Happy April and hopefully welcome to warmer weather and outdoor music!
April brings Easter and the day after is Dyngus Day. I try to always suggest a song or two for the season. Dyngus Day leads me right to a polka classic by Flatt and Scruggs. Take a minute and listen to “Polka On The Banjo” by the Flatt and Scruggs. https://open.spotify.com/search/polka%20on%20the%20banjo
For Easter, I’ll give you all a band that has thrilled generations of bluegrass and gospel music lovers. Listen to the Easter Brothers’ “They’re Holding Up the Ladder” https://open.spotify.com/artist/6Ws6zqLuF7LJVkpVeiDnbT
This month has several noteworthy Bluegrass events taking place.
On Wednesday, April 6, at 8:00 p.m. Bela Fleck brings his “My Bluegrass Heart” concert to the State Theatre of Ithaca, 107 W. State St., Ithaca. https://www.belafleck.com/home The music is all original and all instrumental, no vocals. These players are multi-Grammy winners and IBMA players of the year. Every one of them leads their own very popular band. They include mandolin player Sierra Hull; fiddler Michael Cleveland; guitar great Bryan Sutton; bass player extraordinaire Mark Schatz; and Justin Moses, who plays just about everythin.
The Slocan Ramblers are playing on Wednesday, April 20, 7– 10 p.m. at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, 326 Amherst St, Buffalo. No stranger to the Sportsmen’s, this bluegrass band from Canada sets the stage on fire with energy and passion for their music of choice. “If you’ve grown tired of the same old sounds, here’s a band who reinvents a genre,” reports Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band is playing on Sunday, April 24, 4-6 p.m. at the Sportsmen’s Tavern. The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band features four legendary musicians: John Jorgenson on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Herb Pedersen on banjo, guitar and vocals; Jon Randall on guitar and vocals; and Mark Fain on bass. Jorgenson and Pedersen are founders (with Chris Hillman, formerly of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers) of the formative country rock band Desert Rose Band.
Three more very exciting national touring bluegrass bands in the Buffalo area were just announced in March. The Kevin Prater Band @ Community Fellowship Church, Saturday, June 18, at 7 p.m., Middleport, NY; Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley @ Sportsmen’s, July 13; and The Lonesome River Band @ West Falls Center for Arts on Friday, Aug 12. More on these at BuffaloBluegrass.com and in future Bluegrass Roundups.
Please keep in mind that the Buffalo Bluegrass All Stars play from noon to 2:15 at the Sportsmen’s Tavern every first and third Thursday of every month!
So I’ve been publishing some impressions from bluegrass fans and musicians over the last few months. I have the last two to add this month.
Edward Travis Croft–Acclaimed jazz and roots bass player, formerly of the bands Town Pants and the Jacob’s Ferry Straggler. Four times named Best Acoustic Bass Player in Buffalo and a walking encyclopedia of early country music:
Bluegrass music is the interpretation of both the canonical American folk tradition and other song forms as divergent as classical and top 40 pop, with an emphasis placed on “Scruggs”-style banjo playing and closely stacked harmonies. The rest of the ensemble can take on many forms, but to my ear, this approach to the 5 string banjo is crucial to delineating Bluegrass music from Old-Time, which prominently features clawhammer banjo. Ralph Stanley would often feature a clawhammer cut on his albums to show his roots. Another delineating characteristic of Bluegrass from Old-Time is an emphasis on individual improvisation as opposed to slight variations on a melodic motive, usually repeated ad nauseum by a large group.
I was first exposed to Bluegrass through albums my dad had featuring Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas. My mom listened to a Bluegrass show on one of the local college radio stations. I became more immersed in the style by tracing the roots of some of my honky tonk heroes like Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.
Bluegrass music has created a niche following for itself through many small independent festivals that are family friendly and that usually take place at beautiful scenic destinations. Musically it showcases instrumental and vocal virtuosity in the context of an accessible and emotionally driven music form that appeals to musicians and non-musicians alike.
Diane Johnson is a musician/fan who grew up in Western New York with close ties to the country scene through her dad, country radio DJ on WHLD, Bob Williams. Diane plays with several bands and regularly attends the many bluegrass jams in Western New York and along the east coast.
Bluegrass music, for me, is a lifesaver. At a time in southwest Florida, when I did not know anyone and was suffering from homesickness, a group of bluegrassers took me under their wing and invited me to join their circle. A common bond with complete strangers got me through the toughest of times.
How did I get hooked on bluegrass? …
Learning how to jam in Southern Florida, bluegrass was in abundant supply.
I liked country but bluegrass was not something I sought until a group of jammers dragged me to a jam five days a week … the laughter and the inclusive nature of the circle was exactly what this shy one needed to find my music.
What makes bluegrass special?
I am particularly into the percussive nature of the chop in bluegrass without having to play over a set of drums. The Celtic, old-time, mountain music mix is unique and allows for a wide range of styles and choices but still remain sbluegrass.
A special thanks to all who have submitted answers to my “what is bluegrass music” invitation. They are all published at www.BuffaloBluegrass.com under my name.
The Summer is taking shape with bookings for live bluegrass and roots music within a short drive from Buffalo. See my JAM article in February of 2022 for a detailed list. Bluegrass is best experienced through a weekend bluegrass festival. The emergence of such festivals in the 1960s pulled bluegrass out of little towns in Appalachia and inspired generations of pickers through the years since then. There are over 500 bluegrass festivals in the United States and Canada alone. with more springing up every year in Europe and Asia. It’s these festivals and especially the smaller ones that families can afford to take the kids to several times a summer that really have inspired my generation, my kid’s generation and hopefully my grandchildren’s generation, too.
Wishing you a great month of music and rebirth. Hope to see you out listening to live music this month! Please check out BuffaloBluegrass.com and Buffalo Bluegrass on Facebook to keep up with the latest news in Bluegrass Music on the Niagara Frontier.
Keep on Pickin’!