29 March 2017

A work in progress

The Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) keeps its calendar updated, publishes news received, and adds new features whenever they come to mind. Send in news or queries by e-mail, please; we can't send a direct reply to a comment on a post.

Thinking of touring in Ireland? Look at the BIB's THINKING OF TOURING IN IRELAND? page (now updated). Click on the 'Welcome' label below for more about the BIB's background, purpose, and uses.


28 March 2017

LBG 2017: the new alumni

Leadership Bluegrass graduates 2017 (photo: Alane Anno)

Thanks to Uri Kohen, who sends us this link to John Lawless's article on Bluegrass Today, 'Congratulations to the Leadership Bluegrass class of 2017', where the photo above appears. Uri, who is on the extreme right in the front row, comments: 'A bit of self indulgence on my part - but nice piece anyway.'

Joe Newberry, who performed at the Omagh festival with the Red Clay Ramblers some years back, is on the extreme right of the back row. All members of the class are named in the Bluegrass Today feature, and names will be matched to faces in an IBMA press release.

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New album from an Irish bluegrass pioneer

To the best of the BIB's knowledge, Gerry Madigan of Dublin was the first person to make the sound of live bluegrass 5-string banjo playing widely heard throughout Ireland in his fifteen years as a founder member of the Cotton Mill Boys, one of the most successful and most devotedly 'country' of Irish showbands. So we're glad to hear of his latest projects.

In the course of an active and productive career both inside and outside music, Gerry (now living in Alberta, Canada) has brought out a new twelve-track CD, Wild bird, fly free, an eclectic mix of country, blues, folk, and more. It can be heard on BandCamp and SoundCloud. Gerry will be playing theatres in Canada in October with a full ten-piece band, to recreate the album sound live on stage.

During the summer and early autumn, most of his gigs will be house concerts, folk clubs, and other intimate venues with a fiddler/ vocalist and a dobro/ vocalist – 'some good tunes, a bit of bluegrass, some acoustic folk-style songs (plus some suitable originals), and some nice tight three-part harmonies', Gerry writes. A ten-day tour of Ireland in late October, with a similar small ensemble, is being planned.

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Sierra Hull (USA) in the Netherlands, late June 2017

The organising team of the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival announces that this year's event (23-5 June 2017) will feature Sierra Hull (USA), confirming the festival's international reputation.

Founded in 2009 with an audience of about 250 and mainly local performers, the Festival expects 12,000 visitors this year from all over Europe. Its venue - the Pijnackerplein in the Oude Noorden working-class district of Rotterdam - gives it a neighbourhood character which the team is keen to preserve. 'Everybody comes together,' says Guido de Groot; 'the atmosphere is very laid back and we’re keeping the festival free of charge to preserve that unique atmosphere.'

Sierra Hull, making her only appearance in Europe on this trip, heads a programme of thirty acts on two stages, including the Barcelona Bluegrass Band (firm favourites with audiences in Ireland at past Johnny Keenan Banjo Festivals). There will also be workshops, master classes, jam sessions, and demonstrations - and 'plenty of attention for the underground comic book culture that is closely associated with bluegrass' (something that's been unaccountably missing from the Irish scene).

The Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival (also on Facebook) is sponsored by Rotterdam Festivals, Gebiedscommissie Rotterdam Noord, SENA, the US embassy in the Netherlands, and Stichting Kito Events.

Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival · Tollensstraat 3 · Rotterdam, ZH 3035 NA · Netherlands

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27 March 2017

Brooksie Wells and Round Hill (USA) at Ballymore Acoustic Gigs, 3 Apr. 2017

The BIB announced on 16 Dec. 2016 and two occasions earlier this month (7 Mar., 14 Mar.) the forthcoming tour by singer/songwriter and Americana artist Brooksie Wells, accompanied by Round Hill - Lisa Kay Howard on mandolin and her husband Wally Hughes on fiddle and resonator guitar.

The first show in the tour begins at 3.00 p.m. this coming Sunday (2 April) at the Unitarian Church, Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, where admission is free (though donations, to be shared between the Church Restoration Fund and the performers, are invited).

