"I don't want this to be your grandfather's bluegrass festival. It is different," promoter Dottie Brooks explains. "What I'm hoping I want people who have never really been to a bluegrass festival to come to this."
What is in store for those who come to the Graymont Farm in Ashland reflects the changing musical approach today's bands take toward the hard-driving fiddle and mandolin style fathered by Bill Monroe in the 1930s. As Saturday's bill shows, Monroe may be spinning in his grave with the new developments, but these days, bluegrass embraces a wide range of acoustic music.
Headliners The Seldom Scene conform the most to vague notions of tradition, but these guys have been bending the genre since the band formed in 1971. In addition to covering tunes by Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and Bruce Springsteen, the band's seamless harmonies turn John Fogerty's "Bad Moon Rising" into a bluegrass rave-up.
The remaining bands add their own variations on the American music theme, in some cases playing music that veers far afield from bluegrass but that fits fine in a context of barbecue and open-air farmlands. Charlottesville's Hackensaw Boys feature a loosely structured blend of styles that echo lo-fidelity mountain music of a long-gone era. Blue String's bluegrass fuses classical, rock, funk and jazz influences. Hayseed Dixie perhaps plays it fastest and loosest with the Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and Ralph Stanley legacy as its first album was devoted entirely to bluegrass arrangements of AC/DC songs.
Old Crow Medicine Show combines driving fiddle, guitar, upright bass and the six-string 1920s gitjo to create a high-octane jug band, early jazz, blues, minstrel-show hybrid that owes its soul to the past as well as to the present. Singer and fiddler Ketch Secor says the Nashville-based band finds itself in a time when string-band music is riding high, and the group members take a real interest in the roots of many musical traditions.
"We set out with our roots a little deeper than bluegrass. Ten years ago we couldn't have made a living with this music," Secor explains. "We play jug band, Louisville blues, so many different kinds of stuff. We have a real interest in old music. It's a valuable tool to tell stories. We're sort of breathing life into something that's pretty much been asleep for 65 years."
The band's melting pot repertoire is finding surprising acceptance in Nashville, and Crow has seven "Grand Ole Opry" shows under its belt. Like the other bands on Saturday's bill, Crow promises festival folks a good time, whether a listener is tradition-bound or more open to a musical mix.
"What they're gonna hear, they're gonna hear us make merry," Secor says. S
The Graymont Bluegrass Festival will benefit local children's hospitals and takes place Saturday, Oct. 19 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Graymont Farm north of Ashland about four miles from the I-95 Ashland exit. Tickets cost $10 in advance at Plan 9 and $15 at the gate. Children 10 and younger are free. Free parking on-site. Games, barbecue and drinks for sale. No pets, coolers or glass. For information go to www.bigpileproductions.com.
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