08 January 2007

Full-Immersion Bluegrass

I spent most of the weekend at the River City Bluegrass Festival, at the Convention Center about 10 minutes from our house. Friday night featured David Grisman, followed by Beausoleil, with a surprise stand-in (the first of several during the course of the festival) from Darol Anger. I last saw Grisman and Beausoleil on a triple bill with Richard Thompson, 10 or 12 years ago. What a show that was!

Saturday began for us with Laurie Lewis and ended with Asleep at the Wheel. Actually, we got there an hour or so before Laurie's set, in time to catch the Godz (aka the Kings) of Mongrel Folk. They did a couple of novelty numbers I loved -- The Neighbor of the Beast (as in the guy who lives next door, at 667), and Moby Dick, which they introduced by saying that bluegrass doesn't have too many whaling songs, so they decided to write one. Okay, I admit I've been a sucker for novelty songs since The Purple People Eater.

Jer took a break after Laurie and company, going home to nap, watch the news and corral the cats for the night. But I stayed for a solid 12 hours, holding down our seats and enjoying sets by Larry Sparks, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, and Longview, featuring JD Crowe. The room gradually filled in anticipation of Emmylou Harris' 9 PM appearance. She and Carolina Star did a fine set packed with singthing favorites.

At the beginning of Emmylou's set, Ted Kulongoski the recently re-elected governor of Oregon, popped in -- his inaugural ball was going on elsewhere in the building -- to say "I love bluegrass! I love Emmylou Harris!" Emmylou and I both turn 60 this year. Please tell me she's had some work done; she looks incredible.

Last night, the festival wrapped up with the Nashville Bluegrass Band, followed by a high-energy and hugely entertaining set featuring Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, and finally the incredible David Bromberg and his Angel Band. I first saw Bromberg, if I'm not mistaken, at the Philly Folk Festival in 1960-something. Their set was more blues than bluegrass at first (and down-and-dirty blues at that), but then Laurie and Darol came onstage and added some phenomenal fiddle energy, and it built up to the traditional "let's get everyone up here for a rousing finale."

Except in my deepest fantasies, I'm neither a singer nor a player; I have no musical background other than that of an appreciative listener, and once I get beyond "God, that was good!" I basically don't know what I'm talking about. Hence, no detailed reviews. But it sure did my soul good to soak up all that music.

The crowd was a real mix -- three generations of urban hippies, elderly country folk with flamboyant sideburns who remember the rockabilly Elvis, middle-aged straight people who simply love the music. Everyone was friendly. I ran into a couple of people I've met since we moved to Portland. That felt good, too; another indication that we're growing some roots here. It seemed like everybody was asking the same question: "Are you going to Wintergrass?" Hmmm, maybe next year.

1 comment:

Libbi said...

I still remember meeting David Bromberg, in the basement of the Main Line music venue, when he was playing with Jerry Jeff Walker (my ex was in a bluegrass band that opened for them). It sounds like you had a kick-ass time!