2019 Silver Dollar City Bluegrass & BBQ: A Recap
May, my favorite month, is now behind us. That means the Silver Dollar City's Bluegrass and BBQ is over. It was a different kind of festival this year, because the park was unable to utilize its best venue for music, the Opera House. Why, you ask? Well, because there is a brand new show coming to the park beginning June 8th, Reuben and his Swashbuckling Adventure! This is a million dollar show (seriously!) that is brand new and the month of May has been spent readying the Opera House with new set pieces and hosting the cast in their practices. As a result, every act that would have performed there was directed to the largest venue in Branson, Echo Hollow, for an evening concert.
That's right, every single evening during the festival saw Echo filled with some of the best Bluegrass acts from across the industry in an open air concert immediately after park closing, extending the day of music. Some people loved this, as it allowed them to see other acts that normally would have performed at the same time as Opera House performances then catch the finale at the end. But some didn't like the change as it was at the end and after a day filled with bluegrass and BBQ they were worn out and ready to go back to their home, RV, or condo.
But, overall, it was another positive festival for D. A. Calloway, SDC's resident master of Bluegrass. By the way, he won another Promoter Of The Year award for this festival (I think that makes six!).
Pick of the Week
So, who was here this week? Who were the "have-to" performers that packed in the people?
Well, beyond the park's Homestead Pickers (a constant crowd favorite) and Horsecreek (another long time park favorite) the park hosted Southern Strings, the Finley River Boys, Lonesome Road, Carson Peters and Iron Mountain, Roving Gambler Band, Billy Droze and my Pick Of The Week, the Po' Ramblin' Boys! Yes, the boys are back and I absolutely love these guys! Fast fingers, great songs and fun times to be had by all make them a premier group to begin the first days of this festival. Oh, and by the way, they won an award at the SPGMA get together this year as Breakout Artists Of The Year! Well deserved and congratulations fellas!
Runner up for my pick of the week goes to one of Branson's own family bands The Peterson's. A family band consisting of one brother, three sisters and mother along with a family friend playing a dynamite dobro, their playing and harmonies along with a very dry sense of family humor makes them one of my favorite bands to watch here at the city. Add the fact that they are truly as nice as they can be, humble and polite to a fault, and talented in both instrumental and vocal abilities and you have a winner here.
Pick of the Week
Great first week, filled with bands enough to make every Bluegrass fan happy. Now,on to week 2.
One of the great things about SDC is the fact that during a festival such as this, there are always new acts coming in and they are just as good as those that we loved the day before. Last week we loved the Po' Ramblin' Boys; this week we love Kody Norris. Now, Kody is a throwback, a man lost in time. He may live in the here and now but he thrives by performing as though he were from a time long gone, a decade that is decades in the past. He and his band dress, act and sing like an old time radio show where you might expect to see Ernest Tubb walk out on stage; where Hank Williams Sr. wouldn't be out of the norm. Heck, he even performs "The Auctioneer" to near perfection, forcing the audience to try and keep up as he spouts words too fast to understand! Kody is my Week 2 Pick of the Week.
But don't forget to visit the others on park, acts like Borderline Bluegrass, Farm Hands, and Ray Cardwell. Acts such as Volume Five (whose lead singer is as smooth as butter), Monroe Crossing, and of course on Mother's Day weekend, the Queen herself Rhonda Vincent.
But we also have smaller, lesser known but no less talented bands such as The Baker Family, The Chapman's, Bull Harmon and Bulls Eye along with David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. I tell you, its hard to make time to see them all unless you stay the entire month!
Well, we are half way through the month and I'm getting sad already. My glass is half empty as I have become a pessimist. I know, I know, there is still days to go before the park loses its bands and turns to summer fun but I miss what has already gone.
So, this week has some more great groups and here they are. Cedar Hill, Special Consensus, The Haining's and The Punches Family to start the week off. People, that is a really great start! Special Consensus is one of those bands that have been around for years, endured multiple band member changes yet remained true to their sound and their followers. They are solid, talented and have a great sense of humor. The Haining's and Punches are family bands which make the best Bluegrass bands in my opinion. Both are talented, both bring a unique level of talent to the stage, whether it is Grace's Scandinavian yodeling for the Haining's or Emily's turning an old disco era song into a graceful Bluegrass wonder (believe it or not, a song by Abba!) for us to enjoy.
Continuing on we have Cane Mill Road, Clay Bank, and The Cleverly's. Now folks, if you ain't heard these ol' boys you have GOT to give a listen. I ain't never, I mean NEVER heard nothing like these fellers before! I want you to think of the most unlikely song to make into a bluegrass song, something that would be near on impossible to make bluegrass, and they've done it. Gangham Style? Yep, they done it. Thunderstruck? Done. Seriously! I think they might all be sons/brothers/fathers to each other, I'm not sure. Maybe they wrote that song "I'm My Own Grandpa".
