Bluegrass Truth

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By Lachlan & Hamish Davidson

The acoustic music revival across Australia is showing solid growth and it is dissolving the boundaries between Bluegrass, Americana, Alternative-Country and Traditional Country. It is becoming increasingly common to walk into a bar on Sydney Road (Melbourne) or in places like Fitzroy (Melb), Collingwood (Melb), Annandale (Syd) or Newtown (Syd) on any night of the week and see a banjo, fiddle or mandolin on stage. You can’t help but smile and wonder about each musician’s story of their genesis, how they came to discover the essence of bluegrass music. We recall our early days when our Nan and Pop would let us hunt through their record collection just to see who the fiddle players were on each album and go from there.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the year Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys took the stage in Nashville Tennessee’s Ryman Auditorium and presented the definitive bluegrass sound to the world for the first time across the airwaves. That ‘bluegrass sound’ has continued on relatively unchanged to this day.

In the past few weeks we have said farewell to two more first generation bluegrass musicians. Tut

Taylor, known as the flat picking Dobro player famous for his recordings with John Hartford. Also, Tex Logan, fiddle player from New Jersey and electrical engineer in the early stages of digital music. Tex was a “bluegrass boy” and can be heard on definitive Bill Monroe recordings such as ‘Christmas Time’s a Coming’. He also played for Don Stover, The Lilly Brothers and Peter Rowan.

It is widely known that Australia holds a handful of the best acoustic instrument makers in the world, especially so when it comes bluegrass instruments. Therefore it is no surprise that fellow Australian Paul Duff (from the WA based band, Bluegrass Parkway), who builds some of the world’s finest mandolins, will be a guest speaker at the 2015 Monroe Mandolin Camp held in Tennessee this September. He will be discussing with great expertise ‘The Art of Mandolin Construction.’ The camp is great event for those wanting to dig deep into the roots of solid solo mandolin picking, with the emphasis around Monroe’s intimidating right hand technique, the tutors being some of the best traditional mandolin pickers around. A frequent visitor to our shores, Mike Compton is sure to be there – in his overalls – showing those who attend exactly how it’s done. www.monroemandolincamp.com

The 3rd annual MountainGrass Festival is to be held November 22-24 in Harrietville, Victoria. They have announced two international headline acts: Bluegrass songbird and powerhouse fiddle player Laurie Lewis will be there with The Right Hands, featuring Tom Rozum, Patrick Sauber and Andrew Conklin. Hailing from the West coast of the United States, Laurie is a Grammy award winner and two time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year. Known for a superb blend of folk, country and bluegrass, this will be Laurie’s first visit to Australia. Also appearing at MountainGrass are fellow Southerners (USA), the Orpheus Supertones. These guys are a traditional Old Timey group featuring twin fiddles, clawhammer banjo, and the works. Accommodation is booking up fast, so visit mountaingrass.com.au for accom details, tickets and general updates.

Another recent home-grown success story is of Syndey based duo Hunter and Suzy Owens. They entered the songwriting contest at the major bluegrass event in North Carolina, Merlefest (the festival begun as a memorial for legendary flat picker Doc Watson’s son). After being named a finalist in the songwriting contest, the couple travelled across to perform their song and managed to make us all proud by winning the ‘country division.’

The Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival has announced a stellar line up for their 2015 festival. The event is to be held October 23-25 in mid North NSW. Local acts include the Davidson Brothers, Astro Cobalt, The Kissin’ Cousins, River Mountain Riot and the Stetson Family. Confirmed international acts include Chessboxer, the Andrew Collins Trio, and Chris Henry and the Hard Core Grass. Bridget, the mother of the Sommers Family has drawn together innumerable musicians and spent fourteen years building this great event. Well worth getting along. dorrigofolkbluegrass.com.au

The Bluegrass Grammy award this year was awarded to the Earls of Leicester. As tribute band to the songs and style of Flatt & Scruggs featuring Jerry Douglas, Johnny Warren (whose father Paul Warren  played fiddle for the Foggy Mountain Boys), Barry Bales, Shawn Camp (an A-List Nashville songwriter) and Charlie Cushman.

Outstanding bluegrass entertainers, Daily & Vincent have recently released their very first live album and DVD concert. Jamie Dailey has one of the purest, most compelling tenor voices to grace the bluegrass world in recent years.

Pete Denahy, our co-columnist here in Country Update never fails to entertain an audience. He’s refined a fine Australian Bluegrass vocal style to compliment his fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo playing. He can be seen on the road this year touring nationally as special guest with Troy Cassar-Daley on Troy’s Freedom Ride tour.