25 October 2021

Sonny Osborne, 29 Oct. 1937-24 Oct. 2021

The BIB learns with the deepest regret of the death yeaterday (Sun. 24 Oct.) of Sonny Osborne, one of the most original and creative banjo-players and one of the most powerful personalities in bluegrass music, who died yesterday afternoon after suffering a stroke last week. He and his brother Bobby were inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1994. Sonny retired from playing in 2004; Bill Evans compiled tributes to Sonny from his fellow musicians into 'Thanks, Chief: a Sonny Osborne appreciation', which was published in the Sept. 2007 issue of Banjo News Letter.

A fine obituary by John Curtis Goad has appeared on Bluegrass Today. It includes three videos, one of which is the medley of bluegrass tunes which Sonny recently considered a good example of the best of his playing.

Two splendid photos of the two giants of bluegrass banjo who have died this autumn, Sonny and his friend and contemporary Bill Emerson (22 Jan. 1938-21 Aug. 2021), can be seen on Bill Emerson's Facebook. The black-and-white one dates from the 1970s, and the colour photo (almost certainly) from not long before Sonny presented Bill with his induction into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame two years ago.

© Richard Hawkins

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22 October 2021

Norman Blake's Day by day out today (22 Oct.)

Thanks to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Hearth Music, and No Depression for reminders that Day by day, the latest album from legendary guitarist Norman Blake, is being released today; for anyone who pre-ordered it, your copy is being shipped out around about now. See also the BIB for 21 Sept. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings write that the album 'is a rich, poignant send-off to one of folk music’s most enduring voices', but we hope they are being premature.

© Richard Hawkins

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Butch Waller, Bill Monroe, and 'The little beggarman' (update)

The BIB editor writes:

The latest 'California report' in Dave Berry's ongoing series on Bluegrass Today is subtitled 'Butch Waller on High Country and Bill Monroe'. Butch Waller (left) is of course the leader of High Country, the premier hardcore California bluegrass band that took part in the first Athy bluegrass festival in 1991, returning by popular demand in 1993, and then again fifteen years later; in the photo, Butch is shown on stage at Athy in 2008.

Berry's feature is a major interview, covering the full range of Butch's career from his schooldays onwards, the people he's played with (including the full list of past and present members of High Country), the bands he's been in besides High Country, his instruments, his influences, what makes a band last fifty years, and much more. Any bluegrass enthusiast should benefit from reading it. Bill Monroe is foremost among the influences on Butch and his playing and singing, and this interview would be well worth reading just for what Butch has to say about him. Five videos are included. One point is relevant to Ireland - Butch remembers:

My dad played the harmonica and loved to sing. 'Buffalo gals' and 'She’ll be comin’ around the mountain' were familiar songs. He also could sing all the words to the fiddle tune 'Little beggar man' — I don’t know where he learned it, but he studied law in Virginia and his family was from Kentucky.

Is it beyond possibility that Butch's father may have learned the words from the singing of Sarah Makem and Tommy Makem of Co. Armagh on the 1956 Tradition LP The lark in the morning? Wikipedia calls this 'the first album-length recording of Irish music to be recorded in Ireland'.

Update 24 Oct.: Last year Chris Henry interviewed Butch about Monroe-style mandolin, with an emphasis on less-familiar tunes. You can watch the forty-minute interview on YouTube.
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The BIB mentioned on 13 September that forthcoming books on Bill Monroe would include bassist Mark Hembree's On the bus with Bill Monroe: my five-year ride with the Father of Blue Grass, scheduled to be published by the University of Illinois Press in April 2022 at $19.95 in paperback and $14.95 as an e-book. For more on the book and its author, see Richard Thompson's feature on Bluegrass Today two days ago.

© Richard Hawkins

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21 October 2021

... and yet more

Mandolinist Nate Burie is leaving the Special Consensus after two years. The pandemic deprived us of the chance of seeing the band live with Nate in, but he took part in the award-winning recording 'Chicago Barn Dance'. In John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today yesterday, Greg Cahill sends Nate a warm goodbye and welcomes the new member, Michael Prewitt, originally from Kentucky. Till Michael can join the band, Special C. veteran Rick Faris will be filling in on mandolin.
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Steve Kaufman, three-time National Champion flatpicker at the Winfield, KS, festival, and one of the most experienced guitar teachers in the world, has opened registration for his next series of live all-level instruction classes, which begin on 27 Oct. Steve's system of Acoustic Kamps include two Flatpicking Kamps, Fingerpicking Kamp, Old Time Banjo, Bluegrass Banjo, Old Time Fiddle, Bluegrass Fiddle, Bass Kamps, Songwriting Kamp, Vocals Kamp, Mountain Dulcimer Kamp, Hammered Dulcimer, Celtic Guitar, Bluegrass and Old Time Rhythm Guitar, Resophonic Guitar and Mandolin Kamp. Full details are on his website.
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Bluegrass Unlimited magazine includes in its fiftieth online newsletter a playlist of recordings by bluegrass bands from outside the USA. The last three on the list are We Banjo 3, Cup O' Joe, and Midnight Skyracer, the UK band of which Tabitha Benedict is a member.
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Chris Wadsworth (executive director of the non-profit FreshGrass Foundation, which publishes No Depression roots music magazine and supports the Steve Martin Banjo Prize), reports that after one week the Foundation is a third of the way towards the target of $20,000 for its fundraising campaign, which ends on Thanksgiving (25 Nov.) this year. You can support the campaign either by a subscription to No Depression or by a donation to the Foundation.
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The Deering Banjo Company announce that the featured artist on Deering Live tonight (Thursday 21 Oct.) is multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and composer Bennett Sullivan of North Carolina. John Lawless of Bluegrass Today writes: 'Especially noteworthy is the originality of Bennett’s compositions. They hew closely enough to recognizable stylistic patterns to be comfortable for anyone who enjoys banjo music, with plenty of quirks and twists for those who listen in more detail.' The interview, at 11.00 p.m. Irish time, can be viewed on Deering Live and YouTube.
© Richard Hawkins

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20 October 2021

... and more

The Engelhardt Music Group (EMG) announces today the release of a new single from Fast Track, made up of Dale Perry (banjo, bass vocals), Steve Day (fiddle, vocals), Ron Spears (bass, vocals), Jesse Brock (mandolin, vocals), and Duane Sparks (guitar, vocals). Ron and Jesse have both toured in Ireland in the past.

