Monday, July 21, 2014


We are now in the middle of summer bluegrass festival season. A number of successful bluegrass festivals are held in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Casper, Buffalo, and Worland, WY have annual events. Idaho has at least three. The Dakotas have theirs. Western Montana has seen them for years at Hamilton and now Darby. There is a winter event at Big Sky. Lots of activities in Missoula.  Even little Miles City presents a good one every September. Butte has the big folk festival and out of the way White Sulpher Springs has a  growing country fest annually. So why has the YBA never been successful in putting on a real bluegrass festival?  A few years ago they tried a couple of times in Red Lodge and more recently at Zoo Montana, but they were all failures. This blogger believes they did not work for a number of reasons. They did not bring in any well established outside bands. Instead they mainly relied on local YBA groups and generally unknown groups like the “Pinetoppers.“ The problem was that fans could come to the Friday jams and the showcases and hear these same local bands and musicians perform free of charge. Then the YBA seemed to expect fans to DRIVE to a “festival” and pay to hear these same groups. Were too many egos of YBA pickers involved?  The YBA members were also providing any necessary labor for the event, selling and taking tickets, parking, etc. No outside people doing that work. The YBA board was also the planning committee. Again, no outside business people really involved. There was poor publicity for all these events. If people do not know about it they obviously will not attend. The YBA seemed to expect the ZOO to publicize that event while the ZOO probably thought the YBA would take care of it. Other music events at ZOO Montana have been quite successful.  Red Lodge presented it’s own set of problems. The biggest may that Red Lodge has a very aggressive chamber of commerce and schedule many events all summer long. That can make a bluegrass event rather low on the list. The MT Fiddlers had a similar experience with moving the state fiddle contest from Polson to Red Lodge. At first it was a novelty and then attendance dwindled way down. They moved to Conrad. The Big Horn Festival in Buffalo works because they avoid most of the above problems and have the entire community solidly behind this event. The events in Worland and Pocatello are very family oriented with BBQ, other food and craft booths and play areas for kids. The Hard Times in Darby combines good music with jamming and a camp out. Even Miles City is successful by keeping it all within reason and having good folks from the community behind it. If the YBA is ever to succeed in putting on a real festival they need to look at why it works in these other locales and avoid the mistakes of the past. It is a shame that the Yellowstone Bluegrass Association does not present a good bluegrass festival every year for fans in the Billings region, the most populous in the state.  


Those folks put on a packed house concert at the Ellen Theater in Bozeman on Saturday, July 12 to a very enthusiastic crowd. Then they came to the Yellowstone Garage Brew Pub on Sunday. To me it was a very disappointing crowd, but they still performed like they would have at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It, as least, gave me a chance to talk to these iconic musicians of the traditional Cajun genre. Marc Savoy, the head of the family, is a great player of the Cajun accordion and also the most famous builder of that instrument. I got some tips on playing Cajun fiddle from son, Joel Savoy, who Linda Ronstadt called one of her favorite musicians. Mother, Ann Savoy, has written an outstanding book outlining the history of the Cajun people and especially their music, "CAJUN MUSIC,  A Reflection of the People." All the historical musicians of Cajun country are presented along with their music. The lyrics are in Cajun French, which is not necessarily the same as classical French, and then presented phonetically so all can sing them correctly. Her book will cost you a few shekels, but it is essential to any musician who wants to perform authentic Cajun music. Ann Savoy has performed with one or both of her sons in the movies, "All the King's Men," with Sean Penn as well as in the "Secrets of the Divine Ya Ya Sisterhood, " (if I got that one right). She has also sung duets and written music for Ronstadt. Joel told me they are all working musicians and have daily gigs in many genre all over the world. Marc and Ann had major parts in the superb documentary "Jai Ete Au Bal," along with Michael Doucet. This is available free on the internet if you get to the right site and it will show and tell you all there is to know about traditional Cajun and Zydeco music. If any readers of this blog are interested in Cajun music kindly contact me at  It is really fun music to play.


