Bluegrass Truth


With Hamish & Lachlan Davidson

As we write this column, we are right in the middle of a fantastic festival season which began in October and has welcomed some great International guests to our shores as the northern hemisphere heads into winter. We’ve been playing up and down the east coast, jetting off on countless flights to perform at a number of bluegrass focused events.

Chris Henry and The Hardcore Grass returned to Australia for a month long tour. Henry has teamed up with semi-local act One Up, Two Down (George Jackson, Daniel Watkins & Andrew Small) and US banjo player Kyle Tuttle. The group toured several states of America before bringing the highly polished line-up in front of Australian audiences. Even Ian Moss (Cold Chisel) attended one of their shows!

Chris Henry has a new CD featuring these guys on the Aussie tour titled The Water Song and Kyle Tuttle has released his first solo record Bobcat featuring a large array of outstanding banjo instrumental tracks with some of hottest young pickers in Nashville. Kyle also took out the re-instated Australian National Bluegrass Championship on Banjo.

Over the Halloween weekend, the Sydney Country Music Festival presented a devoted bluegrass stage over two days and proudly announced they will bring back the Bluegrass Championships after an absence of at least 5 years. With some fantastic and generous prizes donated by Fender Australia and the Gladesville Guitar Factory, the fiddle title was taken out by George Jackson, guitar by Jacob McGuffie (Davidson Brothers band) and mandolin by Andrew Small. Steve Passfield was the driving force behind the champ’s and bluegrass stage and tells us they’re committed to ensuring the event is even bigger next year! Excellent news, we say.

A fun fact to show how far bluegrass has come is that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first commercial recording by an Australian bluegrass band! The Hawking Brothers with the Green Willow Boys, recorded 4 titles in bluegrass style for the W&G label in Melbourne in 1965 released on an EP titled Blue Grass Down Under.

Mustered Courage have been garnering great reviews and been wearing out the highway as usual, playing across Australia. Their latest addition to the progressive bluegrass genre White Lies & Melodies was even nominated for an ARIA Award.

Lately there has been a buzz around a band called The Morrisons and after recently sharing the stage with them in Sydney we can see why. They play great music, with the energy it deserves and all the right influences and they have created a strong following throughout inner Sydney. Currently touring the east coast in promotion of their debut single ‘Wild Eleanor’ the guys tell us they now have t-shirts available for their fans.

The big winners at the 26th Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards were the Earls of Leicester. A tribute band put together by Jerry Douglas to perform the traditions of bluegrass from the 1950’s in a modern way. Other winners included usual suspects like Rhonda Vincent, Balsam Range, Michael Cleveland and Bryan Sutton. A highlight of the evening is when they add new inductees and bluegrass notables into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and this year they were Bill Keith and Larry Sparks.

Sadly, just a few weeks after the IBMA World of Bluegrass, Bill Keith passed away. A native of Woodstock, New York, Bill has been heralded as the most influential banjo player since Earl Scruggs. His new melodic style of playing landed him a job with Bill Monroe in 1963 and he went on to permanently alter banjo playing for so many in bluegrass music. A highly intelligent man, like many musicians, Bill Keith made a mechanical contribution to the music by designing a banjo tuner that would allow players to quickly change to different open tunings, which also become a feature for many tunes by Earl Scruggs and others. Hamish also cites Keith as a major influence during his learning as a teenager. Bill would post tabs in the mail to our house, and after we first met in 1997, Bill would remember us every time we crossed paths thereafter both in the US and Europe and share a few tunes.

Another prominent banjo player, Ron Block, has released a new instrumental record titled Hogan’s House of Music. Ron has been a key member of Alison Krauss’s band Union Station for almost 25 years and this group has set the standard for modern bluegrass worldwide. As well as being an extremely proficient guitar player (and pretty much all-rounder) Ron has produced albums for Sierra Hull and won 14 Grammy awards.

The next major event for us is the Woodford Folk Festival, returning to perform after about 10 years! It’s a huge 6-day event between Christmas and New Year featuring a broad array of music which will include One Up, Two Down and all the way from Canada, the recently re-united folk fusion band (featuring banjo), The Duhks just to name a couple.

Also in January 2016 the Sunshine Fiddle Camp is happening at Alexandra Headlands in Queensland. Guest tutors include Brittany Haas, Tristan Clarridge, Jack Wilson and Jeri Foreman. Aspiring fiddle players, don’t miss this one!