SPBGMA 2016 notes

SPBGMAWe had a blast this year at the SPBGMA National Convention in Nashville. As always, it’s great to re-connect with old friends and make new ones, with more high-quality music being played than you could ever hope to see in a day.

Between the main stage and the many hotel suites offering live bands, you could hear a wide variety of bluegrass well into the wee hours. Not to mention jamming in every hallway, stair well, and sleeping room.

Here are some disconnected and occasionally random observations that stood out this year.

• Young folks – the number of teen and young adult pickers in attendance seems to grow year to year. Walking through the hotel lobby even on Thursday evening it struck me that it resembled a singles event with hundreds of young people smiling and having fun. Young bands found every unobstructed nook and cranny for a jam, or to showcase their music.

• The Moron Brothers – If you’ve caught the bluegrass comedy shows these two retired fighters put on, you’ll be pleased to know that they are the exact same down home, corn pone characters they portray on stage. I had the pleasure of meeting Burley and Lardo before their set on Saturday, and to chat with them a couple of other times over the weekend. They really are natural comedians and shared a few jokes with me that are a bit too political for the show. Don’t miss them when they come your way.

• Jamming restrictions – though I didn’t witness it myself, we heard reports that hotel staff were rousting jammers from the hallways after 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. Not sure if that was in the convention area or the hotel proper.

Wife wanted at SPBGMA - photo by Kimberly Williams• Wife Wanted – When you wander through the hotel floors at the Music City Sheraton during SPBGMA, it’s quite common to find festival flyers posted on room doors, and a few instrument or bus for sale notices. One lodger came up with this interesting proposal taped to his door.

Thanks to Kimberly Williams for the photo.

• Po’ Ramblin’ Boys – I’ve been high on this group since I saw videos from some of their early performances last year. For a youthful outfit, they have some impeccable traditional bluegrass credentials. Mando man C.J. Lewandowski has spent some formative time with Karl Shiflett, and banjo picker Jereme Brown is the son of bluegrass genius Tommy Brown, so no one should be surprised that they put a crackerjack band together.

With Josh Rinkle on guitar, their three-part harmony is rich and sharp with Stanley-style contours. This was my first time catching their live show, and it was a dandy with bass player Jasper Lorentzen’s wild gyrations setting the tone. Matt Flake was sitting in on fiddle and added a great deal to the sound.

Their new album, Back To The Mountains, has just been released on Randm Records.

• Kentucky Mountain Trio – this duet team, which performed as a quartet at SPBGMA, features one of the most exciting young voices in bluegrass and Americana music. Heidi Greer packs a very powerful sound in a tiny little body, and she and husband Ryan sing together like brother and sister. Steve Gulley, who is producing their album, told us to expect big things from this bunch, and after seeing them live, I certainly concur.

• Russ Carson – I’ve long admired this super-talented young banjo picker, now plying his trade with Ricky Skaggs, but getting to spend an evening with him in the Huber Banjos suite was extra special. Russ picked his way through several of the new Hubers on display, plus a couple of prewar flatheads that were floating around the room. One was an old RB-4 that belonged to Steve Huber, and another was a style 3 that had belonged to J.D. Crowe, known affectionately as “Banger.” It had recently been purchased by Melvin Cumbee, and he was giving Russ a chance to put ‘er through its paces.

Ricky Skaggs and Russ Carson backstage at the Grand Ole Opry (2/6/16) - photo by Bethany BurieMelvin also offered to let Carson take the banjo to his Grand Ole Opry show with Skaggs the next day, and he posed for this photo with the boss man and his Loar-signed F-5 mandolin. That’s a lot of vintage value in one picture!

In addition to his banjo prowess, Russ is also a first-rate photographer, as is his charming and talented fiance, Bethany Burie, who snapped this shot.

Only 51 more weeks ’till SPBGMA ’17!

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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.