22 June 2020

A change in conditions of service

The BIB editor writes:

Please note that as from today the BIB will follow the example of its distinguished precursor and exemplar Bluegrass Today, and will not be posting news or other items on Saturdays and Sundays.

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20 June 2020

IBMA Foundation launches Arnold Shultz Fund

THE IBMA Foundation announced yesterday (19 June) the launch of the Arnold Shultz Fund to support activities increasing participation of people of colour in bluegrass music. The fund also commemorates the black Kentucky musician Arnold Shultz (1886-1931) and his influence on the musical development of the teenage Bill Monroe. He also has an important place in the history of country guitar-picking through his influence on a lineage of players from Mose Rager and Ike Everly to Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.

A fundraising concert is to be held in Denver, CO, next Friday (26 June), featuring top-level players from the Colorado scene. More details are at the link above and on Bluegrass Today, where there is an introductory video by Dr Richard Brown. Donations to the Arnold Shultz Fund can be made by PayPal here.

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19 June 2020

Midnight Skyracer on Bluegrass Today

L-r: Tabitha Benedict, Leanne Thorose, Laura Carrivick, Eleanor Wilkie, Charlotte Carrivick

MIDNIGHT Skyracer, the UK's powerful all-woman band with Tabitha Benedict - also of Co. Armagh's Cup O' Joe - on banjo, are now featured on Bluegrass Today by Lee Zimmerman in his 'Bluegrass beyond borders' series. The feature includes a video (also on YouTube) of their in-your-face number 'Break the rules'. Don't miss the last few seconds of the video, where the 'outlaw' nicknames of band members are listed, reminiscent of Dublin's Prison Love earlier this century.

The band, who took part in the 2018 Omagh festival, released two weeks ago their second album, Shadows on the moon (see the BIB for 7 June).

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18 June 2020

A night at the Opry

THANKS again to Des Butler for this striking image of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN, taken when Des and his wife Pat were there in 2014. Four guitars in shot, and somewhere on that stage is Russ Carson on banjo, who learned that he has definitely got the job just in the last few days...

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17 June 2020

Henhouse Prowler interviewed

ON the Deering Banjos Blog the 'Picky Fingers Podcast series, hosted by Keith Billik, featured yesterday an interview with Ben Wright (left), banjo player of the Henhouse Prowlers, based in Chicago.

The band have travelled to many countries, on behalf of the US State Department and as part of their own 'Bluegrass Ambassadors' project; and many people here in Ireland will have heard Ben and the rest of the band on one of their tours here.

Nearly a month ago, Ben Wright interviewed Greg Cahill of the Special Consensus; the seventy-minute video, in which Greg talks about his long career, the development of bluegrass in Chicago, and the latest Special C. album, can be seen on YouTube.

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A virtual Italian Bluegrass Meeting 2020

DANILO Cartia - moving spirit of bluegrass music in Rome and organiser of the Italian Bluegrass Meeting, held every autumn in Cremona, Italy, as part of the Acoustic Guitar Meeting - sends this message to the European Bluegrass Music Association:

It’s been eight years since the first edition of the Italian Bluegrass Meeting.

First of all, I would like to thank Alessio Ambrosi and his Acoustic Guitar Village for embracing my idea and for giving us the opportunity to achieve all of this. We hosted musicians from all over Italy, Europe, and illustrious guests from the United States. Non-stop live concerts, jam sessions, and workshops.

Also, thanks to Cremona Mondomusica for having us in the splendid venue of one of the best European music fairs.

Last but not least, a big thank you to all these amazing musicians, always devoted to the world of bluegrass music, who over the years cooperated with us for making this happen.

To take the place of this year's Meeting, Danilo accompanies this message with a YouTube video in which he and sixteen other musicians - all from Italy, except for one from Poland and two from France - play 'Blackberry blossom' on banjo, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, all from their various lockdown locations.

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2020 World Of Bluegrass to be a virtual event

THE International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and its active partners in the city of Raleigh, NC, announce that owing to continued danger from COVID-19, this year's World Of Bluegrass will be held as a virtual online event. To counterbalance the loss of in-person meeting, the official showcases, the Bluegrass Music Awards, and the weekend festival will be accessible free of charge through online streaming. More information on the events, the IBMA, and the other organisations involved are on this IBMA press release.

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16 June 2020

A tonic on YouTube from the Special C.