Ballymore Acoustic Gigs now announce on their blog the second show in the tour, on the following night (Mon. 3 Apr.) in Mick Murphy's Bar, Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare. Doors open at 8.30 p.m., and admission is €12. The remaining dates for the tour are:

Tues. 4th: The Red Room, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, 8.30 p.m.
Wed. 5th: Matt Molloy's, Bridge St., Westport, Co. Mayo, 7.00-9.00 p.m.
Fri. 7th: Tech Amergin Arts Centre, Waterville, Co. Kerry, 8.00 p.m.; €15 / €12. Pre-booking essential (box office 066 9478956).

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24 March 2017

Back to the future from GHS

GHS Strings announce their new product: pure nickel mandolin strings. They come in two gauge ranges, .0105-.039 and .011-.041, chosen to give a balanced sound and comfortable feel across fingers and fretboard. GHS claim:

They are perfect for players looking for authentic tone on vintage mandolins, or wanting more richness and depth of tone from new mandolins.

This is 'Back to the future', as pure nickel strings were common in the 1950s and '60s, and dropped out of the market only because of a rise in the cost of nickel and the differing requirements of rock musicians.
In October 2016 GHS launched a global advertising campaign for the new Nitro-Pack system with its guaranteed factory freshness for their range of strings used by bluegrass players. The ads (example on right) feature images of banjo, resonator guitar, mandolin, and acoustic guitar - part of an overall campaign for all string instruments. The company followed this up earlier this month with a range of T-shirts using two of the slogans from the ads, ‘Nice Package’ and ‘Unique-ly Fresh’, on the front and 'Play With The Best' on the back. Full details can be found here.
In another example of their 'Back to the future' flair, at the start of last year GHS were able to offer instrument straps using vintage jacquard ribbon facings, woven forty or fifty years ago in Switzerland; but these are no longer available.

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23 March 2017

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck at the National Concert Hall, 10 July 2017

Following on the solo performance by legendary mandolinist Chris Thile earlier this week, Dublin's National Concert Hall announces that two other legends, jazz keyboardist Chick Corea and banjoist Béla Fleck, will be presented in concert together on Monday 10 July (a couple of days after the 2nd Woodbine Bluegrass Jamboree in Athy, Co. Kildare). The NCH says the programme

will combine Corea and Fleck’s most recognisable tunes with the music from their Latin Grammy-winning album The enchantment and their extraordinary live set Two. With a mix of jazz and pop standards, crossing a myriad of genres, from jazz, bluegrass, rock, flamenco, and gospel, this will be a casual, intimate evening with two legends from different musical worlds.

Samples of music by the pair are on YouTube. More details and online booking facilities are on the NCH web page for the concert: Chick Corea and Béla Fleck, National Concert Hall, Dublin 2, 8.00 p.m.; €45, €39.50, €32.50.

PS: Singer/ songwriters Rodney Crowell and Jim Lauderdale will also be in concert at the NCH twenty days later, 30 July. Jim Lauderdale was on the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited in Feb. 2013.

PPS: A major new feature on and interview with Béla Fleck by Jen Hughes, including a good deal on his musical relationship with Chris Thile, has just appeared on Bluegrass Today.

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22 March 2017

The Henry Girls on tour with new album

The Henry Girls have already played the first three Irish dates in support of their new album, Far beyond the stars, which was launched on 10 March. They are now touring in Germany and the Netherlands, and will be back touring in Ireland in April and May - plus two dates in Cornwall in early May, which are already sold out.

Irish dates in the 'Far beyond the stars' tour are:

Sat. 22nd Apr.: Seamus Ennis Arts Centre, Naul, Co. Dublin, 8.30 p.m.; €16 / €13 (advance), €18 / €15 (door)
Sat. 29th: Playhouse Theatre, Derry city: 1.30 p.m. matinee, £11/£8; evening (8.00 p.m.) £14/£11 (part of Boswell Tribute, City of Derry Jazz Festival)

Sat. 13th May: Roscommon Arts Centre, Circular Rd, Roscommon town, 8.00 p.m.; €15
Sat. 20th: Wexford Arts Centre, Cornmarket, Wexford town, 8.30 p.m.; €18
Thurs. 25th: Draíocht Arts Centre, Blanchardstown Centre, Dublin, 8.00 p.m.; €16/€14
Fri. 26th: Unitarian Church, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, 7.30 p.m.; €25
Sat. 27th: Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow, 8.30 p.m.; €18/€16
Wed. 31st: The Dock, St George's Terrace, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, 8.30 p.m.; €20/ €18

Venue contact details and online booking facilities are on their website.

