31 May 2020

Win a Santa Cruz guitar and support musicians in need with Fretboard Journal

You stand a chance of winning a new Santa Cruz OM guitar with a donation before 15 June of as little as $5 - or even zero - through the Fretboard Journal, the magazine about fretted instruments and the people who make and play them.

Proceeds of funds donated will go to (a) MusicCares, the largest and most diverse charitable organisation supporting musicians; (b) the Bill Collings Memorial Fund, which helps support guitar education; and (c) the local music shop of the winner's choice (or a charity chosen by that store).

Donations can be made through this link; you can also enter simply by sending a postcard to the FJ at the address given on the link and filling out the submission on the Santa Cruz site. Multiple entries can be made either by donation or postcard.

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Detached notes

On the Deering Banjos blog Keith Billik hosts a podcast in the 'Picky Fingers' series, interviewing Ron Block (left). For well over an hour, Block talks about his development as a player, the way he practises, his banjos and other hardware, playing with records and trying to copy the sounds (which he still does), favourite albums, fitting in with the band, playing with Damien O'Kane, and much more. Worth hearing for anyone into playing.
Jake Blount's new album Spider tales was released on Friday (29 May) by Free Dirt Records. This is first-class old-time music, with a strong insight behind it. The press release says: 'Blount is determined to show that this music didn't form in a vacuum, but in the face of ruinous hardship.' (Dwight Diller has said much the same in a different context.) Links to two videos and much more detail are on the Free Dirt press release.
Kristy Cox, who should have been touring in Ireland during the past week as part of her European tour organised by mygrassisblue.com, has released a single, 'Finger pickin' good'. The song was written by Kristy, Jerry Salley, and Bill Wythe; the finger-pickin' was provided by Kristy's fellow Australian, guitar wizard Tommy Emmanuel. See this Mountain Fever Records release.
Friday just past was also the release date for the new Smithsonian Folkways album of 1962 performances in New York city by Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton (see the BIB for 29 April). Producer and musician Peter Siegel, who made the original recordings, emphasises what a landmark the performances were for both the audiences (who had not been confronted with this kind of authenticity before) and the musicians (who were powerfully encouraged by the reception the audiences gave them).

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30 May 2020

Tony de Boer

The BIB learns with regret of the death of Tony de Boer, 'grandfather of Canadian bluegrass', on 20 May. Tony was born in the Netherlands eighty-one years ago; and though his family moved to Canada when he was 9, he always gave a very warm welcome to the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) contingent attending IBMA's World Of Bluegrass events over the years, and saw to it that the EBMA's hospitality suite was well supplied with Canadian beer. His much greater achievements for bluegrass in Canada, over nearly half a century, are indicated on Bluegrass Today.

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29 May 2020

Where to see and hear a Westport headliner

THE Kody Norris Show (left; in happier times we would have been looking forward to seeing them at Westport two weeks from now) can be seen live every Friday on the Birthplace of Country Music Museum Facebook at noon, Eastern time, where they play a thirty-minute spot in the 'Farm and Fun Time' series. Past sets can be seen (along with videos of other artists) on the videos page of the Museum Facebook. One sample can be seen on John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today, where the show is reported as drawing some 100,000 viewers.

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28 May 2020

Deering Tech #8 TONIGHT - long-neck banjo night!

FOLLOWING on from previous BIB posts, Deering Banjos will bring out tonight (Thurs. 28 May) the eighth episode of 'Deering Tech Live', where - instead of the Deering vice-president of operations answering viewers' questions about banjo maintenance - Greg Deering himself will be playing and talking about the different types of long-neck banjo. The Deering announcement promises: 'You will see more long-neck banjos in one place than you've ever seen before!'

As usual, the episode will air at 3.00 p.m. PST (California time), which should be 11.00 p.m. BST. Viewers can tune in via Facebook or Instagram. Last week's episode, about the science of the Deering Smile Bridge, can be seen here.

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The mountain minor broadcast premiere 6 June 2020

WRITER/ director Dale Farmer and the team responsible for The mountain minor, the film drama of Appalachian migration and old-time music, have announced that it will have its broadcast premiere on the Heartland TV network, with a schedule beginning on Sat. 6 June at 8.00-10.00 p.m. with further showings on Mon. 15 June at 7.00-9.00 p.m., Sun. 21 June at 4.00-6.00 p.m., and Sat. 27 June at 10.00 p.m.-midnight. These times are ET (Eastern Daylight Time) and PT (Pacific Daylight Time).

As previously announced, The mountain minor is now available on Amazon Direct and Vimeo On Demand. Those who don't stream movies can buy DVDs and Blu-Rays through Amazon. Full details on streaming are here. More details are in John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.

