Suwannee Springfest: a Downpour of Amazing Music, Not Rain!
Before we get started, let me say “Thank you, Mandolin Orange!”
I confess I approached my Suwannee Springfest assignment with some trepidation: I was clearly out of my element. I’m funking rocker, or a rocking funkster, or something. I like folk, and bluegrass, and Americana, certainly. But how would I manage an entire festival of that?
By the time Mandolin Orange hit the Amphitheater Stage at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, I had heard the first two sets of the day (Big Cosmo’s Band, Sloppy Joe) easily from our campsite and witnessed two more excellent sets from The Broadcast and Taylor Martin’s Engine. Both of those bands rocked.
Mandolin Orange did not.
Emily Frantz played acoustic guitar, and Andrew Marlin played mandolin. Very quiet compared to the past several hours. The first two songs were uptempo, but the third song was as quiet as a ballad: “That Wrecking Ball.” The guitar and mandolin twirled around each other. And their voices also twirled, in glorious harmony. And it clicked. And I understood.
This is a very different listening experience than, say, a funk fest. Yet it was just as exciting. After “There Was a Time,” Frantz switched to violin and Marlin picked up a guitar for “Edge of the Night” and “House of Stone.” They played the “most Irish-y song we know” and proceeded to deliver a magnificent set.
Lucky for me, it greatly improved my perspective for the remainder of the festival.
The Broadcast got my fest off to a rollicking start with a wonderful and genre-defying mix of music. Caitlyn Krisko had a superb night (even more impressive Friday) preforming great originals and excellent covers of “After Midnight,” Nina Simone’s “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” and a bouncy “With a Little Help from My Friends.” The band is touring in advance of their new album, From the Horizon.
Music was switching back and forth between the Amphitheater Stage and the Porch Stage. Next on the Porch was Taylor Martin’s Engine. My notes have disappeared, but I know I liked it enough to check them out Friday as well.
After the Mandolin Orange set, we moved back to see the Rumpke Mountain Boys. Best story of the entire fest (and I hope this isn’t a secret or something): Rumpke Mountain is a landfill in urban Cincinnati! The Rumpke Mountain Boys, however, were great. This was ass-kicking music, rompin’ stompin’ bluegrass: guitar, bass, mandolin and banjo. And it was fun!
Speaking of that, a friend told me his simple mantra at a festival: if the guys on stage aren’t smiling and having a good time, keep walking to the next stage. I hope he doesn’t mind if I adopt it. Maybe I should call it the Mike Mantra. In any event, everybody was smiling and having a ball! Anyway…
Grandpa’s Cough Medicine was ready to hold forth on the Amphitheater Stage. If there was any question which direction the set would go, it was erased the moment Brett Bass (guitar) started singing “Blood and Justice (The Pedophile Song).” It was all ‘downhill’ from there.
Bass proceeded to tell us that the next song was about bandmate Mikey Banjo Boy Coker. So of course it was called “Fast As Fuck, High As Hell” (with apologies). After “Respect the Shine” came the first real asskicker, a lightning-fast workout with Bass and Coker pickin’ like crazy and Jon Murphy coloring everything with his hypnotic bass lines.
After “Here’s our Irish song,” they played a wild new tune called “Drunken Freight Train” that was really powerful. Then we got the great lyrics of “Brand New .22.” The set was filled with favorites (“The Murder Chord” and “Crooked Cop”) and a new tune: “Train of Thought.” Bass and Coker won blue ribbons for pickin’ last year, but they sound even better now!
Grits & Soul had impressed at Magnolia Fest, so we checked them out again. Anna Kline sings and plays guitar; she is joined by mandolin and bass. They played some great songs, including “Home to You” and “Run Rabbit Run.” At one point, Kline sang a beautiful Irish song in magnificent Celtic style, truly riveting. And they pivoted from there into a honky-tonkin’ tune!
The Jon Stickley Trio. See, right there, we’ve got a problem. It says trio, but there had to be, like, five or six people on stage, right? Except I kept counting. Kept getting three. Holy WOW! Stickley is a beast on guitar, the perfect follow-up to Brett Bass’s shreddin’/pickin’ with Grandpa’s Cough Medicine. And Lyndsay Pruett? Believe the hype. More than anything, this was an astounding weekend for fiddlers.
But drummer Patrick Armitage. Oh, Patrick Armitage! He was beyond brilliant. He could turn awesome songs into outrageous funk or rocking prog. It was truly amazing to hear how the three meshed and funked and rocked and… Just WOW. And a second dose would be on tap Friday!