THE BIB editor writes:

The May 2020 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited announced that BU might have to skip one or more issues because of the unique conditions of this year; but it hasn't happened yet! In the June 2020 issue the lead story is Bill Conger's article 'The Special Consensus and Compass Records celebrate milestones' - and on the cover (left) are the band that has toured Ireland more times than any other in the history of bluegrass music: the Special Consensus.

On the first of this month the Special C. released a video of the title track from their new album Chicago Barn Dance, celebrating the long-running country music show that was broadcast on the WLS radio station before there was a Grand Ole Opry on WSM. This song is a real tonic in audio and even more in video, which can be seen on YouTube or in this feature by John Lawless on Bluegrass Today.

Among other features in this issue of BU: Penny Parsons writes on Les Leverett, doyen of country music photographers; Derek Halsey writes on Kristy Cox, who should have been on tour here in May; and the record review section includes albums by leading old-time and bluegrass artists who have played in Ireland, plus the new release by banjoist Nick Hornbuckle.

Update 17 June: When this post was first published, the June issue had not yet reached me. It came this morning, and the post has been amended accordingly.

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New clawhammer book from Ken Perlman

Ken Perlman (USA), father of 'melodic clawhammer', announces that his new book, Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo, has been released by Mel Bay Publications. It is dedicated to the memory of the late, great Appalachian-style fiddler and folklorist Alan Jabbour (1942-2017), with whom Ken performed and recorded for years (many will recall their music at the very first Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival at Longford in 2002). About half the tunes in the collection come from their joint repertoire, together with over fifty classic tunes from many major old-time fiddlers.

The book also gives instruction on basic and advanced techniques; tips on improving musicianship; the playing of syncopated rhythms, crooked tunes, and modal tunes; historical notes and back-stories; and access to 124 online audio tracks, featuring all the tunes and most musical illustrations. The published price is $24.99; it can be ordered through Ken's handsome new website, which has much more information, together with other news of his performing and teaching activities.

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15 June 2020

Two iconic instruments

THE BIB editor writes:

While preparing the 13 June post, I was sorry to have no ready-to-hand photo of the instruments mentioned; so thanks to Des Butler for the pictures above and below of Earl Scruggs's banjo, Gibson RB-Granada #9584-3, which he took during a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN.

The museum description of the banjo (shown above) mentions the trade of 1948/9 in which it came to Earl. This can be read if the photo is enlarged. It also mentions some of the many changes away from 'original condition', made during this instrument's hard-working life.

As a bonus, Des includes his photo of Bill Monroe's 1923 Gibson F-5 mandolin, #73987 - made when its future owner was not yet twelve years old. Des also quotes from Fred Bartenstein's essay on Lester Flatt, published in The Bluegrass Hall of Fame: inductee biographies 1991-2014 (2014) and readable here, on how relations between Flatt & Scruggs and their former boss deteriorated.

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14 June 2020

A persistent myth

There's a persistent myth that when Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt left the Blue Grass Boys early in 1948, Bill Monroe was so angry that he did not speak to them for a long while - sometimes imagined as years or even decades, depending on who tells the story.

Monroe was certainly upset, with good reason; but an impassable chasm did not immediately open up between them, and the evidence for that comes from the most famous instrument exchange in bluegrass history - when Earl Scruggs traded the 1938 Gibson RB-75 #518-1 he was then playing to Don Reno in exchange for the 1934 Gibson RB-Granada #9584-3, plus a Martin guitar to compensate for the poor condition the Granada was in. The two banjos became the main instruments of their new owners for the rest of their careers.*

The exchange has been dated to either the summer of 1948 or early 1949; the important point is that it took place when Reno was a Blue Grass Boy (Mar. 1948-July 1949), and when Monroe and his band were playing as guests on the radio show Flatt & Scruggs had in Bristol, TN/VA. The occasion is described by Earl on p. 163 of Earl Scruggs and the 5-string banjo (revised ed., 2005).

*Update 15 June: This sentence needs to be qualified in the case of Don Reno, who for the last ten years of his life performed and recorded with a Stelling Golden Cross banjo, while keeping the Gibson (known as 'Nellie') at home.

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13 June 2020

New IBMA International board member




The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) announces the retirement of members of its board of directors at the end of their three-year term of office, and the election or appointment of new members in their place.

The outgoing board member for the international side of IBMA affairs is Silvio Ferretti (above right), well known to audiences in Ireland from successive visits by Red Wine (I). The new international member is Christopher Howard-Williams (above left), chief organiser of the great La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France, and well known to the Irish musicians and bands who have performed there. More details are on the IBMA press release.