The single - 'Good news', from their ten-track gospel album of the same name (right above) - is a traditional gospel song, which is given a classic bluegrass gospel quartet treatment with guitar accompaniment in 'sock' style. It can be heard on the EMG press release. The album is now available on all digital platforms and physically from the EMG website.

© Richard Hawkins

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US news (mostly about past visitors)

Joe Mullins, whose Radio Ramblers topped the bill at the last live Omagh festival, sends word of the Industrial Strength Bluegrass festival, to take place on 11-13 Nov. in Wilmington, OH. This follows upon the 2021 IBMA Album of the Year award to the album of the same name from Smithsonian Folkways, which Joe produced. As the poster image (right) shows, the lineup is impressive. More details are on this e-newsletter.
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Doyle Lawson (77), who topped the Omagh bill with his band Quicksilver earlier this century, has announced his intention to retire as bandleader and full-time performer at the end of 2021, having been a professional musician since he was 18 with leading groups, and leader for over forty years of one of the most influential and respected bands in bluegrass music. From John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today, it looks as if the bluegrass world will continue to benefit from Doyle Lawson's experience in one way or another.
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Danny Paisley first played in Ireland in 1995 when the band Southern Grass was led by his father Bob, and led it himself at the 2008 Omagh festival. He shared the 2021 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award with Del McCoury. He has now released a video of the Mark 'Brink' Brinkman song 'Date with an angel', from his current album Bluegrass troubadour on Pinecastle Records. You can watch the video on this Pinecastle press release, on Bluegrass Today, or on YouTube.
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Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, who toured here in the autumn of 2019, have now released a new album, Make each second last, on the Mountain Home Music Company, with their full post-tour lineup of Chris (guitar), Mark Stoffel (mandolin), Marshall Wilborn (bass), and Grace van 't Hof (banjo, ukulele). The first five singles from the album have already reached #1 on Bluegrass Today’s airplay chart. More details, together with a video of 'Riding the Chief' and links to other songs from the album, are on the Mountain Home press release.
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In a feature on the website of the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, TN/VA, old-time musician Brad Kolodner tells how he came into contact with the music of Clyde Davenport of Monticello, KY, 'a prime example of how playing old-time music isn’t just a desire but a purpose', producing 'the kind of trance-like state that can be hard to tap into but once you’re there, time seems to stand still'.
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Rick Faris, well known over here from touring with the Special Consensus, left the band earlier this year to pursue his solo career, having already released a debut solo album, Breaking in lonesome. His second album, The next mountain, is due for release on 5 November. Samples of three tracks can be heard in Lee Zimmerman's feature on Bluegrass Today.

© Richard Hawkins

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19 October 2021

John Prine as Gaeilge

For fans of the late John Prine (his importance to the bluegrass world is shown here), the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, presents 'Where the angels sing: the John Prine project' (Tonscadal John Prine: Áit a gCanann na hAingil). It comprises, to quote the theatre,

a selection of Prine’s very best songs [...] rendered into exquisite Irish by Art Hughes and Gabriel Rosenstock. They are performed live by Liam Ó Maonlaí (vocals, piano, harmonica), Peter O’Toole (guitar) and Hilary Bow (vocals). Margaret Lonergan has created screen projections of the lyrics with beautiful images. Produced by IMRAM Féile Litríochta Gaeilge.

Tickets (€25) can be bought online.

© Richard Hawkins

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The latest BBN

The latest issue (no. 95, autumn 2021) of British Bluegrass News (BBN), journal of the British Bluegrass Music Asociation, maintains its high standards of presentation and solid content. The features this time include four 'event retrospectives' on live bluegrass and old-time festivals that have been held this year in the UK and a similar feature on a 'music camp' event, all of which seem to have been very successful. Sierra Hull is the US artist featured by Chris Courogen, while Maria Wallace of the True North Music agency writes about Leanne Thorose, Emma John, and herself, all British nominees for IBMA awards this year. (Did you know, by the way, that Leanne Thorose has also played lead fiddle in the Essence of Ireland dance show?)

Among other features, Jack Baker's 'Tab corner' in this issue is devoted to the tune 'Gold rush' as a tribute to its composer, the late Byron Berline (see the BIB for 10 and 13 July). Tabs are given for fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and banjo.

© Richard Hawkins

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18 October 2021

Long Way Home gigs in Mallow, Co. Cork, 24 and 29 Oct. 2021- AND new EP

Thanks to Owen Schinkel of Long Way Home for this news:

We have a few more in-person indoor gigs coming up with our duo Long Way Home. Both gigs came together fairly last-minute; apologies for the late heads-up, that now seems to be the 'new normal' in regards to scheduling.
We will also have with us physical copies of our brand new debut EP which was released on 1 October. The EP is called A few favorites and is also available in our own webshop and bandcamp and can of course be listened to on all the streaming platforms.

