It feels great to be writing about bluegrass right now; as we’ve just returned from one of the biggest events on the calendar. The IBMA World of Bluegrass! We got to witness some fine new acts on the international circuit as well as catch unique live collaborations in a 5,500-capacity outdoor Amphitheatre with the likes of Ricky Skaggs & Patty Loveless and Tommy Emmanuel & Friends featuring Bryan Sutton, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Jerry Douglas and Jack Pearson.
Just one of many memorable moments for us was, on the first night of the business conference, as we were getting set to perform our first showcase at the Lincoln Theatre, word quickly spread that the Grammy award winning artist Rhonda Vincent was to kick off the evening at the same venue, with her band The Rage as surprise guests. So, we quickly raced down to catch her show and we are glad we did. She’s an incredible singer and her band is well worth witnessing live if you ever get the chance. In chatting with her afterwards, she mentioned that she would love to come down our way one day, so fingers crossed.
Another favourite group is Special Consensus, headed up by banjo player Greg Cahill for 40 years now, and still going strong. These guys keep a busy touring schedule, visit Europe often and have a fantastic new release on the Compass Label titled Rivers and Roads. This band is a lot of fun and well worth checking out.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are certainly a new act to look out for. A bunch of younger lads, playing hard driving, traditional style music soaked in the essence of early Stanley Brothers and that mountain archtop tone. Having taken out ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ in 2018 with their debut album Back to the Mountains, these well-dressed men are dedicated to bringing the old sounds to new audiences with their own touch. It’s sure proven to be a hit in the US, and hopefully we’ll see them visit us here soon.
Alison Brown recently assembled an exciting all-star; all-girl group for a recording session on Missy Raines’ new album Royal Traveller on her Compass Records label. The collaboration went on to take the name The First Ladies of Bluegrass and they performed live for the first time at RockyGrass in Colorado earlier this year. The group took its name because each member was the first lady to win an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award on their focus instrument. Proving to be a crowd favourite, they were then chosen to headline the World of Bluegrass in Raleigh where they were joined on stage by special guests Gillian Welch and Rhiannon Giddens. The first ladies consist of Missy Raines on bass, Becky Buller on fiddle, Sierra Hull on mandolin, Molly Tuttle on guitar, and Alison Brown on banjo. A fun fact: our friend George Jackson is currently touring the US with Missy Raines’ band, where he is now based. Be sure to check out the solo projects from each of these artists in their own right, you won’t be disappointed.
Other IBMA highlights include seeing Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Appalachian Roadshow and witnessing Marty Stuart perform with Kentucky Thunder, whilst inducting Ricky Skaggs into the bluegrass Hall of Fame. This was part of the annual awards show, which also featured a memorable performance of fellow 2018 inductee Paul Williams (at the age of 83) singing a duet with Ricky, on his original song ‘Hold What You Got’, made famous by Jimmy Martin.
A new documentary titled Revival: The Sam Bush Story has been released digitally this month through Amazon. Telling the story of an iconic bluegrass and Americana musician who is credited with helping birth the progressive bluegrass movement through his own work and as a founding member of New Grass Revival with bassist John Cowan, banjo player Bela Fleck and guitarist Pat Flynn. Sam has had an outstanding career to date and is still rocking audiences of all ages!
Four-time IBMA banjo player of the year, Kristin Scott Benson, of the Grascals is the 2018 recipient of the 9th annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Created by actor, comedian, and musician, Steve Martin to bring recognition to an individual or group for outstanding accomplishment in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music, the prize highlights the extraordinary musicianship of these artists and bluegrass music worldwide. The winner is selected by a team of experts which includes banjo masters J.D. Crowe, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka and Noam Pikelny and includes a $50,000 cash prize. Well done Kristen! We got to present her one of those IBMA trophies at the Ryman back in 2010.
New Zealand has announced its very own bluegrass festival ‘Kiwigrass’, to be held in Hamilton on the first weekend of February 2019. Their first dedicated bluegrass event in decades will feature a long list of local NZ bands, a few Aussies and headliners The Lonely Heartstring Band from the USA.
Mustered Courage have released their forth studio album, We Played With Fire and recently completed a national tour to coincide with the launch. Fans can be excited to catch them back at the Tamworth CMF this coming January. Speaking of Tamworth, there’ll be plenty of fantastic pickers in town for the festival as always and it’s great to see the Battle of the Bluegrass contests on again at the Town Hall on January 23rd, 2019 from 12pm.