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#Doc Watson Week from MerleFest - now in progress

THANKS to Pat Sheeran for passing on the news that MerleFest's #DocWatsonWeek is in full swing, having started last night (27 May) with a lineup including (among others) David Holt, Bill & the Belles, and the Kruger Brothers. The mid-week schedule continues tonight and Friday, with appearances by Billy Strings, Wayne Henderson, Sierra Hull, Sam Bush, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and many more. You can access the videos by way of MerleFest's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube channels.

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27 May 2020

Bill O'Brien

WE learn with regret of the death of another longstanding member of the Irish bluegrass scene. Tony O'Brien reported on Facebook a few days ago:

Just heard the news of the death of Bill O'Brien (no relation) who along with the late Denis Chanders filmed most of the footage from Athy Bluegrass that I have been posting for the past few weeks. A gentleman Bill was a regular at the bluegrass sessions in Smugglers for many years. May he rest in peace.

Tony has also been posting on Facebook over the space of ten days the covers of ten albums that have made an impact on him. To see these, as well as the Athy footage he mentions, it is necessary to be on Facebook.


26 May 2020

For traditional bluegrass fans

Carolina Blue: (l-r) Bobby Powell, Tim Jones, Aynsley Porchak, 
James McDowell, Reese Combs

THANKS to John Lawless on Bluegrass Today for making us aware of Monday 25 May as the first Carolina Blue Monday - the name of a new fortnightly live concert series on Facebook by Carolina Blue of Brevard, NC. Last night's seventy-minute concert (with all band members in white hats, and the men in shirtsleeve order) can be seen here; it and the band are everything that traditional bluegrass should be. If you agree, don't forget to show your appreciation.

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25 May 2020

Bluegrass Omagh 2020: the last act

THE programme of Virtual Bluegrass Omagh 2020 ended on Sunday night with a concise equivalent of the 'Spirit of bluegrass' gospel concerts that have ended Omagh festivals over past years - just three-and-a-half minutes of the Appalachian Roadshow (USA) delivering 'I am just a pilgrim' as a vocal quartet backed by a single guitar. As with their full band number on Friday night's show, this is a model of how it should be done. See it here.

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Industrial strength bluegrass: in the pipeline

RICHARD Thompson on Bluegrass Today reports that the University of Illinois Press plans to publish Industrial strength bluegrass: southwestern Ohio's musical legacy, edited by Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison, in January 2021. Most of the fourteen contributors have years of direct personal knowledge of this important regional bluegrass scene.

This book should nicely complement Tim Newby's Bluegrass in Baltimore: the hard drivin' sound and its legacy (2015) and Kip Lornell's Capital bluegrass: hillbilly music meets Washington, DC (2020) in covering the major centres of bluegrass activity during the formative years of the music.

On 14 Feb. this year Bluegrass Today published Sonny Osborne's judgment on why this area was a bluegrass hotbed - incidentally, he also recalled the first time he heard someone call the music 'bluegrass'.

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24 May 2020

Virtual Bluegrass Omagh 2020: the first two nights

The BIB editor reports:

Virtual Bluegrass Omagh 2020 is proving very enjoyable, and the first two nights can be thoroughly recommended. Richard Hurst, head of the festival organising team, introduces:
The contribution by Aaron Jonah Lewis (c.5:00 to c.7:30 on Saturday) is a special treat for banjo-players. Aaron, who has toured Ireland several times with the Corn Potato String Band, is playing here 'Banjotown', written by the great English player and composer Joe Morley (1867-1937) - and he does a superb job. Don't take my word for it - read the comments of people such as Jens Kruger and Tony Trischka on Aaron's latest album, Mozart of the banjo: the Joe Morley project.

Note for banjo nerds: Joe Morley played a 7-string fretless banjo up to 1891, when Clifford Essex persuaded him that he needed a fretted 5-string to play for London audiences. They compromised on six strings.

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23 May 2020

American Banjo Museum to reopen on 2 June

THE American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City announces that it will be reopening on 2 June 2020. John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today indicates the safety procedures that visitors will be asked to observe. The Museum will present a new exhibition, 'Women of the banjo', and bring back a popular earlier exhibition, 'The banjos that made the '20s roar'.

The Museum originally focused on plectrum and tenor banjos; for the first sixteen years, all performers inducted to its Hall of Fame were 4-string players. It's all the more striking that the photo now heading its website shows display cases full of resonator 5-strings, with pictures of Earl Scruggs, J.D. Crowe, and Wade Mainer on the walls.

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'A folded flag' from Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

THIS coming Monday (25 May) will be Memorial Day in the USA. and to mark the occasion the award-winning Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers are releasing their latest single 'A folded flag' on Billy Blue Records. The song commemorates the custom of folding the flag that covered the coffin of a former member of the American forces, to be kept by their family. Joe Mullins's own family keeps the flag from the burial of his father, Paul 'Moon' Mullins, who served in the US army (1955-8).

