by R.J. Storm
The music at Bethel Woods was magnificent! Dubiously advertised as a festival, it was strange attending a festival without anybody bringing instruments and jamming.
Sort of a sophisticated venue to listen to bluegrass with a “pinky out when you sip your beer” environment, Bethel Woods is a truly beautiful venue that was worthy of the stellar bands that presented their absolute best. The performances were further enhanced and compounded with a sound and light system, and the people running it, that made everyone sparkle. The strange thing was that there was no MC at all! No MC to rattle off patter between sets, promote the bands, their venue’s upcoming events, local clubs and organizations–not even a plug for the local vendors who, like the audience, braved copious amounts of rain drops during this event. Those rain drops looked innocent enough alone and singular, but they ganged up on everybody at around 3:00pm when the event was starting.
The drizzle throughout the day, no doubt, quenched the anticipated attendance and the poor “schlubs” up on the hill, through the wet grass, I do not believe sold one kernel of Kettle Corn. The true dry spot of the real estate was the HVBA tent, with Lynn Lipton and Neal Loevinger smiling contently and welcoming all who sought shelter. All this being said, the several hundred people who attended were lively and enthusiastic and, clearly, nothing diminished the zeal and appreciation by all.
The event staff was professional and polite, but I thought it strange that everyone was kept from the vacant lower sections up until the end of the show. Hey! Come on! After the 7th inning at Yankee Stadium you can move up to better seats without question!
The centerpiece was Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys who presented a great show singing many of his famous standards that helped define bluegrass music and the Stanley sound. Dr. Stanley was hawking his own 1928 archtop Gibson 5 string banjo, a nice banjo with that archtop sharp attack. Originally a 4-string tenor, it was re-necked, tastefully, by Frank Neat some years ago and the resonator is original, but refinished. The internal rim has beautiful marquetry and the original Gibson tag, all capped with that 40 hole archtop ring that you could go to war with. The price is a mere $14,800.00 Ouch! Nice banjo, and I do not know if the “8” part is just to step down to the next shelf. I have a feeling that if Ralph was approached with 12 large cash, he would take it and that owner would have a banjo that could be played with a rock band!
The Traveling McCourys seem to be grooming audiences for Del’s retirement and I must say that Ronnie McCoury sounds exactly like his old man did at that age. It was Del’s band all the way, rotating songs from each member. Tight in every aspect, the man bringing up the guitar was guest Dan Tyminsky, who gave everyone what they wanted with “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” this was cool since it was echoed by Ralph Stanley later in his set.
Up with several Grammy nominations, Cherryholmes presented their brand of bluegrass with artful arrangements involving every talented member of this true family band. Four children later, mom Sandy was introduced as the true “producer” of the band! Spanning bluegrass and some world music, they have new and interesting music that is worth a listen and they may just take a Grammy on the next round!
Rhonda Vincent and The Rage gave everything to their audience including three t-shirts she tossed out to the first rows. Rhonda’s throaty voice made the hills ring and her secret weapon seems to be her new son-in-law, fiddler Hunter Berry, who “gets it done.”
In all, Cherryholmes, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, The Traveling McCourys, and Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys put on a first-class show at a first-class venue, and I submit that with a few changes, it should be more than a regular spot in the rotation of the “arts.”
Note: R.J. Storm is a luthier located in Port Jervis, NY and a fine banjo player!