This report (and photos) from the 2012 Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival is a contribution from Tom Dunning, a music fan from Edmond, OK. A former newspaper photographer and University of Oklahoma journalism graduate, he enjoys photographing music events in Oklahoma when he is not trying to improve his own flatpicking skills.
When the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival’s headliner cancelled, organizer and fiddler Byron Berline called one of his old friends, Vince Gill, to see if the Grammy winner might be able to fill in. Not only did Gill and his mandolin make the trip back to his home state, he brought guitarist Dan Tyminski, bassist Mike Bub and banjo picker Jim Mills with him. The quartet added Berline on fiddle and treated the Guthrie, OK crowd to an hour of bluegrass standards. In this setting, Gill shed the “guitar slinger” label but demonstrated his mandolin skills. His set list did not include any of the commercial radio hits from his career.
Throughout the night, Gill acknowledged Berline’s influence in his early career. At one point in the evening, Gill thanked Berline and his wife Bette for letting him sleep on their couch in the mid-1970s after Gill had moved to California at Berline’s suggestion. It was after that move that Gill played in Berline’s band before joining Pure Prairie League.
Gill’s mandolin playing coupled with Berline’s fiddle matched well with Mills and Tyminski. Their performance of Sally Goodin was especially pleasing as was Tyminski’s vocal and lead on Man of Constant Sorrow. The festival is known for its finale featuring several performers from earlier in the weekend joining the band. During this finale, Tyminski and flatpicker Beppe Gambetta traded licks and Berline’s long-time banjo player John Hickman showed flashes of why he is considered one of the finest “unsung” banjo players around.
Their appearance capped the three-day festival that included The Quebe Sisters, The Kruger Brothers, The Hunt Family Bluegrass Band, Beppe Gambetta and The April Verch Band. Among the local bands to play were the Bluegrass Bullies who treated the crowd to an outstanding 45 minute set. The band grew out of local festival jam sessions and features flatpicking guitarist Thomas Trapp. They provided some of the weekend’s tightest instrumentals.
In its 16th year, the festival features both American and foreign performers and has attracted an audience from across the plains. Proceeds support youth music scholarships.