The release is a live version that has previously been available only on the vinyl edition of the band's last album, For the record, and on the DVD Entertainers of the year. An exclusive live video will appear on Monday on the Bluegrass Situation website.

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers were headliners at Bluegrass Omagh 2019 last September. Don't forget that - as reported on the BIB two days ago - a Virtual Bluegrass Omagh 2020, featuring the artists who should have been live on stage at the Ulster American Folk Park this weekend, is being presented from 7.00 p.m. every evening during the weekend on the Folk Park's Facebook.

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22 May 2020

News from Ashokan

THANKS again to William Duddy in Belfast for a report on the first of the weekend cyber-festivals organised in the USA for which he has signed up: the Autoharps & Dulcimers Cyber Gathering held at the Ashokan Center in New York State last weekend (Sat. 16-Sun. 17 May). William writes (links added by the BIB):

Last weekend's Autoharp/Dulcimer online festival was excellent. Don Pedi and Norm Williams gave great workshops, there was a great concert on the Saturday night (finishing at 2.00 a.m. our time) and Jay Ungar, along with Molly Mason, ended the weekend on the Sunday afternoon with a beautiful rendition of 'Ashokan farewell' performed on the porch of the concert room on the Ashokan campus. The organisation was excellent, the sound quality (Zoom considering) was very good, and new 'virtual' friends were made.

There is also a Festival Dropbox with tab/ music resources posted by all of the tutors. Norm Williams gave us an hour on 'Whiskey before breakfast', played seven ways (in different tunings and capo positions) on the mountain dulcimer - fascinating. In fact, so good was it that I have paid another $75 to register for this coming weekend's Ukes in Space.

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Hot Rize (USA): Super Sale in aid of musicians

It's been far too long since Hot Rize (USA) last played in Ireland - have we ever even seen Hot Rize Mk II with Bryan Sutton on guitar? - so fans in Ireland who wish to renew acquaintance or fill the gaps in their collections of the work of Hot Rize and Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers should take advantage of the bands' new Super Sale.

This comprises albums on CD and vinyl, a DVD, and other historic items from their back catalogue, available in three packages - the most expensive of which is only $40.00 for seven items. All proceeds are shared with the IBMA Trust Fund, established in 1987 as a means to offer financial assistance to bluegrass music professionals in time of emergency need. More details are on the website of Hot Rize (also on Facebook).

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21 May 2020

This weekend - Virtual Omagh 2020!

Marshall Wilborn (bass) and Gina Furtado (banjo), with
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers at Bluegrass Omagh 2019

Thanks to Richard Hurst of the Ulster American Folk Park at Omagh, Co. Tyrone, for this welcome announcement by the Folk Park on its Facebook:

In March, after careful consideration and monitoring of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, we made the difficult decision to cancel our #BluegrassOmagh music festival scheduled to take place this weekend.

While we can’t host the festival on our site, we’re marking its 29th year with a special three-day music event online from 22–24 May as a tribute to fans and festival-goers.

Across the weekend, we’ll be bringing the best in bluegrass and old-time music straight to your home from our Facebook page. Tune in to hear performances from international bands and artists including Appalachian Road Show, AJ Lee & Blue Summit, Jonathan Byrd, and Kristy Cox.

Stay tuned for more details throughout the week and buckle up for a Bluegrass Omagh experience like never before.

Virtual concerts will be broadcast on the Park's Facebook each evening from 7.00 p.m. on Friday 22, Saturday 23, and Sunday 24 May.

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Live streamed concert by Evie Ladin & Keith Terry, 29 May

BY coincidence, the FOAOTMAD news blog reports that though the tour in Britain organised by True North Music for Evie Ladin and Keith Terry (USA) was cancelled (see the BIB for 28 April), they will be giving a concert streamed live on The Live Room at 8.00 p.m. BST on Friday 29 May (stream intro 7.50 p.m.). Advance booking at full price is £10.00.

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Green shoots?

IT'S far from certain that anything like normality will resume soon, but there are a few hopeful signs. On the website of the UK's True North Music agency, all tours up to the end of July are marked as cancelled - but all after that, starting with the George Jackson Band (NZ/USA) in August/ September 2020, still stand.

Fiddler George Jackson, from New Zealand and now resident in Nashville, TN, brought out last year an acclaimed album of new old-time tunes, Time and place, and has been interviewed for Oldtime Central. The touring band comprises (above, left to right) Reed Stutz (guitar), George, Hasee Ciaccio (bass, vocals), and Brad Kolodner (banjo). True North's tour roster for the six months following shows at present six acts, including (for bluegrassers) the Slocan Ramblers (CAN) and Mile Twelve (USA).

And the UK's Brookfield Knights agency announces that one of the bands on their roster, 3hattrio (below) from Utah, came top in an unprecedented three categories of the 2019 Whitstable Sessions Awards, and will be touring in Britain next year. More details are on the BK e-newsletter.