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12 June 2020

BanjoTuneWeekly - pickers are invited

The BIB editor writes:

THANKS to Bluegrass Today for news of BanjoTune Weekly, a new online project launched last week (2 June) by award-winning Tennessee-based banjo-player Tray Wellington, with a 3-minute video of two of his original compositions on the project's YouTube channel.

The series is dedicated to showcasing great banjo talents in all styles of music, and Tray invites contributions from banjo-players all over the world. This week's guest video (also on the Bluegrass Today feature) shows Gina Furtado, playing the old fiddle standard 'Back up and push'. (Gina toured Ireland twice with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers before leaving to lead her own band.)

There are several 5-string players in Ireland who would be well qualified to light up the screen, and we hope to see them as Tray's guests before long. If you would like to take part in BanjoTuneWeekly, contact him at trajanbanjo@gmail.com.

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11 June 2020

Deering Tech Live: the banjo's international family

FOLLOWING on from previous BIB posts, Deering Banjos will bring out tonight (Thurs. 11 June) an episode of 'Deering Tech Live' in which Jamie Deering, the company's CEO, will be talking about several international relatives of the banjo, including the sarode from India.

As usual, the episode will air at 3.00 p.m. PST (California time), which should be 11.00 p.m. BST. Viewers can tune in via Facebook or Instagram and leave questions in the form of comments on Facebook. Last week's 43-minute episode, in which Sam Miller, head of repairs at Deering, talked about the 6-string banjo (banjo-guitar), and about learning the 5-string as a guitar player, can be seen here.

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Two more major festivals postponed to 2021

The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC, announces with regret that the first Earl Scruggs Music Festival, scheduled for 4-5 Sept. 2020 with a very high-powered lineup (see the BIB for 28 Sept. 2019), will now be postponed to 3-4 Sept. 2021. More information is here.

On this side of the Atlantic and on the same weekend, the Didmarton Bluegrass Festival, one of the pivotal events in the calendar for bluegrass in Britain, has also been postponed to 2021.

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10 June 2020

'At the Crossroads' with Paddy Cummins

THANKS to Paddy Cummins, mandolin player with Mules & Men, for this news of a new online service to the cause of roots music in all its genres and their followers. Paddy explains:

At the Crossroads is a weekly podcast, released on Tuesdays, that focuses on musical analysis of, broadly speaking, the genres of traditional, folk and ancient music across the world. As a professional musician in the area of Irish traditional music and bluegrass, my focus may tend to gravitate towards these styles. However, my musical interest is broad and, even if my own expertise on a different musical sphere is limited, I am still inclined to host shows based on something interesting from an inquisitive perspective. Add to this the fact that I will be bringing on a host of different guests to talk about their own music and/or various styles on which they are knowledgeable. At the Crossroads is exploratory in nature as much as it is analytical and presentative. Although many themes will be musicological or ethomusicological in context and appreciated by those with an understanding or interest in research of this kind, it's also a way for those with limited musical knowledge to broaden their own horizons and palette.

On this final point, worthy of note is that interviewees, while for the most will be connected with the world of music and song, will not be exclusively tied to this cultural area. If somebody has an interesting story to tell about their life or passions that can relate to and/or inform the larger, musical side to this podcast then I'm satisfied to give them air time.

Tune in and spread the word!

Thanks to Debbie Cummins for the artwork, Luke Coffey for the technical help and, for comments, suggestions and queries the e-mail is: patrickcumminsmusic@gmail.com.

Acast: https://shows.acast.com/at-the-crossroads

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/1rdXfKeKIH23tEV9hXwXEf?si=2WX8PSHZRTGMNDkenQHgOQ

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Kristen Grainger & True North (USA) to release Ghost tattoo, 19 June

Thanks to Devon Leger of Hearth Music for the news that Kristen Grainger & True North (above) of Oregon, USA, will release their new album Ghost tattoo on 19 June. The album showcases Kristen Grainger's songwriting, which aims 'to craft song stories that illuminate extraordinary aspects of ordinary life'.

The songs on the album range from the perspective of a small-town carpenter ('Jeremiah’s tree') to 'Ghost of Abuelito', about the forcible separation of families by US authorities on the Mexican border; and 'Light by light' and 'She flies with her own wings' about the abuse and disenfranchisement of women in American culture. One track, 'Wishes and dreams', was featured on Bluegrass Today a week ago.

