I can say first-hand that I happen to know two of the finest instrument builders around today. Jim DeCava of DeCava Instruments and Bob Flesher of Flesher’s Custom Banjos.
While growing up in Bridgeport, CT as a teenager I happened to stumble in on a small music shop located right on Main Street of all places. Now, Bridgeport CT was not known for bluegrass music, let alone banjo building.
The storefront appeared like any other Main Street business, but when you walked through the door you immediately knew “you weren’t in Kansas anymore”…not that everyone was really short, just that there was something different about it. I was a novice guitar player but I knew this wasn’t your ordinary music store.
At Liberty Banjo, you were somehow transported into another dimension…much like Twilight Zone meets Mayberry. Months later I learned that Liberty had its’ own brand of Mayberry townspeople. Everyone who walked through the door had their own “quirky” characteristic to contribute to the overall atmosphere of the shop. Each felt compelled to visit Liberty…not to spend money, just spend time. This added to the charm of the store and, what I believe to be now, the primary reason for its success.
I knew after that brief visit that I’d be back. Who knew a couple of years later I would be working there shaping necks, cutting & inlaying pearl and many other tasks to contribute to the construction of one the finest banjos on the market? We were also very fortunate to have celebrities visit the shop from time to time…Kevin Nealon of SNL fame and Bela Fleck for instance.
Bob Flesher was one of the owners and Jim DeCava was Liberty’s head luthier. Jim, especially, taught me so much in the time I was there. To this day I’ve felt it a privilege to know them as well as work with them. Not everyone can say they built banjos for a living! Both Bob & Jim continue to build great instruments today. It would be well worth the “cyber trip” to visit their respective sites. http://www.flesherbanjo.com/ & http://www.decavabanjos.com.
If you are fortunate to come across an original Liberty Banjo in your travels grab it! These were Mastertone grade instruments that were second to none for craftsmanship and tonal quality. Good luck on your quest!
Do you like your comedy in the style of Monty Python? Or is Saturday Night Live more to your taste? You like them both? British and American humor differ vastly except they both make you laugh. If that mix tastes good, wait until you get a load of the musical styling of Englishman James Hickman and his American counterpart, Dan Cassidy. The two collaborate as Hickman & Cassidy and when they perform; it is hard to imagine they are from bluegrass worlds an ocean apart.
Catching them live is another story. If you are in the UK, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see them live. Here in the States, your best bet is to buy their album and follow them on Twitter @Hickmancassidy and keep up with them at the links above. Or make the trip across the pond. I know of at least one bluegrass act you won’t want to miss. Cheers!
Every once and a while the Spinners here at Bluegrass Spin like to acknowledge some of the fine folks that follow us on Twitter. This time we’re shouting out to the fine folks at Weber Mandolins, where mandolins are only part of the story. These outstanding craftsmen also make world-class guitars and ukuleles. The story of their Montana-based legacy is well told at their own website and we encourage you to read all about the Weber story from the beginnings as Flatiron Mandolin and Banjo Company to their present incarnation as Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments. It is an inspirational story of how excellence and pride in production and quality of product lead to a loyal following of musical instrument enthusiasts and a superior product offering. Read the story for yourself at http://webermandolins.com/why-weber/history.
Bruce Weber sits at the helm of this enterprise and it is as much a labor of love as it is a business enterprise. He trains luthiers, not production line workers. That is why each and every instrument produced by Weber has been hand-detailed. That extra touch makes the difference between a simple instrument and an artisanal work of art.
As for the products produced by these luthiers, you should read the reviews or better yet, get your hands on a Weber Fine Acoustical Instrument and write your own review. Chances are you’ve already listened to one or more of their products at the last bluegrass concert or festival you attended. Check out their latest news stories at http://webermandolins.com/why-weber/weber-news. While you’re at it, follow them on Twitter at @webermandolin and follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WeberMandolinsGuitars. Tell them Bluegrass Spin sent you!
Now in his fifth decade of performing, David “Dawg” Grisman continues to entertain us with some of the greatest acoustic music available today. David Grisman is on the road with a multiple array of musical groups, from traditional bluegrass with DGBX to his signature “Dawg music” combos with David Grisman Quintet and Sextet.