I did notice there was no Silent Disco.
Let’s talk about chairs. I love chairs. I sit down most of the time at festivals. I sit off to the side or in the back. Maybe somebody, someday, will be able to explain the chair thing at the Amphitheater for Springfest. It would appear that, if you show up, say, Tuesday early and drag your chair down to the amphitheater floor and bolt it to the concrete, then that is YOUR chair for the entire festival.
Let’s just say I didn’t like it. Consider this real scenario. A band is throwing down a superb afternoon set, but the chairs are mainly empty, since the owners are there mostly for the headliners. So right in front of you is… silence. Very weird. When I am king…
The Applebutter Express had the honor of opening the day’s music at the Amphitheater. This was their first time on the big stage, and they owned it: a great set — if toned down for the noon family crowd. When they played “Handguns and Hammocks,” lyrics were appropriately altered to “IT ain’t illegal if you don’t get caught!” Fiddler Joe Trivette was excellent once again (they all were). Favorites included “Smile” and “Raging On a Weekday.” I had contemplated staying for the whole set, but I have the privilege of seeing them often, so I ventured to the Music Hall for Two Foot Level.
Wise decision! This Tallahassee quintets play Americana and folk rock, but they were channeling the kind of country tunes Widespread Panic would play. They really lit up the room. Looking forward to hearing them again. From there I headed back to the Porch to see Quartermoon. These folks, like many of the bands at Springfest, were camped near us, promising lots of campfire sessions deep into the night.
This Gainesville quartet (plus a couple) love outlaw country blues and more. Raven Smith sang a tune about “no matter where I go, the FBI is following me.” That’ll get you revved up! They played a Graham Parsons tune, pointing out that, despite Georgia’s claims, Graham was a Florida boy. They also played a tune by hometown boy Tom Petty.
Things got downright nasty with a wicked blues tune titled “Got a Letter Today” with truly evil acoustic slide guitar. Then they tore off a galloping bluegrass song called “Glendale Train.”
Following their set was an opportunity to hear Taylor Martin’s Engine again, this time on the main stage. The Asheville sextet plays “alley cat country” (?!?!?). They played a song about “sight for sorest eyes,” then a faithfully rendered Merle Haggard tune. “Hitchin’ My Wagon to a Falling Star” was a nice tune. Then Lyndsay Pruett joined in the fun. The band’s female vocalist was Amanda Anne Platt (we think) from the Honeycutters. They had a great time with a Guy Clark composition.
The Broadcast was up again. And so was Grandpa’s Cough Medicine. What’s a guy to do? Generally, I tried to split sets, and this time was as good as it could have been. I chose The Broadcast first. There was a nice tune about “The Dial on Your Radio,” and then they blew open Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” Caitlin Krisko was, for me, one of the three best vocalists at this fest. She delivered two great sets with her bandmates, and do not ignore the rhythm section of E’Lon Jordan-Dunlap and Jaze Uries. They played “Don’t Waste It” from most recent album; a new one is due out later this year.
At Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, fans were shouting requests; they’d stuck to their setlist the day before. One was “Arizona Sky.” Brett Bass had a flatpickin’ romp before Jon Murphy sang “The Girl I Learned to Love.” It was a superb set if less edgy than the evening one, with a great Doc Watson tune, then Banjo Boy Coker smoking Earl Scruggs’ “Shuckin’ the Corn.”
Pennsylvania’s own Cabinet was holding forth at the Amphitheater. This was great Americana and bluegrass, with some ‘old-timey’ stuff nicely presented. Knowing I would catch them again Saturday, I went to the Music Hall to hear Nikki Talley. I had seen her and Jason Sharp at Magnolia Fest and was looking for more. Seek, and ye shall receive! Her fine set included many originals and wonderful covers of headliner John Prine (“Angel from Montgomery”) and Warren Haynes (a solo “Railroad Boy,” on banjo). There was a tremendous flock of fans to greet her after the set.
I caught part of Fruition’s set (got much more Saturday) before checking out Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. This Wisconsin quintet was simply splendid, a rollicking good time had by all. They were having a blast, with fiddle, banjo, upright bass and guitar — and a bandalero’s worth of harps. Shortly after I arrived, it got even more amazing as Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth and Rev. Washboard Scallywag joined in the fun.