We're also very thankful that some of the songs from the EP have been played by Ellen Cranitch on her program Vespertine on RTÉ lyric fm.
Long Way Home: Owen Schinkel and Kylie Kay Anderson

© Richard Hawkins

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17 October 2021

More on the Gold Tone 'Bluegrass Heart' banjo

On 10 September the BIB reported on the announcement by the Gold Tone Music Group of the release of their newest banjo: the Mastertone™ 'Bluegrass Heart' Béla Fleck signature model. It is scheduled for release early in 2022, and can be pre-ordered through the Gold Tone website. In addition to the details given there, readers who are interested in this instrument should consider having a look at two discussions on Banjo Hangout.

The first, 'The real lowdown on the upcoming Gold Tone OB-Béla "Bluegrass Heart"', opens with detailed statements by Wayne Rogers, president of Gold Tone Instruments, and Marc Horowitz, originator of the project to produce this instrument. These, amplified in response to questions, make it clear that choices were made about every part of the banjo in order to meet Béla Fleck's stringent requirements for a touring instrument that would, in effect, replicate his irreplaceable main banjo.

The second discussion, 'Bela Fleck banjo specs', considers how far Fleck's individual requirements as embodied in this instrument (in details such as string spacing and bridge height) relate to those of other players, and to personal playing styles.

© Richard Hawkins

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15 October 2021

Singer/ songwriter Zoom concert from Arklow Roots Music, 23 Oct. 2021

Thanks to Brendan O'Regan of Arklow Roots Music in Co. Wicklow, for the news that he will present an online concert on Zoom on Saturday 23 October, with US singer/ songwriter Jesse Terry, supported by Gillian Tuite from Co. Meath and Lynda Cullen from Co. Wexford - three singer/ songwriters in the round. Brendan adds: 'Those interested need to e-mail to book.' The image above is from the Facebook Event Page.

© Richard Hawkins

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Phil Leadbetter, 31 Mar. 1962-14 Oct. 2021

The BIB learns with great regret of the death of Phil Leadbetter, three-time winner of the IBMA Resonator Guitar Player of the Year award and - much more than that - held in affectionate regard throughout the bluegrass world, as shown in his nickname 'Uncle Phil'. He performed in Ireland in 1999 as a member of J.D. Crowe & the New South, in their historic two concert days organised by John Nyhan. Over the last ten years since 2011, he had come undaunted through five distinct bouts of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

More details are on John Lawless's article 'Phil Leadbetter passes – everyone’s Uncle Phil' on Bluegrass Today. The article includes two videos, one of which is a brief spoof of 'The sound of music', phone-filmed by Ashby Frank, whom many in Ireland will recall as mandolinist with the Special Consensus. Further details of Phil's life are on his website (with photos), on Wikipedia, and on Bluegrass Bios.

© Richard Hawkins

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Tradfest in Dublin, 26-30 Jan. 2022

The organising team of Tradfest Temple Bar, held annually in January before the pandemic, announce that tickets are now on sale for the next festival, which will be held on 26-30 Jan. 2022. In past years, Tradfest programmes have included some performers from genres related to bluegrass, old-time, or traditional country music. As it stands at present, the 2022 programme appears to have no such acts; but this may perhaps change.

© Richard Hawkins

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14 October 2021

Jake Schepps on Deering Live TONIGHT (Thurs. 14 Oct.)

The Deering Banjo Company announce that the featured artist on Deering Live tonight (Thursday 14 Oct.) will be 'banjo renaissance man' Jake Schepps:

Jake has his hands in many banjo- and bluegrass-related projects such as the Banjo Summit, the upcoming tab book for the recently released bluegrass album by Bela Fleck, My bluegrass heart, and much more. Tune in to hear Jake play, find out what he is working on, and more! Also ask him questions in the live chat.

The interview will be on air at 11.00 p.m. Irish time on Deering Live and YouTube. Deering also announce a new line of T-shirts in honour of their banjo maintenance king Chad Kopotic. Perhaps Conor Daly, Dublin's go-to man for banjo setup, might consider something similar?

© Richard Hawkins

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13 October 2021

Billy Strings interviewed on the BGS

As the BIB mentioned a week ago, Billy Strings is the Bluegrass Situation's Artist of the Month for October. That and the awards for Entertainer of the Year and Guitar Player of the Year in the 2021 IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards are only a few of the honours he has received. His new album Renewal has put him at #1 on Billboard's Bluegrass, New Artist Albums, and Emerging Artist charts.

The Bluegrass Situation has now published both parts of a two-part interview with him by Dacey Orr Sivewright. Part 1 includes YouTube videos of the songs 'Heartbeat of America', 'Know it all', and 'Thunder', and part 2 has videos of 'Fire line', 'Globe', and 'In the morning light'.

© Richard Hawkins

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12 October 2021

Respected tour agency back in operation

Thanks for this news from Loudon Temple, who has often appeared on the BIB in the past as head of the UK's Brookfield Knights agency and its companion promotional organisation, Bloodygreatpr. When lockdowns began, he was obliged to suspend these operations and turn to travel writing (see the BIB for 8 June and 20 July 2020). He is now preparing to resume organising tours for late 2022 and all of 2023, and writes:

We are determined to rebuild what was lost, and reestablish the good reputation Brookfield Knights had gained, mostly, thanks to the calibre of artists we were working with. [...] We continue to represent artists we admire greatly, who have benefited from well coordinated publicity campaigns aimed at developing and enhancing their profiles. Back in the game and doing it right to make sure everyone involved feels it was worth the effort.

The bands he has in view for tours between late August and early November next year are Cua and Stereo Naked, neither of whom come within the bluegrass field. Loudon will nonetheless be glad to hear from promoters who are interested, and he can be contacted here.

© Richard Hawkins

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11 October 2021

Mile Twelve news

If and when John Nyhan organises another tour in Ireland for Boston's Mile Twelve, it looks as if the band will not be the same as audiences here have seen in their past visits. Fiddler Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (Fiddle Player of the Year in the 2021 IBMA awards) and mandolinist David Benedict are leaving the band, to be replaced by Ella Jordan and Korey Brodsky, both of whom are Berklee College of Music graduates. The partings are completely amicable. More details, together with statements by the departing and the remaining members, are in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.