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Deering Tech, episode 7

FOLLOWING on from previous BIB posts, Deering Banjos will bring out tonight (Thursday 21 May) the seventh episode of 'Deering Tech Live', where viewers can tune in via Facebook or Instagram and ask Chad Kopotic, vice-president of operations at Deering, any questions about banjo maintenance. This week Chad is to talk about the science of the Deering Smile Bridge*, and how to tell whether the slots in your banjo's bridge could be causing buzzes.

The episode will air at 3.00 p.m. PST (California time), which should be 11.00 p.m. BST. Any questions for Chad to answer can be left as comments on Deering's Facebook page.

*NB: Jens Kruger talks about the science of the Smile Bridge in an eight-and-a-half minute video on YouTube.

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20 May 2020

Which side are you on?

IN his latest e-newsletter, entitled 'Which side are you on?', Michael J. Miles (USA) - the man who showed that Bach could be beautifully played on the clawhammer banjo - announces his new CD, Mississippi River suite, a unique project for him, arising from an unprecedented experience. Video previews are on the newsletter and will appear on his blog, Facebook, and Youtube for the next three months.

The CD can be ordered through his store. Free banjo and guitar tabs and other information are on the e-newsletter.

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Not bluegrass, but...

Music Network announce in their latest e-newsletter that episode 13 in their 'Butterfly Sessions' series will be broadcast tonight (Wed. 20 May) on their YouTube channel at 7.30 p.m., featuring multi-instrumentalist and multi-genre songwriter and performer Tom Portman (right). Use this video link.

Among other instruments, Tom Portman plays lap steel guitar, either electric or resophonic, so dobroists may be interested; samples of his work can be heard on a Spotify player in the e-newsletter. Episode 14 (Fri. 22 May, 7.30 p.m.) will feature Gerry O'Beirne.

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19 May 2020

Oldtime Central mid May newsletter

IN their latest e-newsletter the editors of Oldtime Central (OTC) announce the features added in the last two weeks:

Oldtime Central is entirely supported by its readers. Donations can be made here.

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New single from Mile Twelve (USA)

ON 28 April the BIB reported that Boston's Mile Twelve are preparing a six-track EP with guest artists, scheduled for release ten days from now (29 May). Last month they released 'Cold wind', featuring Billy Strings. The second single is the Darrell Scott composition 'Hopkinsville', with lead vocals by Chris Eldridge, and Brittany Haas on fiddle. The track can be heard on John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today and on YouTube.

The EP release will almost coincide with the first anniversary of the marriage of David Benedict, mandolinist with Mile Twelve, and Tabitha Agnew, banjoist with Cup O' Joe and Midnight Skyracer (see the BIB for 12 June 2019), forming the most prominent marital bond between the bluegrass scenes in the USA and Ireland.

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18 May 2020

A piece of history

THANKS to whoever sent in the recent question about Dermot O'Connor, as one result has been our receiving this poster image from the justly celebrated George Kaye. It shows one configuration of The Permanent Cure: the musicians (left to right) are Dermot O'Connor (mandolin), George Kaye (fiddle), Detlev 'Squeezebox Teddy' Freyer (accordion), and Tommy Gallagher (bass).

George now lives in Bavaria but has plans to return to Ireland; Tommy Gallagher, originally from Glasgow, now lives near Wolfenbüttel, north Germany. Detlef Freyer, according to George, 'lives wherever he parks his camper, as he has since 1993 when I first met him'.

This version of the band (together with Leo Gillespie, one of the founder members, on guitar) can be heard in this video, with outstanding playing by Dermot and George on 'Twin River Rag'.

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17 May 2020

Dermot O'Connor

THE BIB received three days ago, as an anonymous comment on our post of 15 April 2015 on the late Dermot O'Connor, the query.

Would this be the same Dermot O'Connor who played in Wes McGhee's band in the 80s?

Owing to a technical hitch preventing posting our own comments, we can't at present add a reply to that post; but we can confirm, thanks to George Kaye (pioneer of bluegrass fiddle in Ireland, and friend and bandmate of Dermot in other groups) that this is indeed the same Dermot.

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16 May 2020

Good news for dobroists

Pinecastle Records announce a successor to The great dobro sessions, the classic 1994 compilation record on the Sugar Hill label. The new album, Pickaway, which is due for release on 12 June, features the following dobro players: Tim Graves, Fred Travers, Greg Booth, Greg Blaylock, Mike Webb, Matt Despain, Andy Hall, Brent Burke, Al Goll, Rex Wiseman, Kim Gardner, and Justin Moses.

Also playing are Keith Tew (guitar), Kimberly Bibb (fiddle), Bennie Boling (bass), Kelsey Crews (banjo, mandolin), George Pearce (guitar), Danny Booth (guitar, mandolin, bass) and Amanda Kerr (fiddle). Full details, including track listing, are on the Pinecastle e-newsletter.

