Well, by the time you read this we will be in 2023.

This has been a holiday season we will not forget for sometime. They are now calling it the Christmas Blizzard of 2022. I hope and pray that you and your loved ones were safe though the storm.

If you’ve read my articles before, you may have noticed that I like to quote a bluegrass song at the beginning of my monthly articles. This is from the New Grass Revival album of the same name, “When the Storm is Over.”

I will fly away when the storm is over
I will fly away when the storm is over
But I’ll be back in the spring
When the robins chirp and the rivers sing
I will fly away when the storm is over

Review of The Punch Brothers and Bela Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart

The concert at the University of Buffalo Center For the Arts on Saturday, Dec. 17, was a truly amazing show.

On a very snowy night that also coincided with a home game between the Bills and Miami (which the Bills won as a blizzard broke out in the stadium), Bela Fleck and the band he constructed to showcase his album, “My Bluegrass Heart,” took the stage.

This band was made up of these very notable bluegrass musicians: Sierra Hull, mandolin; Justin Moses, dobro, fiddle and banjo; Mark Schatz, bass; Michael Cleveland, fiddle; Bryan Sutton, guitar; and Bela Fleck, banjo.

Bela Fleck and the My Bluegrass Heart band

They went through many songs from the album plus some choice covers, “Big Country” and “Bound to Ride.” In the second cover, Moses demonstrated that he is not only one of the most versatile players in bluegrass, he is also a wonderful bluegrass lead singer.

Another highlight, especially for a banjo player like the yours truly, was a banjo trio on the song, “Boulderdash.” Noam Pikelny (of the Punch Brothers) played his part as recorded on the “Bluegrass Heart” album and Moses played the part Tony Trischka played on the album, weaving in and out of harmonies and unison blazing lines. The well attended but not sold out crowd showed its enthusiastic appreciation for this treat.

The Punch Brothers

The second part of the show featured the Punch Brothers, Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar) and Paul Kowert (bass).

They began the set with “House Carpenter,” one of  Thile’s better known songs. I have to admit that I am not well versed in the Punch Brothers recorded projects so it was the covers that stuck with me. They sent out a tribute to Tony Rice in their fresh arrangement of “Church Street Blues.”

The arrangements of the band were meticulously designed and executed and a better collection of musicians would be very hard to even name. The crowd reacted to every song with thunderous applause.

The third part of the show was everything I had hoped for and much more. The two bands were ending the shared part of their winter tours on this night in Buffalo. You could easily tell that they had thoroughly enjoyed the music shared and the camaraderie of this mega-talent tour.

The grand finale, with both bands playing together.

I was hoping for a finale that reflected the respect they shared for each other and, wow! A very funny cover version of “The Chipmunk Song” with Hull, Eldridge and Thile singing an octave above their range segued into a reading of letters to Santa by members of the two bands and ended up with a version of the Leroy Anderson Christmas classic, “Sleigh Ride.”

This last song stated the melody and allowed the musicians to improvise jazz style on each second statement of the melodies. The players paired up with two banjos, two mandolins, two guitars, two fiddles, one dobro and two basses that spun around as they played! Here is this grand finale.

January Bluegrass events

On Friday, Jan. 6, Creek Bend will play at the Lee Whedon Public Library in Medina from 7 to 9 p.m. This show will feature Judd Sunshine, bass player and vocalist for the very popular Pointless Brothers Band. These concerts are free and chairs are provided in a nice, warm library.

On Saturday, Jan. 7, The Panfil Brothers Trio will be playing at 42 North Brewing company 25 Pine St., East Aurora, 8-11 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan.28, Working Man String Band starts at 8 p.m. at Hawley’s Grove, 482 West Ave., Lockport. This is one of their first gigs and they will play Americana, bluegrass and folk.

The Greensky Blue Band

On Thursday, Jan. 12, Greensky Bluegrass Band is playing at the Town Ball Room. The band describes its sound as “their own version of bluegrass music, mixing the acoustic stomp of a string band with the rule-breaking spirit of rock & roll.” They are one of the top jam bands touring America and travel with a full light show. The doors open at 7 p.m. for a 7:30 show. Tickets are $30.