When performing on the road, David never neglects to mention AcousticOasis.com as a resource for some of the greatest downloadable acoustic music ever recorded. Most of these recordings have never been available in any format to the public.
AcousticOasis.com celebrates these musical genres by categorizing each release to a particular “room” on the site. For instance, you can click on the “Studio Vault” and be treated to “Alternate” takes by Garcia/Grisman as well as Hardcore Bluegrass recordings with the great Del McCoury Band. Or you can click on “Studio” and find great, newly recorded projects featuring Dawg with some the greatest acoustic musicians today such as Jim Hurst, Martin Taylor and Fran Vignola to name a few. The “Live Vault” will transport you back to the archives of amazing live musical performances. Each of these releases includes downloadable CD/DVD graphics.
There is no doubt that you’ll be downloading music from every room on the site. There are many more never before heard collections of acoustic music being prepared for release every month so check back often. Don’t forget to visit the “Hi-Def” room for a new musical experience in listening pleasure.
With the upcoming Telluride Bluegrass Festival in beautiful southwest Colorado quickly approaching, I can’t help but think of the great music that comes out of that part of the country. It also reminds me of a couple of great musical legends that I have loved for decades and how this festival brought them together.
In the early 70′s I discovered Dan Fogelberg and his amazing writing ability but had no idea what connection he had with bluegrass music. As years went on my musical tastes took various paths. One of those paths led to David Grisman and all his work with Old & in the Way, a monumental step in bringing bluegrass to the masses
I’m told that because he lived in Colorado, Dan attended many festivals in Telluride. This one particular year he was asked to play some tunes with his good friends Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman. This particular afternoon of jamming led to a great album Dan released in the 1980′s called “High Country Snows”. On the recording was the “who’s who” of bluegrass…an all star band, if you will. The mandolin player on that album was David Grisman! I’m not sure what the response to that release was but it had moments of brilliance even for a hardcore bluegrass fan. Dan Fogelberg has always been known for his high production techniques and this was no different. All that aside, it’s a great group of tracks with amazing musicians.
Many decades after this project I asked David Grisman what was it like to record this album with one of my other heroes…he replied, “There was a lot of food”! I’m sure the great music also was a highlight for Dawg.
If you have not heard High Country Snows, I recommend you give it a shot to see what happens when different musical talents collide!
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to talk about Trampled by Turtles! I am so excited that the day is finally here! I don’t often use the term “Wall of Sound” when describing modern bluegrass but I suspect the same reason I love bands like the Electric Light Orchestra is the same reason I find Trampled by Turtles so pleasing to the ear. This band isn’t afraid to explore sound. There are conversations going on between the musicians – guitar to banjo, bass to mandolin, and so on. So, too, are the vocalizations. The harmonies are well thought out and hit the ear in such a way as to invoke a smile or a thoughtful preponderance of the subject matter. Just give listen to a track like “Widower’s Heart” and you’ll know what I mean.
So who are Trampled by Turtles? Dave Simmonett provides lead vocals and guitar. Tim Saxhaug is keeping it tight on bass while providing backing vocals. Dave Carroll is picking the banjo while providing backing vocals. You will admire Erik Berry on the mandolin. Ryan Young is a multi-instrumental threat playing tasty licks on the fiddle, viola, mandolin, viola da gamba, and even the saw; all the while providing backing vocals as needed.
Have you ever seen an album being pressed? Check out this great video from Trampled by Turtles and see a piece of Americana that has so quickly been replaced by our digital age. The track played is “Alone”. Awesome!
With the 40th anniversary of the band’s live shows at The Boarding House in San Francisco this past October 2013, these influential recordings are more relevant than ever. David “Dawg” Grisman and Acoustic Disc have re-mastered these legendary live shows on a four CD collection with both the 10/1/73 & 10/8/73 shows… includes both sets. If that wasn’t exciting enough, Dawg has included 14 previously unissued performances with this collection as well.
