18 April 2021

JigJam online concert TONIGHT (18 Apr. 2021)

JigJam, originators of I-Grass, send a reminder that they will be playing a fifty-minute livestream concert on StageIt, as a tribute to the Eagles, tonight (Sun. 18 Apr.) at 9.00 p.m. Irish time - see the BIB for 14 Apr. Tickets ('pay what you can') can be bought on the StageIt website.

© Richard Hawkins

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16 April 2021

By, for, and about banjo-players

The Bitter Southerner online magazine uses as a subtitle 'Better stories * Better South * Better world', and yesterday it lived up to that slogan by publishing 'Love in the minor key', a short story by Elizabeth Johnson with photographs by Bates Littlehales. The covering note on the BS Facebook describes how a few years ago the author

[...] restored an 1890s Buckbee banjo as a way to get her mind off a breakup. Other people run marathons or go backpacking, but she found a broken banjo in the back of a barn, and it just seemed like it might be her way through it. / Turns out it was. / This is the story of how a broken banjo helped fix a broken heart. We love it. Enjoy.

With that as a basis, what's not to enjoy? This is a story by a banjo-player and about banjo-players and banjo-builders - especially Bates Littlehales, whose name will be familiar to many old-time banjo enthusiasts. Now 93, he was before retirement a National Geographic photographer, pioneering in underwater photography.

© Richard Hawkins

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15 April 2021

Ned Luberecki on Deering Live

At the time of writing this post, Ned Luberecki is being interviewed on YouTube in the Deering Live series. Deering's blurb describes him (with complete accuracy) as 'an award-winning banjo player, Sirius XM radio host on 'The Bluegrass Junction', and a highly respected banjo teacher'. He is also, among other things, an in-demand session player, author of the three-part Complete banjo method, formerly banjo player for Chris Jones & the Night Drivers and currently banjo player for the Becky Buller Band.

In the image below, he is shown playing a Deering John Hartford banjo, which on the Deering website is demonstrated by Jens Kruger. On the interview, he also brings out his Deering Crossfire electric banjo (Crossfires are no longer made).
© Richard Hawkins

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News of past visitors (instalment 2)

Chris Thile announces that his new solo album Laysongs on the Nonesuch Records label will be released on 4 June and can now be pre-ordered. He describes it on his Facebook as 'an ode to singing hymns in a roomful of people with your mind bouncing from God to the possible lack thereof to what to drink with dinner.'

A video of 'Laysong', the first single from the album, can be heard here or on YouTube, and also in the media: John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today and Stacy Chandler's review, 'Chris Thile announces album of songs exploring spirituality' on No Depression.
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Rachel Baiman, who has toured here with Molly Tuttle and was to have toured here last year as half of 10 String Symphony, contributes articles to No Depression under the series title 'The long haul', with a recent sub-series headed 'Being a musician without touring'. In the third and last under this heading, she interviews Tristan Scroggins on the advantages, disadvantages, and opportunities of a musician's life off the road, on which he has much to say from his personal experience.

© Richard Hawkins

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News of past visitors (instalment 1)

On 8 April the BIB mentioned a brief feature on Peggy Seeger by the staff of the Bluegrass Situation (BGS) online magazine. The previous day, No Depression published a substantial review by John Amen of Seeger's latest (and perhaps last) album, First farewell. The review includes two videos: one, of the song 'The invisible woman', was also in the BGS feature; the second (also on YouTube) is 'All in the mind'.

No Depression also carries a review by Doug Heselgrave of They're calling me home, the latest album from Rhiannon Giddens, on the Nonesuch Records label. Heselgrave's review begins:

Recorded during the lockdown at a rural studio near Dublin, Ireland, where Rhiannon Giddens and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, have been riding out the pandemic, They’re calling me home is, without reservation, her finest work to date. Intimately recorded and emotionally accessible, it is a near perfect album in which the diversity of Giddens’ musical interests coalesces.

