What is SeMi Bluegrass? It's a meeting place where live music fans in Southeast Michigan gather to exchange information about the live music scene: show reviews, cool venues, band profiles, product reviews and more.
Articles, news, reviews and band profiles welcome.
Email to: SeMiBluegrass@gmail.com

If you're looking for the South East Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (A fine group of Bluegrass fans in South East Michigan) you can find them at http://smbluegrass.org/

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Right In Our Own Back Yard: Woodward Guitar Co. and MacMillan Guitars Demo Days at the Music Man

Novara and MacMillan Share some Secrets of the Trade
Sometimes the greatest thing in life are right there, under you nose, hiding in plain sight.  Nowhere is that more true that right her in Southeast Michigan.  Last Saturday, almost within walking distance of my house, three truly unique entities came together to create something magical.  At first glance, you might be tempted to think that this "Demo Day" was just a cliche' weekend sales gimmick from another, unassuming strip mall music shop, and you couldn't be further from the truth.  For starters, The Music Man in Brighton is far from another cookie-cutter guitar store--offering a great selection of high-quality guitars from all the best manufacturers (Fender, Martin, Taylor, Gibson and the list goes on) as well as exceptional customer service, knowledgable sales staff and talented instructors for persons--young and old--wanting to learn to play nearly any instrument.  There is something for everyone at "The Man".   Secondly, the two guitar makers showcasing their wares (Woodward Guitar Co. and MacMillan Guitars) produce not only superb, high-end guitars, but heirloom quality  instruments with a story worth telling--and both makers have a strong connections to SouthEast Michigan to boot!

This Home Became a New Guitar--Cool, Right?
The Woodward Guitar company owes it's start to detective and amateur woodworker Curt Novara making a trip to Reclaim Detroit in search of some wood to make furniture for his house.  For those not familiar, Reclaim Detroit specializes in salvaging building materials from blighted homes in Detroit that would otherwise be sent to the landfill.  As an amateur musician, Novara stumbled on a nice piece of old-growth Douglas Fir and realized that he could turn this piece of reclaimed timber into a great sounding electric guitar.  From those humble beginnings grew the Woodward Guitar Company offering a Les Paul inspired semi-hollowbodied "Standard" model and the Telecaster-inspired  solidbody "Telegraph" model.  An electric bass has recently joined the lineup as well.  The real standouts are the Telegraph models that feature reclaimed wood throughout, high-quality components and locally wound, custom pickups.  Traditional construction and classic nitrocellulose finishes give these guitars oodles of character, and Novara will work with the buyer to customize the builds to suit their playing style (just browse the website to see the depth and breadth of configurations he's already built!).  The coolest thing of all however--and what really gives these guitars personality and soul--is the Certificate of Authenticity that accompanies each guitar.  Along with a photo, you get the address and the story of the home the timber came from and how it was "reborn" in to the guitar.  Custom engraved heel-plates also feature a picture of the home on each guitar.   From twangy county-style chicken pickin', tone-dripping blues solos and even some Detroit-style funky rock-n-roll guitar riffs, these guitars sound GREAT.  If you're in the market for a one-of-a-kind guitar at a remarkably reasonable price, look to the Woodward Guitar company.  You won't be sorry.  A selection of Woodward Guitars are on display at the Music Man, as well as Motor City Guitars in Waterford  and Detroit Guitars in Birmingham. Or check out their website.

Sound Even Better Than They Look!
Also on display were the finely hand-crafted guitars of  Nashville luthier Marty MacMillan.  A Brighton area native, MacMillan made a name for himself building spectacular custom guitars, and has moved his operation to Mount Juliet Tennessee.  Returning to his roots, he brought five great guitars with him to show off.  These are beautiful instruments with woods picked not only for tonal quality, but for  beauty and character.  Like his binding, inlays and finishing, MacMillan eschews super-exotic woods and treatments, instead choosing simple elegance, immaculate construction and classic styling to set his guitars apart.  Most of the guitars he brought were "Orchestral" (OM) models (some with deeper, "dreadnought" depth) and, in the hands of some remarkably talented customers, sounded amazing.   These are sweet guitars producing the type of layered and complex tone you'd expect from guitars costing ten times more.  I got a chance to play the Maple dreadnought Marty brought with him.  The warm burst coloring on top and sides was exquisite, as was the classically understated herringbone binding.  This guitar would be right at home at any bluegrass jam.   As expected from a maple-bodied guitar, the tone was bright and clear, with subtly nuanced harmonics and crystal clear note separation.  I didn't expect the powerful bass tones this guitar produced--capable of standing up to any banjo player you know!  I have to admit, I loved this guitar.  Check out Marty's website for information on how to order yours today.

