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Grey Fox 2013

The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival was on July 17 – 21 this year. This was my second trip there…last year I didn’t post a review until November, which meant I didn’t do a very thorough job of it. This year, the festival occurred during the middle of our Maine vacation, so I got to come back to the beach and relax another week. I headed out on Wednesday, stopping by at the house in Brookline to pick up the camping gear, etc. It was 101 in my driveway, according to the car temperature. And it didn’t get any warmer in Oak Hill, NY either. More on that later.

This was my bluegrass pickin’ summer camp for adults (although lots of kids attend, too). Fortunately, I had run into Mike O’Brien at work a week earlier and he offered to save me a spot at their campsite. I think there were about 30 people there from the 3 O’Brien families plus friends, so what’s one more?? It was certainly a big family atmosphere, reminding me of my youth with my cousins, but with music! I felt welcomed right in to the crowd and sweated through setting up my tent while everyone was waiting for the O’Cousins to do their Open Mike set in the dance tent (officially the Catskill Stage, but no one calls it that).

Here’s the campsite:


The jams happened under the white tent with some spillover to the blue one. 🙂 Thankfully we were along the east side of the farm near the woods, so we were somewhat protected from the sun and heat in the morning, until about 10 anyway. However, on Thursday morning we were jamming (and since I was just learning mandolin, I was using that) and I forgot that my guitar was in the tent until it was too late. It was burning hot in the case and this caused the glue to loosen on the bridge and start to pull up! Aaaargh. I loosened the strings and opened the case to let it cool down under the tent before playing it again later that night.

Every morning started with coffee and a jam session. Someone would just start playing and then others slowly but surely joined in. A most excellent way to start the day. Usually this went on until noon or so. I almost lost a hand playing mandolin, trying to keep up with Joe while he played Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.

It was so hot (95 + humidity) that I didn’t really feel like eating anything either, much less walking to the concert stages. Certainly going to the big stage (which is mostly in the sun, although there are some shade awnings up) was not going to be in the cards. I think I lost 2 lbs. every time I went into the porta-potty, too.

Every night ended with another session under the tent. At about 10:20 pm the first night (Wed), we got told  by the authorities we were too loud since we were officially in the quiet camping area. Boo! Maybe it was the rowdy “Jambalaya”?? A fellow named Brad had drifted over to our campsite to listen and offered up his site, which was just over the line into Pickers Paradise, so we all trudged over there for a bit more hootin’. On Thursday and Friday nights we kept it quieter in our own site, which was challenging. Anyway, the dance tent was louder than us on most nights until about 1 or 2 am, so sue me! On Saturday night, we just played normally and it was fine.



Left to right: Steve, Ellen, Dave, Judy, Mike, Rick, Flan


Left to right: Mike, Rick, Flan, Joe, Steve, Ellen, Judy

A nice O’Brien tradition was to end the night with “Good Night, Irene”. The “Leadbelly version” I was told, which ends with “I’ll get you in my dreams.” None of that wimpy Pete Seeger stuff!! haha. On Saturday night, the O’Briens sang a song for their older brother, Don, who had passed at age 29, that was very moving.



dave on dobro

The Concerts

There was an excellent line-up of acts, a good mix of the old guard and the up and coming bands. Here’s what I saw:

Wednesday night. The O’Cousins – O’Brien cousins Flan, Brendan, and Liam did 2 songs at the open mike. People really got into “The Weight” and we played it a few times at the camp site too. I also heard it one night when I was walking around the camp sites.

Thursday. Really too hot to do much during the day except sweat. Went up the High Meadow stage for dinner around 6 and listened to Milkdrive, the Deadly Gentlemen, sat at the charging station and listened to Devil Makes Three, then back up to the stage for Keller Williams and the Travelin’ McCourys, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Williams is quirky to say the least.