Then the guests stepped off while H & HG sang a stunning a cappella tune (like “The Green Grass Grows All Around”) which ended at lightning speed. It was magical. Carbone came back as they played a great song which morphed into “Time” (Pink Floyd) and back. It was special.
I was tromping back and forth to the campsite while Jeff Austin was on stage. They sounded really nice, very competent. But I had come to expect some electrifying performances, and this wasn’t one of them, for me. There was another tough double next, with the Jon Stickley Trio on the Porch Stage and the Larry Keel Experience on the Meadow Stage. I chose Stickley first. Once again, this amazing trio was putting on a ‘yuge’ set at the Porch. Just amazing. And, once again, Patrick Armitage blew it up on drums.
I dragged myself away to catch The Larry Keel Experience: Keel on guitar, Jenny Keel on upright bass, and Will Lee on banjo. They had just finished a tune and stepped right into a wonderful version of “That Smell,” absolutely perfect. They played next a song about viewing Denali, often an impossible task. Keel occasionally used a ‘60s-sounding fuzz tone on his acoustic guitar. It was an interesting idea, but it ran thin after a while.
And then it was time for ‘clusterpluck.’ That’s the game where you invite 11 of your closest friends to join your trio on stage. Members of Railroad Earth, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (more?) joined in the fun. Perhaps at some festivals the sudden appearance of a dozen extra musicians would put the sound crew in a tizzy. Not the SoSMP guys. This was top-notch, and the musicians loved played a John Hartford song, “Take Me Back to My Mississippi River Home.” They followed with “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and a beautiful Tony Rice song.
Finally, there was some semblance of relaxation, as the last three sets would all be on the Amphitheater Stage. The brilliant Del McCoury Band was the first of these. McCoury’s quintet continues to delight wherever they go. Del adds mostly rhythm guitar to the mix, but the other four members, including two of Del’s sons, are all amazing players.
After the opening song, Ronnie McCoury got the first feature on his mandolin. Then it was brother Rob’s turn with banjo. “Nashville Cats” was next, and then a spin for Jason Carter on fiddle. Seriously, the fiddle-istics at Springfest were positively mind-blowing all weekend long. Finally, Alan Bartram got a feature on bass… and vocals!
Del has this quirky habit. I can only judge by the two shows here and one at MagFest. He solicits requests but rarely plays them. He usually ends up playing what he wants to. It is amusing. Del does like to sing about murder, demonstrated by “Blackjack County Chains.” They included several 100-MPH pickin’ romps, a lovely song called “Sweet Appalachia,” and the ever-popular “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” There was great depth to “Backslidin’ Blues,” and they got great reaction to “I Need More Time,” a new tune. The bands harmonies in support of Del’s magnificent ‘high, lonesome’ voice are breath-taking.
Next up was one of the festival headliners, Brandi Carlile. I knew nada about her, performing with The Twins, Tim and Phil Hanseroth. They began with three guitars (two and a bass?) and a great percussion foot box. I’m sure it has a fancier name, but the trio got great sounds from it. The set began in promising fashion with the opening of “Path of Least Resistance.” The song got dull for my taste in the middle. Toward the end, all of a sudden her spectacularly huge voice came rolling out. Sadly, I never heard it like that again.
The second song of the set was, in my estimation, one of the greatest performances of the weekend. It was a percussion orgy, as two and occasionally all three would step on the sound box in addition to great playing and singing. Truly superb.
They never hit that mark again, for me. Once again, don’t judge by me. The Amphitheater was packed; I drifted away for a bit. Somebody thought that “the weight of the white piano tamped down the enthusiasm.” Sufficiently bizarre.
Railroad Earth had the closing spot on the lineup, and just as they began the slight drizzle became a little less ‘slight.’ It didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, primed and ready for their RRE stars. No matter what people have told you about this band, it was an understatement. Todd Sheaffer was such a good front man, handling lead vocals and playing acoustic & electric guitars.
Tim Carbone is another in the list of stunning fiddlers to grace the Springfest stages, and Andy Goessling wins the prize for most instruments. Too wet for notes, just impressions of great feelings surging from band to crowd and back. One thing for certain: the group’s vocals harmonies touched you deep, deep inside. Sparkling.
Perhaps half an hour after the set was over, the sprinkling became a light rain that persisted until about 10 AM. Fortunately, it didn’t soak anything and served to keep the dust down the rest of the weekend!
