Bluegrass music fans in the northern tip of Virginia were treated to a double bill of the high, lonesome sound on Saturday, April 23 when the long running Lucketts Bluegrass series presented Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers and the Fitzmaurice band. Each group brought different bluegrass music styles to this country hamlet in Loudoun County, perhaps setting a precedence for future shows where traditional and progressive bluegrass musicians can share the stage and audience to the benefit of all.
Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers brought a classic bluegrass sound with crisp three part harmonies and instrumental breaks heavily influenced by their Ohio connection to the Osborne Brothers, who were honored with an medley of hits including”Windy City”, “Making Plans”, “Fair and Tender Ladies” and “Kentucky”.
With Mike Terry on the mandolin, Evan MacGregor on fiddle, Adam MacIntosh on guitar, Tim Kidd on bass and Joe Mullins’ hard driving banjo roll setting the pace, the Ramblers delighted the audience with bluegrass and classic country music hits such as Wynn Stewart’s “Another Day Another Dollar”, Porter Wagoner’s “Head Over Heels In Love With You” , gospel songs like “Fallen Leaves” and and the rip-roaring bluegrass standard “Reuben’s Train”.
The Radio Ramblers concluded their set with and encore of Jay Ungar’s timeless “Ashokan Farewell”, played beautifully on the fiddle by Evan McGregor, followed by the fast paced bluegrass jam session classic “Katy Daley “, the very first recording of which, Mullins told us, was made in his father’s Ohio radio station.
After a quick break for set change and “shake and howdy” with the Ramblers, the Fitzmaurice band took the stage with youthful energy and raw talent that obviously connected with the mostly older and more traditional audience. The strong singing by sisters Maria and Sarah Fitzmaurice was accompanied by equally strong picking by their band mates Brandon Snellings on mandolin, Mike Simms on banjo and Aaron Malone on fiddle, who played with infectious energy, much to the delight of the crowd.
Whether it be original songs like “California” and “25 Years”, classic country like Flatt & Scruggs “Sleep With One Eye Open”, country-folk like John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” or classic rock as in their encore performance of The Guess Who’s “American Woman”, the young women and men of the Fitzmaurice band played with enthusiasm and class. The sisters sang beautifully, and the instrumental breaks by Malone, Snellings and Simms were always exciting and never meandering.
Could this be a model for the future of bluegrass, where traditional and progressive bands not only shared the bill, but were both received with much applause, hoots, hollers and standing ovations? Only time will tell, but I for one hope that it this is the beginning of a new trend in live bluegrass music presentation.