Friday. Made it to 23 String Band at 1 pm in the dance tent. These guys were awesome! Check ’em out if they come to your area. One mike to huddle around is always good. I went for food, then came back for the end of I Draw Slow, a great Irish band playing more traditional Americana (I suppose). After that I headed over to the masters tent (a.k.a. Creekside) since it was too hot to be anywhere else. There I saw Nora Jane Struthers and up and coming band, then got a seat right in front for Milkdrive and then the Travelin’ McCourys. In the past, this tent was supposed to be for ‘workshops’ but this year it was more just another, more intimate stage. The McCoury’s were the only ones who tried to encourage questions – they got a lot of tune requests but finally someone asked a real question about Rob’s banjo, which he got from his father-in-law. He said he put 4000 hours into it. Ronnie and Rob also answered a question about their kids and their interest in music.

Rob McCoury


Travelin McCourys


I went back to the campsite after this to chill out – not that it was possible in the heat. I actually took a shower in the gravity shower they set up. Let me tell you, that water was hot, too!! I played a little guitar, which is why I also missed Della Mae on the main stage. We had just seen them at Passim’s so I wasn’t too broken up about it.

I did make it back for Del McCoury and the Infamous Stringdusters, both fabulous in different ways. Del held down the fort with some classic numbers, such as Vincent Black Lightning and Rain and Snow to close it out. (I swear Ronnie sounds more like him every year, too!!) He was bantering with the crowd and having a good ole time. The Stringdusters just tore up it from beginning to end – fast and faster was the order of the day.


Saturday. After the usual morning jam session, I headed to lunch at caught the last part of the Lonely Heartstrings Band. They are one of the bands that Berklee seems to be churning out these days. The name comes from them covering Beatles tunes, which they did, but they also did some straight ahead bluegrass. Gabe Hirschfield on banjo is one to look out for. They did a Scruggs classic, which I can’t remember right now, which featured him. The vocals were strong, which is the only way you can get away with Beatles in bluegrass style.

It wasn’t as hot as the last 2 days, thankfully. I went back to camp for a while to rest up, then made my way back up the hill to see Tim O’Brien(m) with Bryan Sutton(g), Noam Pikelny(b), Casey Dressen(f), and Mike Bub(bs). Fairly straight foward set – I even noticed Thile checking them out in the VIP seating. Jerry Douglas hopped on stage for the last 2 numbers. After dinner, it was non-stop music.


Up first, Thile/Daves duo began the set with their usual Monroe tune, Evening Prayer Blues. From there they went into the standard repertoire they have done on their album (Rabbit in a Log, Sophronie, Loneliness and Desperation, Sleep with One Eye Open, etc) along with a couple of tunes from Tim Sparks and one they did for a documentary, called Richmond (which tagged on Soldier’s Joy). Fiddle tune request time was Scotland (A), Whiskey Before Breakfast (D), and Big Sciota (G). You can find the video here. Brilliant as always.



Next was the Jerry Douglas band, a.k.a. the Earls of Leceister, which does music of Flatt and Scruggs from the 50’s. Unexpected, but refreshing take on it. It seemed like a lot of people left the main stage to go see Rushad Eggleston at the dance tent. Video posted on youtube.

I had never seen the Carolina Chocolate Drops before, although I have a couple of their albums. Wow! What a show! Not only musically satisfying but also visually interesting. The crowd went crazy for them, too. Highly recommended. Here they are doing “Jackson“.

The Magnificent Late-Night Supersonic All-Stars was anchored by Tim O’Brien and included the base group of Thile, Bales, Douglas, Pikelny, Cushman, Driessen. Dom Flemmons from the Drops came back to hold down the fort on “Mama Don’t ‘low No Music Playing Round Here”. This gave every one a chance to stretch out, including him on harmonica. Thile did the Band version of Cripple Creek. Tim brought out Nora Jane Struthers to do Won’t You Sing with Me and another Hot Rize tune. I Draw Slow made an appearance for 2 songs. Courtney from Della Mae played a duet of I Am a Pilgrim with Bryan Sutton (Bryan mentioned that Tony Rice was not doing well…) Kimber Ludiker and Brittany Haas came out to lead Wheel Hoss. The highlight of the night might have been Rushad leading them on Mississippi Sawyer and I Peed on a Bird – pretty funny. Video here.