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15 May 2020

Record reviews on No Depression

THE album review section of the new edition of No Depression magazine includes reviews of Chicago Barn Dance from the Special Consensus by Henry Carrigan, and Bet on love from Pharis and Jason Romero by Rachel Choist. A full press release from Hearth Music on Bet on love, including three videos, can be read here.

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A song (and others) for a May morning

THANKS again to William Duddy, who introduces this video:

... A good English friend, from over Hexham way, is posting a daily series of May songs on Youtube with an accompanying blog. He asked me if I would contribute so I sent him two and the first was put up yesterday [9 May].

The video is also on YouTube and the CMLE Play (Songs for May) blog. 'The bold grenadier' is essentially the same song as 'One morning in May' as recorded by Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys (e.g. this Rounder recording from 1971). William's version is based on Pierre Bensusan's recording, which can be heard here.

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14 May 2020

A band separated, but together

THE BIB editor writes:

It's a common enough experience (or was, during the era of live performances) to hear a band whose members may all be playing at the same place and at the same time, but are not fully together. On recordings, the effects of this kind of thing can be mitigated.

Despite the obstacles created by present circumstances, 40 Horse Mule, based in Nashville, TN, and led by the son of the great Josh Graves. have produced a video of themselves, in five different locations, playing a very together version of the Monkees' song 'Papa Gene's blues'. You can see it on YouTube or on John Lawless's feature on Bluegrass Today.

The image above is one of the cover pictures on the band's Facebook, chosen for the BIB's purposes because, as you can see from a close look, the Ford tractor is 'Ferguson system' - that is, the system devised by Harry Ferguson of Co. Down.

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13 May 2020

Autoharps & Dulcimers Cyber Gathering this weekend

THANKS to William Duddy in Belfast for this news: having bought a fine new mountain dulcimer from a Polish luthier (see the BIB for 3 Apr.), he is playing dulcimer a lot these days and has signed up for a couple of weekend cyber-festivals organised in the USA:
  • The first of these, the Autoharps & Dulcimers Cyber Gathering is hosted by the Ashokan Center in New York State, and will be held this coming weekend (Sat. 16-Sun. 17 May). The instruction staff offer classes in mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, autoharp, and recording. Registration is a suggested donation of $50 per household.
  • The QuaranTune Dulcimer Festival presents over thirty instructors and performers to handle beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, and takes place on the weekend 5-6 June. Registration is $10 a lesson.
William's contacts in the dulcimer world include the Nonsuch Dulcimer Club and also Revels Music, 'the UK home of the mountain dulcimer' and a very good place to look for dulcimers - they have a wide range from various makers, suited to players of different levels and budgets.

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'Bluegrass in the backwoods' from Juliana Erkkonen

MANY thanks to Juliana Erkkonen (fiddle player for The Molly Hicks, and currently playing also with the Rocky River Bluegrass Show and The Raines) for sharing this lockdown video of a tune composed by the great Kenny Baker, 'Bluegrass in the backwoods', played here by Juliana (fiddle) with Cesar Benzoni (guitar) and Mila Maia (flute).

Despite the title, it's a highly polished tune, reminiscent more of central European gypsy music than Kenny's native eastern Kentucky. Video editing is by Donal Gibbons, and more videos are on Juliana's YouTube channel.

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Sacred Harp Singers of Dublin cancel 4 July all-day singing

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

Friends, we are sorry to cancel our All-Day singing on 4th July due to COVID-19 and associated safety restrictions. However, we look forward to singing with you all again in the future.

The BIB assumes that the Sacred Harp groups in Cork, Belfast, and Galway are doing likewise.

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12 May 2020

Familiar names on the IBMA showcase schedule

THE International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) announces the first round of Official Showcase Artists selected for the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble, the series of showcase performances at select venues in downtown Raleigh, NC, as part of this year's IBMA World of Bluegrass (29 Sept.-3 Oct.).

The acts selected include Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa (USA), who toured Ireland last autumn; the Stillhouse Junkies (USA), who were to have toured here this April; Kristy Cox (AUS) and her band, who should have been here this month as part of a European tour arranged by mygrassisblue.com; and the Kody Norris Show (USA), who were to have headlined the bluegrass part of the Westport festival next month. At present Jussi Syren & the Groundbreakers from Finland are the only European band on the showcase schedule.

And then there are our old Chicago friends the Special Consensus, who have had a personnel change and brought out a new album since last year. Their next tour of Ireland should be some time early next year. More acts and details are on the IBMA announcement.

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11 May 2020

Rye River Band Acoustic Live Stream online

PAT Burgess of Leixlip's Rye River Band sends this message:

Unprecedented times for us all for sure. But in trying to keep the music live, myself and my son Matt have been hosting Rye River Band Acoustic Live Stream gigs from our home in Leixlip. We have completed five to date. Here is a link to our latest offering, containing the set list and song start times:

All the previous performances are available on the Rye River Band Facebook Page at this link:

Looking forward to getting back to live gigging and saying hello in person!