If you wake up at noon, you tend to miss the noon sets. I’m really sorry I missed Nora Jane Struthers, because from our campsite that sounded like a party on stage, the perfect way to start the day’s music. Nikki Talley was up first with Jason Sharp on the Porch. This set was at least as good as Friday’s. For the third song, she said, “This is a gospel song. Well, a spiritual song. I like to sing it in bars. It makes sinners’ skin crawl!” The humor melted in the face of a wonderful take on “Wade In the Water.” WOW.
They also played “Travelin’ On,” an autobiographical tune about their decision to go on the road four years ago: “Life’s too short not to do what you love.” There was also a song about life changing after hearing a Loretta Lynn tape that had washed onshore, very waterlogged.
Then it was a hustle to get over to see Canary in the Coalmine, with Jessica Pounds on guitar and vocals. Arvid Smith sounded great on dobro, and add Philip Pan to our list of great fiddlers. As I arrived, they talked about the evening’s headliner, John Prine, then played “Angel from Montgomery.” There was also an original called “Mama, I Want to Kill.” It was a solid set.
I had hoped to see Larry Keel again, but WIFI access is all but nonexistent — except in the Music Hall — and I had work to post. The upside was that I would get to see The Habanero Honeys again; I was only able to hear a small portion of their MagFest set. I was well rewarded: with music and with WIFI.
After a cover of “Ring of Fire” and the original “Lightning In My Pocket,” there was the first of several spoken-word pieces, this first remembering “Cissy Strut.” One of the ladies was playing the bowed saw during the piece. There was a tune for Guy Clark, another dedicated to the park titled “Little Slice of Heaven” (I’ll second that), “Eternity,” and “I’m Drunk Again.”
Back out into the sunlight (we were SO lucky, given the ominous weather forecast earlier in the week), I ventured over to see Dave and Dave. That would be Dave Simonett and Dave Carroll, two fifths of Trampled by Turtles. This should have been amazing, banjo, guitar and tight harmonies. The problem was, out in the sunshine, with Frisbees and footballs and children and lots of other distractions, this just seemed like the wrong place. The Music Hall was likely too small, but their laid-back set just had no oomph to it in this huge open space.
Back to the Porch to hear The Virginia Dare Devils (a great name with historical roots). This was a standard bluegrass lineup, instrument-wise: violin, mandolin, upright bass, guitar and banjo. They played some great instrumentals. At one point, a song veered into “Franklin’s Tower.” And a fascinating bluegrass take on “She Said She Said” included a “Southern Cross” tease.
It was time for The Infamous Stringdusters; Kerri made sure I got there to hear this fine quintet. Fiddle time again: Jeremy Garrett was incredible, but then they all were. After “Big River” got things moving downstream, Andy Hall got to solo on dobro, it being his birthday and all. Then they played the first of several songs I can only refer to as ‘asskicking.’ WOW again. They also displayed superb vocal harmonies.
I was really excited to check out Della Mae, a quintet from Nashville delivering the goods, and deliver they did. I caught half this set and all of Sunday’s. These ladies are deluxe. Celia Boyd is a simply magnificent singer with a strong, beautiful voice. Kimber Ludiker was another fiddler extraordinaire, and bassist Zoe Guigueno was awesome! I heard a number of songs including “Walkin in the Sun” and “Rude Awakening” before heading to the Meadow to hear Cabinet again.
Will Lee was sitting in with the PA sextet. There was lots of great pickin’ going on, often at asskickin’ breakneck speed. Something pulled me back to the Porch for the conclusion of Della Mae’s set, and I was amply rewarded with an amazing version of “No Expectations” (Beggar’s Banquet).
Now I had to figure out the best plan for hearing four bands on two stages in the next two time slots (with a break in between!). I chose Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. I was trying to decide if this was alt-country or… what. This was not my favor type of music, but it was well played, except… those chairs. Those chairs were mostly empty and didn’t clap. It was eerily quiet, sad for the musicians working hard on stage.
Bluhm and the Infamous Stringdusters have been touring together, and Andy Hall came out to play some dobro on “Statesboro Blues.” It was OK, but it wasn’t riveting, and I was hoping for more. I went back to the Music Hall to hear Fruition again. This Oregon quintet was in full swing by the time I got there. They played two songs with fellow musician from Portland Brad Parsons, and they ripped a couple all over the place. Great stuff.
Next up was a very quiet set from Jon Stickley and Travis Book (Stringdusters). It was quiet and contemplative, and it was in the correct room: The Music Hall. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and harmonies. Then it was back to the Amphitheater for Del McCoury Band, round two.