After that, we went back to the camp site for our own late night all star jam until about 3 am. Of course, the fie alarm sirens blasted everyone awake around 5 am!! By 8, it was time to pack up and leave another Grey Fox behind and return to civilization. My first stop was Starbucks on the turnpike, and I listened as I drove, to the audio I had recorded from the various sets I attended. Good stuff and kept me awake. After dumping off the camping gear at home, I headed back to Maine for the rest of the week.

Until next year…




Check out my tumblr for more pics of Grey Fox 2013.

The Splinters Play Oh Susanna

J and I played at the West Roxbury Open Mike, which J emcees each month. The video below captures our performance of Oh Susanna. We first played this tune up in Maine one weekend just goofing around and it stuck. After each taking a chorus for improvising, we play together in a counterpoint before taking it to the finish.

(I don’t know why WordPress doesn’t display youtube videos sometimes, so here’s the link to it.)

Oh Susanna

We also played 2 medleys:

Cold Frosty Morning > Old Grey Cat – this one we played 2 choruses of each tune and switched back and forth. The first one is in Am and the second in Em, gives it a cool effect.

Blackberry Blossom > Kitchen Girl. Blackberry we did medium tempo 3 times through, then pick it up a notch for Kitchen Girl. It’s high energy.



Gillian Welch at the Wilbur Theatre

December 13, 2011. Boston, MA – I finally got to see and hear Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on their last concert of the tour. This was previously scheduled for Oct. 27 but got rescheduled due to a bout of laryngitis. It was certainly worth the wait, and as Gillian said during the concert, “It gave us a chance to fix a few things…” including a crack in her guitar (Gibson J-50, which you can see in the Fall 2011 issue of Fretboard Journal with Welch on the cover, showing the guitar with tape on it.) and a banjo repair. They seemed very relaxed and Rawlings family had come in from RI and were sitting right in front of us, adding to the familiarity. They are pretty funny in the banter dept. too.

The pair were in fine form on this second night of two at the Wilbur Theatre, which is a great venue for them. We were in the mezzanine about 5 rows up and the sound and sight-lines were excellent. This was a “standing room on the floor” gig, which I think is a stupid way to enjoy a concert, but whatever…we had seats. Much better than the House of Blues when we saw Dave Rawlings Machine with Old Crow Medicine show and others, where the seats are too far back and the crowd was too noisy during the Rawlings/Welch set.

picture of gillian welch on stage for encore

The stage setting is very sparse, with only mikes on stage for the 2 guitars and 2 vocalists – no plugging in here, and they have the luxury of getting the sound just right with the microphones. The other notable stage prop is “The Box” which sits between them and contains everything they might need on stage, from strings to picks to harmonicas. The other noteworthy item was they had to stand on a rubber mat so they wouldn’t get shocked by the microphones!

The music itself is just what I expected, and more. Welch typically will crouch down away from the mics and start getting into the right groove before beginning the song. It was a real lesson in focus and intimacy. While Welch holds down the rhythm, Rawlings weaves his magic in and around the vocals. Their voices blend so well, it is sometimes hard to tell who is singing without looking at them. They started with Scarlett Town, off of the new album, “The Harrow and the Harvest”. This gives plenty of room for both of them and got us ready for what was to come.

Highlights for me were Scarlett Town (a great song, strong start), Make Me a Palette, 6 White Horses (with the dance – “I usually do this in private only…”), I Hear Them Alland the encores were just perfect, I’ll Fly Away with the audience singing along and ending with White Rabbit. I think they worked in all of the tunes from the new album and they sound like timeless classics, well-integrated with the older songs.

Gillian posted the handwritten set list to her twitter feed (@gillianwelch, but not much tweeting there). The concert started at 8:20 (I think they were late getting dinner at Legal!). The first set ended at 9:10. After a 20 min break, the second set was from 9:30-10:15 with the encores extending the show to 10:50.

Gillian Set List

Here it is in text form…and more accurate, in my opinion.