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21 March 2017

Digging in the archives

Readers who look up items in the BIB archives will occasionally come across links to posts on the European Bluegrass Blog (EBB). If you try the link, you may find yourself on the EBB, but confronted by a message that says the page you are looking for no longer exists.

If this happens, don't lose heart. The EBB post you wanted to see will have been created in the same month as the BIB post that had the link to it; so while you're on the EBB, scroll down through its archives (in the right-hand sidebar) and look through the posts for that month. It will be there!

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20 March 2017

White oak banjos from Deering

For many years the March issue of Bluegrass Unlimited has been devoted to news of instruments, and this March's issue includes articles on Bob Carlin's illustrated history of the banjo (which also gets a Highlight review), luthiers Randy Wood and Ben Pearce, the innovative iTone picks, and straps made by Jack Hicks (former Blue Grass Boy) and his wife.

In the 'General Store' section of BU is an announcement that the Deering company is launching a series of banjos made of white oak, without tone rings. They're not on the Deering website yet, but a price list shows two Vega White Oak openbacks (an 11" at $2,099.00 and 12" at $2,199.00), the Deering White Lotus ($2,699.00), and two long-neck models. In 2015 the company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a limited edition White Oak resonator banjo, which is no longer available. Jens Kruger commented that though it had no tone ring it was both loud and sweet: 'It almost feels like there is a mute taken off a regular banjo.'

The new line may particularly interest old-time players - especially if they've read Lew Stern's recent biography of Dwight Diller. Among its many virtues, this admirable book includes a detailed section on Diller's preferences in banjos, in which he is quoted:

I have had white oak and it is outstanding for a banjo. [...] Black walnut is good. But nothing I have never [sic] had in my hands or owned will touch the white oak or hickory.

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19 March 2017

News from Europe

The BIB has a good friend in Walter Fuchs of Bühl, south-west Germany. Walter is Germany's premier historian of country music, has been broadcasting the music for most of his life, and has been the moving spirit of the International Bühl Bluegrass Festival from its inception in 2002. At this year's festival (19-20 May) the lineup is headed by Balsam Range (USA).

Walter's career in radio keeps developing: since 5 March he has been presenting a weekly one-hour show, 'Country Club', over a new, powerful radio station - Schwarzwaldradio.com, located in his old hometown of Offenburg, about 40 km south of Bühl. The show goes out each Sunday at 19.00-20.00 (Central European Time), repeated the following Tuesday at 21.00-22.00, and can be extended to two hours when Walter's other commitments permit.

The station can be heard in the Black Forest region on FM and cable networks, throughout Germany on DAB (digital radio), and worldwide over the internet. Can the left-handed banjo-picker (above) be related to the man who features in publicity for the annual Omagh bluegrass festival?
An autumn bluegrass break in Italy is an appealing idea, so thanks to the EBMA Facebook for the news that the Fifth Italian Bluegrass Meeting will take place at the Acoustic Guitar Village in Cremona, Italy, on Saturday 30 September 2017, featuring important guests (there's a YouTube video of an onstage jam on 'Nine pound hammer', led by Tim O'Brien, at a previous Meeting).

The Italian Bluegrass Meeting is organised by our friend Danilo Cartia. For booking and information, contact Danilo by e-mail or 'phone (+39 339 6908450).

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17 March 2017

I Draw Slow: new album for release on 21 Apr. / 12 May 2017

The latest press release from Compass Records announces that the new eleven-track album by Dublin's I Draw Slow, Turn your face to the sun, will be released on 21 April in the USA and on 12 May in the rest of the world.

The April release will coincide with a tour by I Draw Slow in Penn-sylvania, New York State, North Carolina (including MerleFest), Tennessee, and Washington DC (19-30 Apr.). They will be in the USA again in late June and July, playing at festivals in California and Virginia.

A live performance of one of the songs on the album, 'Don't wake the children', can be seen on the press release and also on YouTube. More details, including full tour dates as they stand at present, are here.

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16 March 2017

Ireland represented in IBMA's LBG 2017 class

As the BIB announced on 20 Jan., the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) will be holding its 2017 Leadership Bluegrass class next week in Nashville, TN. Flying out this weekend to take part is Uri Kohen, founder and chief organiser of the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, held every June in Westport, Co. Mayo.