© Richard Hawkins

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14 April 2021

Online old-time fiddle and banjo workshops, 8-9 May 2021

This news is primarily for members of FOAOTMAD (the UK's association for old-time music and dance), who will already know about it; but if you're not in FOAOTMAD, it's an example of what is on offer to members - in this case, online workshops in clawhammer banjo (Sat. 8 May) and old-time fiddle (Sun. 9 May). both at 3.00 p.m., both given by Joseph Decosimo (USA), a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher. Workshops are free to FOAOTMAD members, but a tip box will be available. Click on the image to enlarge it.
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FOAOTMAD also report that Reelear.com

are looking for volunteers to take pat in a six-month free trial of their latest online course for fiddle players. The course provides the tools and methodology to help train the ear to learn tunes without sheet music or the need for abstract music theory. Each volunteer would get six months free access to the course in exchange for occasional feedback on their progress. The course is aimed at those fiddle players who have difficulty in picking up tunes by ear no matter what skill level.

© Richard Hawkins

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JigJam play an Eagles tribute concert, 18 Apr. 2021

JigJam, originators of I-Grass, announce that they will be playing a fifty-minute livestream concert on StageIt, as a tribute to the Eagles, on Sunday 18 April at 9.00 p.m. Irish time. A three-minute video trailer for the show can be seen on YouTube. Tickets ('pay what you can') can be bought on the StageIt website.

JigJam (Jamie McKeogh, Cathal Guinan, and Daithi Melia from Mullingar, and Gavin Strappe from Co. Tipperary) add: 'As always, we are supported by our management at Take 2 Promotions and the wonderful people at Culture Ireland!'

© Richard Hawkins

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Mikes for banjos: a video omnibus

Following the BIB post of 18 Mar. 2021 on the use of microphones for getting optimum results in recording banjos, Deering Banjos have co-created five brief videos giving basic information, featuring Alison Brown and her low-tuned Deering Julia Belle; Stuart Duncan, playing clawhammer on an open-backed Vega Vintage Star; and Matt Coles (studio engineer at Compass Sound Studio). All five can be watched inside a quarter of an hour, and all are grouped on this page of the Deering website.
© Richard Hawkins

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13 April 2021

Another tragedy

Following upon yesterday's BIB post, thanks to Des Butler, who writes:

I was very sorry to hear of the terrible tragedy that has befallen Yves Aerts and his girlfriend in Sweden. Yves was guitarist with The Sons of Navarone. I must admit to not having had heard this band before the Shannonside Winter Fest of 2020; but I have to say having attended their concert there in Sixmilebridge I realised I had been missing out on a great bluegrass four-piece band.

They gave a tremendous performance in the GAA club on the Sunday afternoon concert there. The accompanying photos were taken at that concert. Another sad loss to bluegrass music.

An example of the regard in which Yves was held among flatpickers in Europe is this introduction to his guitar workshop at the Strenger i Gress Bluegrassfestival in Norway.
© Richard Hawkins

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12 April 2021

Yves Aerts

The BIB learns with great regret of the death of Yves Aerts (right), guitarist with the Sons of Navarone (B), who played in Ireland fifteen months ago when the band took part in the 2020 Shannonside Winter Music Festival in Co. Clare.

Yves and his girlfriend are believed to have died either by drowning or from exposure as the result of a canoeing accident in Sweden, where he has lived and worked for years. The sad news was announced last Thursday (8 Apr.) on the Sons of Navarone Facebook, and John Lawless has today published more details on Bluegrass Today, together with tributes from friends of Yves, a video, and a fine photo of Yves at the microphone, taken by Ann Jansen.

As a reminder of happier times, the photo below from the Sons' Facebook shows all the band's lineup: (l-r) Yves, Paul van Vlodrop (banjo), Guido Bos (bass), Thierry Schoysman (mandolin).
© Richard Hawkins

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09 April 2021

Fundraising begins for Beyond the Tagus River

Following on from the BIB posts of 31 Mar. and 6 Apr., we report that André Dal has today (Fri. 9 Apr.) launched the Crowdfunding Campaign for his forthcoming album Beyond the Tagus River. The campaign, with a target of €1,800, is to end on 17 May, a month ahead of the scheduled album launch. André writes:

As rewards, there's the album itself, T-shirts, a banjo tablature book of all the tunes in the album, and the logo or website link printed in the album. Here is the link, and thank you so much for helping me to spread the word about 'a global potpourri of acoustic excellence', as Tony Trischka puts it.
© Richard Hawkins

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08 April 2021

Tony Trischka TONIGHT on Deering Live

The Deering Banjo Company announces that Tony Trischka, supreme performer, teacher, and scholar of the 5-string banjo, is making his second appearance on Deering Live tonight (Thurs. 8 Apr.) at 11.00 p.m. to talk about his new album Shall we hope, play a few tunes, and answer your banjo questions in the live chat.

