I’ve now arrived home and cut off my MerleFest wristband…so it is officially over. (I’m sure the organizers are glad to know that’s what it takes.)
Sunday at MerleFest is a short day, ending at 6 p.m. If you live 7 hours away, as I do, it ends even earlier unless you want to get home at 1 a.m.
Nonetheless, there were some good final day acts that I was able to work in before the heat and the prospect of the drive drove me out the front gate and headed north.
I arrived a little later than planned (must have been that early morning post), so I skipped Doc and the Nashville Bluegrass Band’s traditional gospel show and caught up with the Dixie Bee-Liners at the Hillside stage. I’d seen them the day before as part of the New Generation Super Jam and wanted to see a full show. They had a very entertaining set, with strong harmonies and interesting arrangements. They are worth a look if they are traveling to your town.
Afterwards, I stopped by the Americana tent and caught the end of Happy Traum’s show. While most people think of MerleFest as primarily a bluegrass festival, it really showcases all types of music including a strong strand of acoustic blues. Traum sat on-stage with his guitar and took requests, picking such classics as Step It Up and Go. Because of his Homespun Tapes series of instructional DVDs, Traum deserves a great deal of thanks from everyone who cares about acoustic and traditional music.
On the Cabin Stage, Pete Wernick (a.k.a. Dr. Banjo) brought out The Gibson Brothers for a short but strong set. These guys are exceptional singers in the brother duo tradition, and Wernick added a warm presence (no pun intended) as the MC and experienced performer. I have a good friend in Staunton who went to high school with Wernick and even my friend – who is a physicist – calls him Dr. Banjo. Wernick – a founder of Hot Rize – is a giant in the progressive bluegrass field, but in recent years he’s focused more on the traditional side of the music. It was nice of him to use his time to showcase The Gibson Brothers.
Next came the highlight of the day for me. I’ve written recently about Missy Raines and the New Hip’s performance in the Washington area. But today she was even better. The New Hip came out smoking and never let up. They sounded just like a jazz quintet, with lots of great interplay and strong individual solos. The addition of mandolin star Matt Flinner just made the band that much better. This guy has serious chops. Check out his new CD Music du Jour, as it is a strong work by his normal trio.
Raines also called up Angel Band to help out with the vocals on Cold Hard Business (see photo at the top of the post), and did they ever take care of business! After her show, I actually had four different people – three of them strangers – ask me if I’d heard Raines’ show…she was that good.
For me, the day ended with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. These three musicians have a real love for the old-time string band music of the African American community, and it shows in their infectious set. Truly, a great way to end my MerleFest 2009.
I just checked the MerleFest Forum board to see how others were viewing this year’s festival. There were some complaints about the relatively weak line-up (I would agree to a point), and also some notes about the repetitive nature of many of the acts. It wasn’t my strongest MerleFest, but I have a hard time complaining when I get to spend four days in the Carolina hills (even if it is hot as Hades) listening to great musicians play what they love.
More to come…