Wide Open Bluegrass Day # 1

After a quick coffee a block away we noticed these chargers for electric-powered cars.

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Bag packed for the day, we headed straight for the Amphitheatre where The Grass Cats were playing – very nice too. First impressions of the venue are: beautiful sound, no cover but clouds welcome and facilities well set out.

Talked to a fellow from Denmark who mentioned that dobro maestro Rob Ickes – he claims he’s a better player than Jerry Douglas – was playing at a stage inside the Conference Centre, so we rushed in.

My oh my what a beautiful player he is – it was a performance and a workshop – he took a lot of questions – explained a lot about the craft of dobro playing – just beautiful.

A quick check of the merchandise stand – another T-shirt. Then around the massive Exhibit Hall which was dripping with quality instruments, CDs and playing.

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People were even jamming in the Sheraton lobby.

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Out to the main street where stages, food and craft stalls were plentiful. The scale of this event was starting to sink in. No real time to do the area justice and The Steeldrivers were on soon at the Amphitheatre – a must for me. I caught the end of the set from Czech outfit Druha Trava – really good.

The Steeldrivers are from Nashville. They have been a favourite of mine for quite a while. A superb set – bluegrass for sure but with such an edge – killer playing, soulful and pleading. It was a blast. Followers of the band are called Steelheads – I guess that’s me.

Food. A vegie samosa, lamb gyro and a glass of pinot grigio for lunch.

Exploring the main street (Fayetteville) stalls in full followed. Jenny went back to the Hotel for rain-proof gear and a rest. I found Finnders and Youngberg playing the Hargett St stage – while watching them I got a beautiful coffee from Morning Times.

It was 4.45. At 6.15 at the Amphitheatre we have the Del McCoury Band, Punch Brothers and a collaboration with Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas and Mark Schatz. This is due to finish at 11pm.

The other big factor of the day to consider is the Australian Rules Grand Final which includes the mighty and beloved Hawthorn Hawks, played back in Melbourne Australia. We are assuming that the game will be on ESPN or ESPN 2, both of which we have in our hotel rooms. It will be on 12.30 to 3.30am local time.

I need to pace myself.

After a little Rob-time, I saw a little of The Stray Birds from Pennsylvania – another great-sounding band. Being in a Bluegrass band, there’s nowhere to hide – you will get many solos and you need to cut the mustard.

I revisited the beautiful instruments of the Exhibit Hall and made my way back to the Amphitheatre for Greensky Bluegrass.

The last time I saw the Del McCoury Band, it was at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band . A surprising yet brilliant gumbo of styles and genres.

A spirited set by the McCourys. They took requests which included “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Asheville Turnaround”.

The sun had just about set, the large screen at the back of the stage becoming more impressive by the minute. I don’t believe I have seen better definition.

Punch Brothers were stunning. Many of the band seem to have had classical training as it is infused in all their material. A fascinating, talented and unpredictable outfit.

The all-stars ramble was a delight. It gave me the opportunity to see vocalist/mandolinist Sam Bush, dobro legend Jerry Douglas. guitarist extraordinaire Tony Rice and banjo guru Bela Fleck. A wonderful and unique combo and a superb way to finish the music part of the day.

Now it’s back to the hotel to see if we can watch the footy.

Author: Rob Dickens

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