Deering add: 'Simply one of the nicest people in banjo, we can't wait for this one. Get your questions ready!' The session can also be seen on YouTube. Details of the Tony Trischka Silver Clipper model banjo can be seen here.

© Richard Hawkins

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Bluegrass and more in the Bluegrass Situation

The latest Weekly Dispatch issued by the Bluegrass Situation (BGS) online magazine includes a further instalment of the series 'Bluegrass Memoirs' by the premier bluegrass historian, Neil V. Rosenberg. This is the second episode of his account of attending the 1987 Earl Scruggs Celebration in Boiling Springs, NC, in which he meets Earl's brother Horace and visits the Scruggs homeplace. Among the musicians taking part in the Celebration were Etta Baker and Snuffy Jenkins. Several YouTube videos of them are included in the Memoir.

The Bluegrass Situation also announces that Peggy Seeger (left) is its April Artist of the Month. A brief article on her has been prepared by BGS staff, with videos of two of her original songs: one, 'The invisible woman', accompanied by her two sons, Neill and Calum MacColl, and 'Gotta get home by midnight' from her latest album. There is also a link to 'The essential Peggy Seeger playlist' on Spotify, comprising twenty-seven songs.

BIB editor's note: Peggy Seeger has never been bluegrass, but she is one of the main reasons why I began trying to play the banjo.

© Richard Hawkins

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07 April 2021

Banjo setup tips from Nechville

Tom Nechville of Nechville Musical Products (also on Facebook) sends advice on adjusting the truss rod on a banjo to correct action that has become either too low or too high because of changes in atmospheric humidity, causing problems in playability or intonation.

For any banjo players wishing to adjust the action on their instruments, Tom provides the flow chart above (click to enlarge), plus a detailed twelve-minute video on the setup page of the Nechville website, where there are seven other videos dealing with technical issues, as well as other advice.

© Richard Hawkins

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06 April 2021

A new era for bluegrass in Brazil: the Irish connection


Thanks to César Benzoni (right) for this news, all the way from Galway city, where as well as playing mandolin and guitar in the Rocky River Bluegrass Show, he is a sound engineer and video maker, operating Yodel Recording Services (see the BIB for 2 Sept. 2020). César comes originally from some way further west: Brazil, where he ran the São Paulo Bluegrass Music Association in succession to its founder, Erio Meili. César writes:

I'm touching bases to let you know that I'm in the process of converting São Paulo Bluegrass Music Association to Brazilian Bluegrass Music Association. It is a huge country, and a lot of new artists that are willing to learn bluegrass there don't feel represented for something aiming only for São Paulo.

I'm working on the brand new website, where we'll have news, bluegrass history, interviews, lessons, teachers, and so on. I want it to be a big resource for people getting into the genre. On 21 April it's gonna be ten years since Erio passed, that's the day I will release the website, honouring his memory.

Besides that, social media is huge there (more than I can follow, actually), so I'm making an Instagram page to help promote it as well. This way we can spread bluegrass a bit more and help to bring a community together. I was impressed by the number of new people learning the banjo or mandolin there.


BIB editor's note: Erio Meili was an admirable man, full of good humour and goodwill, and before his regrettably early death he kept Brazil represented at every annual IBMA World of Bluegrass. Everyone who knew him will be glad that his memory is being honoured in this way. César's new logo for the new association is at the head of this post.

© Richard Hawkins

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'Beyond the Tagus River' (II)


Following on from the BIB post of 31 Mar., thanks to André Dal in Portugal for this video, which he published on YouTube on 1 Apr. It is the title track of his debut album project, Beyond the Tagus River; a highly accomplished original composition, delivered with precision and passion by Meade Richter (USA), fiddle; Olivier Uldry (CH), dobro; Reuben Agnew (NI), guitar; Jean-Michel Pache (CH), mandolin; Gil Pereira (PT), upright bass; and André himself on banjo. Mixing and mastering is by Jason Borisoff and graphics by Hildebrando Soares. The press release explains that this single is

[...] a tune in which André crosses his rural south Portugal origins, a region called Alentejo (which literally means 'Beyond Tagus'), and the traditional background of bluegrass music. 'Beyond the Tagus River' is, therefore, a bluegrass medium tempo with a very strong Alentejo feeling.

and, on the whole album project,

With the participation of 16 musicians from 10 different countries, Beyond the Tagus River is, in fact, a bridge between continents, between the past and the future, which unites the friendship of all who love this style of music.