I've included some photos below.  Please feel free to check them out (or look for the whole gallery on the SeMiBluegrass Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What The Hell Happened To Country? Kenny Kens Album Release (It's a Winner!)

What Indeed?
Tired of the watered down, hooky, pop-driven drivel that passes for country music on the radio today?  Hankering for some real, old-school country music sung with passion and flair?  Want songs about love, life and loss instead of beer, barbies and badboys?  Well then, have I got an album for youKenny Kens and his stellar band, the Brown Bottle Boys, just dropped What the Hell Happened to Country? and it's set to blow your mind!

Raised on Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith and Hank Williams (with a little Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Cash thrown in for seasoning) Kenny Kens grew up listening to and playing traditional country music.  Frustrated by the so-called "Pop-Country" and "Bro-Country" dominating the airways, he set out to record an album showcasing what country music is supposed to be.  Surrounded by an all-star cast of musicians including southeast Michigan Legend Mitch Manns, he and his Brown Bottle Boys mash the throttle to the floor and trade guitar and pedal steel licks behind poignant and clever lyrics to deliver an eleven song masterpiece of Classic Country.

Kenny Kens and PBR.  Perfection.
I have to admit, it took an enormous pair to kick off an album with this title, with a hard-driving, banjo-fueled bluegrass barn-burner (featuring Mann's distinctive Scruggs-style banjo pickin').  Ain't Coming Back is as high energy and catchy as they come and, while distinctly different from the other tracks, serves as the perfect appetizer to the ten course dinner to follow.  With so much attention paid to staying true to the fathers of country music, it was somehow appropriate to also acknowledge the role bluegrass played as grandfather to those greats.  Kudo's to guitarist Brian Coogan who tears off a killer acoustic guitar lick in this song, that starts out sounding like a mandolin, works it's way through some telecaster licks and resolves into some string-bending blues.

The Brown Bottle Boys Gettin' It Done!
The remainder of the album is pure, classic country featuring Ken's smooth, soulful lyrics--dirty and grit-filled on some songs, plaintive and wailing on others.  Kenny can sound like Hank, or Merle or Travis--while somehow always sounding like himself.  He also stays pretty true to the classic country sound both in is vocals, and in his songwriting.  While Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson are making names by themselves by taking classic country and stretching it into new horizons, Kens has chosen to explore the tradition, coloring and nuancing his tone to fit the lyrics.  Backed by a stripped down drum-kit courtesy of Brian Ferriby and some simple, yet elegant bass lines from Steve Wyse (a larger than life character both musically and in person), the rhythm section supports the lyrics with a driving groove.  Solo instrumental work on the album is specacular with guitar work from Coogan, Manns and Dave Beddington.  Want to hear what country guitar should sound like?  Just listen to any of the songs on this album.  And wait!  There's more! What country album doesn't have some killer pedal-steel guitar work?  Billy Cole's slide work on this project definitely helps define that old-school country sound.

And Then THIS Happened to Country Music
Kenny wrote most of the songs on the album, and they're all keepers, combining great storytelling, with  classic country hooks and some clever surprises.  The lyrics are raw and from the heart--and sung with absolute abandon.  She Might Outlive Me (a traditional country shuffle written by Kenny's Uncle Ronnie Murray) sounds like it should be coming out a 1940s living room radio on a Friday night.  What the Hell Happened to Country? is a straightforward ode to oldschool and takes some good-natured jabs at the radio country-pop stars of today. The guitar line in I'll Have a Drink Then I'll Cry is worth the price of the entire album, and the texas-swing pedal steel has that slightly Hawaiian sound of the early days of country music. The eminently danceable Learning How to Forget should be mandatory listening for every country drummer and bass player out there.  Very sparse but still keeps thing moving along at a brisk pace.  Somehow, I can hear Patsy Cline singing Kiss Me Before You Tell Me Goodbye.  The good-time blues number I'll Get Along Without You Just Fine will have you tapping your toes and shouting "Amen! Brother"...a true anthem to guys done wrong by the women in their lives.   Kens can also get down and lonesome, as evidenced on the unrequited love ballad I Just Need to be Loved by You.  There's a little Dwight Yoakam in the swingy honky-tonk party-ballad Steppin' Out--and it's as good-time a song as you'll find.  My favorite is probably Brown Bottle Flu, an ode to those days we realize that we don't bounce back from those late night parties like we did in our 20s.  The Johnny Paycheck number Pardon Me I've Got Someone to Kill is an earwig of the worst kind...the hook will get in your brain and have you humming along all day.

