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Thursday, June 23, 2022

What a Party! ROMP 2022

 Going to try something a little different this year and post DAILY blog updates from ROMP 2022.

SeMiBluegrass Camp at ROMP 2022  Stop by and say hi!

Day Four (Saturday)


Saturday ROMP Bluegrass Jam

And yet another fantastic day of live music in the books!   After a LATE night at the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage the night begore with Wolfpen Branch and Birds of Prey (I finally wandered back to the SeMiBluegrass Camper at 4:00am!) I was able to grab a couple hours sleep, get up early and post the day THREE updates, and still make it to the Pioneer Village Pavilion for the second day of the ROMP Open Bluegrass Jam with Ronnie and Mary Beth.  The jam was full of pickers of all ages, abilities, size, shapes and colors…a true example of how easy it is for music to bring us together!


Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road

After a fantastic lunch from Moolite Bar-B-Que, the day kicked off with a great set of original and cover songs from young Mandolin Phenom Liam Purcell and his excellent band Cane Mill Road.  With their focus on traditional bluegrass and the obvious attention the band pays to the details of their performance, it is easy to see why the band has won accolades and audience’s appreciation over the past several years.   

Lindsay Lou

 Lindsay Lou has certainly come a long way from her time with the Flatbellys.  With a voice dripping with mature soul and aged with experience, she is able to elevate her new songs to incredible heights with soulful vocals; impeccable timing and phrasing; and killer harmonies.   Her songwriting readily puts you at ease and makes you comfortable, while also challenging your look and how things are and how they could be.  Her contagious enthusiasm leaves you feeling on top of the world, but pondering deeper truths.    Truly a poignant and touching performance.

The Po' Ramblin' Boys
 Right smack dab in the hottest part of the day, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys brought some heat of their own.  A traditionally structured bluegrass band they pay more than a passing nod to the tradition with their impeccable stage wear (elaborate shits and ties for the men, and coordinating outfit for fiddler Laura Orshaw.   The band takes turns singing lead and adding blistering blues breaks as their turn comes around.   They keep things alive with stage banter and connections to the audience.  It was a toe tapping, sweaty dancing, sing-along kind of afternoon!


The Steeldrivers!

What can I say about the Steeldrivers?  My favorite band.  Soldiering on and even better with the addition of their FOURTH lead singer Matt Dame (somehow he manages to sound like all three of his predecessors, but uniquely himself at the same time).  They are all some of the nicest people I’ve met.  Their  music that defies categorization—maybe bluegrass-influenced, bluesy folk-soul with a rock-and-roll attitude and a healthy pour of murder ballad?  Nobody writes like the Steeldrivers.  Nobody plays like the Steeldrivers.  No one sounds like the Steeldrivers.    But it works.  The band jokingly calls it “uneasy listening”, but I love it so.   I was blessed to see banjoist Richard Bailey back stage take time to sit down with a young fan and show her a few licks and tricks on the banjo. Perhaps this is why they are my favorite band—over and above their ridiculous musical talent, they are all damn fine human beings and I’m proud to know them. 

One Heck of a Good Dude

 I’ve often spoken of the rare combination of musical ability and stage presence.   Some bands have one, some have the other, few are masters of both.   There may be no single person better than this than Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel.  Absolutely blistering the stage and the crowd with his complex “one man, one guitar” band arrangements and warp-speed songs, he kept the crowd riveted on the stage for his entire performance of classic guitar songs and some unique covers.   His show stopping version of Guitar Boogie brought he house down!


Tommy Emmanuel

Bluegrass Picker turned Country Superstar Marty Stuart was up next.  He got the crowd ramped up, dancing and singing along with many of his greatest hits, featuring him trading killer telecaster licks with his guitarist “Cousin Kenny”.   His band, the Fabulous Superlatives, decked out in their baby blue cowboy Nudie Suits perfectly complemented Marty’s all-black ensemble.   Showing their range, the band sprinkled some “surf rock” arrangements into  the set along with a couple of unique covers with every member of the bane taking a turn singing/leading a song.  A highlight for me was a 3-song set featuring Marty on his Mandolin.  While not a huge fan of his catalog, I will go see this band every time they play near me, the quality of the performance and the energy of the band and crowd are just not deniable!

Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives

 Closing out the main stage were the Steep Canyon rangers.   They were one of the very first bluegrass bands I fell in love with: “Loving Pretty Women” and “One Dime at a Time” were foundational albums when I discovered bluegrass.  And I love their work with Steve Martin, Martin Short and Eddie Brickel.   This was “not your mother’s bluegrass band”.  To close out the stage, the band took the stage with a drummer and new bassist throwing down funky rhythms and danceable bass lines allowing the rest of the band—especially fiddler extraordinaire Nicky Sanders—to throw down some tasty jam-band influenced instrumental arrangements over songs from their latest two or three albums.   With a light show, rock star poses, the band gathering around and on the drum riser, and their signature vocal harmonies, this was a perfect example of the “roots and branches of bluegrass” and a perfect ending to the show.   There was a (reportedly) unbelievable late night set from Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley but—alas—the long days, oppressive heat, lack of sleep and rain in the forecast made me call it a night.   What a great cap to four incredible days of music.  I’ll likely post one more update of “final thoughts” and some more photos later this week after I’ve had time to come down off my musical high and process some of what ROMP is and means to me.  