The great US banjoist Tony Trischka comments:

All in all, this is a fantastic project, worthy of many repeated listenings…. Beyond the Tagus River is a global potpourri of acoustic excellence. Thank you André for this gift.

André (who is also on Instagram) will run a crowdfunding campaign between this coming Friday, 9 April, and 17 May. The album is scheduled for release on 17 June. The single can be pre-saved on Spotify.

© Richard Hawkins

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Q&A session ends Jens Kruger masterclass series TODAY

A week ago Jens Kruger delivered the fifth and last in his series of master-classes for Deering Banjos, on the subjects of musical structure and chord movement. It can be watched (all 71 minutes) on the Deering Live web page or on YouTube. The web page includes a form for submitting a question to Jens, who will be answering questions today (6 Apr.) at 11.00 p.m. on Deering Live and YouTube

 © Richard Hawkins

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05 April 2021

Earl Scruggs in tablature: an important new book

Thanks to John Lawless on Bluegrass Today for news of The Earl Scruggs banjo songbook: selected banjo tab accurately transcribed for over 80 tunes. Ample details are given: the book presents in tab eighty-four tunes (all listed in the BT feature) in 192 pages, including - according to the foreword by Jim MIlls - tunes that could only have been recorded from live shows. John Lawless writes:

This is a book that every banjo player will want to own, and could become the ultimate reference point for students and historians of the music of the one and only Earl Scruggs.

BT says this publication is expected in May and can be pre-ordered; however, on Amazon.co.uk (where you can inspect a sample of the text) it is dated 26 Feb. 2021, with a note that says 'Temporarily out of stock. We are working hard to be back in stock as soon as possible', so it may be available this side of the Atlantic earlier than May.

© Richard Hawkins

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Happy birthday, Bill Clifton

Bill Clifton was born William August Marburg in Riderwood, MD, on 5 April 1931. The image on the left is from the cover of Bill C. Malone's biography Bill Clifton: America's bluegrass ambassador to the world (2016), published by the University of Illinois Press.

The Press's blurb begins: 'Pioneer, pathfinder, and proponent - the journey of an unlikely bluegrass icon', and calls him 'the most atypical of bluegrass artists'. This means (among other things) that his achievements are so varied that his career cannot be easily summed up. Perhaps the central factor is his warmth and ability to communicate, form connections, and bring people together. He was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2008. Happy birthday, Bill Clifton!

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BIB readers who can recall the early 1960s may have seen Bill Clifton, with Ethan Signer of the Charles River Valley Boys on mandolin, playing a daytime show in the Grafton Cinema in Dublin.

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Memories of the Bluegrass Patriots

Following our post of Good Friday, which mentioned the Bluegrass Patriots from Colorado, the BIB thanks Des Butler for these photos of the band in action at Athy in 2009. Des writes:

I must agree with your very apt choice of music for the season of Eastertide that we are in at present, namely the Bluegrass Patriots' renditions of 'Six hours on the cross, a Bluegrass Brothers song, and 'Just as the sun went down', written by Luther G. Presley.

I had the pleasure of being entertained by the Bluegrass Patriots at the 2009 Athy Bluegrass Festival (see attached photos), and purchased an album of theirs called The first decade, which has 'Six hours on the cross' on it. They gave a great performance at the festival with some Ozark Mountain music, gospel, and some great vocal harmonies.

The Patriots formed in 1980 and their first album was released in 1983 entitled The Bluegrass Patriots and contained a variety of music from original songs to folk classics to bluegrass classics. The follow up album Someone new, released in 1986, had elements similar to the first release. One of the great bluegrass bands...
Des's photos show Willie McDonald (mandolin), Danny Rogers (bass), and Glenn Zankey (guitar) of the 'classic' Patriots lineup, supplemented for this tour by Bobby Vickery (fiddle) and Mark Leslie (banjo) from High Plains Tradition. For the Patriots' 'retirement', see the BIB for 10 Oct. 2011.

