Last weekend I had the chance to drive up to Bellevue, Washington, and take in the Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival. Over the two days I was there, I heard 14 different acts perform. They ranged from traditional bluegrass like The Del McCoury Band and Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands to bleeding edge takes on bluegrass like Della Mae and Billy Strings & Don Julin. Americana music performers like Aoife O'Donovan and Sarah Jarosz were there. And other musical genres showed up like Matuto's "Brazilian Bluegrass" and the jazz-influenced, improvisational, acoustic music of Darol Anger's new group, Mr. Sun.
Everybody was performing at their highest level and I enjoyed myself immensely, but if I had to name my three favorites of the weekend, it would have to be:
1) I Draw Slow, an Americana band from Ireland, of all things, which featured lovely singing and facile playing. It was fascinating to hear music from this country reflected from a completely different perspective. I particularly loved how the lead singer's voice (Louise Holden) blended with the guitarist, Dave Holden, who was her brother. They were perfect together, really fine.
2) Della Mae, who have grown in confidence and ability in the three years since I saw them last and Celia Woodsmith, the lead singer, has one of the best voices performing today, in my opinion. And Celia is matched by the talents of the other members, Jenni Lyn Gardner on mandolin, Courtney Hartman on guitar, and Kimber Ludiker on fiddle. And it was especially nice to see Kimber emerge as the main persona of the group introducing the songs and talking to the audience with a great deal of charm, wit, and ease. And they were joined by a new bass player, Zoe Guigueno, and she proved to be a great fit with the group.
3) Billy Strings & Don Julin, who are now hitting their stride and performing at a ridiculously high level of energy that I have never seen live in any other show. If they are ever near where you live, go see them. They are crazy good and will make you want to stand up and scream. Seriously. Just go!
For mandolin players, there were a lot to see as well. The most memorable performers for me came from Ronnie McCoury, of course, Don Julin, mentioned above, Jay Lapp from The Steel Wheels, and Joe Walsh from Mr. Sun. All very different, all very accomplished.
In the next week, I'll post more pictures from Wintergrass 2015. Cheers!