  1. Scarlett Town
  2. Make me a Pallete on the floor – ref. Doc Watson
  3. Rock of ages
  4. The Way It Will Be
  5. Annabelle
  6. I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll
  7. That’s the Way it Goes
  8. Silver Dagger
  9. Red Clay

Second set:

  1. Hard Times
  2. Down Along The Dixie Line
  3. Elvis Presley Blues
  4. Ms Ohio – ‘she wants to do right, but not right now’ << classic line.
  5. 6 White Horses – with G doin a dance and Dave on banjo
  6. I Hear Them All/This Land medley – led by Dave
  7. My Wrecking Ball
  8. Caleb Meyer


  1. Tennessee
  2. I’ll Fly Away – audience sing-a-long!
  3. Time the Revelator
  4. The Way the Whole Thing Ends
  5. White Rabbit – turn up the reverb!

Other reviews worth reading: Jambands (includes good pic).

Now, go buy the new album so they’ll make another one before 8 years passes by.

Your intrepid concert-goer,


Carrie Rodriguez at Passim

Carrie Rodriguez - FiddleJune 14, 2011, Cambridge, MA – Catching up on my concert reviews for 2011. I really should do this right after the event happens….I have been listening to Carrie Rodriquez for a few years now and love her. She’s another one from Austin and is known for her fiddle playing as well as singing and songwriting. I recently saw her perform on The Colbert Report with Jeff Bridges – I’m guessing I was one of the few who actually recognized her.

As you can see from the picture I took, I got a table in the front row at Club Passim, aka my favorite music room. She only had one other musician on this gig (whose name escapes me, sorry) who switched among pedal steel, electric, and acoustic guitars. Carrie herself moved from fiddle to mandobird to tenor guitar. She can really play and her  style moves from down-home country fiddlin’ to indie singer-songwriter.

The set included new songs from her latest album (which I just bought on Amazon for only $4.99!) as well as some of hits from her past albums, like She Ain’t Me and Seven Angels on a Bicycle. I didn’t realize that the latter song was about a friend who had passed away and this story added some extra poignancy to the piece during the show.

She seems to be constantly touring, so next time she’s in your town, go see her and support live music – that’s how they make their money, people! I think the only disappointing part of the night was that the club was not completely full, perhaps due to the Tuesday night slot.

The Set List:

  1. Keep your Words
  2. Big Love
  3. I Don’t Want to Play House Anymore
  4. 50’s French
  5. Absence
  6. Got Your Name On It
  7. Lake Harriet
  8. Waterbound
  9. She Ain’t Me
  10. Seven Angels on a Bicycle
  11. I am Not a Farmer -> Blackberry
  12. When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing
  13. El Salvador
  14. Today I Started Loving You
  15. Never Gonna Be Your Bride
  16. La Punalada Trapera
  17. Encores – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry; Say Darlin’ Say

The traditional picture of the setlist.

Carrie R. Set List

Gary Burton Quartet at Berklee

September 25, 2011 – As soon as I heard that Gary Burton was playing at Berklee with his “new

Poster from concert

quartet”, I knew I had to go. I had seen Julian Lage at Passim with his band and was looking forward to hearing him in this setting as well. Plus the band includes Antonio Sanchez, drums (also plays with Metheny) and Scott Colley, bass (also with Metheny). The story goes that Burton lined up his drummer first and then asked him to choose the best bass player to go along with them and he immediately said, Colley.

In addition, Gary Burton was one of my earliest introductions to jazz, having heard him in 1977 at an Arcosanti festival in Cordes Junction, AZ. I know I have the program book from that festival, but cannot locate it in all the usual places I’ve squirreled away mementos. 🙁

Back to the concert…

Since this was at Berklee, everyone seemed very comfortable on that stage, probably from having played many concerts there over the years as faculty and students. Gary did most of the talking, of course, as the leader. I like that he actually talked to the audience and explained some of their tune choices(Light Blue: “musicians can play these Monk tunes over and over”) and it’s background (Afro Blue: “the first tune written for the new latin jazz genre”).  Here’s the entire set list:

  1. Afro Blue
  2. Never the Same Way (Colley)
  3. I Hear a Rhapsody
  4. Last to Know
  5. Etude (Lage)
  6. Light Blue (Monk)
  7. Common Ground
  8. My Funny Valentine
  9. Did You Get It?

