Bluegrass Court Jester gets his due in upcoming film

Anyone attending bluegrass festivals around the US this past 20 years has likely seen an appearance by Dry Branch Fire Squad, and their acerbic front man, Ron Thomason. Though a fine mountain-style singer, mandolinist, and guitar player, Ron’s primary claim to fame is his dry, self-referential humor and close familiarity with the old time storytelling tradition.

Audiences always enjoy the band’s music, but when the pickers step back and Ron launches into one of his bits, all the seats remain filled.

And now Perry T. Schwartz with Ol’ Black Bear Productions is finishing up a one-hour documentary film, Bluegrass Court Jester: Ron Thomason, which seeks (in Perry’s words) “to capture the special magic and unusual history that is bluegrass music.”

Schwartz has chosen Thomason as his vehicle to tell the story, using live concert footage and interviews, plus archival footage. The documentary will explore everything from old time to newgrass, with Ron as our guide.

Most of the footage was shot at the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival in Westcliff, CO which he helps produce and the band hosts. But this weekend Schwartz will be filming when Dry Branch Fire Squad performs at St. Marks Presbyterian church in North Bethesda, MD on April 7 to create a promotional video for this project.

Perry shared a bit about how Bluegrass Court Jester came to be.

“I have been a fan of bluegrass music for the past forty years with my interest and appreciation for the music enhanced by listening to Bluegrass Country radio at WAMU FM in Washington, DC. Now that music still lives on in the DC metro area through the Bluegrass Country Foundation which programs Bluegrass Country radio through the facilities of WAMU and on the internet. Over the years listening to Ray Davis on Bluegrass Country radio, I thought of this video project. I was planning on using the endless wonderful stories Ray Davis had to tell to hear the history of bluegrass music. Sadly Ray passed away before I could start the project with him.

Two years ago I heard an interview with Ron Thomason on the Lee Michael Dempsey radio show and realized that Ron also had stories to tell of his 40 years playing with the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Additionally he was a great story teller and humorist. I contacted him about doing a concert video that would tell us the story of bluegrass through interviews and recorded video concert music.”

He also promises to send a trailer for us to share with our readers once it is completed. If you are in the DC-area on Friday, stop in and catch the show!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.