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January 2009 Ralph Stanley (River City Bluegrass Festival)

January 14, 2009

12 Shows in 12 Months (2009)

Jim challenged himself to go see 12 bands this year that’s he’s never seen before.

January was a hit, with 4 new bands, one old band with a new member, and one band that, well, let’s just say Jim’s seen a lot of bands and he just can’t remember if he’s seen them before. But that’s OK.

So even though I saw 4 new bands, that still counts as “1.” It’s all good.

January 11

River City Bluegrass Festival, Portland, Oregon

Most who know me, know that I’m a bluegrass fan. So for me the obvious choice for January was the River City Bluegrass Festival. I went for the whole day on Sunday, because the line-up included several bands I’d never seen before. So here’s how the day went:

Jackstraw:

We were early enough to catch the first set of the day, with Portland’s Jackstraw. Although I can’t include them in the “never seen them” category, they did have a new band member – on banjo. It was a very nice addition to the set. I hope he becomes a permanent band member. This was probably the best set of the festival, for bluegrass music. It was a traditional approach to the music, extra-solid playing, good singing, and a great show.

Steep Canyon Rangers (New this year)

This band was at the 2008 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but I missed them there. So here was my second chance, although I missed the first few songs because I was too busy watching Jackstraw. This was a good 5-piece band, with a crazy fiddle player. They did a song called “Just Like Dale” (the race-car driver), and the fiddle played every kind of “race car-ambulance-18-wheel truck” sound effect you could imagine. Very creative. They also played “Don’t Ease Me In” which they described as ‘an old blues tune,’ but I guess I first heard it on the Grateful Dead’s “Go To Heaven” album. You just never know what song you’re gonna hear.

Riders in the Sky (New this year)

This band has played at the Hood River County Fair in past years, but I never seemed to make it to that show. This western-swing-comedy outfit has been on the circuit for over 30 years. This show was a hoot! Great family show. Not bluegrass, but when it’s that good, you don’t mind. Some of the best western swing fiddle I’ve ever heard. You get all the classics: Back in the Saddle, Cool Water, Happy Trails and more. This Grammy award-winning group keeps you laughing the whole time. Two thumbs up.

Psychograss

If you know bluegrass, you know the following people: Tony Trischa (banjo), Mike Marshall (mando), Darol Anger (fiddle), Todd Phillips (bass), David Grier (guitar). These folks are the cream-of-the-crop instrumentalists. However, if you know bluegrass, you know that this isn’t bluegrass. They played an eclectic jazz-fusion grass. I’m not sure what to call it. One or two tunes almost approached bluegrass, sort of. Trischa played with a violin bow on his banjo, for the riff to the bands version of Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun.” It was fun to watch Marshall play his mando. But this particular set just didn’t grab me. If you want to find out more about these folks, take a listen to some David Grisman Quintet configurations. Phillips does a lot of work with Laurie Lewis, too. If you’re looking for instructional material for your instrument, check these guys out. There’s a chance that I’ve seen this band at one of the Wintergrass festivals (Tacoma, Wash.), but it would take some research to find out.

Dailey & Vincent (New this Year)

I didn’t know a thing about these guys going in. It sounds like it’s going to be a duo, but you get a whole band. They had good players, who all sang, and most of the songs featured extremely choreographed 4 and 5 part harmony. Most songs were original gospel based tunes.

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (New this Year)

It was an honor to see this living legend. One half of the iconic Stanley Brothers, Ralph Stanley is a pillar in the bluegrass-Appalachian mountain music genre. He’s worked with just about every bluegrass/country person you can think of. He even recently recorded a song with Bob Dylan, who was reported to say it was the most fun he had. Stanley has won numerous national awards, honorary degrees, presidential medals of honor, and lifetime achievement awards. He was the inspiration and contributor to the “O Brother Where Art Thou” movie soundtrack.

Ralph’s age and his health made him rely on his band for most of the playing. But he was as upbeat and cheerful as he could be, even telling a few jokes between songs. He sang and added his distinctive vocal to several songs, and performed one solo vocal number, “Oh Death.” He did take off his jacket and donned the banjo for two songs – adding his classic clawhammer style playing to the mix. His band featured his son, and his grandson.

Here’s the set, as best as I could tell:

Sally Goodin (instr.)

White Dove

Soldiers Joy (instr)

If this guitar could talk

Clinch Mt. Backstep (instr.)

Little Maggie

Oh Death

I’ll Answer the Call

Lonesome Without You

Liza Jane (vocal/banjo)

Angel Band??

Pass Me Not

Orange Blossom Special (instr.)

Katy Daly

Bill Bailey?? (instr)

Think of What You’ve Done

Moms are the Reason Flowers Grow

Sunny Side of the Mountain (instr.)

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (all-star jam)

Alright, that was a good show. I’m already planning for February, and it’s gonna rock. Even though ordering tickets online doesn’t quite have the same feeling as getting up early to go stand in the ol’ “Ticketron” line (remember Ticketron???), I guess it saves a bunch of running around. I’d better get on-line now, before the big sell-out!

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