© Richard Hawkins

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Mala Oreen: crowdfunding for new album

The BIB reported on 26 Aug. that our Swiss friend Mala Gassman (right), who has toured Ireland several times with her band Mala & Fyrmoon, now has the stage name Mala Oreen (also on Facebook).

Mala's new album Awake is scheduled for release on 5 Nov. 2021; those who helped in its making include the Nashville producer, artist, and photographer Neilson Hubbard. The ten songs (in Mala's words) 'come from the heart and tell stories about inner growth, about the uncompromising trust in yourself, hope and love, courage and healing'. The Crowdfunding campaign to cover costs will run to the end of this month. More details, and a link to Mala's new single 'Threshold', are in her autumn e-newsletter.

© Richard Hawkins

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Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day

In the USA, today (11 October) is both Columbus day and Indigenous Peoples' day. To mark the occasion, the BIB carries the following links:
The YouTube version of the Baker recording is notable for including a copy of a photo of Kenny that (we think) was taken by Niall Toner in Belfast in 1975.

© Richard Hawkins

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10 October 2021

Two Time Polka: October gigs

Welcome news from Ray Barron of Two Time Polka, who announces:

After such a long break, we're delighted to let you know of a few upcoming gigs.

Sat. 16 Oct.: The Oliver Plunkett, Cork city. Upstairs: 'The Frisky Whisky Bar'. 8.00-10.00 p.m. As current restrictions will still be in place (table service etc.), a pre-booking fee of €5 is required via their website. Tel. 021 4222779

Cork Jazz Festival
Sat. 23 Oct.: Henchys Bar, St Luke's, Cork. 6.00-8.00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 021 4507833
Sun. 24 Oct.: The Briar Rose, Douglas Rd, Cork. Start 9.30 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 021 4291686.
Mon. 25 Oct.: The Briar Rose, Douglas Rd, Cork. Start 6,00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 021 4291686

Looking forward to playing and seeing you all again.
Regards & thanks,
Ray & TTP

© Richard Hawkins

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09 October 2021

News from past visitors

The next two Zoom lessons in the new season of banjo 'clinics' by Ken Perlman, godfather of 'melodic clawhammer banjo', are on syncopated patterns of double-thumbing (25 Oct.) and melodic fingering shapes in open G-tuning, up to the ninth fret (15 Nov.).

Between those dates, at the 24th Annual Banjo Gathering in Williamsburg, VA, on 4-7 Nov., Ken will be presenting a talk entitled 'Banjo rappers: comparing & contrasting styles of some well-known pre-"revival" 20th-century downpickers', a category that includes Tom Ashley, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Rufus Crisp, Hobart Smith, and Wade Ward. Ken also sends a reminder of the next Suwannee Banjo Camp, which will be held on 10-13 Mar. 2022. All Ken's previous lessons are available as videos at $25 each from his Encore Collection.
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Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, headliners at the 2019 Omagh festival, accepted the Album of the Year award for Industrial strength bluegrass, the Smithsonian Records album produced by Joe, at this year's IBMA Awards Show. The band will host the Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival in Wilmington, OH, on 11-13 Nov. More information, and photos from IBMA's World Of Bluegrass 2021, are on the band's latest e-newsletter.
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Valerie Smith, who brought her dynamic band Liberty Pike to Ireland some years back, announces the release of her latest album, Renaissance, on the Bell Buckle Records label. The album can be heard and bought (download $15.00) from her website. Liberty Pike now includes Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes (mandolin, vocals), Wally Hughes (fiddle, vocals, guitar, dobro), both of whom have visited Ireland in other bands, together with Joe Zauner (banjo, guitar) and Tom Gray (bass), a member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
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Lorraine Jordan sends the news that in addition to the free access her website affords to the videoed concerts at her Coffee and Cafe venue, there is a link to Rachel Liebling's 95-minute 1991 film High lonesome: the story of bluegrass music on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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07 October 2021

Bluegrass and tommy guns

The BIB editor writes:

Thanks to Denis McCarthy for his comment on yesterday's post 'The Sackville String Band c.1985 on video'. In response to Denis's two questions:

(1) Yes, the '1920s gangster' motif was anachronistic, but the Sackvilles were at least in good company. Blame it on the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde and its use of Earl Scruggs's 'Foggy Mountain breakdown' on the soundtrack. (The story of how that came about is in chapter 12 (pp 101-116) of Thomas Goldsmith's 2019 book Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain breakdown: the making of an American classic.)

To benefit from the success of the film and the music, Flatt & Scruggs themselves brought out the 1968 LP The story of Bonnie & Clyde, with new songs written by Tom T. Hall (see image above, showing the whole band in gangster outfits; Lester holds the tommy gun, and Earl the violin case). Among other bands who rode this wave, Oregon's Sawtooth Mountain Volunteers (later known as the Sawtooth Mountain Boys) appeared similarly dressed, complete with car and moll, on the front cover of the May 1968 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited.

(2) I last saw Jimmy Kelly over twelve years ago in Dalkey, and would be glad to hear from him again. As the Sackville videos show, he was a highly talented musician - the only Irish bluegrass musician, as far as I know, to have published an instruction method for 5-string banjo - and his withdrawal from the scene is greatly to be regretted. Also performing on bluegrass banjo in the early 1970s were Brendan Sheridan from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, and Brendan O'Reilly of the band Casterbridge Union.