The Steep Canyon Rangers

Day Three (Friday)

Picking and Singing at the Jam Pavilion 

What an incredible day of music!  Friday started with the ROMP Bluegrass jam under the Pavilion in the Pioneer Village.  Hosted by my "Festival Neighbors" (kinda more like family), Mary Beth and Ronnie.  This free wheeling "fun jam" ended up with over 20 musicians and a whole slew of listeners.  What a great time!

Birds of Prey on the Main Stage
The first band of the day was the winner of the Jagoe Homes band contest, Birds of Prey out of Michigan.   Their mainstage set was an eclectic mix of original tunes done in their own unique style with a mix of clever covers to keep the crowd interested.  More on them later as they had the unenviable task of not only opening the day at 2:15pm, but also coming back to close the afterparty at 1:15am!

East Nash Grass

Taking the stage next were the incredibly talented East Nash Grass.   While three members had played the day before with the Dan Tyminski band, this young, energetic band with an old, yet humorous soul put on one of the highest energy sets I've ever seen.  Picture yourself at an East Nashville keg party in someone's backyard.  A few people grab instruments and start playing...and cracking jokes...and generally having a good time.   Now make those people some of the very best at their instrument, and add in a raucous crowd willing to go along for the ride and you can START to see what their set was all about.  

The Incomparable Del McCoury Band

What do you say about the Del McCoury band?   The most traditional of bluegrass bands, yet willing to take a risk on more modern takes?  A family band oozing in personality?  Brave enough to play the mainstage without a set list and just rely on song suggestions from the crowd?  And a "G Run" that can freeze you in your tracks?  Yes.  All that.  And so much more....

Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi

Rhiannon Giddens and her musical partner Francesco Turrisi took the crowd on journey into "emotional rock-and-roll" with a "Bluegrass Adjacent" set of music drawn from traditions and countries around the globe.  Rhiannon wears here soul on her face and truly connects with the crowd and the power of her words while she sings.  Turrisi is instantly likeable, and contributes so much to the songs with his deadly percussion skills and even the bluegrass accordion. 

We Banjo 3 Doing What They Do

Closing the night were We Banjo 3 from Galway Ireland. An Irish band that plays bluegrass or a bluegrass band that plays Irish Instruments, you choose.   They hit the stage with the intention of getting the crowd up on their feet, singing, clapping and dancing along...and did just that.  One of the 

Wolfpen Branch

The Jagoe Homes After Party Stage kicked off with local favorites Wolfpen Branch.  A KILLER bluegrass band with a funky, driving electric bass and numerous "celebrity" guest musicians this band had the crowd singing and dancing along to every number.  An impossible act to follow.  But Birds of Prey (remember them from earlier today) had to do just that.   Rather than trying to out wolfpen the wolfpen boys, this band took a different tack.   Drawing on their deep spiritual and natural roots, the band started with a traditional First Nation flute and drum solo followed by one of their high speed, high energy dance numbers.   In a masterful demonstration of "reading the crowd", they then put on a blistering 90-minute set of original tunes mixed with sing-along songs (classics, modern, pop and even kids songs) everyone knew.  They even threw in some bass solo's for a slightly overserved front row fan!  What a way to end an incredible day of music.  So...it's 4:00am and I need to get up at sunrise and do it all over again.  Wish me luck...here we go again!

Birds of Prey

Day Two (Thursday)

 After a great night’s sleep in the camper, and a quick run to Walmart for those “Things I Forgot Because It’s the First Trip in The Camper This Summer” necessities, my day got off to a great start with a free-wheeling open jam with my neighbors Mary Beth and Ronnie.  Like all great festival jams, people started coming out of the woodwork and joined in…many of whom I’d met at previous ROMPs and just sort of showed up again—like true “Festival Families”.


The Gibson Brothers

After a great lunch from Moonlite BBQ I settled into a LONG day of music.   First up were the undisputed kings of Bluegrass Brother Harmony, the Gibson Brothers.   With a great band backing them, they launched into a great set of their original hits and some timeless bluegrass classics.  At times, their intricate and lush harmony singings made the hair on my arms stand on end.   The fact that the opening band of the festival is usually found headlining and closing the night on the festival tour goes to show exactly how full of talent ROMP is from start to finish. 