In the course of the friendly and informal eighty-minute session, Pat (on vocals, 6- and 12-string guitars, and mandolin) and Matt (sound, guitar, and backing vocals) deliver fifteen songs, and are constantly receiving greetings and doing requests for many friends and viewers around the world.

The songs include well known numbers by Bob Dylan, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, and Peter Rowan. Several, though, are Pat's original compositions. These would work very well in a bluegrass setting, and bands in search of fresh material should pay them close attention.

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10 May 2020

BU for May 2020

THE May 2020 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine has a cover story by Derek Halsey on the Steeldrivers. Among the regular complement of articles, reviews, and information, Bill Conger's report on the impact of the pandemic crisis on bluegrass is backed up by this sobering editorial announcement (links added by the BIB):

In our over 50 years of publication, there have been wars, epidemics, and terrorist attacks, but Bluegrass Unlimited has produced an issue every month. In this uncertain and unprecedented time, however, we may have to temporarily suspend publication. Over the next few months, if you don't receive an issue, please check our website, www.bluegrassmusic.com or our Facebook page, "Bluegrass Unlimited Inc.", for updates. Thank you for understanding, and stay safe!

BU normally carries numerous full-page ads for festivals, which have now been cancelled for this year. Other articles include Gary Reid's substantial obituaries of Eric Weissberg and Joe Diffie, as well as Gary's report on the multi-CD-and-more reissue of Rounder's 'The early days of bluegrass' series. The BIB mentioned on 15 April that the reissue set comes with a 200-page book of history, photos, and interviews as well as all the original extensive album notes. We now learn that this book is available separately from Amazon.

BU's review section includes Bill Conger's favourable review of We Banjo 3's Roots to rise live album. A Highlight Review is given by David J. McCarthy to Fingerprints, the new album by multi-talented Australian bluegrasser Rod McCormarck. As an impressive example of his talents, see this YouTube video of McCormack singing Gordon Lightfoot's 'Song for a winter's night', on which he sings lead and harmony and plays lead guitar, rhythm guitar, resonator guitar, and banjo. A three-minute teaser video for the new album can be seen here.

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09 May 2020

Wicklow's Whole Hog Band featured on Bluegrass Today

ON Thursday last Bluegrass Today published a feature by Lee Zimmerman on the Wicklow-based Whole Hog Band (above; also on Facebook). The band is led by Bat Kinane (guitar, vocals), with core members John Treacy (bass, vocals), Cathy McEvoy (fiddle, vocals) and Brendan 'Gilly' Gilligan (drums).

The band's 2014 album Ordinary days consisted of original material, but covers are the backbone of their repertoire, with the aim of pleasing as wide a range of audiences in as many different settings as possible; and to judge by the feedback on their website, they're succeeding.

The range of material they cover is shown by their basic set list of over eighty numbers, plus a dozen jigs and reels; and by Bat's YouTube channel, with separate promo videos for rock and pop classics; country, Americana, and bluegrass; and trad and other Irish songs.

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08 May 2020

Good stuff from south-west Virginia

THE town of Floyd, in Floyd county, Virginia, is a good place for bluegrass and old-time music. It's a major venue on Virginia's Crooked Road; the town centre includes the Floyd Country Store, which hosts (in normal times) the Friday Night Jamboree; and just round the corner is County Sales, the home of Dave Freeman's world-changing County Records label.

In these abnormal times, the Country Store has launched the Handmade Music School, offering online guidance and instruction in banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dance, and other aspects of Southern music and traditions. Tutors who have played in Ireland include Erynn Marshall & Carl Jones, and Kris Truelsen, leader of Bill and the Belles, who instructs in the vocal and guitar styles of Jimmie Rodgers.
On 28 Apr. the BIB included a note on Spider tales, a forthcoming album by Jake Blount on Free Dirt Records. You can now see on the PopMatters website a feature by Jonathan Frahm on the album, which includes a nice photo of Jake Blount with his 6-string banjo (not a banjo-guitar) and a video (also on YouTube) of him fiddling and singing 'Boll weevil' for County Sales. He adds: 'This arrangement of the song came out of some need on my part to reconcile the more traditional renditions that I love with the Ithaca [NY] sound that shaped my musicianship.'

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07 May 2020

A virtual Red Hat again this Friday (8 May 2020)

Paul and Anne McEvoy, organisers of the Red Hat Acoustic Music Club, announce:

Hi, all Red Hatters,

Tomorrow Fri. is our night. If you would like to post a virtual song or piece of music, it would be great. Looking forward. Hope everyone is keeping well.

