Acoustic Music, Bluegrass Music, Saturday Soundtrack
Comments 2

Festival jams

One of the treats of attending bluegrass and acoustic music festivals is when groups of musicians who don’t play together on a regular basis gather on stage to make music. It isn’t always pretty, but sometimes magic happens.

Last year I wrote about some of these special moments in the post Festival Favorites. Now, with the summer festival season winding down, I thought it would be fun to take in some jams — most from 2022 but one or two older gems — at festivals and other acoustic music venues.

Of course, it would be too easy in these collaborations to just play standard material, as so many of these talented musicians would ask, “Where’s the fun in that?!” That’s one reason these jams regularly feature music from genres other than the standard bluegrass fare. The finales at eTown, for instance, are always a mash-up of the musical guests playing on that week’s show and the music is often unexpected, as when Molly Tuttle and The Infamous Stringdusters join hosts Nick and Helen Forster for this unique take on the Eurythmics‘ hit song Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).

Chris Thile from Punch Brothers, can play just about anything, so it isn’t a surprise when Thile, Sarah Jarosz, and Nathaniel Smith from Watchhouse on cello cover of The Beatles Drive My Car, from the August 5, 2022, concert at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California.

That clip came from the American Acoustic Tour featuring Watchhouse (fka Mandolin Orange), Punch Brothers, and Jarosz. From that same tour is a beautiful cover of Bobby CharlesI Must Be in a Good Place Now.

Those two bands plus Jarosz play a lovely version of the Watchhouse tune Wildfire from the same tour. As I wrote in 2020, Wildfire is a tune that fits in our troubled times.

Civil war came and civil war went
Brother fought brother, the south was spent
But its true demise was hatred passed down through the years
And it should have been different, it could have been easy
But pride has a way of holding too firm to history
Then it burns like wildfire

Merlefest has always been a festival where one can see great collections of amazing musicians doing their thing together. This video was recorded on April 30, 2022, at the Creekside Stage at Merlefest, where Sam Bush led friends of the blind guitarist Doc Watson and his son Merle in a set called “Memories of the Watson Family.” Sam’s introduction to Nashville Blues describes how he learned to manage a “cluster jam” from Doc.

This classic jam from the 1991 Merlefest features the late Tony Rice leading the band alongside Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Mark O’Connor, and Mark Schatz.

Fast forward some thirty years and Bela Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart tour is featuring some of those same elder statesmen, along with many of the best young players in the business. Featured is a rip-roaring version of the old Jimmy Martin hit Tennessee, with a spirited lead by the incomparable Billy Strings.

Grey Fox is another of the country’s top-notch bluegrass festivals, and I’ve included a jam from 2019 with Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle doing one of my favorites, Sittin’ On Top of the World.

To end this post, I’m going back to a gem from 2012 at the 25th anniversary of Merlefest. Sam Bush and the Sam Bush Band had a great opening set, but when they brought out Derek Trucks, his wife Susan Tedeschi, John Cowan, and Bela Fleck it was magical. Luckily, there’s a great video of the entire set of three tunes on You Tube. Take a look at Sam Bush’s face at about 2:06 when Trucks plays an amazing lick. That’s how everyone felt.

Have a great Labor Day weekend and enjoy some music!

More to come…


Image: Sam Bush and his band jam with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi at Merlefest 2012.


  1. john hildreth says


    Nothing to rival your festival gleanings but we did go to the finale concert at the Brevard Music Center of Bela Fleck’s Banjo Camp that had, among others, Tony Triska as an instructor. He had a great little house band and it was all very good. Some very creative things and a high level of musicianship. The grand finale, however, was something surreal:

    105 banjos onstage playing, you guessed it, Dueling Banjoes.

    As I told my banjo playing friend, there ought to be a law . . .

    Sent from my iPhone


    • John, there should definitely be a law! Oh my god…I can’t even image what that mash up sounded like. The best banjo joke I know is, “What do you call perfect pitch? When you throw the accordion in the dumpster and it lands on the banjo!”

      Glad you got to experience this little bit of musical heaven (I guess). Stay well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.