Sunday, July 17, 2011

Live Review - 7/14/2011 - 7/17/2011 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival

This was my eighth Grey Fox and the festival just keeps getting better.  This year had an embarrassment of riches; it seemed like every time slot had competing acts of great interest.  The downside was that there weren't really any new discoveries this year; who has time for new bands when the bands you know are so awesome?
The death of fiddle great Kenny Baker was definitely on the minds of many of the artists and fans at the festival.  There was a formal tribute on Friday, but there were many artists who played a Baker tune as a tribute, including three versions of "Jerusalem Ridge."  Friday's fiddle workshop at one point turned into the panelists swapping Kenny Baker stories.

Some highlights through the weekend:

  • It was a coming-out party for Boston-based Della Mae, fresh on the heels of recording their newest album I Built This Heart.  They were everywhere the first two days of the festival, with a workshop gig, a main stage appearance, and a set at the dance tent.  The dance tent set was a firestorm, showing the group's power and variety.  The only quibble was that the band had to quiet down to hear the virtuoso flatpicking of Courtney Hartman, disrupting some of the dynamics.
  • Chris Thile and Michael Daves' collaboration Sleep With One Eye Open is one of my favorite albums of the year, and their set did not disappoint.  Thile gave a sneak preview with an amazing set at the workshop tent, showing his range (from Bill Monroe tunes to Bach) and his incomporable mandolin playing.  The set with Daves was the highlight of the main stage for me this year; Second Cousin Curly wrote a great review of their recent Boston show that does their live act more justice than I can.  Thile's improvisational skills are amazing; he hears things no one else does and makes even older tunes fresh again.
  • I joked that Del McCoury should release a live album, "Del Forgets the Words To Your Favorite Tunes."  He struggled with at least three songs, but his attitude is so great he was forgiven right away.  His voice still sounds terrific and his band is amazing.
  • I was hoping for mandolin masters redux (see my report from last year) with the banjo masters tent workshop, featuring Tony Trischka, J.D. Crowe, Bill Keith, and Mike Mumford.  The music was quite good, but there was a lot of talking, and they only did two jams with all four of them; most of the times they just took turns soloing.  My favorite was Mumford doing fiddle tunes on the banjo in a Kenny Baker tribute; I'm not familiar with his work but he is a master of the melodic style.
  • The Infamous Stringdusters were typically excellent.  Not much to add to what I've written before, but one interesting note was dobro player Andy Hall mixing his instrument through a wah pedal.  The 'Dusters have always pushed the envelope and this seems like just another way they're doing so.
Della Mae official site
Chris Thile and Michael Daves official site
Del McCoury Band official site
Infamous Stringdusters official site

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