Sunday, March 7, 2010

Winter Bluegrass Weekend Festival

Got to the Radisson in Plymouth, MN around 5 pm Friday for the Winter Bluegrass Weekend, and things were already hopping with bluegrass and old-timey jams packing the halls. While I was getting settled in my hotel room, my pal Ann came on in, loaded down with her accordion and too much food for two gals to handle. We put cheese curds and beer in the fridge, and I warmed up for my main stage set.

Kicking things off, my Mother Banjo Band started with my gospel song "Revival Train." Playing a more bluegrassy set than usual, we left drummer and kit in Minnneapolis and brought Jim Parker (Wild Goose Chase Cloggers, Pig's Eye Landing) in on mando. He also joined me and guitarist Dan Gaarder (Trailer Trash, The Roe Family Singers) on some 3-part harmonies. After much discussion, we decided that bass player Jon Olson (The Roe Family Singers) would bring his electric bass (instead of one of his own hand-crafted upright basses) which came in handy when we closed our set with Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love." Although some of the seniors didn't know the song, everyone enjoyed it, including the guy who stopped by the merch table to tell me it took him back to his high school days. After selling CDs and meeting lots of nice folks at the merch table, I had a whisky with Jon, heard Switched At Birth do a great rendition of "Tangled Up in Blue" and had some chili with Ann before calling it a night.

The next morning Ann and I made ourselves a nice oatmeal breakfast, which gave me enough fuel to plan my whole radio show and go for a nice 2-mile run outside (we've been experiencing an uncharacteristically amazing run of warm weather). While Ann stopped by the beginner jam with Bill Cagley, I caught the end of the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers' performance (pictured here) and learned a few basic clogging steps. Then I just roamed the halls, heard some nice jams and caught up with old friends before running into my pal Katryn Conlin, who had wanted to jam with me. She grabbed her guitar (she normally can be seen playing upright bass with Long Time Gone), and we ran through a few tunes and even caught the attention of a few passers-by.

After jamming with Kat, I found my way back to the main stage to see Brian Wicklund & The Fiddle Pals. Although he is a well-known fiddler in these parts and I had seen him play before, I had never heard this particular band. I quickly regretted not coming over sooner because they were super tight. With a nice string swing style they did some mind-blowing instrumentals, featuring some pretty crazy guitar work by their young guitarist who also sang the leads on a refreshingly original take on Prine's "Paradise." Finishing off with a nice jazzy tune, they got an immediate standing ovation. Normally they run a pretty tight ship on the main stage, not allowing encores, but they did make an exception, much to my delight. This was definitely the best band I heard all weekend.

Caught a few nice tunes by the Wild Spirit Band before heading to the Nechville Banjos Stage to hear Long Time Gone (pictured here). They sounded really good, especially their renditions of "The Old Crossroads," "I'll Go Stepping Too" and Kat's song "Jeff, Jerry and Bill," written for their fiddle player Jeff Kinnell, who died in 2008.

Returning to the main stage, we caught most of The Platte Valley Boys, one of the mainstays of the local bluegrass scene. The did a great, predictably solid set, whose highlights included Jimmy Martin's "Moonshine Holler," "John the Baptist," and their encore "Tennessee."

Ann and I then headed up to our room to rejuvenate ourselves with wine and cheese before heading back to the Nechville Banjos Stage, where they do a dinner show. We caught the end of Light of the Moon and all of Madison-based Sweet Grass, the winners of the 2009 Race for a Place Contest at the MBOTMA Harvest Jam. They were pretty good players, although Ann and I thought they could work on their songwriting. But they're young dudes and easy on the eyes so it was all good.

Right about the time we were finishing our apple crisp and coffee, The Roe Family Singers were getting set up on stage. We were able to snag closer seats to the stage and enjoyed one of the best Roe sets I've ever heard. They were missing their saw player Adam, but all the other Roes were present, including their mando player Kurt Froehlich (who had been in Detroit the last few months) and their jug player Rob "Ol' Spitty" Davis. Ol' Spitty showed the crowd why they were this year's champions of the 28th Battle of the Jug Bands. This set had great energy to it and featured a bunch of newer songs I had never heard before, including "Jack Malone" and a beautiful song inspired by Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. Although usually everyone but bass player Jon Olson sits on stage, Kurt, Ol' Spitty and Kim Roe all stood behind Dan Gaarder and Quillan Roe--a really nice effect. You could see everyone better, and Kim has a brighter energy when standing (and gets to show off her kickin' cowboy boots). She had baby Elspeth in tow, which was a crowd pleaser, especially when she shook her percussion instruments in time with the music. The audience ate it all up and demanded an encore, which they did.

I missed the next band The Woodpicks because I was backstage hanging with The Roes, exchanging dirty jokes, but Ann said they were one of her favorites of the weekend. Must make a note to see them at the June festival.

Another thing I wish I hadn't missed was The Macrae Sisters afternoon concert. I did, however, get to catch the end of their square dance, where a bunch of us did some freestyling clogging, and they sounded great. I talked with them for awhile afterwards and a copy of their CD for airplay. I found out that they are playing one last show in the Twin Cities tonight at the Bedlam Theatre. Highly recommended for those that can swing a 10 pm Sunday night show.

I hooked up with some of The Roes again and jammed with Dan and Kurt for awhile. Then I ran into Switched At Birth's Rick Anderson. We geeked out on banjos, looking online for a good backpacking hard case. We didn't find what I was looking for, but I did learn about, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

At about 1:30 I crawled into bed. Now it's Sunday at 9 am, and I'm having my morning coffee, trying to get myself motivated to get dressed and venture into the real, non-banjo focused world to do my radio show. Hope you'll tune in for it, as it will feature all music I heard and picked up while attending the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, including brand new music from Patty Larkin, Pieta Brown, Devon Sproule and Joy Kills Sorrow!

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