The BIB sends Uri renewed congratulations and every good wish for the trip. As can be seen from the IBMA release, he is the only one of the twenty-six members of this year's class to come from outside the USA.

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NOT bluegrass. But...?

Loudon Temple of the UK's Brookfield Knights agency announces a tour being organised for April-May 2018. The artists are Canadian singer Tia McGraff and her husband/ guitarist/ producer Tommy Parham, who impressed audiences, radio presenters, and critics when touring Britain last year. Loudon sends links to a promo video of 'Crazy beautiful', two performance videos shot at Twickenham, 'Two wolves' and 'Reckonin'', and another of their singing Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. He adds:

Please let us know if you would like to include them in your 2018 music programme and if possible provide a steer on any particular date/s that would fit better than others.

Promoters who don't confine themselves to bluegrass and old-time events may well be interested. More details here.

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14 March 2017

Michael J. MIles: spring concerts

Thanks to clawhammer-banjo maestro Michael J. Miles (above right) for his latest e-newsletter. In addition to the programme of concerts and teaching laid out earlier this year (see the BIB for 11 Jan.) he will be in concert at Evanston, ILL, on 2 Apr. with the outstanding fingerstyle guitarist Eric Lugosch (above left). The newsletter explains:

They've been friends for decades but this is their first official concert mixing clawhammer banjo and fingerstyle guitar. It will be explosive!

We believe it. Plenty of Lugosch's playing can be heard on YouTube, including his own channel.

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Visitors on video

The BIB mentioned a week ago the tour by Americana singer/ songwriter Brooksie Wells at the beginning of next month, accompanied by Lisa Kay Howard (mandolin, vocals) and Wally Hughes (fiddle, dobro, vocals), both of whom also perform with Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike (VS&LP).

Longtime Athy festival attenders will remember a power-packed show by an earlier edition of that band several years back. VS&LP have just released a video of the number 'Something about a train', in which you can see and hear the present band - Valerie Smith, Lisa Kay, Wally, Tom Gray (yes, the Bluegrass Hall of Fame member) on bass, and Joe Zauner on banjo. The video can be seen in this Bluegrass Today feature and also on YouTube.

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European bluegrass news - in a new form

Thanks to Eugene O'Brien, chair of the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA), for the news that the EBMA is to begin issuing next month a monthly newsletter, taking the place of the long-established Bluegrass Europe quarterly magazine.

EBMA members will get it automatically (EBMA membership fees have also been reduced); non-members may subscribe to it for free via the EBMA website. The EBMA is expected to issue a major press release about this in the very near future.

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12 March 2017

Mala & Fyrmoon (CH) - touring Ireland 28 Sept.-8 Oct. 2017

The BIB editor writes:

Thanks to the EBMA for passing on the news that the multi-talented trio Mala & FyrMoon (above), based in central Switzerland, are now planning an eleven-day tour in Ireland this coming autumn (28 Sept.-8 Oct. 2017) - their third trip over here.

Mala & FyrMoon (also on Facebook) consist of Mala (vocals, fiddle, guitar, mandolin), Vincent Zurkinden (vocals, upright bass, guitar, percussion), and Stefan Behler (vocals, guitar, dobro, mandolin, upright bass). A comprehensive press release for an earlier tour appeared on the BIB in 2016; a current blurb for them says:

Mala & FyrMoon: Folk Trio with music right from the Swiss Mountains, beautiful vocals by the female lead singer Mala accompanied by great harmonies of Stefan and Vincent. Original songs, a bucket of acoustic instruments like mandolin, fiddle, dobro, guitar, upright bass. Mala & FyrMoon are singing and telling stories about the love for life, nature and everydays journey - and about dreams that may come true...

'Folk' just hints at their range: if you want solid bluegrass, they have it in spades, as I discovered when they joined a jam at the 2015 Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival. Indeed, when I first saw them in Switzerland in 2010, I wanted to be their banjo player (despite the logistical problems). You can sample their music in a twenty-one-minute video shot live at Garrys Barber Shop in Holywood, Co. Down (the BIB is mentioned), and in their official video of 'Green light of May'. More is on YouTube and SoundCloud.

Mala & FyrMoon can be contacted for bookings at festivals, gigs, or house concerts through their website and by e-mail.

