Larry Stephens covers Bean Blossom: Wednesday

Bean Blossom: Wednesday

At 6:00 am the storms rolled in, dumping over an inch of rain on us. Thunder rocked the campgrounds and the combination of rain and lightning delayed the start of music.

The Magnolia Ramblers and Reminton Ryde, scheduled to appear at the top of the schedule as one of their four appearances, had their morning sets cancelled to try to keep the schedule manageable.

Junior Blankenship, opened the day at noon with rain still falling. The crowd was light, a small sea of umbrellas with a few hardy souls in rainsuits. Junior, who spent over eighteen years with Ralph Stanley as a guitarist, works with a banjo and mandolin (I just won’t mention the bass anymore unless it’s special) and is a traditionalist, as you might expect. He gave us songs like “In The Pines” and the Jimmy Martin standard, “Mary Ann.” He has a good show and it’s too bad more people were not there to hear it.

As I looked around the crowd this week I saw several Bluegrass Boys alums who were there for the festival, not appearing with a band. I visited with Butch Robins, who put on an entire afternoon of workshops, and saw Danny Jones, Raymond Huffmaster and Roger Smith. I believe Dillman (a Bluegrass Boy himself) still follows Bill Monroe’s lead in allowing any former Bluegrass Boy free attendance.

While waiting out the rain in my camper I saw David Parmley and Continental Divide pull in with their big yellow bus. When not working on the road David works on tour busses.

With him this year were longtime bandmates Steve Day (fiddle) and Randy Graham (mandolin). Randy and David, along with David’s father, Don, were founders of the Bluegrass Cadinals. Graham often jokes he’s been with David so long that he used to change his diapers, and now David gets to change his. David is a great balladeer and sang “I Never Go Around Mirrors” as well as “Little Cabin Home On The Hill.” Live music is fun to watch. At one point the banjo player missed a note on a break. When that happens you just play through it because most people will never notice, but David and Randy started laughing when they saw someone in the audience who caught the mistake. They just had the banjo player play it again and went on., much to the crowd’s delight.

Little Roy & Lizzy were next. Lizzy Long is accomplished on several instruments and Roy Lewis can play the strings off a guitar and banjo. He traveled for decades with his family but they have mostly retired due to age and health problems. They present a mixture of songs including bluegrass and gospel as well as traditional music, and Little Roy is a tireless source of jokes and pranks, most of which we’ve seen and heard several times.

With the sun finally out it’s time for the Grascals. It’s family day with family of several members present. Jamie Johnson was raised down the road in Milan and his parents are there along with his son. Mandolinist Danny Roberts has two children there and daughter Jaylee, something under a teenager, sung a great version of “Atlanta” with older brother Brandon playing guitar and dad playing mandolin. Bass player Terry Smith (Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Osborne Brothers) is always a favorite as he adds some tasteful slap bass. They are crowd favorites and big stars of bluegrass but somehow their set seems too familiar, the same one I’ve heard hear at Bean Blossom for several years. They close with an old Osborne’s tune, “High On A Hilltop.”

Banjoist Kristen Scott Benson reminds me of the IIIrd Tyme Out singing “Erase The Miles.” Her husband is 3TO’s longtime mandolin player. He was here the day before and then headed to Pennsylvania, Maine and Canada. Kristen is off on another route. It’s a tough life on marriages.

If you’ve been around bluegrass then you’ve heard of the Lonesome River Band. Anchored by longtime band member (and now owner) Sammy Shelor on banjo, bandmembers include Mike Hartgrove (one of the 3TO founding members) on fiddle and Brandon Rickman singing lead and playing guitar. Rickman takes a back seat to no one as a bluegrass singer. Shelor has been with the band for over twetny years and they’ve developed their own sound and it’s great bluegrass. They end their set with Bill Monroe numbers, taped by their record company, Rural Rhythm, for the Monroe special CD.

Closing out the afternoon was Greg Cahill and Special Consensus for the first of their four shows. Every year a handful of bands are booked in for four shows over two days while most play two, afternoon and evening, and a few play a single long set. Cahill has been a part of the music for thirty-five years and is past president of the IBMA. He’s the only consistent part of Special Consensus and his band seems to have one of the highest turnover rates in bluegrass. They put on a good show though sometimes the turnover shows through.

As the evening shows start everyone keeps a wary eye to the west. A line of severe storms is eighty miles away and may have a tornado in the mix. All the scheduled bands play but their sets are cut to about twenty minutes, anticipating a rain delay. Some of the bands aren’t happy with the abbreviated sets.

By the time the Grascals are back up the threat has passed to our south so we’re back to full sets. The Grascals perform and then LRB while anticipation builds for J. D. Crowe’s set.

The LRB closes with an old Jimmy Martin number, “Sitting On Top of the World” and then the New South starts taking the stage.

Another iconic figure in bluegrass, J. D. Crowe has been in the music for decades and his band has included some great performers like Tony Rice and Ronnie Stewart. Mandolinist Dwight McCall and lead singer and guitarist Rickey Wasson have been with him for fourteen years. JD hasn’t been back on the road long since breaking his arm in February, but he’s back now and as good as ever.

It’s odd but JD’s show never seems old even though some songs, like “Rock Salt and Nails,” are done every year, but he has such an extensive repertoire that they always pull some new songs out of the hat and the crowd loves everything they do. Rickey is amazing, seeming to have a full catalogue of every song JD has recorded in his head along with the album and date. The lineup includes Matt DeSpain on Dobro and Kyle Perkins on bass and we hear some of the best harmonies in the business. This set includes one of their newer numbers, an old Merle Haggard tune, “In My Next Life.” Another great set from JD Crowe.

As Special Consensus closes the day to a thinning crowd we make our way back to campers and tents while the day crowd starts home. Even with the rain it’s been a good day at Bean Blossom.

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