Just a quick review that hardly does justice to this incredible album.  I'm sure this is destined to spend some serious time in my car's CD players.  Get yourself a copy (or digital download) from CDBaby.com (worth it just for the shipping notification).  Or better yet...go see the band play, shake a howdy afterwards and thank them for bringing back country music (and buy a copy direct from them).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Superior Blues: The Marquette Area Blues Fest and the Chris Canas Band

Where Magic Happens
The capstone event to my summer of music festivals was, as always, the Marquette Area Blues Fest.  Held every Labor Day weekend for the past thirteen years at the aptly named Ellwood Mattson Lower Harbor Park, this event brings together the very best  local, regional and national blues acts on a magnificent stage in one of the most beautiful and scenic settings imaginable.   It will be nearly impossible to top the talent on display this year.  The tone was set during the FREE Friday night show featuring the classic blues stylings of Tre & the Blue Knights (wsg Lady Kat), and culminating with the the guitar-gymnastics of JW Jones and "Laura On The Bass" Greenberg--on display for a raucous, yet well-behaved crowd of blues fans, locals and college students alike.  JW made the excellent point that free shows like this go a LONG way to helping promote blues and roots music to a younger crowd. It was certainly a success in Marquette.

Victor Wainwright--"The Piana From Savannah"
Saturday featured completely different, yet amazingly entertaining acts that played well off each other and kept the fun, and the energy building all night.   Reverend Robert brought Mississippi style blues and slide guitar to open the  day under bluebird skies and mild, 70 degree temperatures.  The largest band of the weekend, hailing from the smallest town in Michigan (Alpha), Sons of Legends gave the crowd a full set of hard-rocking, roots blues--and kept the party going all day long, hanging out with the crowd, passing out "Legendary" tee shirts (thanks guys!) and generally having a good time.  Next was South East Michigan's own Chris Canas Band, who surprised the crowd with one of the most intersting, high-energy and unexpected sets of the weekend.  More on them below. The night concluded with two Memphis bands who brought Beale Street to the shores of Lake Superior.  The Ghosttown Blues Band (due in no part to the frenetic encouragement of "hype man" Suavo) set the crown up with their Alman Brothers inspired jamming and some unbelievable cigar-box guitar word from lead man Matt Isbel.  Closing out the night was  the boogie-woogie piano of 2016 B.B. King Entertainer of the Year (and Band of the Year) Victor Wainwright & the Wild Roots  who picked up where Ghosttown left off and then nocked them down.  The evening culminated in a dual-band jam session that pushed the crowd to the very edge (and the festival to the edge of a noise ordinance violation--none was given, but it would have been totally worth it!).

Go Go Ray Closing Out the Festival in Style
Sunday featured more of the same, starting with solo acoustic blues artist Brian Keith Wallen and his "cupboard door/mixing bowl stompbox" (you have to hear it to believe it).  Long time Marquette favorites the Flat Broke Blues Band celebrated fifteen years of playing together with a driving set of new and old material.  West Michigan's Hank Mowery & the Hawktones brought not only his solid harmonica licks and smooth, soul singing to the stage, but surprised the crowd with the addition of Kate Moss on guitar.  As an unexpected bonus, south east Michigan's own expatriated Marquette native, George Friend (of Laura Rain & the Caesars) got up on stage and flat out KILLED a couple of tunes on a telecaster. Hank later hosted the after party jam and brought some ridiculously cool combinations of these acts to the stage (including a funky Motown-inspired number by Ms. Rain herself!).  The Kinsey Report kept the energy high with soulful blues, witty stage banter and even channeled the late Bob Marley for some reggae tunes (or "island blues" as I like to call it).  The Samantha Fish Band closed out the festival giving the crowd everything they asked for (including a "War Pigs" finale).