And on that note, I bring you The Hogslop String Band. Yes, you read that right: Hogslop String Band. Let me preface their introduction by telling you that they were on time to perform their sound check at 9:00 AM Saturday morning...AFTER performing in Paducah, Kentucky until midnight Friday night. Now, they performed until midnight, broke down their set and loaded it into their van, drove five and a half hours, slept in the van for a couple of hours, did their sound check then were on stage by 11:30 AM for their first set. Of course, when Nate, our sound tech went backstage to let them know it was time to go on stage there were more than a few empty Red Bull cans lying around the room! They were a bit, er wired to say the least.
But oh my goodness! These guys are GOOD! Playing a banjo, a fiddle, a guitar and a one string washtub bass they flat put out the music. Raw, powerful, forcing every single toe to tap and mouth to whoop they made a first impression like no other! Nate kept giving me the side eye at their antics on stage! Please, please find them and go see them!
But even they aren't good enough to be my Week 3 Pick of the Week. That honor goes to my favorite SDC band of all time, Southern Raised. Please check back as I will be authoring a hub dedicated solely to them in the near future.
We come to the final week and change of our festival. Sadly, the Red Gold Heritage Hall will cease to host the BBQ feast and the six shows a day music extravaganza it has for the month. Gone will be the giant smoker out front filled with mouthwatering ribs and pork butts, and we will be anticipating the KSMU Youth In Bluegrass Contest coming Saturday afternoon.
Kicking off the final week are the Trinity River Band, Carolina Blue, Stringed Union, That Dalton Gang and local favorite the Farnum Family. Also playing are Purple Hulls, a set of twin young ladies well versed in both Bluegrass and Western Swing music from Texas as well as the Lyndsey Family, a wonderful family of siblings and parents who provide those harmonies most groups can only dream of. Last year's KSMU winners the Russell Clan take the stage along with Casey and the Atta Boys, Po' Anna, and Dixie Jubilee. Now, Dixie Jubilee is one of my favorite groups, and they finished a single point out of first in last year's Youth in Bluegrass contest. Another set of twin girls, aged late teens along with their elder brother and mother, their voices are almost syrupy sweet when they sing in harmony, well pitched for bluegrass and as pure as spring water from the mountains. Oh my, when they sing that old song from the Andy Griffith Show, "There Is A Time", time stops. One of the girls plays a harp like most people play a banjo or mandolin. Yes, a harp. Phenomenally gifted, her fingers pluck and strum the strings so fast and sure as to have to be seen to be believed. The first song she learned on the harp was, ready for it?
Foggy Mountain Breakdown!! How cool is that! Who'd a thunk it!?
We also have the group who tied for second with Dixie Jubilee last year performing, Kentucky Just Us. This family band consists of sister, three brothers and mother and oh are they good! The elder brother has a wonderful voice, the middle brother can play that banjo like few others, crack bad jokes, and sing in the old time manner of Bill Monroe. Just listening to their rendition of "Bluebirds Are Singing" transports one back seventy years or so.
It is so hard to have a pick of the week this week, so I'll just leave you with this note:
They're all great!
Of course, we also have the Kruger Brothers, Gibson Brothers, Blue Highway, Russell Moore and 3rd Tyme Out, Diamond Rio and the Malpass Brothers appearing in the hollow to complete your day (if you're up to it!).
But by far the highlight of the entire month is our Youth in Bluegrass Contest.
KSMU Youth In Bluegrass Contest
Last year's contest was the highest scoring, closest contest in the eighteen year history of the contest. The top four bands were separated by a grand total of three points. The Russell Clan won, followed by Dixie Jubilee and Kentucky Just Us a single point back, then That Dalton Gang and Southern Strings. What a contest! Can this year approach that? Let's find out, shall we?
Eighteen bands, from fourteen states. From California to Georgia, from Texas to Minnesota, and from Pennsylvania to New Mexico these bands came to compete in what has become the greatest Bluegrass event of the year in America. Some new, some returning, all anxiously awaiting their turn to shine. Each group gets six minutes in each of two rounds to make an impression. Four categories with 25 points per coming from a total of six judges. A perfect score would be 600 points. Last year,the winner set a record with 539 points. How would they do this year?
My oh my did they come to compete! No fillers here, folks! Every band was strong, every vocal was solid, every instrumental soaring.
After all was said and done, the tallies totaled we found Pearlgrace and Co. from Ada, Ok. in 5th with 511 points. Taking 4th was Paul Family Bluegrass from Trout Creek, Mi with 523 points. In 3rd we had Ozark Highways from Galena, Mo with 531 points.
At this point, I was shaking. I had only gotten one of the three bands correct on my scorecard. Two weren't mentioned that I had greatly enjoyed and felt merited a top five finish: Blackberry Blossom Farm from Red Bluff, Ca and Hand Picked from New Athens, Ill. Last year I had all five of the top five correct, just not in the final order. Not this year!
In second place, with 566 points (a new record and its not even first place!?) is Dixie Jubilee from Woodstock, Ga. That means...
Kentucky Just Us wins with 572 points! Congratulations to all on a fantastic contest! You are all winners in my book!
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