Our favorite guitar strumming  RR engineer recently said at a YBA jam that Hank Williams wrote many other songs to the melody of "I Saw The Light."  That may be true, but others may have done that, too. Writers of lyrics are infamous for stealing older melodies and applying their own new words. A good example might be the "Prisoner's Song" which I learned as a kid as "If I had the Wings of An Angel."  Roy Acuff had his "Great Speckled Bird" which may have come from the Carter Family.  Others included "Honky Tonk Angels" and it'sequel.  All with the same melody.
Telluride is one of the most famous ski resort summer bluegrass festivals. It is said that locals term it "To Hell You Ride!" An easy way to pronounce it.
The Blue Cat Saturdays must be still alive. I went twice and it was OK, but that was enough for me. Two of the MilesTown pickers were at the first Blue Cat. They had played at the North Dakota "Bluegrass and Ribs" in Medora and said they had a great time. Think about going next Spring. A good trip to Teddy Roosevelt Country can show off the pine tree country of our North Dakota neighbors and who does not like good BBQ'd ribs?
Hannah King, recent fiddler for the "Song Dog Serenade" band has won the young adult competition at the National Fiddle Championships in Weiser, ID. This provided by Paddy Moore of "Song Dog." Thanks Paddy.
You Tube is denying usage to certain musical group. Apparently this does not apply to individual musicians, but to certain INDY labels. Regarding You Tube if you want to view some great dobro playing click onto Kathy Kalick's dobro player, Gregg Booth. This is straight ahead dobro, no fancy stuff like Jerry Douglas plays. Whether you are dobro fan or not you will enjoy his efforts. Enter his name and you will be directed to his You Tube stuff.
The second ballot for "nominations" for the IBMA designations for the YEAR is on right now.  I better get my vote in.  Winners are announced at the annual fall "World OF Bluegrass," again this year in Raleigh, NC. "Song of the Mountains" TV show has returned to Montana PBS out of MSU Bozeman. It may also be available on PBS from Missoula and other states, too. Here it is on Mondays at 5 AM, so view it or set your recording device. Many great bluegrass bands perform on this show.
Due to other activities few YBA jams have occurred at the Art Studio on North 20th.  If you go for any of these and it is too hot an easy answer would be to head north for a block and pick under a tree at North Park. This was one of the very first parks in Billings, MT.  Better have your favorite picking chair in your vehicle.


The YBA president recently attended the Big Horn Festival in Buffalo, WY. She lauded the jamming and that is correct - in the night time camping area. Little jamming during the festival hours though. I was there a couple of years ago and have my own opinions. She apparently enjoyed in taking part in the band scramble probably with her banjo and good for her. Her group won the competition based on crowd applause. I, too, entered their band scramble and was personally gratified, but not too excited about doing it again. First it took about three hours to organize, time that I was missing out on other workshops and performances. Not surprisingly about five times too many strumming guitars wanted to play. You only need one good one who can flat pick a lead beside backup with chords. Only one real bass player showed up and I was one of two fiddlers so they could only have two bands. My group got stuck with a wash tub bass (which we could not hear at all when our music started.)  We did have a great 15 year old kid who had just won the State banjo contest. Man, he could roll out all those terrific Earl Scruggs classics.  Time to decide what to play and we only had 45 minutes.  A young kid about 16 stated he wanted sing lead and wanted to play "Fox On The Run."  So in what key? Well, he slapped his capo up several frets on his guitar and then said, "I don't know. I've only played for about six weeks."  Wonderful! An experienced guitar player figured it out for him. Then we tried to rehearse it. We spent about 30 minutes on that and it was a total disaster. The players looked about in wonder - what to do? I finally suggested we get back to basics. How about "Old Joe Clark?"  They said yes, but what for our second tune. "How about "Bury Me Beneath the Willow." Yes, again. Our mandolin player was the organizer of the jam and a big shot for the whole festival so he kicked it off. He nodded to me and I proceeded to play "Old Joe Clark" with shuffle bowing, drones and double stops, and the crowd went wild. I couldn't believe it. Most must have never heard a fiddle playing two string stuff. I had great compliments afterward. So that was part of my personal gratification. Peter Wernick, aka Dr. Banjo, held a jamming workshop.  There were three fiddles there and the other too were younger gals who soon dropped out, but the songs he was teaching were very basic and I had played all of them some with a few variations. Afterward he thanked me for coming an playing. That was the rest of  my personal gratification. Would I go to Buffalo again? Well, maybe, but I doubt it. But in the infamous words of 007, "Never say Never Again."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


The only bluegrass festival in Eastern Montana will take place on September 19-21, 2014. The annual Miles City Bluegrass Festival has named the following bands to perform on the 20th and 21st: Milestown, Bluegrass for Breakfast, The Woodpicks, High Plains Tradition, Special Consensus and Monroe Crossing. Bluegrass for Breakfast is the only Billings based band to play there for many years. They obviously made a good impression at last year's festival. Congratulations to that group. Gloria Tucker and her small but dedicated crew put on a modest yet successful festival year after year.  This years festival looks like  another good one.


