Music City Roots and bluegrass music are, as the kids say, BFFs. As music goes, there’s no other scene that can top it for collective good-will, pan-generational sharing, honesty of talent and the power to bring wildly different people together. So last night, we did gorge upon it. Nine acts, ranging in age from teens to seventies, all with something to say, all with major skills, helped us wish a happy anniversary to the IBMA, the International Bluegrass Music Association. For 25 years, IBMA has been connecting bluegrass professionals and fans, making many more careers possible and spreading the music around the world. We were thrilled to be part of the celebration. (Full disclosure, I’m on the IBMA board and have been a long time member, but you don’t come here for unbiased reporting anyway.)
The show exceeded our expectations and we hope those of the sell-out crowd. The early birds got to hear thoughts from IBMA founders about the mission and history of the organization. But then on the stroke of 7:00, everyone got to hear the music, starting with Alison Brown and her hand-picked band of super-pickers, including Sierra Hull and Casey Driessen. Her smooth instrumentals were set off with a walk-on appearance by the great Del McCoury, who sang “High On A Mountain” with a voice that was indeed high and mountainous.
Our buddies the Farewell Drifters offered up a song I think called “Heart of a Slave” with a kind of rousing, barroom feel like some old Pogues song, with a pounding instrumental break. Do I have the title right guys? Is it on the brand new Yellow Tag Mondays album? Will you play it again for me at my house?
Up next, the incomparable Jesse McReynolds, an IBMA Hall of Famer, who opened up with John Prine’s “Paradise,” and who really slayed me with “Okeechobee Wind,” a dreamy, swampy, minor key mandolin showcase. The lads from Sweden known as the G2 Bluegrass Band brought a sound that evokes Blue Highway or IIIrd Tyme Out, full of clear high harmony singing and expert musicianship. They’re just a couple of weeks into a full summer of touring the U.S., so watch for them.
The Rockin’ Acoustic Circus from Tulsa, Oklahoma, proved so multi-faceted that they entertained the heck out of everyone AND unwittingly gave me a title for this column. Influenced by everyone from Nickel Creek to New Grass Revival, this youthful six-piece offered a couple of tunes from their debut album and a crafty cover of “Brand New Key,” that old Melanie hit about the roller skates. Who’d have thunk it?
From the big band of kids to the stripped-down assurance of a veteran, Dale Ann Bradley sang in a duo format with the wonderful Kim Fox. Both ladies played acoustic guitar (very well) and set Dale Ann’s award-winning vocals soaring. That was followed by more youth and beauty in the person of Sierra Hull, truly one of the rising stars of the music. She’s a winsome singer and a superb mandolin player, but anybody following bluegrass music knows that by now.
And rounding out the show, going longer and with more artists than we ever have, we welcomed Rodney Dillard to the stage. He proved to be just extremely nice and hilarious, not to mention fantastic on the bandstand. Among his selections, the classic Dillards song “There Is A Time.” And that set up the show closing set by The Whites, the great trio of father Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl. They kicked into the locked harmonies of “I’m Just A Used To Be To You” and a bit later brought up family member Ricky Skaggs for a tune.
Ricky stayed on stage for the jam, and more musicians than we’ve ever had crowded the stage for a rousing rendition of “On And On,” which was a pretty good sentiment for how we feel about bluegrass music and Music City Roots. We’ll take two weeks off, and then we’ll be on and on again.