The Quebe Sisters

Next up were the Quebe sisters from Texas.  These three sisters brought more “sibling harmony” and some well arranged “triple fiddle” to their original country and Western swing songs.   With a simple backing band of swing guitar and upright bass, the sisters managed to fill Yellow Creek Park with sound and kept the crowd cheering enthusiastically for the whole set.  When the bass player stepped up for a killer solo on one tune, the crowd erupted in appreciation.   Not a band I was familiar with before the festival, but one I will surely follow from now on. 

The Incomparable Dan Tyminski Band

What can you say about Dan Tyminski?  From the moment he walked onstage with his untucked shirt and disheveled carefree hairdo and launched into “Man of Constant Sorrow” this Wildman, and self-professed “number one fan of bluegrass” put on a clinic of traditionally based bluegrass and what it can be—thanks in no small part to the incredible band he has put together.    Dan told me he went out to find the four best pickers he could, regarless of age, and these four youngsters certainly demonstrated WHY he thinks so highly of them.   Jason Davis on the 5-string has a unique, percussive and driving style that gives over-the-top energy to every song.   Former Biology teacher (like me!) Maddie Denton is as equally at home throwing out hot fiddle breaks and licks as she is sharing a knowing wink and smile with her bandmates.   Newcomer Harry Clark (Clarke?) on mandolin (also the “mystery mandolin man” from the Wednesday night after party stage) has me at a loss for words.   Go see him.  His sense of style, playing style, and stage presence simply defy description.   And Gavin Largent—who borrowed a dobro for the weekend—showed the world why he is both one of the leading dobro pickers and lead/harmony singers in Bluegrass today.   Bassist ______Davis, diminutive even next to the ½ size bass she play puts out gigantic, booming and rich bass lines that give the band their soul.  I have truly never seen a better band, or one that visibly loves playing together every second on stage.  It will be hard to top this performance, but there are two more full days of band who are going to try!

The Punch Brothers

 The nights two headliner illustrated  what modern bluegrass can be.  Led by mandolin Phenom Chris Thile, and down a guitarist due to illness, the “newcomers” the Punch Brothers  still put on ridiculously complex and entertaining set.   Each member of the band is a true master of their instrument which allows them to create, explore and elaborate on musical themes creating complicated and amusing song lines.   Established “Jamgrass” veterans Leftover Salmon closed the main stage with a nearly two-hour set of jam-based songs drawn from every corner of bluegrass music (including many “bluegrass adjacent” genres).  Coupled with an incredible light show, and with the weather finally cooling down and cooperating, the set was infinitely enjoyable.

Late Night Stage

 Kicking off the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage were the Hackensaw Boys.  Kings of the stripped down sound (Guitar, Fiddle, Stand Up Bass and Percussion) the band played  great set of toe-tapping, feel-good tunes that were infectiously groovy and had the late night crowd focused on every note.   Alas, the LONG day in the sun caught up with me and I was not able to stay through the final band, Dark Moon Hollow, but by all accounts, they also put on one hell of a show.   What an amazing day of music! And it’s only just begun!

Day 1 (Wednesday)

Brennen Leigh on the After Party Stage

Since this is the furthest I plan to travel this year, I left early on Wednesday and took by time enjoying the sights on my journey to Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro Kentucky for the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum's excellent festival,  ROMP.   My plan is to spend the next four days exploring the "Roots and Branches of Bluegrass Music" that this festival does so well.  The lineup this year is nothing short of spectacular and I can't wait for the show's to begin!

One of my favorite parts of ROMP is the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage across a small bridge and through a fantasy fairy forest of lights and artwork in at the historic Pioneer village..  The festival kicked off on Wednesday night with two EXCELLENT bands playing to a jam-packed field of music fans.  First up was Songwriter/Singer Brennen Leigh and her band with a killer set of original music ranging from Bluegrass to Country to Western Swing.   Alive with vibrancy and bounce, all of the band's numbers had the crowd tapping their toes and singing along.   I was thoroghly impressed when Ms. Leigh took her turn on a guitar solo breaking off a rich, complex and technical flat picking bluegrass break good enough for any bluegrass festival main stage.   I highly recommend getting out to see her, you won't be disappointed.  

The Theo and Brenna Band

Next up was a Kentucky brother/sister songwiter pair the Theo and Brenna Band.  With a great mix of innovative covers (their barn-burner version of Simon & Garfunkles "Kodachrome" was a standout) and original composition, the band was tight, energetic and thoroughly entertaining.   Backing the singers was a killer band featuring Maddie Denton (who I suspect will be playing with the Dan Tyminski band and East Nash Grass over the weekend) and a super-familiar looking madonlin player with some SERIOUS chops and one of the best Mandolin tones I've heard.    With the late night show in the books, I headed off to a great night's sleep in the camper and many adventures to come!