Uncertain weather is a risk for any spring festival, so the organizers of the D.C. Bluegrass Festival were wise to once again procure indoor Langley High School in McLean, VA as their venue Saturday, April 16th, when heavy storms and flash floods hit the Potomac region but did not deter hundreds of bluegrass music fans from turning out for the festival’s sophomore year. Unfortunately for me, I missed the kickoff by local favorites Chester River Runoff and was unable to stay for the big ending by The Claire Lynch Band and The Gibson Brothers. However my day trip left me feeling that the long history of bluegrass tradition in the the D.C. region was being well cared for and growing. Bluegrass fans of all ages gathered for performances in the auditorium or played together in spontaneous jamming circles throughout the hallways and side rooms.
The youth were well represented on stage with the first act, the three sister singers that comprise the core of Gold Heart. Their three part harmonies were as tight as you might expect from family singers, but they also played and sang with both maturity and happiness deserving of the main stage.
I took a break for some decent pork BBQ (a little Old Bay in the slaw was a nice regional touch), then got my mandolin out of the friendly staffed instrument check room and picked some tunes in a jam circle. The twangs of banjos, whines of fiddles and meedles of mandolins echoed down the locker-lined hallways like a bluegrass version of Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.
Soon back at the stage, I was particularly looking forward to finally seeing Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group perform live, they who I have heard for years from their many appearances on the radio show A Prairie Home Companion. My anticipation was well rewarded with an energetic set of roots music and original tunes that garnered a resounding applause and encore for the duo and their band. The cold rain poured outside, but Robin and Linda are so warm in genuine that the distance between the stage and audience seemed to shrink to where it felt like you were just sitting in their kitchen having a grand old time.
The last performance of the day for me was gifted bluegrass from Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa, whose honest singing and country road songs had the audience enthralled (and hungry after a very funny song about fried green tomatoes). Backed by a talented trio of Mark Delaney on banjo, Emory Lester on mandolin and Kene Hyatt on bass, Wayne and his band gave it all into every song and ended with a rousing bluegrass-ified cover of the Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”.
You can see more photos on my Flickr stream.
I left the event feeling energized for the upcoming summer festivals and wanting to pick even more tunes. Two upcoming events where I will have a chance are D.C.B.U Pick-nic in Falls Church on May 1 and the Loudoun Bluegrass Festival in Leesburg, VA on May 7. Maybe I will see you there, too? Keep on picking!