One of the absolute best things about the internet is the increased accessibility to bluegrass music in Australia. This has been highly noticeable to us being involved in the scene for the past twenty years. When we started back around 1996, our parents would take us to regular jam sessions in Melbourne or festivals to learn, and in between these times, the musicians we met at such events would run off cassette tapes and mail them to us to learn tunes. We’d wear them out! It was extremely hard to find bluegrass CDs (especially outside of a city) apart from the occasional find in a HMV store.
There was one bluegrass mail order service operating in Australia for a time who would post a list of recent stock along with an order form, these guys made a few bucks out of us. Now, fast-forward to modern times, one of our favourite things to do is search SPBGMA jam session videos on YouTube. The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (widely known as SPBGMA) hosts an incredible event at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville at the beginning of February each year. The event includes an Awards show, a national convention with a huge showcase line-up, a band contest with major prize money, up to $4,000 USD for the first-place winner. But to many, the main attraction of SPBGMA is the hotel jam sessions that happen all night long. The jamming culture in bluegrass is very addictive where most pickers are willing to get together, lose all track of time and make music together. It’s one of the very reasons we were drawn to it all those years ago.
If you’ve ever wondered about bluegrass in other parts of the world (apart from here or the US) we can tell you first hand after performing at the European World of Bluegrass (EWOB) in 2011 there is a strong scene in Europe with countless fine players and bands across countries such as Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and Czech; being a particular hot spot. Being much closer geographically to the US, many first-generation bluegrass artists toured Europe but never made it to our shores, including the Stanley Brothers back in 1966. If you’re in the Netherlands in May 2018 the EWOB festival has called it a day after 20 years, but a new event called European Bluegrass Voorthuizen will be held in its place, just a short distance from Amsterdam.
An exciting new group to emerge out of Europe is the UK based all-girl band Midnight Skyracer featuring the Carrivick Sisters; Charlotte on Guitar and Laura on fiddle & dobro, Tabitha Agnew on banjo, Leanne Thorose on mandolin and Eleanor Wilkie on Bass. They’re about to release their debut album.
Speaking of International bluegrass, our very own Pete Denahy has released a new album with three Japanese friends; Hiroki Maeta (mandolin), Tomoyuki Murata (guitar) and locally based Montz Matsumoto (banjo). With the addition of Aron Mclean (bass) the band is called Wide Island, a translation of Hiroshima, home town of Pete’s mum. Whilst the full band won’t be in Tamworth, you can catch Pete, Montz and Aron at their daily Bluegrass & Comedy breakfast shows held at Wests during the festival and pick yourself up a copy.
Other places to find bluegrass at the 2018 TCMF include: The Coca Cola Battle of the Bluegrass contest; Bluegrass comes to Tamworth show on the morning of Fri 26th at the Capital Theatre featuring Kristy Cox, Karen Lynne, Pete Denahy, The Weeping Willows and Montgomery Church; Andrew Clermont’s Bluegrass Champions Supper Club at the North Tamworth Bowling Club on Sat 27th; and we’ll be hosting our own bluegrass night at The Pub on Thurs 25th.
Thomas Kendall has been announced as the 2017 Australian Bluegrass Scholarship Winner. Tom plays guitar and mandolin and grew up in Essendon, Victoria. He first cultivated a passion for the music of the mountains in the suburbs, before venturing into regional touring with his band-mates, The Knott Family Band. Most recently, Tom has spent time recording with his band and attending festivals in the United States to hone his craft. We got to attend The Knott Family Band debut (self-titled) CD launch and it was wonderful to see so much support from young music fans and local musicians.
Recently we’ve had visits from country singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks who made his first trip to Australia in October to play the Out on the Weekend festival; it was a great surprise to see fine Nashville fiddler travelling with him, Shad Cobb.
We caught the Mile Twelve tour whilst they were in Melbourne, and they certainly presented a fine example of modern bluegrass with excellent musical arrangements and dynamic controlled use of microphones on stage. Their debut album Onwards which was released during their tour, produced by Stephen Mougin (Sam Bush Band) is well worth a listen, especially for NZ native banjo player Catherine (BB) Bowness exceptional skills on Ace of Hearts!
The Peter Rowan band will be visiting us again in March and will perform at the Cobargo, Port Fairy and Blue Mountains festivals as well as various club dates to be announced. This time the band will include Patrick Sauber on banjo, Blaine Sprouse on fiddle and Paul Knight on bass. Rowan’s career includes singing lead and playing rhythm guitar for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys in 1963, teaming up with David Grisman in the late 60’s before forming the super group Muleskinner along with country & bluegrass lead guitar pioneer Clarence White and two former bluegrass boys Bill Keith and Richard Greene. He then joined with Jerry Garcia (on banjo) and distinctive bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements in a new band called Old and In The Way.
With some exciting young musicians taking out IBMA Instrumental awards in 2017, another new record release we should mention is from Mike Barnett titled Portraits in Fiddles. Mike recently joined Ricky Skaggs band Kentucky Thunder full time, replacing long-time member Andy Leftwich. This album has a huge list of legendary guest musicians and is full of energy so check that out too!