The band (also on Facebook) consist of Kristen Grainger (lead vocals, ukulele), Dan Wetzel (guitar, octave mandolin, banjo, vocals), Martin Stevens (mandolin, fiddle, octave mandolin, vocals), and Josh Adkins (upright bass, vocals). Audiences over here will already be familiar with them, as they've toured twice in Ireland (most recently in April last year) and were due to return in March this year till the pandemic crisis forced a cancellation.

Kristen reports that they have good friends in Galway's We Banjo 3 - Enda Scahill in particular - and Lonesome Highway has published very positive reviews of the band's last two albums.

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Benefits of online instrument workshops

Dutchland Dulcimers logo (see below)

The following news comes by courtesy of William Duddy, who is making the most of the ample opportunities at present for online instrument instruction:

Last weekend was the Quarantune Dulcimer Festival, a great weekend of top-flight tuition from such as Stephen Seifert, Bing Futch, Sarah Kate Morgan - the list goes on. However, the 'discovery' for me was Aubrey Atwater (she from Warren, Rhode Island). I had signed up for her 'Sea songs' workshop, and what a treat that was! She shared some fine songs for dulcimer accompaniment [e.g. here] which I will be working on. Next up will be the Online Old Time Banjo Festival, weekend after next, and then I've just signed up for the Dutchland Dulcimer Gathering (out of Pennsylvania) on 10/11 July.

Leaving aside the potential late nights due to time differences, I'm finding the workshops in these events far more productive than some I've endured at 'real' festivals in the past. No vexatious travel, the privacy of one's own screen, a clear view of the tutor, and nobody else noodling in the background (or foreground, worse still!).

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09 June 2020

Be part of a national tribute

Music Network announces:

As a tribute to Ireland’s frontline heroes, every adult and child in Ireland is invited to perform 'Ode to Joy (Óid don Lúcháire)', the European Anthem, on their doorstep on Sunday 21 June 2020, European Music Day.

To launch the tribute, some of Ireland’s finest musicians and singers will perform 'Ode to Joy' streamed live from the steps of the National Concert Hall, Dublin, at 6.00 p.m. Once this is finished, the nation’s musicians and music lovers will then be called on to perform their own tribute to all our frontline workers within their local communities, while maintaining physical distancing.

Music Network says: 'All genres and styles are welcome, from jazz to classical, traditional to pop, rock and rap.' It does not say that bluegrass and old-time are excluded. More details are on the Music Network e-newsletter and here.

Update: The Ode is to be played in D, at a metronome setting of 100.

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Roots music and the present ongoing discontents

Illustration from No Depression, 30 May 2020

IN her article 'A note on equality and the role of a roots music magazine', Hilary Saunders, managing editor of No Depression magazine, writes: 'I’ve always believed in the power of music as a tool for social change, so telling stories that address equality and positive change through art is literally why I do what I do.'

Her examples of articles from No Depression embodying this aim include Allison Russell's 'Artist of the decade' essay 'Renaissance woman Rhiannon Giddens transcends borders and time', which mentions the influence on Giddens's songwriting of her minstrel-style banjo, and also provides this link to her 2019 keynote speech to the Americana Music Association UK (see also her 2017 IBMA keynote speech).

Another No Depression article singled out is Jake Blount's 'Across generations, the healing power of the banjo', with its emphasis on diversity in collaboration (exemplified by the admirable old-time album Pretty little mister by himself and Libby Weitnauer) and a link to the Black Banjo Reclamation Project.

The Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble have also issued a forthright statement associating themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement.
*
On 4 June, No Depression also published Henry Carrigan's review of Ravine palace, the latest album by fiddler Christian Sedelmyer, who should have been touring here last month as a member of 10 String Symphony. Guest musicians include Sedelmyer's old boss Jerry Douglas.

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Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum to reopen 17 June

FOLLOWING the BIB post of 23 May (retailing the news that the American Banjo Museum would reopen a week ago today), we're glad to repeat Bluegrass Today's announcement that the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro, KY, will reopen on 17 June, with appropriate safety procedures for staff and visitors. The Museum (also on Facebook) will be open from 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday each week.

Update 10 June: The Birthplace of Country Music Museum announces that it will reopen tomorrow (Thurs. 11 June), with free passes for healthcare workers and their guests up to 30 Aug. This video shows the safety procedures that will be followed.

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