They started with a quiet introduction to Afro Blue by Burton alone, before getting into the melody (doubled by Lage) and solos. Burton is certainly a master of rhythm and melodic improvisation and his bandmates kept up, supporting him throughout the ebbs and flows of a solo. I love how the really great improvisers (and the bands, in general) can move through a song from very quiet and mellow to building up intensity to a crescendo and then transition to the next phase of the tune. That is definitely a sign of both great musicianship and communication among the band members.

Never the Same Way, from the group’s album Common Ground, begins with a bass ostinato introduction before moving to the next section of the melody, a rhythmic vibes melody on top of a blues-y chord progression. This is an extended composition with plenty of room for solos and was actually the longest selection in the concert at over 12 minutes.

“I Hear a Rhapsody”, another standard tune, was a pretty straightforward rendering with solos by Burton, Lage, Sanchez, and Colley. It’s always good to throw in something familiar to keep the audience on your side, so you can expand their range elsewhere in the concert. Burton told a story about how Michael Brecker hated playing at Berklee because of all the musicians likely to be in the audience, Gary says, “but I don’t care…”.

Etude was written by Julian Lage as an exercise for his students (“I feel sorry for his students”, said Burton.), and you can find him playing it on youtube here. Burton said, “When I recorded this on the record, I promised myself I’d never play it again!” and “We started playing this live last week and I think I played it right the third time.” Yes, he even had a very long and wide score in front of him to read thru, which cracked the audience up as he unfolded it on the stands. It was kinda funny watching him shift the paper along as the song progressed. Of course, then they proceeded to play it in unison perfectly. The guitar and vibes have a nice blend to them, both being percussive in attack and in the same range.

Light Blue is an obscure Thelonius Monk tune that had the typical twists and turns of a Monk tune. “He wrote these short, simple, quirky songs that just stick with you.” Apparently he only ever played it once in a concert at Town Hall. I was searching through my iTunes library and turned up a version of Bill Frisell playing it in a live recording I downloaded from ‘who knows where’. I think people like playing these tunes because the melodies are so strong they force you into playing to the strengths of the melody when you solo.

My Funny Valentine opened with an extended intro by Lage, solo. This went on for 6 whole minutes of guitar brilliance, not having too much to do with My Funny Valentine. 🙂 However, the ideas seemed to be endless! There were many different variations on a theme, ranging from folk music to classical until he finally hinted at the real tune the last time through, then passed it off to Burton to state the melody, more or less, with the band backing him.

The encore was “Did You Get It” which is on the Common Ground album. This was a fitting end to the concert and gave everyone a chance to stretch out on their solos. I went home and immediately bought the album. Highly recommended.


Hot Club of Cowtown at Club Passim

Went to see Hot Club of Cowtown again on Oct 4, 2011, this time at Club Passim. We first saw them at the Lowell Folk Festival in 2010 on a hot, sweaty summer day and jumped on the chance to see them again in this setting. Club Passim is a great venue for music – the sound is almost always really good and people are there to listen. I think it might be my favorite place in the Boston area to hear live music.

This band is both tight and loose. Tight in that they are locked in synch on the music; loose in that they don’t seem wedded to a particular arrangement or set list. They seem to move freely from improvised sections and even have short discussions on what to play next, probably depending on the audience mood (and their own moods, of course). I feel a little odd taking pictures at this place because it is sooo obvious, so I didn’t get any good ones, except of the set list below….this keeps me from trying to write down every tune as the concert goes on. 🙂

Set List

If you are not familiar with them, there’s always youtube! They are very engaging performers and you should definitely check them out! They easily move from classic western swing (Sweet Jenny Lee?) to fiddle tune breakdowns (Orange Blossom Special!) to jazz swing (Limehouse Blues). Everyone gets a solo turn and they mix it up between the ballads (Someone to Watch over Me) and burning down the house instrumentals (Acorn Hill Breakdown). They really look like they are having fun on stage; and what’s not to like??