© Richard Hawkins

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06 October 2021

Pickers in the news

Following yesterday's post about the winners of this year's Steve Martin Banjo Prize, it has been announced that the winners are Alan Munde (left above) and New Orleans jazz tenor-banjo player Don Vappie (right; featured on Deering Live earlier this year). Each will receive $25,000.
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Nora Brown was interviewed on Deering Live on 27 May (see the BIB for that date). She has now been interviewed for Fretboard Journal by the editor, Jason Verlinde, in 'The old-time mastery of Nora Brown'.
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Also on the Fretboard Journal website: a video premiere of guitarist Jordan Tice (who, like his parents, has played bluegrass in Ireland), playing his composition 'Cats and kitties'. The video went on to YouTube yesterday.
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In last week's IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards, Billy Strings received the awards for Entertainer of the Year and Guitar Player of the Year. The Bluegrass Situation (BGS) online magazine has now announced him as its Artist of the Month for October, with a video of his 'Heartbeat of America' (also on YouTube) and a playlist of twenty-two numbers from his recordings. A video feature on Billy Strings and Del McCoury singing 'Midnight on the stormy deep' together (with Billy on mandolin) is also on BGS, and a two-part interview will follow later this month.

© Richard Hawkins

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The Sackville String Band c.1985 on video


The BIB editor writes:

Many thanks to Liam Kennedy of the Acoustic Kitchen Dublin, and to Derek Copley, for these fine professionally-shot videos of two configurations of the Sackville String Band c.1985. In both, Liam is on mandolin, Jimmy Kelly on 5-string banjo, and Bill Whelan (who has since been doyen of the old-time music scene in Ireland for decades) on upright bass.

'Mail bag blues' (above) was shot during a TV appearance by the Sackvilles. I am guessing that it is the earlier of the two videos, because Colin Beggan is on guitar and lead vocals, the position he held in the Mk II, Mk III, and Mk IV Sackville lineups. Paul Kelly is on fiddle.

In 'Low and lonely' (below) Liam is on lead vocals and Tommy Feeney on guitar and harmony vocals. The 'gangster/ speakeasy' backgrounds were Dublin dockland and Casper & Gambini's restaurant, then on Wicklow St.


© Richard Hawkins

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05 October 2021

Steve Martin Banjo Prize: 2021 winners announced on Deering Live, Wed. 6 Oct.

The Deering Banjo Company announce that the awards for this year's Steve Martin Banjo Prize will be made on Deering Live on Wednesday 6 Oct. at 11.00 p.m. Irish time. The event, which can also be watched on YouTube, is sponsored by Deering, the Freshgrass Foundation, and Compass Records.

© Richard Hawkins

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The past week at IBMA WOB 2021

The past week was dominated by the most important annual event in bluegrass music, the five-day IBMA World Of Bluegrass in Raleigh, NC. A prodigious wealth of fine photos were taken by Bill Reaves, Tara Linhardt, and Bill Warren, and can be seen on Bluegrass Today in various posts throughout the week. The collection of photos from Thursday's Awards Show includes nice ones of Donna and Roni Stoneman, who accepted the induction of the Stoneman Family into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. John Lawless, in an article giving the list of award winners, wrote: '... nothing could top the spirited mini-set from the Stonemans. Ronnie and Donna are as entertaining as ever, and they joked and picked through a hilarious mashup of "House of the Rising Sun" with "Amazing grace", followed by "Bluegrass breakdown".' The award winners include many who, like Roni, have played in Ireland.

Alison Krauss, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, is interviewed by Stacy Chandler for No Depression magazine in the article 'Alison Krauss on daydreams, Tony Rice, and the road to the Bluegrass Hall of Fame'. It is now twenty-seven years since she and Union Station first performed in Dublin.

© Richard Hawkins

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04 October 2021

Shane Hennessy's October newsletter

Sound check in Carlow (photo: Rachel Doyle)

Shane Hennessy, the outstanding Carlow guitarist, sends his Oct. 2021 e-newsletter, reporting successful performances in the George Bernard Shaw Theatre at Carlow on 12 September, at the Warsaw Fingerstyle Festival in Poland, and showcasing at IBMA's World Of Bluegrass (where he played 'probably the best guitar I've ever owned', a D-model from Ciaran McNally of Armagh). He will be instructing at the Guitar Workshop Week in Altea, Spain, in Feb. 2022.

Shane is also available for playing at wedding services and receptions, and his Fretboard Atlas guitar instruction channel now has over 500 videos. Much more information is on the e-newsletter.

© Richard Hawkins

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Bill Keith and Earl Scruggs and the 5-string banjo

The BIB editor writes:

Earl Eugene Scruggs (1924-2012) and William Bradford 'Bill' Keith (1939-2015) were the two most influential bluegrass banjo players of the second half of the twentieth century. In the mid 1960s they collaborated: Bill's meticulous analyses of Earl's playing, transcribed into tablatures, were combined with text by Earl and Burt Brent to form the highly successful book Earl Scruggs and the 5-string banjo. The collaboration did not have a happy ending.

A full biography of Bill Keith has not yet been published. The one publication to date that has given an account of what followed the success of Earl Scruggs and the 5-string banjo, centring on Bill's own words, is Barry R. Willis's America's music: bluegrass. A history of bluegrass music in the words of its pioneers (1997). The relevant section of the book can now also be read in the fourth and latest instalment of Barry's blog.

A small comment: Barry wrote that, when Bill Keith joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, 'Because Monroe didn’t want two Bills in the band, he always called him "Brad” after his middle name, Bradford.' Keith himself has made it clear that this was not imposed in any 'I'm-the-only-Bill-around-here' spirit; Monroe suggested it to him because of possible confusion in the band from having two people with the same first name.

© Richard Hawkins

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Celtic Connections 2022 - lineup and ticket sales imminent (UPDATE)

The organisers of Celtic Connections, 'the UK's premier celebration of Celtic music', announce that next year's event will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, from 20 January to 6 February inclusive. The lineup will be announced at 7.00 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday 5 Oct.), and may include some US artists who might also be planning to visit Ireland...

