This afternoon’s (10/1) official IBMA showcase offered a number of surprises – new faces, even with familiar acts. Brance and I were there to catch it all while we grabbed a plate or two of “free food.”
Alecia Nugent was first up, with an almost entirely new band since I saw her last. Thomas Wywrot was the only constant, but he has switched to guitar from banjo. Chris Wade has just come in on banjo, with Jennifer Strickland on bass and Alex Hibbitts on mandolin.
She was featuring material from her upcoming CD, Hillbilly Goddess. Alecia and the band looked like anything but, dressed sharply, and performing the powerful contemporary bluegrass and country-tinged ballads that marked her previous project, Little Girl And A Big Four Lane.
Lonesome River Band was scheduled to come on next, but a last minute changed was announced and Sawmill Road took the stage. With so much emphasis on younger acts at IBMA – and rightly so – it’s great to see a new band made up of experienced pros selected to showcase.
The band consists of Bruce Johnson on fiddle, Steve Spurgin on bass and lead vocals, Charlie Edsall on guitar, Dick Brown on banjo and Mark Miracle on mandolin. They were likewise highlighting their new CD, a self-titled debut, and the show was filled with great songs and clever arrangements.
Spurgin’s voice is seasoned and strong, and the band showed their veteran status providing just the appropriate level of acompaniment.
They finished their set to a standing ovation.
When Lonesome River Band emerged at last, guitarist Brandon Rickman was nowhere to be seen. Regular mandolin man Andy Ball had the guitar strapped on, and former mandolinist Jeff Parker was back – at least for this show. Litterally moments before their set, Brandon was taken ill and Jeff stepped in with no more than a few minutes notice. Talk about a pro!
Hats off to Andy Ball as well, who not only managed the guitar spot like he did it every night, but shouldered all the lead singing as well. New listeners unfamiliar with the band would never have guessed that an emergency switch had been made. Longtime banjo picker Sammy Shelor was peeling the paint off the roof and Mike Hartgrove on fiddle and Mike Anglin on bass turned in the sort of powerful performance that has defined the band’s sound for the past 25 years.
LRB has a new CD as well, No Turning Back, but without Brandon, they weren’t able to feature much of that material – though Ball offered a strong version of We Couldn’t Tell, an especially apt choice, telling the story of the stock market crash on 1929 and it’s impact on a poor rural family.
All in all a great show from LRB, showing what flexibility and multi-talented players mean in our business.