Another murder song was the first I heard in the set: “Eli Renfro.” Then Del called Larry Keel up, and that was excellent, except that Del praised Keel’s growly voice but sang “The Mountain” himself! After Keel exited, there was a song with beautiful harmonies about “be(ing) the one she never let down.” And then it was gospel time.
This band plays wonderfully all the time, but they play more wonderfully on the gospel tunes. They began with “Working On a Building,” with Del’s ‘high, lonesome’ vocals introducing each segment. For “Get Down On Your Knees and Pray,” Bartram put his bass down, and Rob McCoury left the stage. They played the song with minimal instrumental accompaniment to spectacular harmonies. Rob came back and blistered the intro to “All Aboard,” the third great gospel tune. Discovering they had a couple extra minutes, Del let Jason Carter and the boys loose on “Orange Blossom Special;” “We have to do this for Florida!”
Paul Levine announced an unscheduled event: a whole host of musicians with instruments had assemble on the Porch Stage to entertain while they set up for John Prine. There was a passel of folks on stage, and there was pickin’, and grinnin’, and more pickin’, and more grinnin’, and… It was great fun.
I was trying to imagine myself for an hour and three quarters with a singer-songwriter. This is not usually my thing; I’m usually funking my brains out. So let me say this first: how did 105 minutes go by so fast? Because I was riveted for this performance — a master at work.
After “Glory, Glory” and “Long Monday,” Prine sang some of my favorite lyrics in “Taking a Walk:”
There’s a girl in the white house
I don’t even know her name
Her disheveled appearance
Speaks volumes of shame
That’s John Prine right there. We got “Please Don’t Bury Me” and “Souvenirs.” People were hollering requests, to which Prine answered “I know ‘em ALL!” He introduced David Jakes as, “for my money, the best bass player in the world.” “Me and Loretta” featured a nice bowed bass solo.
Perhaps the most scathing tune of the set was “People Putting People Down,” a great message for everyone, these days especially. He dedicated “Angel From Montgomery” to Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. “You Got Gold” featured this stellar lyric: “Life is a blessing, it’s a delicatessen Of all the little favors you do.” And we were truly fortunate to hear “Illegal Smile!”
His bandmates left the stage as Prine sang a raw “Sam Stone.” Eventually, Jakes joined in on bowed bass, then Jason Willard on guitar left, and finally Ed McLaughlin on mandolin right. “Up On Bear Creek” was an ironic choice, given the number of folks running around with shirts from the sadly defunct festival of the same name which used to occupy Novembers at the park. “Lake Marie” featuring gorgeous four-part harmonies.
My favorite recollection of his: “Years later, we found ourselves in Canada, trying to save our marriage — and maybe catch a few fish. WHICHEVER CAME FIRST.” Huge laughter. There was a real groundswell for an encore, and in tow Prine had Jim Lauderdale and Ronnie McCoury to help out on “Muhlenberg County.”
It was Donna the Buffalo time. These jamsters have been headlining MagFest and Springfest for years, and their music is the perfect fit for the festival, perfect closing act for the night. Tara Nevins is a quintuple threat on vocals, guitar, fiddle, accordion, and scrubboard. It gets easy to see how their vast repertoire touches on aspects of many musical genres.
Jeb Puryear often plays distinctive guitar leads that channel the ‘70s directly. Here is a question: does Jeb always sing with his head tilted to the right (as we see him)? There were some shorter songs such as “One Day At a Time” and “I Love My Child” with a truly wicked jam in between the two. It was a great set to send people off in search of campfire jams (no rain this night).
There was an acoustic ensemble scheduled for 11:30 AM, likely similar to the unscheduled one before the John Prine set the night before. I got the car packed, determined not to miss a second of Della Mae.
I might have missed a few, but not many. Singer Celia Boyd told us that fiddler Kimber Ludiker was a champion, and she played like one on “Tater Patch.” After “Maybeline” (not that one), Wordsmith and lead guitarist Courtney Hartman (those two write many of the band’s originals) sang a gorgeous gospel tune. Zoe Guigeno’s slinky bass line introduced “Shambles,” after which they played a Prine tune: “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round.”
After “Stuck at Heaven’s Gate,” Boyd announced, “Now we’re going to play a couple of banjo tunes” as Hartman scurried off to retrieve her banjo. They made it clear that Beggar’s Banquet is their favorite Stones album, this day brilliantly covering “Factory Girl.” (Saturday, it was “No Expectations.”) They dedicated “Hounds” to a wonderful woman they had met the previous evening who was a great inspiration: “You know who you are!”
