Musings on folk, Americana, country, bluegrass and newgrass

On Huffington Post: Genre-defying Talent Soars at Red Wing Roots III, FloydFest 14

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Red Wing Roots III

Three years ago The Steel Wheels started their own boutique, summer music festival Red Wing Roots Music Festival in mid-July in the shadow of Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon, Virginia. If you missed it, I suggest you add it to your summer music festival wish list for next year. Make sure to get your tickets early. After this year’s amazing lineup and (mostly) spectacular weather and surrounding scenery, great local food offerings and even better craft beer, this event that’s limited to about 3,500 is sure to sell out quickly in 2016. Robert Earl Keen put on an amazing performance as well as The Punch Brothers, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Chatham County Line, among many others. But it was the following discoveries that we listened to in the car on the drive home.

The Judy Chops

This genre-defying group has a unique sound built around strong three-part harmony vocals and elements of rock-a-billy, swing, blues and classic country. The Judy Chops blend acoustic guitar, banjolele, electric guitar and fiddle solos and a unique rhythm section featuring upright bass, cocktail drums, throwing in the occasional horn player to round out the mix. Being voted “Best Local Roots Band” at the inaugural Red Wing Roots Music festival allowed them to record their newest album, “Minor Sunshine,” which we went straight to the merch tent and bought after hearing the band perform. I suggest you do, too.

Scott Miller and the Acoustic Commonwealth

My interest was piqued when I read that Steve Earle had declared Scott Miller a “world class” songwriter. I figured if Steve liked him, I would too. And I was right. Dubbed Americana, Miller put on an irreverent and rockin’ show with Rayna Gellert and Bryn Davies to an appreciative crowd. He recently moved home (just down the road from the festival) to help take over his family’s cattle farm in the Shenandoah Valley. “Most of my touring the last couple of years has been in spurts, not like I used to do. I can’t leave my cows for that long. I need their guidance,” he states on his website. Hopefully, he will leave them long enough for you to catch him playing somewhere soon. In the meantime, you can listen to Miller’s latest album, Big Big World.

Elephant Revival

I had heard rumblings in indie-Americana-folk music circles about this Colorado-based group that has been described as “progressive edge,” but I had never had the chance to hear them perform until Red Wing Roots. What a treat! Their unique blend of gypsy, Celtic, folk music is created by Bonnie Paine (washboard, djembe, musical saw, stompbox); Bridget Law (fiddle, octave fiddle); Charlie Rose (banjo, pedal steel, guitar, horns, cello, double bass); Dango Rose (double bass, mandolin, banjo); and Daniel Rodriguez (guitar, banjo, double bass). The line on top of the group’s Facebook page says, “Where words fail…music speaks.” Indeed, I predict we will be hearing a lot more music from Elephant Revival in the near future.

The Steel Wheels

Having never heard The Steel Wheels perform live, watching them on stage at their festival in their backyard interacting with family, friends and new friends was a special introduction to this four-piece string band. Their festival is named for the group’s 2010 album, “Red Wing” that included “Nothing You Can’t Lose,” which won Best Country Song at the Independent Music Awards. Their music been described as dynamic, yet soulful similar to Old Crow Medicine Show that blends old-time musical traditions with their unique stylings. But give them a listen and decide for yourself. I think you’ll like what you hear.

FloydFest 14 — Fire on the Mountain

FloydFest is always one of my favorite music festivals of the summer, as I know it is for many of the artists who attend. FloydFest 14 lived up to its promise and then some, with actual fireworks and possibly the biggest bonfire I have ever seen. It didn’t hurt that the weather was amazing and the musical offerings seem to get better each year. Kudos to the organizers for again keeping the number of attendees to a manageable level, reportedly around 10,000 a day. While FloydFest is one of the largest festivals I attend, it never feels that big and you never have to wait in a line longer than two or three people deep for some of the tasty local cuisine or craft beer or wine. But getting back to the music, in addition to the standout main stage performances from Brandi Carlile, Grace Potter, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Trampled By Turtles and Drive-By Truckers, it was some of the lesser know groups including many of the festival’s “On the Rise” bands, that had my attention.


I wouldn’t have wanted to be among the judges for the winner of the “On the Rise” band last year who had to choose between the incredibly talented Swampcandy and Annabelle’s Curse, the latter of which ended up coming in what had to be a very close second. They are both winners in my song book and proved just why during multiple sets at FloydFest 14. I had the pleasure of hearing Annabelle’s Curse melodic yet rockin’ sound first at Rooster Walk 7. Swampcandy wowed FloydFest attendees by introducing drummer Dominic Fragman into what previously had been the due of hard-hitting guitar-picker Ruben Dobbs and percussive bass-playing, kick drummer Josh Mitchell, who create a mean mixture of Delta-like blues and funk. Dobbs says they identify with Americana because “Americana means nothing.” Meaning it encompasses every sound that can’t be corralled into a typical old-school record label musical genre. Both groups have new albums out and if you haven’t heard them, stop listening to whatever flavor of the month Nashville is cranking out these days and go to their websites and buy them. Do it. NOW.

Look Homeward

Thanks to a tip from Will Overman of the Will Overman Band, I made it a point to seek out this Chapel Hill, N.C.-based quartet and I was blown away by their unique sound (which includes a trombone and a drum). Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. FloydFest organizers announced this week that Look Homeward is the 2015 “On-the-Rise” winner. That’s good news for anyone already planning to attend FloydFest 15 because you will have numerous opportunities to hear these talented young men. This band of “brothers” marry the soul tones of Atlantic beaches with the Bayou by combining guitar and bass with banjo with brass that is traditional yet fresh. The group just released it’s first full-length studio album that should be added to your must-listen-to list. And for those keeping track, The Midatlantic hailing from Wilmington, North Carolina, is this year’s OTR runner-up.

Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers

Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers represent everything I wish was spilling out of country radio today that isn’t. This California-born chanteuse blends sounds harkening back to crossover star Linda Ronstandt (one of her influences) with 1990s Sheryl Crow. Like most of the artists I write about, the music being created by Bluhm and her band can’t be defined as “country” and certainly NOT what is being passed off as country today. Instead, it takes me back to the ’70s and the sounds the Eagles and Jackson Brown were churning out. Sample the new album, “Loved Wild Lost,” and let me know what you think.

Hard Swimmin’ Fish
This self-described American roots and blues band (do you see a pattern forming here?) had everyone within earshot of their performances dancing to their jammin’ combination of Cajun, Caribbean and African-influenced beats. Their musical collaboration sounds like it should be oozing out of the doors ofa bar on Bourbon Street. Credit goes to my husband, John Trump, who first caught the Hard Swimmin’ Fish Old Time Blues Show and insisted I had to give them a listen. I implore you to do the same.

There are plenty more music festivals on my horizon: Front Porch Fest, National Folk Fest, Bristol Rhythm and Roots and Ancient Tones.

How about you? Would love to hear which festivals you are planning on attending or any new music you have discovered at a festival this year.

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