© Richard Hawkins

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04 April 2021

Easter Day

A month ago Sideline,'the embodiment of the North Carolina bluegrass sound', released on the Mountain Home label a new gospel single, 'When the Son rose up that morning', telling the Easter story. As a small detail, it marks guitarist Skip Cherryholmes's recorded debut as a slide guitar player. Much more detail is on the Mountain Home press release, and the song can be heard in full on Bluegrass Today. Thanks to the mygrassisblue.com team, Sideline toured Ireland in July 2019.

© Richard Hawkins

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03 April 2021

Jim Hurst on Song of the Mountains tonight

Following the BIB post of 22 Mar., here's a reminder that tonight (Sat. 3 Apr.) at 7.00 p.m. Song of the Mountains, the organisation holding monthly concerts in the historic Lincoln Theatre at Marion, VA, will present a concert featuring guitar wizard Jim Hurst (photo) and two North Carolina bluegrass bands, Nick Chandler & Delivered and Deeper Shade of Blue. As with other Song of the Mountains concerts, the show will be taped for broadcasting across the USA on public TV, and can also be watched on live stream.

If you enjoy this concert, and/or have enjoyed other Song of the Mountains productions such as those by Carolina Blue in February or the Kody Norris Show in March, consider supporting Song of the Mountains with a donation through the website. Tim White writes:

Many think that we are funded by PBS... NOT SO. We must raise our own dollars through donations and underwriters for our show to be brought to you. The past twelve months has been very difficult for the music business including Song of the Mountains. Covid-19 had us shut down for 10 months and now we are operating again to a very limited audience size. We have started a GoFundMe page and ask that you go to our website and make a tax deductible donation. The Appalachia Music Heritage Foundation/Song of the Mountains is a non-profit 501c3 organization.

PS: Jim Hurst released yesterday (2 Apr.) a new single, 'It's a beautiful day'. Full details are on this Wilson Pickins press release.

© Richard Hawkins

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Oldtime Central: Guitar Retreat a week away, and other new items

The editors of Oldtime Central (OTC) send a reminder that next weekend (9-11 Apr. 2021) their Oldtime Guitar Retreat (see this earlier BIB report) will be held online, the latest in a series of events with which they have been working to bring the old-time community together despite this period of forced separation.

The Retreat is a virtual weekend focused on the guitar in old-time music. Full details are on the OTC website. Other new items from Oldtime Central are:

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02 April 2021

Good Friday

BIB readers who have recordings by the Bluegrass Patriots of Colorado, may already have been listening to two gospel songs from their repertoire that are appropriate for today,: 'Six hours on the cross' and 'Just as the sun went down', with the outstanding lead singing of Glenn Zankey and fine harmony vocals. No one who heard this band at Dunmore East (where they headlined the first bluegrass festival in 1995, thanks to Gerry Madden's advice to the organisers), at Athy, Ardara, or anywhere else they played in Ireland, is likely to forget them.

Both these songs were on their 2005 gospel compilation Kneel at the cross, as well as on earlier albums that are no longer available. Unfortunately, though many recordings of 'Six hours on the cross' and 'Just as the sun went down' are on YouTube, the Patriots' versions are elusive. 'Just as the sun went down' can be found at the end of their 1993 album The last waltz - and a live performance of the song by the late James King and his band is here. A 1974 recording of 'Six hours on the cross' by the Goins Brothers can be heard here.

© Richard Hawkins

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California looks at bluegrass around the world (including Ireland)

Thanks to the California Bluegrass Association (CBA) for a copy of the April 2021 issue (vol. 51, no. 20) of their magazine Bluegrass Breakdown. The main feature in this issue, 'Bluegrass bloodlines', reviews six countries from around the world - Argentina, the Netherlands, Catalonia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Ireland - choosing a band from each to show how bluegrass has spread and developed.

Among those who contributed to the feature are Christopher Howard-Williams (IBMA board member for the International constituency, and chief organiser of the big La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France); Loes van Schaijk (bassist of Red Herring, who played the 2019 Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, and text author of the splendid book High lonesome below sea level); and Chris Keenan (co-founder and organiser of the much-missed Johnny Keenan Banjo Festivals in Longford and Tullamore). Chris of course deals with Ireland, devoting three-quarters of her space to Galway's We Banjo 3 whose 'Celtgrass' explores 'the unsinkable spirit and energy of the banjo' and embodies a musical and spiritual connection between Ireland and Appalachia.