Boyd next encouraged us to sing along to… “The Gambler!” For me, it was by far the best version ever, the way that song was supposed to be played! I hear much of k.d. lang in her voice, and that’s the deepest compliment I can give. They closed with “Boston Town.” Somehow, I have failed to mention Jenni Lyn Gardner, who absolutely killed it both days on mandolin. This is a splendid band.
Before Jim Lauderdale’s set, Paul Levine took the stage to speak about several people we were all remembering, going back to Vassar Clements, one of Springfest’s earliest proponents, and Kenny Oliverio, the young Dread Clampitt musician who just checked out at age 44. A moment of silence was exactly that.
This would be my first time hearing Jim Lauderdale. He is another artist I knew little about. Picking up on Paul’s theme, he sang a hymn first called “To Be More Like Him.” Perfect placement. Then he called up Micky Abraham and Brett Bass for some flatpickin’ fun. They played a gospel tune Lauderdale had written for Ralph Stanley and a song (“Tiger & the Monkey”) that he wrote with Robert Hunter.
Next he selected a tune from his most recent album, Soul Searching: Memphis, Vol. 1/Nashville, Vol. 2: “Worth the Wait.” On this song and several other, Lauderdale reminded me so much of Jose Feliciano’s great singing style. Out of the blue, he gave a huge shout-out to WMNF radio in Tampa!
I was underwhelmed with his between-tunes schtick. Perhaps it played well with those who knew him, but it sounded like a tired lounge act. And several people said these were the same lame jokes they didn’t like before. Fortunately, the music was far better.
The Della Mae ladies joined him for two fine songs: “Old-Time Angels” and “Lonesome Pine.” The ladies again got to display their talents, and Boyd’s and Lauderdale’s voices were superb together. After they left, he sang “I Met Jesus in a Bar” and “I’d Follow You Anywhere,” just two of the songs he wrote or co-wrote with some of the industry’s finest. Jessica Pounds (Canary in the Calming) and Jon Stickley joined in on the closing “Headin’ for the Hills.”
Infamous Stringdusters: Round Two. The quintet topped Saturday’s performance, to the delight of the packed Amphitheater audience. After several songs to get everyone in the mood, they invited recent tourmate Nicki Bluhm to join them. Bluhm is one of the female artists who performs on the new IS album Ladies and Gentlemen, and together they sang “See How Far You’ve Come” and “Run to Heaven.” While I was generally unimpressed with her set the previous evening, these two songs were really excellent.
”Head Over Heels in Love with You” was great, and the tune that followed included a “Bathtub Gin” tease with some wicked dobro from the birthday boy Andy Hall. There was a nice cover of “Jackstraw” (“to get you warmed up for what’s to come”), and a tune where the two Andys sang: Hall and Falco. Garrett sang “Fork in the Road,” and then…
They called Nicki Bluhm back on stage for… “Somebody to Love!” So, two things. First, this romping bluegrass version was absolutely brilliant. And Bluhm was incredible. I saw Grace Slick; this was awesome. My advice for Bluhm: check out Slick’s live recordings where she just lets her voice soar. I would LOVE to hear Bluhm do that.
It was time for the music the Infamous Stringdusters warmed us up for: Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass. With the Infamous Stringdusters! It was a deluxe set, start to finish. The start was “Scarlet Begonias.” Garrett tore “Samson and Delilah” up, and Travis Book (bass) sang “Tennessee Jed,” which segued into “He’s Gone.”
“Brown-Eyed Women” was followed by a hot jam in “Cold Rain and Snow” and a breakout (for them) of ‘Crazy Fingers.” While Nicki Bluhm was recalled to the stage, Andy Hall was teasing Thelonious Monk on dobro! She sang “Deal” with them, then stayed on stage for “Friend of the Devil” with six voices a cappella handling most of the choruses. They shut the set down with “Bertha.” Keller’s wonderful enthusiasm was a true caffeine boost for those who had enjoyed four brilliant days of music.
One last decision: Donna the Buffalo, or get two hours on the road home in daylight. I chose daylight.
And I was rewarded when I switched on SiriusXM’s Jam On just as “Somebody to Love” was playing. You know, the one by the Infamous Stringdusters! With Nicki Bluhm!