This Guy Can PLAY!
This was truly a weekend of exceptional acts.  However, since this is a "southeast Michigan" music blog, I'm going to pick the set from the Chris Canas Band as my "standout performance" of the weekend (OK...I'm definitely biased here).  From the moment the band rolled through the artist entrance backstage you could tell they were here to entertain.  Disregarding the festival's legendary (epic?) green room, the members of the band arrived early, took in the opening acts, talked to the other bands and started working the crowd.  Professional to a tee, they showed up in stage clothes, shook every hand and answered every question people asked them.  Any festival promoter thinking of booking this band should know that this might be the very best decision they make.   Besides their exceptional talent, the band has amazing stage presence, contagious likeabilty and complete professionalism.  A rare combination now days.

Angie Adding Some MoTown Soul to the Band
On stage the band worked though a polished set of both original and classic blues numbers.  The focus of the band is definitely Chris' stellar work on the Les Paul--equally versed in tone-dripping slow blues numbers and finger-flying, rocking blues solos.  His classic voice is powerful, rich and versatile (especially when singing harmony with the band).  Joining him on stage is his Mother Angie (or older sister, depending on who you ask).  Her classic Detroit R&B voice adds a touch of MoTown the the band's sound, hearkening to the energy and vibrancy of a young Aretha Franklin with a bit of Big Mama Thornton's grit and soul thrown in to keep it real.  A stellar rhythm section of Chris Nordman on Keys, Kevin Schoepke on Bass and new (to me) drummer smiling ear-to-ear throughout the set laid down a funky groove that kept the crowd on their feet.  A completely unexpected finale was Chris' cover of country legend George Jones' Tennessee Whiskey.  In a stroke of pure genius, Chris combined Chris Stapleton's vocal arrangement with his own sorrowful blues licks to build the tension; hushing the crowd with the quiet opening licks and then slowly, agonizingly building the suspense through the bridge and finally letting them have it with all the power and emotion his voice could supply.  When you added in Angie's completely amazing harmony parts on the chorus,  the band provided one of the most memorable, and crowd-pleasing moments of the entire festival.  I was completely blown away, and once again in awe of the incredible musical talent in southeast Michigan.  This was the perfect way to end my summer of fun and music.--until I start all over with live, local music in the fall.  ;-)

Lots and lots of pictures from the festival below.  Please feel free to use, share, tag with credit to SeMiBluegrass.com.  Like us on facebook or subscribe to the blog for more great music and events like this.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Roots Rust Revival--Giant (Playable) Stringed Instruments as Interactive Art

Genius at Work
And now for something completely different. Have you ever sat up late at night; perhaps after an cocktail or two, and had a  crazy idea?  Something like: "Hey!  We should build a ten foot tall giant steel banjo!", and instead of telling you that you're crazy your friend says "Yeah!  And it should be PLAYABLE!".  Welcome to the genius of the magnificently twisted and wildly creative minds behind Heavy Metal Stringworks. David Sakalauskas and Steven Cannaert have been friends for years and--along with a slightly warped sense of humor--share a passion for live music and tinkering with things.  For years they had been tossing around the idea of building a giant banjo sculpture to donate to the Wheatland Music Organization.  The passing of long-time organizer Mike Bunting (who--according to legend attended his first Wheatland to return a banjo he had borrowed) provided the motivation to bring their dream to life and the "Big Banjo" made it's debut at Wheatland last fall. 

Banjo, BasTrak and Dobro (look close)
From that humbly grandiose beginning came the idea for Roots Rusted Revival--an ambitious, interactive sculpture installation that simultaneously celebrates Michigan's rustbelt industrial heart and roots music soul. And what better way to show off a bunch of gigantic, rusty, playable, musical sculptures than to get Founder's to agree to host the installation as part of ArtPrize in September!  Dave and Steven's vision has grown to include a trio of oversized, yet playable instruments; built primarily from found and reclaimed materials; developed organically with changes and modifications suggested by people who interact with the sculptures at various musical festivals; all coming together to create something greater than the sum of the rusty bits and pieces that make up the sculptures.  All summer long these maestros of musical magnificence have been traipsing all over the state, working on their vision.  Their interactive sculptures have made appearances at the Charlotte Bluegrass Festival, the Ryan Bellows Bluegrass Bizaar, the Midwest Test, Feral Fest and several smaller events.  Look for them at the Hoxeyville Music Festival in August as well.