The issue, which can be downloaded from the CBA website, also has a front-page feature on Butch Waller (left), leader of High Country, the premier hardcore California bluegrass band that took part in the first Athy bluegrass festival in 1991, returned by popular demand in 1993, and then again fifteen years later; in the photo, Butch is shown on stage at Athy in 2008. He has been an Honorary Lifetime Member of the CBA since 1990.

© Richard Hawkins

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01 April 2021

Maturing the sound

The popularity of microphones from Ear Trumpet Labs (Portland, OR) among acoustic musicians owes a good deal to their original designs and production methods. Ear Trumpet now announce a further innovative step: a collaboration with the Culmination Brewing Company to produce three of their 'Edwina' model mikes in a special edition, aged for a full year in a white-oak Heaven Hill bourbon barrel. 'The results', as Ear Trumpet modestly remark in this striking YouTube video, 'were better than we expected.'

© Richard Hawkins

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$20 for a chance to win a $5,000 mandolin+HSC

Thanks to Lotos Nile Media and Nancy Cardwell of the IBMA Foundation for the news that for six weeks starting today (1 April) the Foundation will be raffling a carbon-fibre Z Mandolin - and not just any Z mandolin, but the last of a limited edition of twenty-five, and the last Z Mandolin available. All others have sold out.

Nancy Cardwell contributed a major article on Z Mandolins to the August 2020 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited (see the BIB for 6 Aug. 2020). This instrument, with an updated F-style body, comes with a Calton case for a combined value of $5,000. Raffle tickets ($20 each or six for $100) can be bought here. All proceeds will benefit the IBMA Foundation's scholarship endowment fund. More details and photos are on the Foundation website and the Lotos Nile newsletter.

PS: See also John Lawless's piece on Bluegrass Today, with a brief but telling expository video.

© Richard Hawkins

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31 March 2021

Beyond the Tagus river

André Dal is the moving spirit of bluegrass music and 5-string banjo playing in Portugal. For years now he has been seriously afflicted by incurable focal hand dystonia in his picking hand; but he has responded with energy, inventiveness, and adaptation (as described by Tom Nechville in this article in the Dec. 2018 Banjo News Letter).

As André's latest move to present bluegrass to Portugal, earlier this year he began preparing an instrumental album, Beyond the Tagus river, to display the character of the music. He brought in many musicians from abroad who had become his friends. The genesis of the project is told (in Portuguese and English) on his Facebook. The musicians taking part (above left) come from Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, Canada, Japan - and Northern Ireland.

During March the pickers were individually featured day by day on Andre's Facebook (and thence on the European Bluegrass Music Association's Facebook), and on 15 March it was the turn of Reuben Agnew (above right) of Co. Armagh, Cup O' Joe, and Pet Yeti. Congratulations to André, Reuben, and everyone who has taken part in Beyond the Tagus river.

© Richard Hawkins

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'Deep river' from Rick Faris

More news of Rick Faris, who after eleven years with the Special Consensus (including several tours in Ireland) has launched a vigorous solo career. Stephen Mougin's Dark Shadow Recording label announces the release of Rick's new single 'Deep river' from his forthcoming album The next mountain.

Rick wrote the song in conjunction with the award-winning songwriter Mark 'Brink' Brinkman, and recorded it with Laura Orshaw (fiddle), Russ Carson (banjo), Harry Clark (mandolin), Zak McLamb (bass), and Shawn Lane (harmony vocals). More details are on the Dark Shadow press release and on John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today. The song can be heard on Bluegrass Today and on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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30 March 2021

5th Jens Kruger masterclass

The fifth banjo masterclass presented by Jens Kruger for the Deering Banjo Company was delivered tonight and can now be watched (71 minutes) on YouTube. The subjects of this class are musical structure and chord movement.

Deering also provide this link to the wide range of banjo music and tutors in their stock.

© Richard Hawkins

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29 March 2021

A video treasury of old-time and bluegrass music

Oldtime Central (OTC) published last week a feature by Brian Slattery of Connecticut, 'Capturing the magic', about the tireless work of musician and videographer Dave Wells, born in eastern Kentucky, who has (over nearly thirty years) recorded hundreds of hours of music at Galax, Clifftop, and other festivals from musicians who were, or became, the best of their generation. The videos - or at least a very large number of them - are now on his YouTube channel.

