The Blue Ridge Music Festival – Salem, VA

This is a bit late arriving but better late than never. For those of you who did not get to attend The Blue Ridge Music Festival you missed some really great music. As is the case at most any show of this magnitude things did not necessarily go to everyone’s liking but for the most part it was well worth the price of admission.

The schedule on Saturday had to be adjusted due to the weather conditions. Yes, it was a beautiful sunny day however, the wind was a bit brisk and in the shade it was a good bit cool. Actually, cold early morning and late afternoon/night. Having been around a lot of musicians, I know that cold and damp are not two words to use where instruments are concerned they have a tendency to get out of tune. Due to the rearranging of the schedule and not every fan being able to attend all day long some folks missed the performers they most wanted to see but I’m sure the one’s they did see helped smooth over any ruffled feathers. Plus the fact that most every band there sold merchandise and did a Meet and Greet after their sets was very pleasing.

The Kenny and Amanda Smith band being moved from 12 noon (the first band of the festival) to 8 pm that night for the first show indoors of the evening was a bit of a frustration for those wishing to see some of the local talent in this band. It was stated that space was limited for the show, therefore many folks like myself, left mid-show of Ricky Skaggs to, hopefully, claim some space at the 8 pm show. Once we arrived at the civic center at 7:15, we were informed the doors would not even open until 8 and space was indeed limited but there was no seating. Unless you chose or were able to sit on the floor you were out of luck. I hope that next year the festival organizers will remember this and make some changes. First of all being there at 7:15 meant folks had to stand out in the cold for 45 minutes and then expected to stand through not one but three bands! Keep in mind that a lot of bluegrass fans are not young and able bodied I saw quite a few older and less able folks leave and I know they were downhearted to miss seeing this band. But I digress………

Arriving at 10 am for the start time of 12 to get a good seat turned out not to be a necessity there was lots of room in front of the stage for folks to set up their lawn chairs to enjoy the show up close and personal. Before talking about the bands individually, let me just give them all a big KUDOS for being the troopers they were over the weekend. Their spots on the stage were in the shade most of the day and there was no windbreak.  Many of them walked to the back of the stage to get some sun, had to do some extra tuning, and were doing a good bit of blowing on their hands but everyone of them hung in there and did not disappoint.

The Greencards kicked off the festival, followed by Robinella a bit of a different type band than I expected but still quite talented. Next came the always, popular Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, what can you say about this great band. Not only great singers but musicians as well. One of the lead singers Darren Beachley has a wonderful tenor voice that reminded me very much of former Quicksilver member Randy Graham. They performed some old favorites such as Julie Ann, added some new music and did their always popular and beautiful acapella singing. No one does that quite like this group. I took this opportunity to go get an autograph of Doyle and crew, reminded Terry Baucom that I used to come see them play at the now infamous Iroquois Club in Roanoke years ago. Terry’s lovely wife Cindy, host of the syndicated bluegrass show Knee Deep in Bluegrass, was in attendance as well and it was a pleasure to get to meet her.

The legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley took the stage next. As usual he had a great band backing him up, one in particular I know he’s proud of his 14 year old grandson Nathan. This young man is coming into his own very quickly playing mandolin and doing some singing too. He already has his own cd. Ralph did many of his traditional tunes from his days with his brother Carter and a haunting rendition of O Death for which he won a Grammy award a few years ago. He even allowed the crowd to cheer him on to play a bit of clawhammer banjo for us. He also mentioned he had been working with Josh Turner and also Alabama on some cds so keep an eye out for some of those.

Well, by this time I’m a bit hungry and when you leave your seat and head to the concessions you’re bound to run into people to chat with and well, unfortunately you don’t quite catch all the great music on stage. That being said, I didn’t catch a lot of Tim O’Brien’s Cornbread Nation. What I could hear of them was quite intriguing. I also missed a portion of Peter Rowan and Tony Rice. These two are legends in their own right and their instrumental ability is probably the best there is and Peter still has a great voice. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder were the last outdoor group of the day. By this time, the sun is setting and it’s getting pretty chilly. Ricky immediately asks "Why don’t they have this festival in June?" As is always the case Ricky and band were in high gear, even though I know their instruments were probably giving them fits they were the consumate professionals they always are and put on a great show.