You can become a Celtic Rover and enjoy priority booking for shows in the Main Auditorium of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Tickets for Celtic Rovers go on sale tomorrow at 7.00 p.m., and for the general public at 10.00 a.m. on Wednesday. Celtic Connections is also on Facebook.

Update 5 Oct.: The Celtic Connections programme and lineup can now be seen online. Acts in the 'Americana' section include the Lonesome Ace Stringband on 22 Jan.; Aoife O'Donovan on 26 Jan.; Rachel Baiman on 1 Feb.; the Transatlantic Sessions on 4 and 6 Feb.; and The Dead South on 21 Mar..

© Richard Hawkins

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Celebrating John Prine: live-stream from Galway TONIGHT

Thanks again to Des Butler for this news commemorating singer/ songwriter John Prine, who died last year (see the BIB for 9 Apr. 2020).

For John Prine fans: 'Souvenirs', the first remembrance and celebration of John's life and work, will be live-streamed from the Mick Lally Theatre in Galway on Monday 4 Oct. at 7.30 p.m. and on demand from 7 to 10 Oct. Booking on Johnprine.com and thehellointherefoundation.org.

Performers on the night include Mary Black, Paul Brady, Sharon Shannon, Mick Flannery, Susan O'Neill, Tommy Prine, Little John Nee, and Declan O’Rourke. John Creedon will be MC for the evening.

© Richard Hawkins

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03 October 2021

Rye River Band live at the Brazen Head, Dublin, from 23 Oct. 2021

Thanks to Pat Burgess of the Rye River Band (right) from Leixlip, Co. Kildare, for this welcome news:

Just a note to let you know that the Rye River Band are returning to their well worn residency in the Brazen Head, Dublin 2, on Saturday night 23 October with a 9.00 p.m. start. It’s been a while to say the least, but great to restart again. Thank you for your wonderful support for our live streams during lockdown.

Rye River's recording of 'Copperhead Road' can now be heard on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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30 September 2021

Bluegrass dominates the Bluegrass Situation's Weekly Dispatch

The latest Weekly Dispatch, issued by the Bluegrass Situation (BGS) online magazine, pays its respects to this week's IBMA World Of Bluegrass by presenting features on Fair Black Rose, a diverse young Arizona string band who are on the showcase schedule; the five nominations for the 2021 Instrumental Recording of the Year award; the full lists of nominees for all awards, and of inductees into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame; and the official video of the Punch Brothers playing 'Church Street blues' from their new album Hell on Church Street. The video can also be seen on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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Bill Evans on Deering Live TONIGHT

The Deering Banjo Company announce:

Bill Evans is an internationally recognized five-string banjo life force. As a performer, teacher, writer and composer, he brings a deep knowledge, intense virtuosity, and contagious passion to all things banjo, with thousands of music fans and banjo students from all over the world in a music career that now spans over thirty-five years. Join us to hear him play, tell some stories, and give some banjo playing tips!

Bill, who toured Ireland some years ago with fiddle star Megan Lynch Chowning, can be seen and heard on Deering Live or YouTube tonight (Thurs. 30 Sept.) at 11.00 p.m. Irish time.

© Richard Hawkins

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29 September 2021

Danny Burns prepares for his third album

Danny Burns, who was touring and performing in Ireland shortly before the first lockdown took effect, announces that he has signed with the Wilson Pickins Promotion agency of Nashville, TN, for full service publicity and booking. His first two albums, North country and Hurricane, have been warmly received, and he is starting work on a third for Bonfire Music Group. Danny is also on Facebook. More details are on the Wilson Pickins press release.

© Richard Hawkins

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'What is folklore today?' from the Bitter Southerner

The Bitter Southerner (BS) online magazine has published 'What is folklore today?', in which BS guest editors April and Lance Ledbetter talk with Sarah Bryan, executive director of the North Carolina Folklife Institute and editor of the Old-Time Herald, and Emily Hilliard, program officer of Folk and Traditional Arts at Mid Atlantic Arts and former West Virginia state folklorist at the West Virginia Humanities Council, about 'tradition, authenticity, validation, and building creative cultural communities in our digital age'.

The Ledbetters created the Atlanta-based organisation Dust-to-Digital, dedicated to preserving and making accessible obscure recordings. The discussion touches on many aspects of folklore in the South that relate to old-time musicians in particular, but also to humanity in general: traditions of survival and coping with disaster, for instance, or what to do about traditions that have undesirable aspects (quote: 'Folklore isn't inherently good').

Associated with the interview are features on the Ledbetters themselves; photos taken by Margo Newark Rosenbaum, wife of Art Rosenbaum; and a playlist from the Dust-to-Digital collections.

© Richard Hawkins

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28 September 2021

'Browngrass' playlist on YouTube

Thanks once again to our friend Joe McKernan (right) and his family in New South Wales, Australia, whose 'browngrass' music has been featured several times on the BIB in the past. Joe reports that the Bruderhof Music YouTube channel now has a 'Browngrass/ Folk' playlist, comprising the six original McKernan family songs that have so far appeared on video.

The most recent of these, added last Saturday (25 Sept.), is 'The truck driver's morning devotion', written by Joe's son Donal, sung by Donal and his wife Cornelia, and with notes including the complete lyrics and Joe's account of the circumstances in which the song came to be written.

© Richard Hawkins

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Commemorating Ken Seaman

John Lawless reports on Bluegrass Today that a memorial service for the late Ken Seaman will be held on Thursday (30 Sept.) at Foundations Church in Loveland, CO, at 3:00 p.m. local time. A meeting in celebration of Ken's life is planned for a later date, for which details will be announced.