© Richard Hawkins

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26 March 2021

Industrial strength bluegrass out today (26 Mar. 2021); livestream concert TOMORROW

On 29 Jan. the BIB reported on the forthcoming issue of a book and an album both commemorating bluegrass from the southwestern Ohio area, which played an important part in the development of the music.

The book is Industrial strength bluegrass: southwestern Ohio's musical legacy, edited by Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison and published by the University of Illinois Press in their 'Music in American Life' series; the names of the editors and publishers are strong recommendation in themselves. The album, under the same title, is being released today (26 March) by Smithsonian Folkways. and in a major feature on Bluegrass Today (in which all sixteen tracks of the album can be heard in full*) John Curtis Goad gives a comprehensive and warmly favourable review of it, culminating with the words:

I could probably talk about this album, the artists it pays tribute to, and the artists who perform on it, for days. This right here is the kind of music I grew up listening to, and what I still prefer personally today.

East Public Relations, who today publicise the album, also announce a special one-day-only livestream concert to mark the release, featuring Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, The Isaacs, the Caleb Daugherty Band, and Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, all of whom are featured on the album. All-access tickets ($14.95) can be bought here.

*The tracks could be heard in full this morning, but since then the player has been changed to give 30-second samples instead.

Update: An introductory video by Joe Mullins, with evocative views of historic venues in Dayton, OH, is on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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New single from Seth Mulder & Midnight Run (USA): update

The BIB reported earlier this month that Seth Mulder & Midnight Run (almost our most recent bluegrass visitors from the USA) had joined the artist roster of Mountain Fever Records. The band have lost no time in bringing out their first single on the label: 'One more night', which can be heard on SoundCloud and via John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today. A video of the band performing it live, last autumn for the IBMA, is on their Facebook.

Update 30 Mar.: Mountain Fever Records announce that 'One more night' is being released today, and give some details from Seth Mulder about how the song came to be written.

© Richard Hawkins

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25 March 2021

'Tallest Man on Earth' on Deering LIve TONIGHT

Deering Banjos announce that multi-instrumentalist and singer/ songwriter Kristian Matsson from Sweden, known professionally as 'The Tallest Man on Earth', will be featured tonight on Deering Live at 7.00 p.m. BST. Lauren Murphy interviewed him for the Irish Times in 2013 and reviewed his album Dark bird is home in 2015.

© Richard Hawkins

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Benny Martin, 1928-2001

Saturday 13 March was the twentieth anniversary of the death of Benjamin Edward 'Benny' Martin of Tennessee, one of the most influential of bluegrass fiddlers. He began playing on stage and radio before he was 10, and in his late teens composed and recorded 'Me and my fiddle' (which Irish audiences will have heard performed by Joost van Es of 4 Wheel Drive). He subsequently played with Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Johnnie & Jack, Kitty Wells, Don Reno, and Flatt & Scruggs, before becoming a Grand Ole Opry member as a solo artist.

Like his friend Scotty Stoneman, he suffered from alcoholism, which may have contributed to the health problems of his later life. Much more detail is in Gary Reid's biographical article for the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, into which Benny was inducted in 2005 - the third fiddler to have been inducted in his own right, after Chubby Wise (1998) and Kenny Baker (1999).

© Richard Hawkins

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Bluegrass springtime in the Black Forest: postponed again this year

The BIB editor writes:

Earlier this month the publicity office of the city of Bühl, near Baden-Baden on the edge of the Black Forest in south-west Germany, announced with regret that the 18th International Bühl Bluegrass Festival, postponed last year, will not be held this coming May. Under present Covid restrictions, events of any kind are prohibited and hotels, restaurants, shops, concert halls, theatres, cinemas, and even offices are closed, with no prospect of reopening to allow planning a festival this year.

The festival was started, and is fully funded, by the city of Bühl. It has become the main springtime bluegrass event of western Europe, thanks to the direction of our good friends Walter Fuchs (Germany's leading historian of country music and longtime presenter of country record radio shows) and his son Patrick, who gave essential help in running the festival for years and took over from Walter as director in 2015. In previous years the BIB has gladly announced it as 'two days and nights of fine bluegrass music in a first-class auditorium in a delightful town on the edge of the Black Forest in spring.' We're happy to learn that Walter and his lovely wife Marianne had their second Pfizer shots earlier this month.

