Monday night showcases at WOB 2011

Jett’s Creek, a relatively new group – formed in 2008 by guitar player Jon McIntosh, and his daughter, lead vocalist Angie Young – opened the 2011 IBMA World of Bluegrass official showcases. They have released two recordings and have signed with Mountain Fever Records for their next release, which is being produced by Clay Hess.

They started their set strong with a medium tempo number which they executed well instrumentally and vocally. The second selection, which they kicked off a split-second after the first song ended, was an uptempo song which was not as smooth as the first, and had some “pitchiness” in the vocals, but was really the only shaky performance of the set.

A thoughtful and interesting programming decision had lead vocalist Angie Young leave the stage while the rest of the group performed an instrumental, since she does not play an instrument, only to have her return to the stage on the very next song for an a capella solo performance while the rest of the group left the stage.

While a relatively straight ahead version of Old Joe Clark as the instrumental selection would not seem to be the best vehicle for showing creativity, the energetic performance may have drawn the most applause of any song on the set. In my opinion, the high point of the group’s appearance may have been Angie Young’s “nowhere-to-hide” a capella solo rendition of a gospel song which I believe it was announced she wrote.

The set concluded with a bluegrass version of the modern country song Gun Powder and Lead, which describes a “little girl” consuming a six pack and waiting at home with a loaded shotgun to exact her revenge on an abusive man, leading them both “straight for hell”.  It was a great bluegrass conversion, with a bluesy instrumental backdrop, but the song’s lyrics seem to glorify the planned killing about to be executed by the song’s protagonist (and the times I’ve seen it performed by country music, the performers emphasize and audience cheers the violent passages).

With these minor criticisms, the performance overall was very good and they are to be congratulated. Their performance in this spotlight no doubt will help Jett’s Creek gain greater recognition and standing in the bluegrass community.

Those of us who live in the east and don’t know many bluegrass bands living in the western half of our country might have to reconsider the notion that our region is the dominant generator of quality music if the existence of groups like The Bluegrass Regulators is any indication of what lies west of the Mississippi.

From the state of Washington, The Bluegrass Regulators put on a masterful display of instrumental ability in their official showcase performance. While certainly on the progressive/contemporary side of the spectrum, and demonstrating a high level of technical complexity musically, the did not “overplay,” and their playing had drive, taste, understanding of dynamics, proper use of sound/microphones, and all of this came from a group whose senior member is apparently 22 years old.

It is not clear where the group stands in its composition, as senior member Martin Stevens was announced as the newest member of Dan Crary’s group Thunderation, and guitarist Jake Dewhirst appeared in his military uniform and was introduced as being “on loan” from the U.S. military academy at West Point.

Every member of a group makes an important contribution and the old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is well known because of the truth contained in that statement. This group has no weak link and as configured could have a very bright future.

Likely due in part to the group’s youth, their vocals are a little soft and breathy at this point, and lack the force and power that will no doubt come with age and maturity, although they are pleasant, on pitch, and quite good as they stand now.

Their instrumental virtuosity – several of the group have won presitgious competitions – was demonstrated on an uptempo instrumental selection which drew applause for each soloist as the song progressed, and this from an audience that did not frequently break into applause while songs were being performed, at least not during most of the performances I witnessed this night.

The only less-than-stellar performance was the last selection which was more of a wide open, driving traditional arrangement which did not seem to be what they do most and best at this time. It was way more than competent, just not at the extremely high level of the rest of their performance.

If the group can hold together and resist the forces which pull young persons in different directions (college, jobs, marriage and family – in short, life), it will be a treat to hear what they could become over the next ten years.

Laying aside the future, however, we can enjoy what they already are, which is an outstanding progressive bluegrass band.

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About the Author

James Gabehart

Jim has been playing the banjo, and other string instruments for nearly 40 years. Since joining the musicians union and becoming a performing musician at the age of 15, he won five West Virginia State Banjo Championships, as well as dozens of other competitions, and has taught hundreds of students. Jim was elected as Prosecuting Attorney for Lincoln County, WV in November 2012, and is an active touring performer with his wife and musical partner, Valerie. Learn more about their music at www.JimandValerieGabehart.com.

  • Adam

    First of all I’ll admit that I have some vested interest in Jetts Creek. With all due respect, I think that attacking the subject matter of Gunpowder and Lead is a bit out of line. It seems like in bluegrass music, “Willey” always turns up and wins up killing the Knoxville Girl, or Pretty Polly, and no one seems to bat an eye. I think this song does well in showing a modern view from a woman’s prospective. All in all this article is a well written piece. I’m still curious about the most important part of their experience. What was the overall reaction of the audience?

  • Daniel Mullins

    I agree with Adam. The murder ballad is a staple of the bluegrass genre, with some, which are bluegrass standards, being much more brutal and less justified than the one described in “Gunpowder and Lead.” In addition to “Knoxville Girl” and “Pretty Polly,” which Adam mentioned, “The River Underground,” “Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On,” “Benny McCoy,” “Love For An Angel,” “Veil of White Lace,” and “Bible By The Bed” are just a few examples of murder ballads both new and old, some of which are country songs with a bluegrass makeover such as Jett Creek’s version of “Gunpowder and Lead.” Criticizing the topic of a song which is a very common subject matter within the genre, seems a tad harsh to me.

  • Dennis Jones

    Don Humphries “Blackbirds and Crows” is one fine song too.