Another good part of Passim’s is you can talk to the performers if you want. They usually hang out by their CD stand and sign stuff or chitchat. I did have to chat up Elana, well, cuz she was just standing there outside! I think I mentioned the Lowell sweatfest and she said, “which year?” “doh!”

All for now!



Bob Dylan at House of Blues

Bob Dylan Tour PosterOn August 21, 2011, the whole family, boys included, went to see Bob Dylan at the House of Blues in Boston, in the shadow of Fenway Park. I had to get tickets through stubhub for more than face value, let’s just say, because even though I had looked on ticketmaster/livenation the minute tix were available to the public, none were. I have a brief rant about that, too – Dear Livenation.com, if the concert is sold out, don’t make me search for tickets only to find out there are none left.


The concert started at 8 and since HOB is one of those places where you have to stand, I wanted to make sure we got a decent spot when the doors opened at 7 pm. Lucas and I got dropped off early and got in line. Apparently, you could pay another $10 to get in the OTHER LINE, which meant you could go before the plebes in the real line. What a rip-off. We were about 10 people back in the line, and I already paid enough!  Money buys access, no surprise there.

One stressful part was that I had forgotten to bring the tickets with me when we got dropped off, so I was sweating bullets until Emily and Zach showed up. Once the doors opened, the process was fairly orderly and we got a standing spot about 15 people back or so. Other than the standing around part, it was all good. The crowd was a mix of old and young. They were enthusiastic, but not obnoxious. Typical of a Boston crowd, there were some folks who tried to move in on our space, but we put up a good blocking strategy, at least until the concert started. Then the short woman in back of us asked if she could move ahead so she could see and I let her.

As to the music, the band was tight and Dylan looked to be in a good mood. His singing, if you call it that, was not so good. I describe it as a Miles Davis rap. You can get an idea by watching this video from the concert that someone posted on youtube. I didn’t even know what song he was playing until the chorus! It sounded worse out front, too. The concert was well worth going to, however, but certainly the first thing you notice is how the voice had gotten worse.

Dylan Concert

The band was killer! I think the 2 guitarists each had guitar techs with them. They were constantly changing instruments. In addition to the guitars, there was a multi-instrumentalist who switched among steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and who knows what else. Bob himself played some electric guitar (with some mighty fine solos) as well as the ‘cheesy’ organ and harmonica.

Here’s the set list, courtesy of Harold Lepidus.

1.  Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2.  Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
3.  Things Have Changed
4.  Tangled Up In Blue
5.  Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
6.  Mississippi
7.  Summer Days
8.  Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
9.  High Water (For Charley Patton)
10.  Simple Twist Of Fate
11.  Highway 61 Revisited
12.  Blind Willie McTell
13.  Thunder On The Mountain
14.  Ballad Of A Thin Man

15.  Like A Rolling Stone
16.  All Along The Watchtower
17.  Blowin’ In The Wind
Here’s the Boston Globe review and an excerpt from Jonathan Perry:

“A loose and rollicking reading of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’’ kicked things off on a promising note. In fact, for much of his 110-minute set, Dylan was an animated (for him) presence, alternating between organ and electric guitar, and playing a good amount of bleating – and bleeding-around-the-edges – harmonica. A knotty pair of expressive, satisfyingly cluttered harp solos imbued the slow simmer of “Tangled Up In Blue’’ with a disheveled fervor, while the newer “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’’ also benefited from Dylan’s harmonica coloring a gospel-tinged groove.”

There’s a bunch of videos of the concert on youtube, all illegally shot, but who cares? Check it out and buy his music.

The last time I saw Bob Dylan (I think) was in 1976 in Fort Collins, CO from which the album “Hard Rain” was recorded. Let me tell you, it was not a good time being outside in the rain and mud. This was much better!


Boston, MA