This is a timeless recording that brought a group of amazing musicians, each in their own right, together with an unrivaled chemistry. It is hard to imagine that Old & In the Way was together such a short period of time but managed to leave such a lasting mark on not only bluegrass but music in general.
If you are looking to put a smile on your face today, sit back and give a good look and listen to Old Man Markley’s YouTube video that details their adventures from their winter of 2013 tour with the Dropkick Murphys. They were on tour to promote their second album “Down Side Up” which is a must own for fans of great music.
The vocals are truly impressive. Their sound has been described as a galloping rhythm, laced with lightning fast instrumentation of banjo, violin, and whatever other instruments they can get their hands on. I saw the washboard in use but I suspect they can grab an ashtray and bang a table with the best of them. This band is having fun and it shows.
I am a fan of Weird Al Yankovic and his amazing band. This band reminds me so much of them. If you are going to have fun with your music you need to master your music. It is a great compliment to praise their musicianship. Speaking of Weird Al, give this band a good listen and tell me if you don’t hear what I hear.
Old Man Markley is Johnny Carey (vocals, guitar), Annie DeTemple (autoharp, vocals), Joey Garibaldi (bass, vocals), Jeff Fuller (drums), Ryan Markley (washboard), John Rosen (banjo, vocals) and Katie Weed (fiddle, vocals). Critics would likely classify this band as “newgrass” because they are not easily defined as a bluegrass band. I don’t care what you call it, this is great music.
The band is easy to follow. You can preview and purchase their music through our preferred music partner, Amazon.com.
Steve Ivey is a man of many talents. He has worked with the biggest names in the music business and has amassed a huge following of fans and devotees of gospel and bluegrass music. He has graced us with an amazing collection of bluegrass gems where he can show off his vocal abilities and virtuoso skills as a musician. As a performer, he has released several successful albums focused on Celtic renditions of well-known hymns and more traditional gospel music. With “Best of Bluegrass”, Ivey has ventured into a deep vein of Americana and bluegrass steeped songs. He brings his own style and the songs are well known to enthusiasts but appreciated by all as Steve adds his own spin to these tunes.
Steve is a well-known and highly sought after songwriter and producer of country Christian artists. He can boast over 250 original songs that have been recorded making him one of the more prolific music talents in the industry today. “Best of Bluegrass” is a must have for any serious collector as Steve has made sure the album title delivers on its title.
You can learn more about Steve Ivey at his company’s website. You can pick up “Best of Bluegrass” from our online music partner, Amazon.com. You can also enjoy his rendition of “Man of Constant Sorrow” on YouTube. I’ve included the video below.
If you are reading this article, there’s a very good chance you’ve been to a bluegrass festival at one time or another…but if there is that slim chance you haven’t, read on…
Back in 2004, filmmakers Ruth Oxenberg and Rob Schumer gave us a rare view of a very typical bluegrass festival held in the hills of upstate New York. Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is much celebrated and attended by thousands every year. (Note: Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival organizers have since relocated the festival since the filming of this documentary)
The location was and is a beautiful setting with nothing but top performers playing day & night. Ruth and Rob give you a glimpse of what it means to really immerse oneself in a festival. They literally have you pulling into the festival grounds, setting up camp and rekindling old friendships from years past. The sense of community shared between bluegrass fans comes through in this documentary. It is very family oriented. On a personal note, it wasn’t until many years later that I would not only meet but have the same name (first and last) as the flat picker playing in Devil’s Dream. As a result, we have become very good friends and have actually played a couple of gigs together.
This film features performances and interviews from some of the most celebrated musicians around. Performances by such bluegrass legends as the Del McCoury Band, Peter Rowan, Tim O’Brien, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Rhonda Vincent, Nickel Creek, and many more. You will get a glimpse of how a bluegrass festival is operated from behind the scenes. It is amazing to see what goes into running as wonderful an event such as Grey Fox.
One of the highlights for me is Tony Rice’s solo “Shenandoah/Danny Boy” medley. This is just one of the samples of beautiful music you will experience with this DVD.
It is worth every penny and it will be a film you will watch over and over again…we have!