Bradford Lee and the Bluegrass Playboys have already performed on July 7th in Missoula. This was part of the Ruby Jewel Jamboree series and another will occur on August 5th when Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen play in Missoula. On August 7th Della Mae will be at Big Sky.  Following the lead of other ski destinations such as Telluride, Aspen, Big Sky and Grand Targhee, the Missoula Snowbowl will begin a new Mountain Music Series on September 14, 2014. Legendary mandolinist David Grisman will bring his "Dawg" music to the Snowbowl. Local band the Lil' Smokies will open for him. This should be a great start for this new series at the Snowbowl.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


In addition to the well publicized bluegrass events in Montana this summer we should also consider the Montana Folk Festival in Butte on July 11-13, 2014.  Butte is a great place to hold this multi-cultural event as it is centrally located and many nationalities came to Butte during the heyday of copper mining in the "richest hill on earth."  Butte was the most populous city in Montana back then. The miners from all those nations brought their own music and culture to Montana with them. While this years festival may not feature bluegrass as such there will be great folk music including old time mountain music, the forerunner of bluegrass.  Detailed printed information published by the Bozeman Chronicle has been widely distributed throughout Montana and can be found where ever free news is located in your community. It is also available on-line of course.  In Billings it was an insert into the weekly Billings Outpost.  I have been there and found this festival to be most impressive. Great events and good food, too. After all Butte, America, may be the most unique city in the entire United States.


Rebecca Frazier and the Hit and Run bluegrass band from Harrisburg, VA, will be touring Colorado and Wyoming this summer. Beginning in Missouri and Kansas they will head north and play several gigs in Wyoming.  These include: July 25 at the Oyster Ridge Music Festival in Kemmerer, the Beartree Tavern in Centennial, and the annual Beartrap Summer Festival in Casper.  The Big Horn Mountain Festival in Buffalo will occur next week and the Bluegrass and BBQ Championships will take place in August in Worland.  Lots of good bluegrass coming up in Wyoming this summer for fans in that state.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Long before Scruggs style banjo was applied to old time mountain music and renamed "bluegrass" in the mid 1940's, French people had been exiled from Canadian Acadia by the British in 1755 following the French and Indian War. They had refused to pledge allegiance to the king of England.  These folks traveled all the way down the East coast to the Gulf of Mexico and settled among the French, Spanish, Creoles, Indians and free Blacks in Louisiana. The term "Acadian" was shortened down to simply "Cajun," and they brought with them their fiddles and traditional songs and dances from the Celtic regions of France. Bluegrass is often called "hillbilly" music. Notably when a great Cajun accordionist, Arlie LaJeune, died years ago in a car accident his LA newspaper referred to him as a "hillbilly" musician.  There is a definite connection there.  We don't get to hear much good Cajun music in Montana, although a Bozeman area  group called Bebe LeBoeuf was featured on MT PBS last year. Cajun music nearly disappeared in the 30's and again in the 60's due to the popularity of Western Swing bands and later Rock and Roll. In recent decades three people have done more than any others in continuing the traditional sound of Cajun music, Marc and Ann Savoy plus Michael Doucet.  Doucet brought his great Cajun band, Beasoliel, to Montana on a tour some 20 years ago. At the time people raved about the music, but then interest slowly waned. Now the Savoy Family Cajun Band is coming for performances in Bozeman on Saturday, July 12, and in Billings the next day. It doesn't get any better than this group for foot stomping traditional Cajun music. I have tried to encourage locals to play Cajun music since the Billings bluegrass club began with no luck.  I would love to get a jam going learning their great music. The Billings performance by the Savoy's will be at the Yellowstone Brewing Garage Pub. I plan to be there for sure and I hope many of you will attend, too.