Patrick (second from left) and Walter Fuchs (third from right) with 
Bühl city representatives at the release of the 2016 programme
.
Walter at the microphone, among his record collection

Walter retired from broadcasting on Schwarzwaldradio in June 2019, and in September 2020 Patrick took over the station's weekly country music radio show 'Country Club', heard all over Germany and worldwide via the internet, with bluegrass played regularly. His details (in German) are shown here.

© Richard Hawkins

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23 March 2021

New podcast series on black Appalachian music

The subject of black music in Appalachia is deservedly receiving greater attention, and the Great Smoky Mountains Association has accordingly launched a new mini-series, 'Sepia tones: exploring black Appalachian music' on its 'Smoky Mountain Air' podcast channel. To be broadcast every other month, the six episodes are hosted by two distinguished scholars, Dr William Turner and Dr Ted Olson.

The image shown above comes from the Association's Facebook, where there is a basic introduction and a link to the fuller details on the Association's website. See also John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today. The first episode can be heard here. The 33 minutes include five musical examples; one contributor is the English folksinger Martin Simpson, performing 'John Hardy' with Dom Flemons.

Listeners can expect to learn a lot, and not just about Appalachian music. It was revealed that though 1619 is widely regarded as the earliest date at which African slaves came to North America, Spanish explorers and their Moroccan slaves were in the Smokies "at least one hundred and fifty years before then" - that is, in 1469 or earlier. Which raises the interesting point: did anyone think of telling Columbus before he set out?

© Richard Hawkins

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New single from Jesse Brock out Fri. 26 Mar. 2021

In early November last year the BIB reported that mandolin maestro Jesse Brock (who is now a member of Fast Track) was releasing his own composition 'Streamliner' as a single on the Sound Biscuit label. This was the first release from Jesse's project for an album with top-flight guest musicians: full details are on his own website.

Sound Biscuit now announce that a new single and video by Jesse - of the Louisa Branscomb and Geri Byrd song 'Kiss on a cold, cold stone' - will be released this coming Friday (26 March). Musicians also taking part include Greg Blake (guitar), Russ Carson (banjo), Josh Swift (dobro), and Barry Reed (bass), with Felicia Mikels singing tenor. More detail is on the Sound Biscuit press release.

© Richard Hawkins

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22 March 2021

Jim Hurst on 'Song of the Mountains' concert, 3 Apr. 2021

Thanks to Tim White for the news that on Saturday 3 April at 7.00 p.m. Song of the Mountains, the organisation holding monthly concerts in the historic Lincoln Theatre at Marion, VA, will present a concert featuring guitar wizard Jim Hurst (photo) and two North Carolina bluegrass bands, Nick Chandler & Delivered and Deeper Shade of Blue. As with other Song of the Mountains concerts, the show will be taped for broadcasting across the USA on public TV, and can also be watched on live stream.

Jim Hurst has toured several times in Ireland, most recently in autumn 2019 when he gave (as always) an astounding display of mastery of the guitar, flat- as well as finger-picked, and an equal mastery of sound enhancement to bring out the full qualities of the instrument. He is also, when he gets a chance to show it, a very individual and original banjo player.

© Richard Hawkins

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Earl 'J.T.' Gray, 1946-2021

The BIB learns with regret of the death of Earl 'J.T.' Gray on Saturday at the age of 75. An experienced bluegrass musician in earlier life, he is best known for operating the Station Inn in Nashville for nearly forty years.

The Inn is a single-storey building, which in architectural distinction approaches the level of the average German blockhouse in the Ypres Salient c.1917. In J.T.'s hands it became the centre of live bluegrass in Nashville, and renowned throughout the world for the quality of music that could regularly be heard there. In 2020 he was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. More details are in David Morris's feature on Bluegrass Today.

© Richard Hawkins

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Mother's lively new brood (UPDATE)

The mother of bluegrass magazines, Bluegrass Unlimited (founded 1966), has expanded online in several directions, as shown by the latest e-mail newsletter. The new features include a weekly podcast (the latest, an hour long, is with guitarist Chris Eldridge); instrumental instruction (e.g. a lesson on developing speed on the mandolin by Andrew Collins); a weekly jam track to play along with; a Spotify playlist; and a selection from the BU archives - the latest is Walter V. Saunders' fine in-depth atudy of North Carolina banjoist Johnny Whisnant, originally published in four parts from June to September 1970. Warmly recommended.

UPDATE 25 Mar.: You can sign up to receive weekly newsletters from BU via this link.

© Richard Hawkins

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