In normal times the Red Hat meets on the second Friday of every month at the Harbour Hotel, Naas, Co. Kildare. Music starts around 8.30 p.m.; a donation of €3.00 covers coffee/ tea and sandwiches at the interval.

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A wealth of information from the Foghorns - and a Virtual Fiddle Fair

JUST a month ago it could still be hoped that the Foghorn Stringband (USA) might be coming over later this month as part of a European tour. The Foghorns' latest e-newsletter opens with their regret that this tour and others are cancelled; but it goes on to give such a wealth of information - photos, links to music, instruction, and interviews on Facebook, YouTube, and elsewhere online, and more - that the BIB won't try even to summarise all the good things there. Any fan of the Foghorns, or indeed of old-time music in general, should read it.

One item of news, though, is of special relevance to anyone who had meant to go to this year's Baltimore Fiddle Fair in Co. Cork. The Foghorns report that the Fair's organisers are presenting a Virtual Fiddle Fair, broadcast live online on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter from 8.30 p.m. Irish time every night from tonight (Thurs. 7 May) up to and including Sun. 10 May. See the lineup on the image below.

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Deering Tech Live, episode 6 (update)

FOLLOWING on from previous BIB posts, Deering Banjos will bring out tonight (Thursday 7 May) the sixth episode of 'Deering Tech Live', where viewers can tune in via Facebook or Instagram and ask Chad Kopotic, vice-president of operations at Deering, any questions about banjo maintenance. This week Chad is to talk about bridges and their effect on tone; more on adjusting the fingerboard or truss rod; and caring for the wood of your banjo.

The episode will air at 3.00 p.m. PST (California time), which should be 11.00 p.m. BST. Any questions for Chad to answer can be left as comments on Deering's Facebook page. Last week's hour-long video episode, on the the different types of banjo heads, string spacing, radiused v. flat fingerboards, and more, can be seen on the Deering Banjos Blog.

Update 14 May: Episode 6 can now be watched here.

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06 May 2020

Southern music in Garden & Gun (update)

THE April/May 2020 issue of the US magazine Garden & Gun is its 'Saving the South' issue; and among its stories of thirty 'Southern heroes' ('From conservationists to cultural champions to preservationists to storytellers, these groundbreakers are making the South a better place'), #1 on the list is Rhiannon Giddens (right).

The article, by Bronwen Dickey, includes a YouTube video of her song 'At the purchaser's option' with lyrics, and deals at length with her latest project for an opera, Omar, on an Arabic-speaking Muslim scholar who was kidnapped in West Africa and spent the rest of his life as a slave in America.

The same issue of Garden & Gun includes a feature by Dacey Orr Sivewright on the new Smithsonian release of 1962 recordings of Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton (see the BIB for 29 Apr.).

Update: You can also see a fine ten-minute video of the Del McCoury Band, in cracking form, in the 'Back Porch Session' section of the Garden & Gun website.

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Online concerts - starting TONIGHT

GOOD to hear from our Czech friends Pe & Pe - Petra Fabianová (fiddle, vocals) and Petr Ježek (banjo) - who have toured Ireland several times, presenting their combination of bluegrass, traditional, folk, original compositions, and other acoustic music, and regularly appearing at the Ardara Bluegrass Festival in Co. Donegal.

Pe & Pe (also on Facebook) send their greetings, and announce that they will be playing online tonight (Wed. 6 May) from 7.00 p.m. (6.00 p.m. for Ireland). The concert will be live on their Facebook, and subsequently can be seen at any time on YouTube.
BEFORE the COVID-19 crisis struck, today was to have been the start of a tour of Ireland by another duo, 10 String Symphony (USA). The tour is now postponed till May 2021, but Music Network, who organised it, now announce that Christian Sedelmyer and Rachel Baiman of 10 String Symphony have recorded an online concert especially for Music Network's audiences, filmed on the banks of the Cumberland River in Madison, near Nashville, TN.

Update: this half-hour concert can now be seen and heard here.

This concert forms part of the Butterfly Sessions (online performances by musicians whose tours for Music Network were prevented by the crisis), and will be available to watch at 7.30 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. 7 May) on Music Network's digital channels: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Full details are on Music Network's e-newsletter, which includes a link for donations. Music Network announce:

All of the musicians involved in the Butterfly Sessions have received a fee for their new commission. However, if you would like to donate the price of a virtual ticket, you can do so via PayPal now. Music Network will ensure that all income generated is divided equally amongst the 24 musicians participating in the Butterfly Sessions.
SIMILARLY, the Crossover Festival in England was to begin tomorrow. On their latest newsletter, the organisers announce:

Crossover Festival was going to try to do some kind of 'virtual festival'. We had a list of bands lined up that would do online concerts over the festival weekend. However, since lock-down, this has proved increasingly difficult with bands not being able to meet up. BUT YOU CAN STILL HELP... Musicians are amongst a lot of workers who are going to be struggling financially right now, so if you're in a position to help, you can do so by buying some of their merchandise. Links are provided below to where you can buy CDs/merch/ donate to online gigs etc.

