Guest Author - Chris Curtis
The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, IBMA's Event of the Year featured some extraordinary woman musicians. Women have become a phenomenal force in the world of acoustic music and the Grey Fox line up showcased the best of the best. Here are some of the highlights.
Renowned country music singer and grammy award winner Kathy Mattea performed on the Grey Fox stage for the 1st time. Her latest release Coal takes her into the deeper roots of acoustic music. Coal is her deeply felt expression of the people, the land and the life in the Appalachian coal mining towns of W. Virginia. With a great sense of humor, Kathy engaged the audience immediately by confessing that she is a recovering Country star. She then proceeded to deliver an emotionally charged set with the grace of her seasoned career.
Kathy also was featured in a Master's Stage with Tim O'Brien workshop to an overflowed crowd. A casual venue with close-up intimacy made this set one of the festival highlights for those privileged to be in attendance. She and Tim share a common heritage coming from West Virginia. Each selected songs relevant to the culture of the area. I suspect the bluegrass world will see more of Kathy Mattea in the future. She certainly was well received by the Grey Fox audiences.
Tara Nevins - Donna the Buffalo
Multi-instrumentalist Tara Nevins fronts this highly acclaimed Roots Music Jam Band with a social conscious. Donna the Buffalo is a seasoned Grey Fox favorite and Grey Fox patrons were excited to see their return for the first time at its new location in Oak Hill. Tara and the band were featured on the main stage Thursday evening and closed out the dance tent on Friday.
Aioffe O'Donovan - Crooked Still with Brittney Haas on Fiddle
Not strickly Bluegrass, Aioffe O'Donovan has demonstrated staying power on the Bluegrass festival stages. She has assembled a powerhouse band with a new generation of award winning musicians who stretch the traditional boundaries of bluegrass and old time music without losing the time-honored sound. Brittney Hass, already an acclaimed fiddler, joined Crooked Still in 2009. Aioffe's well oiled vocals are underpinned, but never overwhelmed, by the precision instrumentation of a high wattage band. The band nailed their main stage set with a selection of new tunes from their recent project release Some Strange Country.
Sarah Jarosz once again proved to the Grey Fox audiences why she, at the age of 19, has already received a grammy nomination. Returning to the Grey Fox stages for the third consecutive year, Sarah has been performing professionally since the age of 12. She is adept at a number of instruments, a vocalist that challenges the top echelons of woman singers in bluegrass, and a compelling songwriter. Her resume includes numerous awards and accomplishments. Her reserved stage presence contradicts the inspired performance she delivers. Her set was comprised of selections from her Song Up in Her Head and old standards. Sarah's roots are firmly planted in the Bluegrass traditions but her musical directions are leading her toward the new horizons of her vision. She, along with her peers and mentors, will define the direction of tomorrow's acoustic music beyond the bluegrass horizons.
Della Mae – Kimber Ludiker - fiddle, Jennie Lynn Gardner - mandolin, Avril Smith – Guitar, Grace Van’t Hof - Banjo, Amanda Kowalski – Bass.
This all woman band delivered a strong set in Grey Fox's Master Tent to win a standing ovation at their first outing at the festival. Formed in 2009 in Boston, Della Mae is comprised of five accomplished musicians each bringing strong credentials to the mix. This group represents the strength of the acoustic music scene in Boston which has become a hot bed of talent these past several years. The music has strong fusion sensibilities with a nice mix of traditional and new music strongly influenced by oldtime, Americana folk, celtic, and bluegrass. Keep a watch on Della Mae.
Sierra Hull returns to the Grey Fox stage for the second consecutive year but this year she joined the Berklee Roots Music Show featured on the Masters Stage with its expanded Grey Fox Cafe. Sierra just completed her 1st year of studies at Berklee. Why do people rave about this young performer? Because she deserves it! She is a virtuoso on mandolin, has amazing control over her vocals with the stage presence of a seasoned professional. In 2009, Sierra was nominated as the IMBA Mandolin player of the year for the second consecutive year. With her poise and professionalism, Sierra represented the Berklee School of Music program proudly in the Grey Fox Master's stage.
The Sweetback Sisters - Zara Bode and Emily Miller
The Sweetback Sisters, fronted by vocalists Zara Bode and Emily Miller, is a honky-tonk, country swing styled band with a sense of humor. This was a great choice to energize the dance tent with an upbeat down home barn dance. Zara and Emily camp it up with old time twin costuming but deliver wonderful harmonizing will take you back to the traditional country Saturday night dance. Joining the band this year, is bassist Bridget Kierney. Supporting the woman's vocals are three accomplished musicians, Jesse Milnes, Stephan Amidon, and Ross Bellenoit, who raise the bar of excellence for this band.