Bluegrass youth at IBMA

Last night (9/29), Brance and I ventured out to the late night IBMA showcases and watched a number of exciting young performers. We saw Farewell Drifters, Dominic Leslie and Josh Williams, and spoke at some length with Joe Dean, the 19 year old banjo picker with Dailey & Vincent.

We came away with three different looks at how this next generation might take the music, and a renewed respect for the skill and vision of these yong artists, and the determination of the bluegrass business community to nurture and promote their careers.

The Farewell Drifters - Clayton Britt, Dean Marold, Joshua Britt Zach Bevill, Trevor BrandtThe first act we caught was The Farewell Drifters and while I was familiar with their debut CD, Sweet Summer Breeze I had never seen them perform in person. Their live show was different in many ways. They had the requisite instrumentation (banjo, mandolin, bass and two guitars) but they neither look nor present themselves like the typical young bluegrass band.

Their look and their original material are drawn as much from the singer/songwriter boom of the late 1960s as from the earlier legacy of the bluegrass founders. The songs are introspective and personal, and the playing is subdued and clearly secondary to the melodies and lyrics. Even their stage banter had a quirky and nervous energy, much in keeping with the band’s slightly oddball demeanor.

Wes Corbett, Dominick Leslie, Sam Grisman, Jordan TiceNext, we caught part of a showcase from mandolinist Dominick Leslie, a first year student at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston. Dominick grew up in Colorado and has been playing bluegrass since he was ten years old. He had taken the second place prize in both the Walnut Valley and Merlefest mandolin competitions before finishing high school.

Dominick performed with a number of young Boston musicians, fellow Berklee student Sam Grisman on bass, Jordan Tice on guitar and Wes Corbett on banjo. All were strong, adventurous soloists and the music they played was challenging both harmonically and technically. In the audience for this showcase were Berklee professor David Hollender, and college president Roger Brown, as well as Andy Falco from The Infamous Stringdusters who has hooting at hollering his encouragement with every hot lick.

The pickers not only had to impress their peers and industry types, but their teacher and headmaster as well! The influence of Chris Thile and his merry band was clear in the band’s music – not a band example at all for such talented young players. Remember their names.

Josh Williams performs at IBMA 2008We then wandered down the concourse to see Josh Williams perform with his new band. This time, the music was straightahead contemporary bluegrass from one of the certain rising stars in this business. Josh had memorable stints with Special Consensus and Rhonda Vincent before launching his solo career. He already has three CD projects under his name – not bad for a 28 year old singer and guitarist.

His band consisted of Tim Dishman on bass, Clayton Campbell on fiddle, Jason McKendree on banjo, Chase Johner on Mandolin, and Greg Blaylock on resophonic guitar. They ran through a brief set of songs Josh has recorded, all of which showcased his dynamic and very expressive voice. His vocal agility is reminiscent of Keith Whitley when he sang bluegrass, and Josh’s easy smile and sincerity on stage garnered him more than a few squeals from the female contingent in the crowd.

At least one major bluegrass label head was in attendance, and we hope that Josh can leave IBMA this year with a record deal.

Joe Dean recording with Dailey & VincentJoe Dean had joined us to watch Josh, and we had an interesting discussion with him before the show began.

He was thinking back to just one year ago, when he first performed with Dailey & Vincent at their debut show at the 2007 Fan Fest. Joe had been doing road work with bands for at least the prior three years, but this was taking it to a whole new level.

“I had never been so scared on stage in my life. I knew this was a huge gig for the band, and when I made it to the stage, it was like I completely blanked out for 30 minutes, and then I woke up and the show was over.”

Now, with a hundred or more shows under his belt, those stage jitters are a thing of the past for Joe. He said that band has been in the studio recently working on their next CD for Rounder, and Joe is enjoying the attention he is receiving from his new visibility with the band.

“Steve Huber from Huber banjos called me up and offered to make me a banjo. That was really a cool thing, and I’m trying to decide now what to have him build. He’s given me two new Hubers to use on the new CD, and those both sound great.”

We may not know for a few years yet how far these various young musicians will go in their chosen profession, nor which directions they will pull the music. I find it very encouraging to see such talent arising, and such strong support for them by the existing bluegrass community.

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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.