At this point I must also give a KUDOS to the festival and the sound folks. Things ran very much on time and the sound was awesome! Even many of the bands commented that the sound was really good, way to go!

Now we’re at the civic center for the indoor show. As I said long wait in the cold, not for me so I sat in the car with my Mom until the line cleared out then we went in for a few songs from Kenny and Amanda Smith. I hadn’t seen this band in a while and they have some new personnel, however the music was great as ever. I didn’t make it for Tim O’Brien and Friends or the Biscuit Burners (I wanted to be ready for Sunday!) but heard they were rockin’!!

Sunday dawned another cool morning. There was not a long line waiting to get in which somewhat surprised me considering some of the ‚Äòheavy hitters’ that were on schedule for today. The Steep Canyon Rangers started off the day with some really great tunes. They were voted the Emerging Artist of the Year at IBMA a month back and deservedly so, this is a great young band. Their singing is good, harmony tight and musicianship great as well.

Alicia Nugent took the stage next, she mentioned she had a couple of new band members, and one who had left and now returned. Alicia has a beautiful voice and some really great songs. One of my favorite songs by her is “Paper and Pen”.  Also, another one asking the age old question of ‚Äòwhere are we going’. Sorry I can’t remember the name of this song maybe next time I’ll try to take paper and pen.

The next two bands are two of the most popular in bluegrass today and rightfully so, Blue Highway and Mountain Heart. Both of these bands were awesome! Some of these bands even got a bit ‚Äònew grass’ on us, or, to me, it sounded a bit like what I’d call ‚Äòjazzgrass’. Not what you normally expect, but great, none the less. Unfortunately, due to the need for food again on Sunday I missed some of Blue Highway, doggone it! But what I did hear was great. Mountain Heart really got the crowd going with their energy and their great singing.

After Mountain Heart lots of folks apparently decided to take a dinner or bathroom break, so there wasn’t a huge seated crowd for Marty Stuart. Those who did remain there got a real treat!! Many folks don’t know that Marty has never strayed far from his bluegrass roots and even has a bluegrass cd recorded live at the Ryman. He had ‚Äòborrowed’ Dana Cupp from Bobby Osborne for the weekend to play banjo with him. He did a lot of traditional bluegrass and something I’d never heard before ‚Äòdiscograss’! ?? Apparently Marty lived next door to the late Johnny Cash and when his house was sold recently Barry Gibbs of the Bee Gee’s bought it so Marty did an arrangement of "Stayin’ Alive" in honor of his new neighbor, it was quite good believe it or not!! I am an admitted huge fan of Marty’s so those who had not seen him before were in for a treat. Who would have thought of doing ‚ÄòThe Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ No More’ (his smash hit with Travis Tritt) and ‚ÄòHillbilly Rock’ bluegrass style. They also performed an accapella gospel song, which was great. He also has a gospel cd out called Souls Chapel.

Okay this time I did not leave my seat for food, I went to see Marty. I’ve been more times than I can remember but it’s always a delight to get to see him and visit for a few minutes. Now I’ve missed part of Manzanita, but something I thought was really cool happened. After Marty signed autographs he walked over to the back of the stadium to stand and listen to some of the band on stage. Very cool!!!

Manzanita seemed to have been one of the highly anticipated groups of the day. With Tony Rice on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro and the always popular Dan Tyminski on mandolin they couldn’t hardly miss. They were another crowd favorite.

Last but certainly not least was Cherryholmes. This is another must see group for bluegrass fans everywhere. This family group has developed in to such a great band over the years it is amazing. I remember seeing them at The Floyd Country Store about three years ago when they were just starting out. Now all of the children of the family have grown and blossomed into wonderful singers and awesome musicians! They just seem to get better. 

They ended up this festival for the second year. Let’s hope they’re all back next year and that the few ‚Äòissues’ that arose will not be back.