“Christmas Time’s a Comin’” are words from an old Bluegrass song written by Tex Logan and recorded by countless bluegrass and country singers, including Bill Monroe. It’s time to sing those words again!

by Mark Panfil

The past month had some memorable bluegrass events throughout western New York. Besides the many bluegrass jams that go on every month and some every week in our area, we had a rare opportunity to see two multi-award winning national groups on one night on the same bill.

Those of us who were able to attend the Gibson Brothers and Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley show at Iron Works on Nov. 20 were treated to fantastic show. The audience gasped and then applauded almost every solo that Ickes and Hensley offered us. But perhaps the surprise of the night for most of us was Hensley’s amazing Merle Haggard-influenced voice. Their new CD is entitled “World Full of Blues” and is now one of my new favorites.

Eric and Leigh Gibson proved that they are just as comfortable with singing and playing original neo-classic country as they are with the original bluegrass that made them two-time Entertainers of the Year in the International Bluegrass Music Association.

Here in Buffalo, the home of the Twang Gang, we know high octane classic “twang” and these guys delivered it. Besides the highly skilled brother harmony vocals and the signature songwriting prowess of the brothers, I was spell bound by the amazing steel guitar licks played by Eric O’Hara. This group also has a new CD, entitled “Mockingbird,” that features this great band and these great new songs.

Coming up in December, the Sportsmen’s Tavern is again bringing in top-notch national and international bluegrass on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. with the Slocan Ramblers from Canada. The last time this group came to the Sportsmen’s, the high-energy Slocan Ramblers really impressed me with the sheer mastery of their instruments, including upright bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin and Scruggs style and clawhammer banjo. I hope to see a great crowd welcoming back this great band.

So if I had a nickel for every time I heard, “I wish I could play an instrument” from people at the shows we play, well… Do you need a gift idea? How about an acoustic guitar, a mandolin or even a five-string banjo?

The quality of mid- to lower-priced instruments has never been better. The internet is exploding with free or reasonably priced lessons on YouTube, and we have a great network of private teachers and jam sessions to meet the needs of beginners to pros right here in the greater Buffalo area.

One word of warning: take a player with you or go to a local music store when you shop and buy. The deals on the internet look great, but beware. Here’s a tip, find the teacher first and ask for an instrument recommendation.

Bluegrass is a great place to start. The songs are as easy or as complicated as you want. You’re never too old to start and the rewards are boundless.

The Bluegrass All-Stars drew large crowds in November. We welcomed some great sit-in guests, including Bill Ward, guitar virtuoso from Mayville. Come and join in the fun every first and third Thursday starting at noon at the Sportsmen’s Tavern and remember that up to date bluegrass events pop up every month and www.BuffaloBluegrass.com is the best place to find them 24/7.

Happy Holidays and, as always, please support live music and maybe play some too!

Elmer Ploetz

Author Elmer Ploetz

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