The Bluegrass Today feature includes more biographical details, a tribute from Pete Wernick, and the video of the Bluegrass Patriots at Athy in 2003 which Tony O'Brien posted on the Woodbine YouTube channel on Saturday (25 Sept.).

© Richard Hawkins

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27 September 2021

Past visitors at WOB 2021

Fans of Chicago's Henhouse Prowlers (right) from their previous appearances in Ireland will be glad to know that they'll be conspicuous this week at the IBMA World Of Bluegrass (WOB) in Raleigh, NC - beginning, in fact, this evening (WOB officially opens tomorrow) at the Kickoff Party, in the Raleigh Convention Center tomorrow and Wednesday, and more gigs through to the Capitol Stage on Friday evening. Their banjo player Ben Wright will also be MC at the two days of the IBMA International Showcase, sponsored by the Bluegrass Ambassadors organisation. The Prowlers and Bluegrass Ambassadors will be at Booth 115 in the Exhibit Hall throughout WOB.
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Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, headliners at the 2019 Omagh festival, will also be very active, especially on Thursday at the Special Awards Luncheon and the main evening Awards Show. Their 'Hear Jerusalem calling' is nominated for the Gospel Recorded Performance award, and the album Industrial strength bluegrass, produced by Joe Mullins, is nominated for Album of the Year. More detail is on the East Public Relations press release.

© Richard Hawkins

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25 September 2021

Ken Seaman, 1942-2021

The BIB editor writes:

Thanks to Tony O'Brien for the sad news of the death of Ken Seaman (right) of the Bluegrass Patriots, one of the most distinguished bluegrass bands west of the Mississippi river. Earlier this evening Tony posted the news on Facebook, writing:

Another great bluegrass banjo player, band leader & promoter is gone with the sudden passing of Ken Seaman of The Bluegrass Patriots, Colorado. A much loved band with Irish audiences especially the Athy bluegrass festival. Ken will be a great loss to his family and the Colorado bluegrass community. I have known Ken since 1995 and proud to call him a friend.

RIP Ken and condolances to Mary & all the family.


Tony attached to his Facebook post a video (added today to the Woodbine YouTube channel) of the Patriots at the 2003 Athy festival, singing 'When you and I were young, Maggie', which Tony considers his own favourite song, and the favourite of all the Patriots - and which, I believe, they learned from the singing of Clem O'Brien, seen to the left in the video. The video also shows how Ken's energy kept him moving on stage - stomping on faster numbers.

The photo above was taken in early January 2019, when Ken was one of six musicians honoured with the title of Pioneers of Missouri Bluegrass Music - he was raised in Shannon county, Missouri, and was among the first Scruggs-style banjo players in the Ozarks, following closely behind Doug Dillard. John Lawless wrote on Bluegrass Today: 'No matter where he went, Ken still called the Ozarks home.'

Update 27 Sept.: Thanks again to Tony for the news that an obituary is on Ken's Facebook.

© Richard Hawkins

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24 September 2021

'Tradition now' at the NCH

The BIB reported on 9 Sept. the autumn concert programme of the National Concert Hall (NCH) in Dublin. This includes the 'Tradition now' series, which begins tomorrow (Sat. 25 Sept.) with two concerts celebrating the enduring influence of the composer Seán Ó Riada (1931-1971) on a diverse range of Irish music fifty years after his untimely death. The concerts are at 2.00 p.m. and 8.00 p.m., with a free livestream on nch.ie.

It may be argued that the impact of Ó Riada's ensemble setting of Irish traditional music for Ceoltóirí Chualann, followed by the Chieftains, is one of the factors leading to the rapprochement between Irish music and bluegrass in the last forty-odd years.

© Richard Hawkins

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22 September 2021

Béla Fleck: two more Artist of the Month features on BGS (added note)

It was announced a fortnight ago that Béla Fleck would be the Bluegrass Situation's Artist of the Month for September 2021. The two features on him by David Menconi can now be read online: the 16 Sept. article includes videos of 'Round Rock', 'Vertigo', and 'Slippery eel'; the one for 17 Sept. includes videos for 'Wheels up' and 'Revenge of the tentacle dragon'.

BIB editor's note: David Menconi's published writings include Step it up and go: the story of North Carolina popular music (2020), the first chapter of which is devoted to Charlie Poole. Menconi mentions that 'Some thirty-five years after Poole's death, in 1966, an old-time music fan from Northern Ireland raised enough money to pay for gravestones for Poole and Posey Rorer.' The 'old-time music fan' was the late Rodney McElrea of Omagh, Co. Tyrone, world-class collector and walking encyclopedia of country music (see the BIB for 28 June and 5 July 2017).

© Richard Hawkins

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8th Italian Bluegrass Meeting: update

Three weeks ago the BIB mentioned the Italian Bluegrass Meeting, which will be held for the eighth time in Cremona this coming Saturday (25 Sept.) as part of the Acoustic Guitar Village event.

Thanks to the Bluegrass Italia Channel and the European Bluegrass Music Association Facebook, we can now present a more detailed poster image for the event, listing the artists and acts who will be taking part.

© Richard Hawkins

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21 September 2021

Norman Blake: new album Day by day for release, 22 Oct. 2021

Thanks to Devon Léger of HearthPR for the news that the legendary US guitarist Norman Blake (above) will have a new album, Day by day, released on the Smithsonian Folkways label on 22 October. The first single from the album, 'I'm free again', can be heard on YouTube. Here's an excerpt from the press release:

American guitarist Norman Blake is one of the great unsung heroes of 20th century folk music. Over the course of his long career, he’s been at the forefront of multiple revivals of American roots music, from his time in the late 60s and 70s as the house guitarist for Johnny Cash and his playing on Bob Dylan’s Nashville skyline, to his work creating newgrass with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and in the 2000s reinventing bluegrass for a new generation with T Bone Burnett on the O Brother, where art thou? soundtrack. Even with the glitz, glamor, and prestige, including nine Grammy nominations, Blake has held steadfast to the idea that the music should remain as humble as his own aspirations. And though he’s recently undergone a kind of personal renaissance – releasing five albums in the last ten years for the same label, Plectrafone Records – he’s done this work entirely by hand, recording in and around his rural home in the hinterlands of Georgia.

