Bluegrass Truth

With Hamish and Lachlan Davidson.

Tamworth was a real blast for us this year, we got along to Pete Denahy’s Bluegrass & Comedy Breakfast show and Andrew Clermont’s Supper Club both of which were full of great musicians and on-stage jams. We also performed with Melinda Schneider at her show which she opened with a bluegrass band arrangement playing her songs in an all acoustic style, man what a singer! Another real highlight was on the Friday evening many bluegrass pickers who had the night off got together and had a casual jam session – for six hours! – at The Retreat café. During our first visits to Tamworth in the 90s, there were daily jams on the porch of the Longyard Hotel, well before it was built up with a motel and KFC alongside it. That’s where we got to meet many local players and learnt a great many tunes. Lastly, our true highlight was being invited to perform on the Golden Guitar Awards show in front of the Country Music industry with our bluegrass band featuring Daniel Watkins [guitar] and Andrew Small [bass], and subsequently taking out two awards for ‘Instrumental of the Year’ and ‘Bluegrass Recording of the Year’. A night we’ll never forget!

The Coca-Cola Battle of the Bluegrass contest was held at the Tamworth Town Hall during the festival once again. This year the winners were Paddy Montgomery in mandolin, William Louis in the banjo category & Tommy Chandler in guitar. Paddy is a fine player of all stringed instruments having recently toured with Fanny Lumsden, Mustered Courage and, he is a sought after traditional Greek musician. William is only eleven years old and has been turning heads across the country with his ability on several instruments. His father is Martin Louis, a very fine Aussie banjo player and husband of Karen Lynne. Tommy hails from North Carolina and has been spending most of his time in Australia the past few years. He’s the real deal bluegrasser with a fine tenor voice and flat-picking skills to match. He’s been visiting Victoria recently with his new band Copperline which features Dave Hellens [banjo], Josh Grundy [mandolin], Pete Denahy [fiddle] and Aron McLean [bass].

The 2018 Grammy Award for ‘Best Bluegrass Album’ was a tie! The winners were: Rhonda Vincent and The Rage with ‘All The Rage – In Concert Volume One [LIVE]’ and The Infamous Stringdusters with ‘Laws Of Gravity’.

After seven nominations throughout her career, this is Rhonda’s first Grammy award. Commonly referred to as the “Queen of Bluegrass” Rhonda has one of the most respected bands on the bluegrass circuit and one of the busiest, most impressive touring schedules year after year. Along with her band The Rage, which is Hunter Berry [fiddle], Brent Burke [dobro], Mickey Harris [bass, vocals], Aaron McDaris [banjo, vocals] and Josh Williams [guitar, vocals] they are the most awarded band in bluegrass history with 19 IBMA award wins. Rhonda released two mainstream country records in the early 90s before returning to her roots. Her name can also be found in the credits singing harmony to many major country artists including Merle Haggard, George Jones and Dolly Parton.

The Stringdusters have redefined what a bluegrass band can be in modern times since they first performed together in 2005. Featuring Travis Book [bass, vocals], Andy Falco [guitar, vocals], Jeremy Garrett [fiddle, vocals], Andy Hall [dobro, vocals], and Chris Pandolfi [banjo, vocals], the band stretches the limits of acoustic music and has a firm grasp on traditions as shown through their extreme instrumental skill. Their live shows are filled with fully improvised seaways between songs and they really deliver the energy required to connect with a young audience. Recently they collaborated nationally with Ryan Adams and the band also host their own festival, The Festy Experience in Arrington, VA.

In December, the world said farewell to Curly Seckler, at the age of 98, a first-generation bluegrass Hall of Famer and long-time member of Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys (1949-1962). Curly played mandolin and helped develop the “chop” which added to the rhythm sound of Flatt & Scruggs. In his early days he played with Charlie Monroe and later in his career he fronted the Nashville Grass (which included a young Marty Stuart) after Lester Flatt’s passing in 1979.

We’re sorry to hear that Peter Rowan won’t be visiting Australia this year due to doctors’ orders, and we wish him a speedy recovery. But we do hear that Mustered Courage is back in the studio preparing for a new release this year. They’ve been on a hiatus for the past little while but have started performing again much to the delight of their strong fanbase.

Our friend Greg McGrath, the director of australianbluegrass.com, is also the committed convenor and host of Jam Camps Australia. These camps run on a program developed by Pete Wernick from the US band Hot Rize, and they’re focused on teaching bluegrass jamming to inexperienced players. This year there will be three camps; held on 20-22 July at Burleigh Heads QLD, 7-9 September at Quorn SA & 15-17 September at Phillip Island VIC. More info: jamcampsaustralia.com.au

In local festival news, the 7th Wirrina Bluegrass and Acoustic Roots Festival, located on the South Australian coast line just south of the McLaren Vale wine region, has shifted dates from September in search of finer weather to the weekend of November 16-18. The Mountaingrass Festival has recently made a major announcement, they will be shifting locations to Beechworth and a week earlier to 9-11 November. This will see a departure of bluegrass music events held in Harrietville VIC for almost 30 years, but the new location looks like a great host venue for the event, the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills in Beechworth.