Festivals seem to be picking up all over and that is good news for bluegrass fans. I have heard that Bean Blossom's attendance was up this year, the Lexington festival had an increase, Old Joe Clark's July festival had a better turnout and the Charlotte, Michigan, festival was the most successful this year since John Morris has had it.
The Charlotte festival had everything going for it. The weather for the weekend could not have been better. As is to be expected in Michigan, Saturday night was a little cold but not enough to deter the faithful. When I got there Friday just before l p.m., it struck me right away that this a really, in fact, unusually, good crowd for midday on Friday. I shouldn't have been surprised because Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley were both there Friday. This was the 20th anniversary of this festival, making it the oldest continuous one in Michigan.
Throughout the weekend there was a regular parade of top acts, including the 85-year-old Wade Mainer and his wife Julia; The Marksmen, a terrific gospel group; Randall Hylton; Charlie Sizemore; and the Lewis Family, who closed out Sunday afternoon.
Randall Hylton had a good number of first timers, that is, those who were seeing him for the first time and, as usual, wowed 'em. When Little Roy started "messin' " with Randall, it was a toss-up of who enjoyed it most, Randall, Little Roy or the audience.
I think I forgot to mention the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Ron Thompson had his usual effect on the crowd with his wandering monologues that reach everyone, spares no one and always turn out to be the longest introduction to a song you ever heard. They seem to be getting more popular with the crowds each time I see them, no matter where it is. Next time you get a chance sec them and be sure to get one of Ron's "thought eliminator" caps.
Charlie Louvin and Charles Whitstein were there and are appearing on quite a few festivals around. They are "re-creating" the old Louvin Brothers sound. This was the first time I had seen them in person with this act. I had seen the Louvin Brothers many times in the Fifties. Had a very good chat with Charlie L. It seems he and I were in Korea at the same time, 1953, but not at the same place. I found Charles W. to be a most pleasant and enjoyable fellow to talk with. They did a good show and were well received. I must say one thing, however: I did not feel that this was a good closing act for a bluegrass festival. A very good act, but not a closing act.
A little more now on what's happening at WFPL and our "Sunday Bluegrass" program. Beginning August 2, "Sunday Bluegrass" will begin at 8:30 p.m. and continue 'til 11 p.m. The "Riders in the Sky Radio Theater" will be coming on at 8 p.m. So, don't think we won't be there, we'll just be a little later starting and you'll have to stay up a little later to get it all. "The Folk Sampler" will be moved up to Sunday afternoons at 4. A new show about women singers, songwriters and performers, called "WomanWaves," will begin at 3 p.m. Sundays.
If you have comments about the programs/programming, call WFPL at (502) 561-8640 and talk with the manager or some of the other people involved with programming. They need to hear from you concerning your views on their programs. Your voice counts more at Public Radio than any other stations on the air.
The word is the bluegrass festival in Louisville will be resurrected this year. YEA! Gary Brewer and his dad, Jim, have been chompin' at the bit for a couple of years now and noticing nothing happening. This year they have taken the plunge with the blessing of the city, some corporate sponsors, technical legalities worked out, some good names lined up with a few more to be confirmed. And folks, it looks like we are going to have us a bluegrass festival in September. All new with no ties or carryover from the old one.
This will be the Strictly Bluegrass Festival. It will take place in Central Park on September ll and 12 and it will be FREE. Come on down!
Some of the confirmed acts at this writing are the Osborne Brothers and Larry Sparks on Friday and J. D. Crowe on Saturday. There are more top names to be confirmed. Possibly Del McCoury, for example. Of course, Gary Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers will be there both days. Gary has asked me to be one of the emcees along with C. R. Wilson, Gary, his dad and others. Thanks, Gary.
Showtime is Friday, 5 p.m. 'til 10 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.? Gary says for any additional information or if you would like to participate as a sponsor, contact him at (502) 448-9107.
Also, I want to mention that Gary has a good, new CD from Copper Creek records.
Listen for it on "Sunday Bluegrass" and we'll tell you more about it later.
Festivals: Big Hill Mountain Family Festival, August 7-9, Hwy 421, 8 mi SE of Berea, Ky.
By Berk Bryant
Twenty, that's right, twenty of the great old hymns familiar to all country/bluegrass overs. When they decided to do this recording, they wanted to do the old gospel/hymn numbers that everyone knows, grew up with, but haven't been heard much or recorded for a while. I know it must have been a difficult task just deciding which ones to use and even more difficult deciding which ones were not going to be used this time. I say this time because I think this one will be so popular that they will do another like it. This is strictly my opinion and based on nothing else.
To give you an idea of the great songs included, there is "He Keeps Me Singing," "Jesus Savior, Pilot Me," "When We All Get To Heaven," "I Shall Not Be Moved," "Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?," "The Church in The Wildwood," "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?" and "We Are Going Down the Valley," plus many more. "The Old Rugged Cross" with the poem "Two Pieces of Wood" is an outstanding number.
Herman Harper, who incidentally is their booking agent and seen every Saturday night on "The Grand Ole Opry" is one of the Carol Lee Singers, does the recitation. That great deep voice of Herman's really gets your attention.
I realize that a lot of hard-core bluegrass fans will have a little trouble with this one, partially because of the piano and the beat. Lewis Family fans will love it. If you listen to it for what it is, it won't be a problem and you will not be denying yourself some of the best in grand old gospel out today. I know I've said this before and this one does not necessarily top the last release, but on an even keel with it as perhaps being of their best to date. Overall, on a scale of 1-10, I will give it a twelve!
It is available at all and any of their concerts or it can be ordered from: The Lewis Family, Rt. 1., Box 75, Lincolnton. GA 30817. Tapes/cassettes are $8 and CDs are $10, plus $1 P&H on all orders.
The next time you see or write them, tell 'em I said "hello."