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11 March 2017

Maeve Toner at the Cabin Sessions, 30 Mar. 2017

Gerry Fitzpatrick, organiser of the Cabin Sessions series, 'Acoustic Music at its Finest', announces the Session for this month:

Hey Y'all!

We're back with you on Thursday 30 March with special guests: Maeve Toner (vocals/autoharp), contemporary singer/ songwriter Ciaran Moran, and Americana trio Carpe Diem.

The Sessions are held on the last Thursday of every month at Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dundrum, south Dublin (not far from Dundrum Luas station, in the city direction). Shows run from 9.30 to 11.30 p.m. and admission is FREE. If you or someone you know would like to perform at the Cabin Sessions, let Gerry know by e-mail. The Sessions are particularly interested in featuring local musicians and singers.

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10 March 2017

EWOB 2017 programme shown online

The European World of Bluegrass (EWOB) organising team announced on Facebook last Sunday that the lineup and programme schedules for the 20th - and possibly final - EWOB festival (25-7 May 2017) are now on the festival website. The announcement continues:

You will find many new and old names, as previous winners also have been invited to join this special edition. EWOB 2017 will be special for two reasons, since this will also be the last EWOB to be held in Voorthuizen.

EWOB 2017 started out as a dream many years ago to create a platform for bluegrass acts and bring the European bluegrass scene together a few days each year. It gives us great pleasure that we are able to organise the festival for the 20th time in Voorthuizen.

However, due to the fact that city council of Voorthuizen has different plans for the EWOB location 't Trefpunt', it will no longer be possible to organise the festival here in the future. A new location will have to be found, including people to carry the torch.

Please give this some thought and e-mail us or approach us during EWOB if you have something to offer to continue the tradition!

We hope to see you in May!

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Two Time Polka: March gigs

Ray Barron of Two Time Polka sends this news:

Here are our gigs for March:

Fri. 17th, St Patrick's day: Mastersons Steakhouse, Main St., Swords, Co. Dublin. 7.00-9.00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 01 8903855

Sat. 18th: The Blue Haven, Pearse St., Kinsale, Co. Cork. Start 10.00 p.m. Adm. free. Tel. 021 4772209

Sat. 25th: Open air, Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford. 3.00-4.00 p.m. Adm. free (Opening of the Deise Greenway in Kilmacthomas)

Ray & TTP

Two Time Polka's latest CD, New road, is available at their gigs and from Music Zone, Douglas, Cork, and Custys Music, Ennis, Co. Clare; or on line from both outlets, www.musiczone.ie and www.custysmusic.com. You can also contact Ray directly.

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09 March 2017

Last five dates in Jeff Scroggins & Colorado tour

The end to this year's tour by the powerful and exciting band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (USA) is approaching. Tonight they're playing at St John's Theatre, Listowel, Co. Kerry; and the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre at Naul, Co. Dublin, draws attention to the band's concert there on Friday night - their show at Naul last year was completely sold out. The final dates are in three venues that have been very hospitable to touring bluegrass bands. What's left of the tour schedule now stands as follows:

Thurs. 9th: St John's Theatre, Listowel, Co. Kerry, 8.00 p.m. Tel. 086 22566
Fri. 10th: Seamus Ennis Arts Centre, Naul, Co. Dublin, 8.30 p.m. Tel. 01 8020898
Sat. 11th: Beehive Bar, Ardara, Co. Donegal, 8.30 p.m. Tel. 087 6900714
Sun. 12th: Mannion's Bar, Balla, Co. Mayo, 8.00 p.m. Tel. 087 2296018
Mon. 13th: The Red Room, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone

After seeing Jeff Scroggins & Colorado at the Shannonside Winter Music Festival a year ago, the BIB editor wrote:

Passion, precision, drive, humour, choice of material, and the interaction that blends so much energy from all over the band into a powerful unified whole - nothing of what I like to hear in a bluegrass band is lacking. Any bluegrass enthusiast who can reach one or more of their shows should do so. This applies equally to musicians - there is no band playing bluegrass in Ireland at present that can't learn something by seeing these guys.

In addition, playing bass with them this year (in place of Isaac Callendar, shown above) is Mark Schatz, twice IBMA Bass Player of the Year, and also a master of flatfoot dance, 'hambone' body percussion, and clawhammer banjo. So no opportunity of seeing them should be missed.

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