Even though it was shorter than my previous times at the Fathers Day Festival in Grass Valley California, not arriving till Thursday, it was one of the best: whether it was a great jam or one of the most complete lineups I have seen at any festival, on the west or the east coast. This festival has always had a special place in my heart, and as I have grown up I have been spoiled by the opportunities of either being able to play with my heroes like the Infamous Stringdusters or seeing Rhonda Vincent sing a tear jerking George Jones song or Michael Cleveland possibly play the instrumental performance of the century on Jerusalem Ridge, bringing the whole crowd to its feet. All in all I am not sure I can say it was as good as last year, but it was pretty close and I will tell you why.
Even though there are people I like more than Rhonda Vincent, I can’t deny that she has many fans and she knows how to put on a show. But her biggest strength is not herself; it is her band that really shines. It consists of Rhonda’s son in law and incredibly talented fiddle player Hunter Berry, solid bass player and great 3 part singer Mickey Harris, and one of the top 5 guitar players and singers today, Josh Williams who is always a pleasure to stare at in awe and jealousy. Rhonda was her usual self with relentless energy and killer pipes and because of all these factors they are one of the top touring bands in bluegrass today by many people’s standards.
Even though they are one of the most professional bands and longest living bands out there, the most pleasant surprise was Special Consensus. Of course I expected them to be good, but they had always had the reputation of being more vocally oriented, which now I don’t see. The bands new look hasn’t decreased their singing talent, but now they have one of the best guitar players and mandolin players I have ever seen, Dustin Benson and Rick Faris respectively, who on each solo had my attention because I wasn’t sure what they were going to do next. This increase in instrumental ability from past bands make this band a Saturday Night Headliner at any festival in my opinion.
When I learned about the bands that were coming, the one that stuck out the most for me was Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper. This top-notch band did not falter as they delivered top notch traditional bluegrass that of course is turned 180 degrees with the immense talents of Michael Cleveland. I believe, and these are strong words, he has honed and controlled is instrument more than any musician today. There are things that he does consistently that no fiddle player I know can even dream of doing, which he showed on Jerusalem Ridge. He took it as a competition against his mandolin player Nathan Livers, and because of that almost took his last solo from the approach of a rock guitar player because his abilities are limitless. After the performance the crowed jumped into the air as one to pay Michael Cleveland his respects as the best fiddle player today and possibly ever.
I also had the pleasure of jamming with the wonderful and talented Molly Tuttle and John Mailander along with TJ Doerful, Sullivan Tuttle, Alex Sharps and the Schwartz brothers. Together, we had an incredible jam on Saturday night that consisted of all different kinds of songs because we had so many contrasting styles, which I believe can either be a disaster or really fun music. I think accomplished the latter.
This weekend I will be at the High Sierra Music Festival for the first time in my life, there I will see such bands as the David Mayfield Parade and the Infamous Stringdusters who will represent the borderline between bluegrass and a type of music that can’t exactly be named. My viewing experiences will extend to such bands as Primus and even Robert Plant who’s new project consists of classic Led Zeppelin songs. I don’t expect it to be the same as the Father’s Day Festival, where I am able to see good solid bluegrass and hang out with my friends. But I am willing to try new things and am willing to embrace the situation and have as much fun as I can.