Fans Checking Out the Big Banjo
The Big Banjo was the first creation from Heavy Metal Stringworks.  Standing over 10 feet tall and weighing in at over 600 pounds, this mammoth banjo--by some measures--qualifies as the world's largest playable banjo.  They're waiting to hear back from the folks at Guinness to verify this.  Authentic in every aspect, the Big Banjo features a steel pot,  adjustable polyethylene head and a fully fretted custom steel neck made from a surplus highway guardrail.  Ratchet strap hardware allows for coarse tuning of the stainless steel strings, with an ingenious fine-tuner setup hidden behind the head to perfect the pitch of each string.  While difficult--but not impossible--for a single person to play (either Scruggs or Clawhammer styles work), the Big Banjo really sounds incredible when played by two (or more) people.  Some on the frets, some plucking strings, some beating on the head like a drum, even playing the short strings between the tailpiece and bridge for some harmonics--the possibilities are endless.  Recently, they guys have even added a piezo-electric pickup allowing the Big Banjo to be played through an amplifier with a variety of digital effects for some truly unique sounds!

Jamming with the BasTrak at Charlotte Bluegrass Festival
How to top the Big Banjo?  Introducing the BasTrak!  At it's core, this post-industrial nightmare of an instrument is essentially an enormous washtub bass lying on it's side.  With an eight foot diameter head resting on a frame of railroad ties, and a twelve foot neck made of a old train rail, this behemoth weighs in at over 3/4 of a ton!   Less instantly recognizable as a musical instrument, the BasTrak is normally played by striking the steel cable with a rubber mallet while sliding a heavy steel trolley along the rail to control pitch.  Like the Big Banjo, the BasTrak has undergone continuous, incremental improvement based on feedback from people who've played it.  A new floating head (courtesy of some discarded stock car valve springs) and an ingenious pickup system allow for a tremendous range of tones.  At one point this summer, over a dozen people were simultaneously playing the string, the head, the rail and even the frame to create a post-modern dance groove late into the evening.

Dobro Work In Progress
The most ambitious piece to date is the Steel Dobro.  Modeled loosely on a pre-war National Squareneck dobro, this self-standing, 6-sting masterpiece is remarkably light (well under 400 pounds) and easily playable by a single person.  With a steel body wearing a heavy coat of rust and patina, the stainless steel top really stands out and creates not only a striking visual contrast, but a sharp, clean tone to offset the deep bass of the hollow body.  The strings are held way above the fretboard for easy slide playing in the traditional style.  A hand crafted tailpiece (with integral fine tuners) is a masterpiece of design and on-the-fly engineering as are the spring-steel "fingers" that support the tuning "machines" at the headstock.  The strings run over a hand-hewn oak saddle and nut and transfer (for now) the sound to the sieve-plate resonator (salvaged from an old clothes dryer).  The piece simply has to be seen, touched and played to be appreciated.

Words (and pictures) simply can not describe the Roots Rusted Revival project.  However, let me present the following as my own--modest--contribution the this living, breathing work of rust belt art:

In the middle of a warm, Michigan summer, pick a calm, quiet evening and step outside.  There you will hear the faint musical echo of our state's past: the rhythmic striking of axes against tall Northern Michigan pine trees; the slow rumble of dynamite blasting an iron ore face in a U.P. mine; the sharp crash and clang of hydraulic presses in Detroit and Flint's great automotive plants.  If you listen closely, you will also hear the ghosts of our blue collar ancestors singing and making music with family and friends; with simple, traditional instruments--the guitar, and banjo and washtub bass--they brought with them as they moved from the poverty of the south to the opportunity of the Midwest.  Though the trees are gone, the mine's have shut down, and the great factories lie rusting and crumbling, the spirit of those songs still lives in each of us.  In a real sense, it lives in the popular music of our generation--in Barry Gordie's Motown, in Bob Seeger's Classic Rock, in Kid Rock's rap/rock fusion and in Jack White's modern pop.  In another sense, it lives in all of us--in our work ethic; and our spirit; and our passion; in or creativity and our ingenuity; and in the dirt, grit and blood we pore into our daily lives.

Roots Rust Revival is about more than creating sculpture; it is more ambitious than building the worlds largest playable instruments; and it's definitely about more than continuously and incrementally improving the work through the interactions in all of us.  These pieces are about embracing the music in each of us; about the beauty of seeing what is old reborn into what is fantastic; about seeing with the eyes, embracing with the hands and appreciating with the heart; about the transfer of experience--be it the small brown stain of rust on your hands the work gives to you, or that little piece of your soul that lingers on the steel where you touched it; about giving life to the inanimate through experiencing it with all of your senses; and about the very act of creation--just because you can.  Roots Rust Revival is important not because it is like nothing you've ever seen or heard, but because it IS everything you've ever seen and heard.