The jam sessions this month are;

  • Bennington Bluegrass Jam, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2-7 p.m. at the Bennington Lanes in Bennington.
  • A Community Pick Jam on Sunday, Jan. 29, noon to 2 p.m.,  at B and D Bagels in Lockport.

Looking into the future: 

John McEuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will be bringing his Circle Band, spotlighting the 50th anniversary of the ground breaking “Will the Circle be Unbroken” album to the Sportsmens Tavern on Thursday, March 16, starting at 7 p.m. That album was released in the fall of 1972 and featured such notables as Mother Maybelle Carter, lead vocal and guitar; Doc Watson, guitar; Pete “Oswald” Kirby, dobro; Junior  Huskey, bass; Earl Scruggs, banjo; Randy Scruggs, autoharp; McEuen, mandolin; plus Jeff Hanna, Les Thompson, Merle Travis, Jim Ibbotson and others. ,

The 2023 Circle band includes Thompson, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; John Cable, who toured Russia with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; and Matt Cartsonis.

Danny Paisley and Southern Grass will be coming to the West Falls Center for the Arts on Saturday, May 20 at 7 p.m. The group was started by Danny’s father, Bob Paisley and the group has been given over 15 Bluegrass Music Award Nominations and won the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year for “Don’t Throw Mama’s Flowers Away.” In 2021, Danny Paisley joined an elite group  of vocalists to be awarded the IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award for the third time — an achievement bestowed only to five others in Bluegrass music history. This will be a strong, traditional bluegrass show.

Those who left us in 2022

There were many influential people in the world of Bluegrass music who, sadly, left us this past year. Two that stand out in my mind were two mandolin players who I had the honor of teaching with at the Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Camp in past years. I am honored to say I had several opportunities to jam with these true gentlemen of bluegrass music at those camps.

Herschel Sizemore

Mandolin maestro Herschel Sizemore died on Friday morning, Sept. 9, at his home in Roanoke, Va. He was 87 years old. Sizemore was born on Aug. 6, 1935, in Sheffield (near Muscle Shoals), Alabama, and raised in the more rural community of Leighton. He went on to play with Lester Flatt, the Bluegrass Cardinals and Del McCoury, to name only a few. Those who jam bluegrass regularly know one of his most famous instrumental, “Rebecca.”

Roland White

Another Bluegrass pioneer, multi-instrumentalist and singer Roland White, primarily a mandolin player with a career spanning over six decades, died on April 1, 2022, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville following complications of a heart attack. He was 83.

Of Acadian-French-Canadian ancestry,  LeBlanc (“the White” when translated into English) was born in Madawaska, Maine, on April 23, 1938, growing up in a musical family. His father, Eric Sr., played the guitar, tenor banjo, fiddle and harmonica, while several uncles played guitar and piano. He and his famous brother, guitarist Clarence White, played in several bluegrass groups growing up and eventually formed The Kentucky Colonels. Later Clarence went on to play with the Byrds and Roland helped form the Nashville Bluegrass Band.

A full list of all of the Bluegrass luminaries that left us in 2022 can be found HERE.

In closing

Friday, Jan. 6 is the birthday of Earl Scruggs. He is credited with inventing the modern three-finger banjo picking style and introducing it to the world at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville  on Dec. 8, 1945. According to Tony Trischka, the song Earl kicked off that night with was “White House Blues,” the story of the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo during the Pan American Exhibition.

Sunday, Jan. 8, is the birthday of another star, Elvis Presley and the date the historic Battle of New Orleans occurred. Coincidentally, the fiddle tune entitled “The Eighth of January” is the melody for the Jimmy Driftwood song about the infamous battle. Driftwood was a social studies teacher who wrote songs to help his students remember historic events. And, yes, Jimmy Driftwood was his real name.

Well, as we cross into 2023, I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2023 filled with happiness and, hopefully, including music. It is good for mind, body and soul.

Remember, Keep on Pickin’

Mark Panfil

The Editor

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