For now, Blake seems content to amble the backroads of his musical memory, using obscure histories for new songs or pulling forth old chestnuts he hasn’t been able to stop singing in all the long years. His new album for venerable record label Smithsonian Folkways, Day by day, due out October 22, 2021, is an album of favorite folk songs and a few originals done in single-take recordings. On guitar and on banjo, Blake showcases the instrumental mastery that’s won him four generations of fans, never playing for speed or virtuosity, but always treating the source material with the greatest respect.

BIB editor's note: More detail, with a link for pre-ordering, are on the press release. If you've ever wished for more verses to 'My home's across the Blue Ridge mountains', this album has them! - and much more besides. Norman Blake's early albums were a strong influence on Dublin's Sackville String Band in the 1970s.

Update 22 Sept.: The title of the YouTube single was erroneously given as 'Free at last' when this post was first published. Thanks to Denis McCarthy for pointing out this error, which has been corrected above. See also John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.
© Richard Hawkins

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Gary Ferguson releases Ferguson's farewell: the Irish connection

Thanks to Bell Buckle Records (USA) for the news that the acclaimed singer and songwriter Gary Ferguson is releasing a new album, Ferguson's farewell: the Irish connection, which will be available for airplay and on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, and Deezer from tomorrow (Wed. 22 Sept.). The album comprises twelve original tracks, and features fourteen Irish artists with whom Gary has collaborated during his many visits. He writes:

I toured Ireland every July from 2005 to 2019. I love the music, people, scenery, and their July weather. A very special and magical place for me. During that time I met so many great writers, singers, and musicians. This project is a result of all those trips, and writing with some of the writers that I've met along the way.

A much fuller account of the background to the album appears on Gary's website, together with contributions by many of the Irish artists who took part in the project: Charlie McGettigan, Donna Murray, Mary Greene, Errol Walsh, Carrie Haskins, Niall Toner, Shane Sullivan, Roy Thompson, Janet Henry, Gillian Tuite, and Ted Pnnsonby. Also involved were Frankie Lane, Joe Murray, and Colin Henry, who composed the instrumental title track. Colin's music can be heard on this brief teaser video on YouTube, where the descriptive notes include Colin's own evocative and moving account of his musical partnership with Gary since 2007.

BIB editor's note: Ronnie Norton on CMR Nashville writes: 'Absolutely loving this album. Such a variety of artists and styles. Best Irish singer songwriter album in years.'

© Richard Hawkins

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17 September 2021

B.B. Bowness on Deering Live Shorts

Last month the award-winning New Zealand-born banjo-player Catherine 'BB' Bowness, who has toured Ireland several times as a member of the award-winning Mile Twelve (thanks to John Nyhan) was featured and interviewed on Deering Live. The Deering Banjo Company announce that four themed excerpts from the interview can be watched on Deering Live Shorts or on YouTube.

Deeting also send a reminder that they supply banjo parts for replacements or upgrading, including wooden armrests, tailpieces, tuners, and bridges.

© Richard Hawkins

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Sideline (USA) release their latest album

We mentioned on 25 August that Sideline, who toured Ireland two years ago (thanks to the mygrassisblue.com team), would release on 17 September a new album, Ups, downs, and no-name towns, on the Mountain Home label. The record company have just announced its release.

The title, taken from a line in one of the album's songs, 'This old guitar case', relates to the experiences of the last eighteen months. You can hear the song in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today, and another of the tracks, 'Just a guy in a bar', sung by guitarist Skip Cherryholmes, is on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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16 September 2021

News from the USA

For anyone who would like to sample this year's IBMA World Of Bluegrass (the single most important annual bluegrass event in the world) but can't get to Raleigh, NC, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) offers access for professionals and fans alike by issuing virtual tickets using Swapcard. These take the form of
  • free virtual Music Passes;
  • virtual Conference Passes, starting at $99 for IBMA members;
  • virtual Exhibitor Passes at $299.00.
Virtual access is already automatically included for anyone currently registered to attend the IBMA Business Conference in person, or as an exhibitor. The IBMA advises that to become familiar with Swapcard and build out ones profile, exhibitors have access to the event platform from 14 September, followed by attenders on 21 September. To ensure timely access to the platform, the IBMA encourages attenders to buy tickets 24 to 48 hours before the event.
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Ken Perlman, godfather of 'melodic clawhammer banjo', will begin his new season of banjo 'clinics' with two Zoom lessons next month: one on 4 October, dealing with the 'roll' technique, and one three weeks later (25 Oct.) on syncopated patterns of double-thumbing. All Ken's previous lessons are available as videos at $25 each from his Encore Collection.

Ken also announces that his latest book, Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo, with arrangements for over 100 tunes, has just been published by Mel Bay and can be bought from his website.
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Lorraine Jordan, who was over here a few years back, touring with the Garrett Newton Band instead of her own Carolina Road, announces that all the live shows at her Coffeehouse music venue can now be watched free on her Video Jukebox. All shows are recorded with three high-definition cameras and high-quality house audio.
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Patrick McAvinue, who played in Ireland earlier this century as a teenage fiddler with Tom Mindte's Patuxent Partners band, is now a father. His wife Jules gave birth to their son William Coleman McAvinue on 23 August, over a month ahead of schedule, and all three are doing well. More details are given in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today, which includes four photos.

© Richard Hawkins

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