Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Players Brought Their Best To Suwannee Springfest

A solid roster of mad string-playing talent converged under the moss-draped oaks at Suwannee Springfest March 22-25 -- with magical results. 

The vibe was open, the organization impeccable, the venue both comfy and awe-inspiring, and the folks – well, the folks were wonderful and the after-hours campground music was sublime -- at least where I wandered, and I wandered a lot. 

The crowd: Oldsters and hipsters and toddlers and dancers and players and singers and partiers from all over the country. An intoxicating human parade all weekend long. And with an advance ticket in my hand for just $115, it was a true bargain for four days of constant shows.

This being one of the early stops for the spring and summer American festival season, the musicians were extra energized. Lots of exciting sit-ins and spontaneous collaborations happened, and the usual stellar Suwannee Springfest roster of Americana stalwarts was spiced with welcome fresh talent.

Sadly, perennial Springfest performer Peter Rowan was touring elsewhere, and guitar legend Tony Rice had a fall and had to cancel at the last minute.

Emmitt-Nershi Band and Yonder Mountain String Band, The Gourds, and Hot Buttered Rum had the crowd up and dancing. Great American Taxi, with the infectiously ebullient Vince Herman, presided over a communion dance party with hellaciously precise picking and, as always, a great sense of humor.

Here are some of the bands who brought the goods to Suwannee Springfest 2012:

Elephant Revival – Wow. Young band, fresh, arresting sound, soulful picking, intriguing arrangements, and the startling lead singer-washboard/djembe/musical saw player Bonnie Paine's haunting voice -- I hate to compare such a gorgeous instrument to anyone else, but it sounded to me like a cross between Natalie Merchant  and Nora Jones. Actually, she sounds exactly like herself.  Just trying to give you an idea. Just go here and hear for yourself. 

The Infamous Stringdusters -- Crazy chops, inventive arrangements and great stage presence. Turned out a fine cover of The Police's Walking on the Moon.

Jubal’s Kin - Lovely, spare and arresting indie sound from this young Americana group who has been recording in Nashville. Go here to get their lovely CD.

Gailanne Amundsen of Jubal's Kin

The Pinkham Family  Tampa's Josh Pinkham is a mandolin phenom who cut his teeth as a very young player at Suwannee Springfest and Magnolia Fest. Now 22, he's a sought after session player. He got together with his parents, fine soul singer mom Terry and multi-instrumentalist dad Jeff, for two shows at Suwannee Springfest, where they turned out covers of Radiohead, Prince, Beatles, Little Feat, and more. Friday morning's show was hands-down one of the fest's best. Wish I'd brought my video camera to catch Josh's mind-blowing mandolin rendition of the Beatles' "I am the Walrus."

The Pinkham Family
Ryan Montbleau Band -- One of the crowd favorites at this year's Jam Cruise, and it's easy to see why. Danceable, imaginative, and super-fun funky pleasure.

Verlon Thompson and Guy Clark  -- These grand masters of songwriting played an intimate show Sunday morning at the moss-draped ampitheater. Health problems have sidelined Guy Clark, and he hasn't appeared at Suwannee for three years. Although Clark had some trouble remembering lyrics, his friend Verlon patiently led the way. Clark delivered his best songwriting work to a rapt crowd. You could hear a pin drop in that ampitheater. The big question after the show was how many times these tender-hearted lyricists made you cry. (Me: Three times.) 

Verlon Thompson (left)  and Guy Clark
Joe Craven Trio  -- California multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven is a national treasure. His sweet energy, his long career with the likes of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, and his dedication to music education make him one fine human. Plus, he can play just about anything you put in his hands -- from jawbones to serving platters to drums and absolutely killer fiddle.

Joe Craven

Two Man Gentlemen Band -- Witty duo with an old-fashioned schtick. A lot of fun, and fine playing.

The Two Man Gentlemen Band
Dread Clampitt  -- Hailing from the Emerald Coast's Walton County in the Florida Panhandle, the funkgrass band Dread Clampitt just keeps getting better and better. Their shows were packed and they delivered some smoking performances, especially late night Saturday.

Rushad Eggleston of Tornado Rider plays With Dread Clampitt

Greensky Bluegrass -- Wow. They headlined the ampitheater Friday night with intricate, progressive picking. Beautiful.

Tornado Rider  -- The zaniest act on the Americana scene today. Hard-working, young California musicians with a punk sensibility and electric live shows, Tornado Rider is moving the punkgrass subgenre forward into something all its own. Their crowds keep growing and growing. Couldn't happen to nicer fellows.

Tornado Rider
Sloppy Joe -- "Slopgrass" jug-band, old-time music from Wisconsin. Sloppy Joe is a mainstay at Suwannee Springfest, and with good reason. They are traditionalists with a sense of humor. Plus, they are generous to build the best pickin' campsite in the woods, the immortal Slopryland on Rees Lake, where the bonfire burns, the candles flicker,  and magic happens 'til dawn.

A rare view of Slopryland in Daylight
Uproot Hootenanny -- This up and coming Central Florida bluegrass band put on a fine show at the campground stage, and I predict we'll be seeing more of them. 

Two Foot Level  Young Tallahassee group brought the jam chops to the Music Hall and had folks up and dancing. They are working hard and writing original music.

Grant Peeples - Poetic, fierce, bold Florida singer-songwriter who speaks truth to power in the most eloquent way. His Okra and Ecclesiastes record was an Americana chart topper in 2011 with good reason. He's got a new record, Prior Convictions, coming out now.

Grant Peeples

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge Larry Keel is one of the fastest pickers on the planet, and his band, featuring his wife, Jenny, are killer musicians as well. They put on two very fine traditional mountain music shows.

Donna the Buffalo with Ralph Roddenberry The Cajun-inspired jamband charms of Donna The Buffalo are well-known to fans at Suwannee Springfest and Magnolia Fest. Sunday night, the band hosted a parade of other festival performers with great results. The best was Georgia's Ralph Roddenberry, who led a power sing-along that's still ringing in my ears.

Donna The Buffalo closed out Suwannee Springfest with a stunning rendition of Mystic Waters


SuwanneeGal said...

Suwannee Springfest 2012 was awesome! Great write up. Thanks Julie

Unknown said...

Great review festgrrl, your insight is as awesome as ever! Thanks, hope to see you round the stages this summer.

SouthGAjd said...

Great review of a fun four days. This was my first Springfest, but 9th fest at SOTSMP. I'll be back for Wanee, and many more fests for years to come.

tricolorkittie said...

Just wanted to stop by and say hello, we met a couple times over the weekend. Springfest was amazing as is every Suwannee weekend ever dreamed into being. Are you going to OBJ? Make sure to say hello if you do. Not sure if I'll be at Wanee as much as I'd love to so have an extra good time for me.

~ Calico