More pictures from Heavy Metal Stringworks below.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Milan Bluegrass Festival and "Jam in the RV" with The Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Show.

The Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Review On Stage at Milan
In a summer full of over-the-top Michigan bluegrass festivals, the Milan Bluegrass Festival at KC Campground was one for the record books.  Despite mid-90s temperatures and humidity levels making it feel more like a mid-winter sauna than a mid-summer campground, attendance was definitely up and the crowd was treated to some incredibly innovative and spectacularly interesting events that teamed up to make this festival unique and the "must-see" event of the summer.  Not only do you get to see the "A-List" of Bluegrass at Milan (Rhonda Vincent, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, Dailey & Vincent, the Gibson Brothers and Blue Highway all played this year) but promoter Mark Gaynier continues to bring in new, fresh and exciting acts to expand the bluegrass audience.  The old-time sounds of The Wayfarers (more on them below) and a thunderstorm inspired entirely acoustic set under the pavillion by Mountain Faith stood out this year.  The youngsters in Breaking Grass even managed to mix in a medley of current-day pop hits without anyone noticing (well, not too much anyways).  Overall, this was definitely the best listening show of the summer.  However, like every bluegrass festival, it was what happens OFF stage that makes things special, and Milan was no exception.

Pickin' a Few with Friends Old and New
Bluegrass festivals has always been about community, and Milan is no exception.  Arriving early in the week, I set up the "SeMiBluegrass Jam Tent" in our usual spot--out in the grassy field north of the pond.  The crew from the Ol' Hippie Bluegrass show was setting up their TeePee next door.  Brian from the UP and Tammy from Monroe set up their tents nearby.  As the week went on, festival friends and neighbors continued to arrive, set up camp nearby and drop by to say "Hi!"  By Thursday, an ad-hoc neighborhood had sprouted amidst the grass in our little field.   Though I see most of them only once a year, we picked up where we left off, sharing gossip, cold beverages and old songs as we renewed the friendships we have forged around bluegrass for yet another year.  The BBQ dinners served each night as a fundraiser for T.H.A.N.K.S. (Tailgaters Helping Aid Need Kids' Spirits) help bind the community as they break bread together over some pretty amazing chicken and pork loin.  The festival serves as home-base for the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association, who--in addition to getting kids interested in bluegrass through their "Instrument Petting Zoo"--inducted a group of people into their "Hall of Honor" during the festival for their efforts to "Preserve and Promote Bluegrass Music in Southeastern Michigan".   As I always say, "It's about the People, the Places and the Music...Always in that Order!"

Jerry Interviewing SEMBMA President Bill Warren
Know for camping out of a Teepee at Milan, Jerry Eicher, the long-bearded, tie-dye wearing host of the Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Show (live Saturday at 10 pm & Wednesday at 8 pm on 95.3FM (WQTE) Adrian, MI and Saturday morning at 9 am on  90.3 WCWA (Owensborough, Ky) brought their new LIVE Internet show (courtesy of worldwidebluegrass.com) to the Milan Festival.  With an RV borrowed from his niece and nephew, some cool decorations and long Cat5 cable to the campground office, Jerry created the "Jam in the RV" for the show.  The concept was simple...broadcast live from 9pm to 11pm each night with interviews and live performances from  the bands and people associated with the festival.  With a little mountain-man/hippie magic and a twinkle in his eye, Jerry managed to create a work of ephemeral perfection.

The Wayfarers "Live from the RV"
Nearly every band managed to pop into the RV and record an interview a play a live piece.  On Thursday, The Wayfarers from Ohio set the RV on fire with their incredible high-energy take on old-time bluegrass instrumentals.  Gathered around Jerry's Ear Trumpet Labs Microphone, this group of young friends puts a distinctly modern spin on pre-bluegrass era mountain music with the driving clawhammer banjo of Jake Loew and classically trained fiddle chops of Kenzie Maynard perfectly complementing the complex three- and four- (and sometimes five-) part harmonies.  Josh Harman (guitar) and Brandon Bankes (mandolin) provide enough drive for two bands.  Like any good "Semibluegrass" band, they know the words to most of the fiddle tunes you hear at a jam--a rare skill set that makes those old standards new and fun again!  The homemade washtub bass of Nathan Zangmeister serves as a perfect metaphor for this band.  Unusual, home-made, unexpected and somehow perfect for the music.

