Bean Blossom: Thursday
It’s hard to believe but it’s another beautiful day. Despite the rain yesterday, this is the best weather I’ve seen in years at Bean Blossom. There’s a great lineup today and I’m ready to go.
Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers, a Ralph Stanley type band, were scheduled at 10:00 but were broken down on the road. They did make it in for their evening set.
Sierra Hull opened the day in the absence of Larry Efaw. She is a crowd pleaser, a very young woman on the road with her own band. Sierra plays the mandolin (and in the afternoon pulled out an octave mandolin) and can rip a tune on it. She has a five-piece band (no Dobro) that features Clay Hess (Ricky Skaggs) on guitar and vocals. Her songs are about love and angst and, to me, she sounds like the Taylor Swift of bluegrass. When it comes to a hard core bluegrass song she turns to Hess and he knows how to deliver.
The Expedition Show was next. Formerly known as the Williams & Clark Expedition, they changed their name after Bobby Clark left. Blake Williams is on banjo and he has the honor of having the longest tenure as a Bluegrass Boy banjo player and later spent a number of years with Mike Snider. He’s joined by his wife Kimberly and two others (no fiddle or Dobro). Williams is a joke teller and the crowd enjoys it but it does cut into the music which is a mixture of country and old and new bluegrass.
The Boxcars were next. This is a super good group of musicians including Ronnie Stewart, a Paoli Indiana native who has appeared with many bands, including J D Crowe, and appeared on many more recordings as a studio musician, veteran Adam Steffey (Lonesome River Band, Dusty Miller, Alison Kraus, The Isaacs, Dan Tyminski Band), Keith Garrett (Friday’s Blue Moon Rising), Harold Nixon (J D Crowe) and John Bowman (The Isaacs, husband of Becky Isaacs). Their first CD was reviewed here a few months ago. They can do new bluegrass or old standards ("Pretty Polly"). Bowman does a touching song, "In God’s Hands," This is a super group that should have a great future.
Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain are Bean Blossom veterans and Melvin and his brother Ray are members of the Hall of Fame here. He started out in 1954 at Renfro Valley with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and was later with The Stanley Brothers then with Ralph after Carter’s passing. He’s one of the nicest men in the business and his show is always laid back and entertaining. Melvin is a member of the IBMA Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. Featured in his current lineup is former Bluegrass Boy, Jack Hicks (here’s Jack in 1972).
Special Consensus is back for their second day and then it’s Audie Blaylock & Redline. Talk about drive! Audie spent nine years with Jimmy Martin and has also been with Rhonda Vincent and Michael Cleveland. He can go from Ray Price ("Talk To Your Heart") to bluegrass that pegs the speedometer. Today he included Hank Snow’s "A Fool Such As I," three Monroe numbers for the Rural Rhythm project and closed with "Sunny Side of the Mountain." By the time he was done we were all exhausted.
Marty Raybon finished the afternoon. I’ll come back to him.
The evening set is much the same as the afternoon until 9:40. That’s when Bean Blossom takes a turn.
J D Crowe was here last night and, as always, it was a great set. As they take the stage tonight there’s a difference. Holding a fiddle is former New South member Ronnie Stewart. You can feel the excitement in the crowd as night falls and they start to sing. Make no mistake, the New South are all masters of the trade and J D Crowe is an icon, but Ronnie’s fiddling adds a special element and we can tell he’s having a ball. His family is in the crowd (earlier I met and talked with uncle, Ivan Stewart) and he’s putting on a show. We watch him walk the stage, helping orchestrate breaks, making sure too much attention isn’t centered on him. It’s clear that Crowe has missed him and they do one piece, just the pair of them. The clock passes the hour mark and still they play. Finally, at 11:30, the crowd lets them leave.
We barely draw a breath when Marty Raybon is on the stage. A bluegrasser turned country superstar (Shenandoah) turned bluegrass star, Marty always makes it clear that his focus in on satisfying the audience. A deeply religious man, he shares insights of his life as he performs, but talk is held to a minimum and they perform! Their harmony is good and the banjo player, with him only two weeks, has obviously been working hard. 12:30, which should have marked the end of his set, goes by and emcee Sam Jackson is nowhere in sight, letting Marty party on. As we sit there in the dark, the coolness and damp and twelve hours of music sapping strength and resolve, Marty keeps singing. He goes from bluegrass to Shenandoah and the crowd eats it up. People filter out in twos and threes, too cold and tired to stay, but there’s still a better crowd than on many afternoons. Their excitement is heard in the darkness as he goes to the next song. At 1:10 Sam appears. Is it over? Sam gives the signal for one more song.
There’s no timetable to keep now. One song turns into two or was it three? Are we listening to Marty Raybon or Marty Robbins? (Many years ago the Ernest Tubb Record Shop was supposed to start on WSM when the Grand Ole Opry ended at midnight. But crowds wouldn’t let Marty Robbins off the stage and the Opry started putting him on last. Unlike today, it wasn’t at all unusual for the ETRS show to start thirty or more minutes late as Robbins answered curtain call after call.)
Finally, he says good night. No, the crowd calls him back for an encore. Two songs later he tries again. Back again he comes. He closes with an old Merle Haggard song, "I’ll Never Swim Kern River Again" then brother Tim (on bass) kicks into "Rocky Top." Finally, the crowd lets him go.
Over three hours of fabulous music. This was one of the best nights I’ve ever had at Bean Blossom.