After having made plans to spend last week at IBMA showcasing, exhibiting, reporting for Bluegrass Today, and otherwise immersing ourselves in the World of Bluegrass, I received a court order setting a hearing for Thursday morning in a case involving over seven hundred plaintiffs and more than 70 attorneys. Because of the logistics it was not possible to avoid attending.
So we spent Monday getting settled, Tuesday greeting friends old and new at our booth and showcasing. Thanks again to Steve Thomas for sitting in on fiddle and Tim Austin for running our sound. On Wednesday I completed our gig fair appointments and hit the road for West Virginia, arriving around midnight. I got about six hours sleep – the most all week. Rising early to draft a report for the court hearing, I then spent most of the morning and afternoon in court. I left the Kanawha County Courthouse in Charleston at approximately 3:00 p.m., tossed my suit jacket and tie in the back seat, and headed back to Nashville.
Making one stop for gas and a drive-through sandwich, I arrived back in Music City around 8:00 p.m. I may have exceeded the speed limit a little, thus making a 750-mile roundtrip and a 5-hour court appearance in a little over 24 hours. Having left my lovely wife, Valerie, to fend for herself Wednesday night and to man (woman?) our booth on Thursday, I made a special effort to get back in time to take her to the post-awards party at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Let me start by saying that while I have purposely avoided following trends and fashion for most of my life (my friends and family with attest to my utter lack of style), I couldn’t help feeling it was cool for bluegrass to be taking over the Hard Rock Cafe for the week, and really looked forward to seeing a couple of our favorite groups, Monroeville and the Boxcars.
We decided to go a little early to the event, which didn’t start until 10:30 p.m., to get dinner and stake out a good seat if possible, which proved to be a smart decision. Monroeville performed first and demonstrated that after starting as a more traditional group, their original material featured on their recent release is more contemporary and shows their future as a leader among the youth movement in bluegrass.
In a “tease” set, the Cleverlys got up and did 4-5 songs with a promise to return for a longer set after the Boxcars. If you’re not familiar with the Cleverlys, don’t expect to find factual information at their website (they remain in character at all times, even on their website). After forming last year (I believe), they made a splash at last year’s IBMA, doing a humorous show of covers of other musical styles (Black Eyed Peas, the Bangles, etc.), reminiscent of Run C&W from the mid-90’s.
I’m not that well rounded when it comes to current music outside the Bluegrass-Country-Gospel spheres, and although I’m sure their performance is enhanced if you are familar with the original versions of the songs they perform, you can’t help but find their riutine entertaining.
Then came the main event – the Boxcars. I referred above to our decision to go early as a good decision. I said that because by the time the Boxcars took the stage, all seats and even standing room had long since disappeared.
The best decision, however, was the Boxcars’ choice of material for the night’s performance. Although they are consummate musicians capable of playing a wide range of music, as demonstrated on their debut recording, they proceeded to lay down a Flatt & Scruggs tribute program which started with Cumberland Gap, followed by Head Over Heels, Shuckin’ The Corn, The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind, Take Me In Your Lifeboat – a driving, in-your-face traditional bluegrass clinic.
At first though, I puzzled at their material choice, as this was an opportunity to show off all the range and originality that the Boxcars possess, on display before a capacity audience. However, this capacity audience was not a quiet, listening crowd, but a room full of folks there to party, and to see and be seen as much as to listen to music. The Boxcars were sharp enough to recognize that this was not the time for ballads and thoughtful story songs, and they used Ron Stewart’s jackhammer right hand, Adam Steffey’s blistering barrage of mandolin solos and Harold Nixon’s relentless bass beat to full advantage.
For my personal taste, I’ve always been a fan of the mellower voices in bluegrass, like Lester Flatt and Tony Rice, and I love hearing the lower register voices Adam Steffey and Ron Stewart possess.
By any measuring stick, the Hard Rock performances, and particularly the after-awards party, were a huge success, and congratulations are due all involved in its planning. With the response it received, we might expect a repeat in the future, and maybe even some bluegrass at other times in the year at the Hard Rock Cafe – during SPBGMA perhaps? Wouldn’t that be cool?