Reviews > Shows
2010 International Newgrass Festival
Photos by Peter Wroblewski
The Second Annual International Newgrass Festival
Bowling Green, Kentucky
The Second Annual International Newgrass Festival took place August 20-22, 2010 in the birthplace of New Grass Revival, and Newgrass music, Bowling Green, Kentucky. For those not familiar with the term ‘Newgrass’, it is a mutation of bluegrass started in 1970 when Sam Bush (vocals, fiddle, mandolin guitar) and the late Courtney Johnson (banjo, vocals) joined together with a band called The Bluegrass Alliance. Curtis Burch later joined the group, which was renamed New Grass Revival in 1972 with the departure of original fiddle player, Lonnie Peerce. John Cowan joined on bass a year later.
New Grass Revival used bluegrass instrumentation and played some bluegrass standards but also played many different types of music like rock, jazz and blues in the ‘newgrass’ style. Certain portions of the bluegrass community scorned them, seemingly offended by the distortion of ‘pure’ bluegrass but the also gained a devoted following who believed they were moving the genre in a new, fresh and exciting direction. Today, many bands are playing all types of music using the instrumental configuration of bluegrass, (mandolin, guitar, bass, banjo and fiddle) a tradition started by New Grass Revival. Just this year, the Mayor of Bowling Green and the State of Kentucky dedicated August 21st as Sam Bush Day and named him, and Newgrass music, as a state treasure.
The Festival was held in a sprawling park outside Bowling Green, in Warren County, Kentucky. A permanent stage has been built to accommodate and assure the future of the festival. The Newgrass Festival celebrates Newgrass Music, bucking the trend of multi-genre festivals that are designed to attract as many attendees as possible. Every act on the stage was either part of New Grass Revival in some way, or influenced by their music enough to emulate their style. The park includes a Disc Golf Course and a motocross track (which was thankfully not being used due to the music festival.) It boasts showers and flushing toilets, a rarity at most festivals, no matter how large or expensive. Kenny Lee Smith, a Bowling Green native, created and organized the festival based on his love of Newgrass music. He used local sources for food vendors, which keeps the prices as low as possible. The value and quality of this Festival cannot be beat.
Friday started out with The Hazel Johnson Band. Hazel, a mandolin and guitar player was married to original New Grass Revival banjo player, the Courtney Johnson. She plays traditional music in her own style. One of the hallmarks of Newgrass music is the predominant location of the mandolin in thearrangements. Hazel is a fine mandolin player, and represents a continuation of the style started by her husband and Sam Bush.
She was followed by a number of young bands, mostly fronted by women, who exemplify the best of the continuation of Newgrass. Sierra Hull, a young, up and coming mandolin picker and singer out of Nashville, joined by Ron Block from Alison Krauss and Union Station, played a great set. Bearfoot (a fine configuration of pickers, singers, and songwriters, originally from Alaska) and now from Nashville, and The Greencards, an outfit comprised of players from Ireland, South America and the US, both played engaging sets. The Farewell Drifters also played a nice set of music to round out the day. Each band gets a full hour and a half, which allows then to settle in and play their best. Sam Bush sat in with the Greencards on mandolin and fiddle, another hallmark of Newgrass music, the willingness to join with others in playing the music we love.
Saturday started with a set by Curtis Burch, also known as Dr. Dobro, who was the original dobro player in New Grass Revival. He can play any type of music and his set was peppered with covers of songs from many different bands including Grateful Dead, The Monkees and The Turtles to name a few. The rest of the day was comprised of more bands heavily influenced by Newgrass music. Dread Clampitt from Florida, Cadillac Sky from Texas, and Missy Raines and the New Hip from Nashville. Sam sat in on fiddle with Dread Clampitt and fired up the crowd who were baking in the sun. Cadillac Sky lit the place up with their unique presentation and original sound. They had a huge crowd at the merchandise booth after their set.
Sam Bush Band closed out the night with a high energy performance. Sam’s band includes Scott Vestal on banjo, Chris Brown on drums, Stephen Mougin on guitar, and newest member Todd Parks on bass. They have a way of re-inventing their music every time they play, injecting everything they have into every song. There is a reason they are called on to headline every bluegrass festival going, including Telluride, Rocky Grass, Grey Fox, Grand Targhee and Gettysburg, to name a few. The encores, dubbed The Sam Jam, included Curtis Burch on dobro, 3 basses, 3 mandolins, 2 drummers, 4 guitarists and a host of others. The stage was crowded and the energy was high.
Sunday opened up with a set by Bob Lucas who is a singer/songwriter from Logan County, Ohio. He cowrote many of New Grass Revivals songs and is a local legend. He was followed by Ryan Cavanaugh, a banjo player, now living in Nashville. Sam Bush heard about Ryan from guitar player John McLaughlin, who called him his favorite young banjo player. Cavanaugh has a new record coming out, which is sure to be stunning, like his playing. They ended their set with a long interpretation of the Miles Davis tune, ‘Jean Pierre’. Curtis Burch and Dread Clampitt played additional sets, with Curtis Burch and Sam sitting in with Dread Clampitt and later Curtis bringing up a band of young pickers from his Kentucky Bluegrass School. They were followed by Mountain Heart and the festival ended with a set by Duckbutter. Duckbutter is a rarely seen configuration where Sam Bush plays guitar, joined by Kenny Lee on slide, Byron House (from Robert Plant’s Band of Joy) on bass, Reece Wynans (from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Band) on Hammond organ, and Jeff Jones on drums. Rarely heard outside of Bowling Green, this band has been playing together almost 30 years – and it shows. Kenny Lee plays the slide with anything the crowd can offer including hula hoops, beer bottles, bananas, balloons and inflatable sheep. They were also joined by 13-year old local guitar slinger named Nick Williams. They tore through a range of blues standards and covers to the delight of the crowd. All in all it was a great way to end a fantastic festival.
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