This report on the 14th annual Bluegrass On The Beach festival in Lake Havasu, AZ is a contribution from David VanGelder.
While the blizzards and cold from back East may have risen to more spring-like temperatures, there was still no comparison to the mid-eighties breezes and sunny skies of Lake Havasu. The holidays have passed, and Memorial Day is still a long way off—the perfect time to shake up the winter doldrums. If this were your winter getaway trip, simply the rejuvenating warmth of the sun would have been worth it. Add that to three days of hanging out on a beach at a bluegrass festival, and you have yourself a very fine escape.
Lake Havasu State Park is a terrific venue for a bluegrass festival, with plenty of camping space for tents on the sand as well as the usual fleet of monster RVs. You can set up your portable home right in the middle of jamming territory or farther up the beach, where you’d find plenty of peace and quiet after a long day of sun and music. For those campers without “en suite” bathrooms there were flush toilets and hot showers available—and L&S Promotions even provided volunteers in golf carts to shuttle folks between campground and venue!
At the start of the festival, things immediately kicked into high gear with Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper playing at 11:00 a.m. Friday morning. By the time they were halfway through their first set—playing tunes like Farewell Blues, Orange Blossom Special, and Cackling Hen—the crowd was already looking forward to hearing them again! Michael left no doubt as to why he is the ten-time IBMA fiddle player of the year.
Another highlight of the weekend was hearing Bluegrass Etc, a favorite trio on the southwest festival circuit. Their secret to success is quality music and a “down homeness” that makes you feel like you’re sitting on their patio swapping tunes and stories. Their set ended with a rollicking guitar/banjo pick-off version of Johnny Cash’ Folsom Prison Blues.
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers were there to scratch the itch of the traditional crowd. In their suits and ties, singing perfect harmony, they personified the professional bluegrass band. Larry Gillis and The West Coast Swamp Band played a hard-driving flavor of traditional music, while Nu-Blu was here for the second year in a row, playing a more contemporary bluegrass style.
In contrast to the more traditional-sounding music, the original tunes of Mike Andes and Nothin Fancy were a fresh change. This band laughs easily, usually at themselves, and had everyone wishing these guys were playing at their party. Another diversion from the traditional was the solo cowboy act Dave Stamey. A cross of Uncle Pecos and Garrison Keillor, he is one man, one guitar, a delightful sense of humor, and a voice you could listen to all day long. In his cowboy hat and droopy silver mustache, he sure looked the part. And he yodeled—three times! The bluegrassers gave him a standing “O” and made him come back for one last tune. Did I mention he actually yodels? Wow!
The festival came to an abrupt end Sunday, when the weather got “interesting.” The winds had been picking up speed all day, and in the middle of Nu-Blu’s final set, a full-on squall rolled in off the lake. Carolyn Routh’s vocal mic actually blew around in a circle mid-tune, and then a gust blew over the mando mic stand. At that point, it was “abandon ship!” as instrument cases tried to wander off the stage and empty lawn chairs attempted to fly. When a cold rain joined the wind, the show was definitely over.
Inclement weather aside the festival seemed flawless. Old Blue Sound did their usual terrific job making the bands (and one cowboy) sound great. Larry and Sondra Baker threw a wonderful party, and Bluegrass on the Beach at Lake Havasu City was a great way to jumpstart the 2016 festival season.