They append a list of the bands who were to have appeared at Crossroads 2020, with links to websites; a further list of bands doing frequent live-streamed music; and several YouTube videos 'that have kept us a little happier over the lockdown period', including a couple by Midnight Skyracer.
Bill and the Belles (USA; left) were at last year's Omagh festival; and as the house band on Radio Bristol, broadcasting from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, they will be hosting online a special home edition of 'Farm and Fun Time', which will be shown online next Thursday (14 May) at 7.00 p.m. EST on Facebook and YouTube. The show is announced as featuring The show will feature music by the band, an 'Heirloom recipe', special guests, and 'a few other surprises'.

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04 May 2020

La Roche 2020 cancelled

THE La Roche Bluegrass Festival at La Roche-sur-Foron, on the edge of the French Alps, is Europe's largest festival dedicated exclusively to bluegrass music. A month ago the organisers were still planning for a full festival this year (30 July-2 August), but were prepared if necessary to reduce size and content, depending on the state of coronavirus restrictions.

On 1 May the organisers and the La Roche town council issued a joint press release announcing with regret the cancellation of this year's festival. The full text of the release can be read on the Festival website and on the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) Facebook.

As a small consolation - in place of the previous one-minute video teaser, the Festival website now features a new ten-minute (well, nine-and-a-quarter) film shot by Fred Glas last year, which powerfully conveys the setting, the size, and the community atmosphere of the La Roche Festival. Well worth watching! This film can also be seen on YouTube - look out for a glimpse of Co. Armagh's Cup O' Joe.

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03 May 2020

Improvising - not just on the banjo

IN the Deering Banjos Blog series of instruction and advice from Hank Smith (above), the remarkable banjo player of Hank, Pattie, & the Current, the latest episode is 'Improvising tips'. In just under eleven minutes, Hank demonstrates how to develop variations on 'Blackberry blossom' on a basis of chord sequence, the notes of the scale, and varying right-hand patterns.

Hank gives a caution: 'At first, it's going to be pretty mindless noodling; it's not really going to sound like much; but it'll keep you going, and you'll be able to hear how improvisation works.' This approach to improvisation (at what could be called a mechanical level) can of course be applied to all the instruments, not just the banjo.


02 May 2020

Oldtime Central May newsletter

IN their latest e-newsletter the editors of Oldtime Central (OTC) announce that they are back on track after the dislocations of the pandemic crisis prevented the issue of updates during April. Apart from this weekend's online old-time banjo festival (see the BIB for 30 April), new items published on OTC since the last newsletter are:

The OTC editors add:

We have also felt so proud to see how members of the old-time music community have been building each other up during this crisis, through giving words of encouragement and affirmation, hosting and participating in online festivals and workshops, donating to online concerts, and myriad other displays of support. We are continuing to look for ways to help facilitate that support and sense of solidarity. We are all in this together!

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A Scroggdog speaks

LAST year Jeff Scroggins & the Scroggdogs (USA) came to Ireland for a tour organised by John Nyhan. Bluegrass Today now carries a substantial interview in Dave Berry's 'California report' series with Yosef Tucker, the Scroggdogs' guitar player (above, centre). It's an absorbing account of how a former 1990s teenager who listened to Nirvana, Rush, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses, came to find his biggest influences in the Stanley Brothers, Vern and Del Williams, Del McCoury, and Larry Sparks. Yosef plays in several bands, and in reply to the question 'Are the Scroggdogs tours as much fun as it looks?' he says:

Everyone is so well behaved and I come home refreshed. It’s like going on a yoga retreat.

The Scroggdogs are planning another European tour for later this year. One of the videos embedded in Dave Berry's report was shot by John Watson at Kilworth, Co. Cork, during last year's tour; it and other videos of the band can be seen on John's YouTube channel.

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01 May 2020

JigJam's Phoenix wins Best Americana Album award

CONGRATULATIONS to Tullamore's JigJam (above left), whose album Phoenix has won the title of Best Americana Album in the 18th Independent Music Awards. JigJam announce:

We're absolutely over the moon to receive this prestigious award. Some of our musical heroes have won these awards, so to be in such good company is awesome. Phoenix is our third studio album and we believe it's our strongest album to date. We put huge work into it, so to be acknowledged in this way means a lot to us. The only shame is that we couldn't have the award ceremony in New York but it's still just as sweet! We hope you're all well and staying safe. We can't wait to get back on the road!

A tour in Britain is already lined up for October, with dates in the USA earlier in the autumn. JigJam warn that the tour schedule is 'a moving jigsaw at the moment, so check our website regularly to see the latest updates!' The band's Patreon page for interaction, support, and community with fans is also proving very successful.

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