The Infamous Pimento Cheese Incident
Jerry likes to have fun, and perhaps no one epitomized that ethos than when Becky Buller stopped by the RV with banjo-player and Bluegrass Junction (XM) Radio personality Ned Luberecki to play a couple of fiddle/banjo tunes and sample some of Jerry's home made pimento cheese (apparently a running gag on the Becky Buller World Tour). Becky has made a career of mixing great music and singing with an approachable and affable personality on stage.  Her shows are just good, wholesome fun!  In the RV, that personality exploded into a non-stop hour of good humor, good friends and good eating.  Luberecki's instantly likeable personality and "made for radio" voice seamlessly melded with Buller's innocent looks and quick wit to create comic gold.  Ned trying to do the play-by-play of the Pimento Cheese tasting while Becky--with mouth completely, yet daintly, full--mumbling "It' Good!  It's soooo good" was comic genius!  When I looked over at Jerry trying to keep it together and move forward with the interview, I couldn't help myself...I was on the floor laughing.  I'm sure Jerry recorded this and it's sure to be one of his most downloaded podcasts on his Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Show website.

Red, White and Bluegrass Band
Jerry also interviewed many of the folks who make the festival special: young guitar-picker Jesse Manns threw down some hot guitar licks; I talked about the SEMBMA Hall of Honor; Bill Warren hyped the Instrument Petting Zoo; campground owner and festival promoter Mark Gaynier made it on the air to talk about next year's lineup.  However, the most special moment of the entire festival came when--needing some live music to fill up the show--Jerry reached out to some of the campground jams to come into the RV and do a live number or two.  First to answer the call was the quintessential Milan Bluegrass campsite group the informal Red, White and Bluegrass Band.  Long-time festival attendees will recognize brothers Sam Costelli (guitar) and Tam (mandolin) with their nephew Reno Costelli (bass) and Fossil Creek Bluegrass Band fiddler Darrell Wagner from their all-night, full-throttle and full volume, free-wheeling jam by the pond.  

Costelli Campsite Jams
Several things combined to make this truly a memorable performance.  Many years ago, I attended my first bluegrass festival at Milan.  Wandering around the campsite at night, a novice guitar player with my guitar hung around my neck, I stopped by several campsites and listened to campers jamming late into the night.  When I got to the pond, in the middle of whirling, 20-person jam, Sam Costelli noticed me hanging around just outside the campfire light and said "Hey!  Get that guitar in here!".  I mumbled something about being a beginner and not very good, but they were having none of it.  I have made it a point to stop by the Costelli Camp and pick a few tunes every time we are at the same festival.  It really is kind of a family and I wouldn't miss it for the world.  Even more special in the RV this night was Darrell's 13-year old daughter Lauren.  I've known Darrel for about eight years now, and--like me--his daughter loves to hang around the festivals with her dad.  I've literally watched Lauren grow up at festivals.  So, when Lauren joined the fellas on the radio and stepped up to sing the harmony parts with her Dad there was a passing of the bluegrass torch from one generation to another right there, for everyone to see--and it was spectacular!    Video says a lot more than a 1000 words, so I humbly present this:

I've included some photos from the Festival below.  Feel free to tag, share and use freely with credit to www.semibluegrass.com.  Want more great semibluegrass content?  Subscribe to the blog, or better yet, follow us on Facebook!

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Deep and Heartfelt "Thank You"

Over the past few years I have done my best to make people aware of the vibrant and blossoming acoustic music scene in Southeast Michigan.  I gone to hundreds of shows.  I've written dozens of online reviews.  I've attended most of the local music festivals, open mics and musical events.  I even volunteered to serve as the Vice President of the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association.  I've done all of this because of my passion for live, local, acoustic music in Southeast Michigan.  So it was with great shock  that I learned I was to be inducted into the 2016 class of the SEMBMA "Hall of Honor" at the Milan Bluegrass Festival last week for my "efforts to promote and support bluegrass and acoustic music in the region".  I am both incredibly honored and completely humbled that my modest contribution has been noticed, and has made a difference to people who share my interests and passions.  To the person who nominated me, and all of you who support what I do:  Thank you! This award is as much for you as it is for me.  Now go find some live, local music!