Monday, March 23, 2015



It took just 10 minutes to sell out all general admission tickets for the entire weekend taping of Season 5 of Bluegrass Underground (March 27-29). But if you missed out on that record-breaking event, we’ll try to make it up to you with a whole year’s worth of great concerts. The eighth year of Bluegrass Underground in the Volcano Room of Cumberland Caverns will feature some of the biggest names in bluegrass (Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart) along with Americana icon Ray Wylie Hubbard, wonderfully unique, genre-defying artists like Ben Sollee and Frank Fairfield and some genuine surprises, a few of whom may well turn into one of  your future favorites.
April 18, our regular concert season opens with Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. Moore is the IBMA’s all-time top award-winning male vocalist, with five wins to his credit, while IIIrd Tyme has taken the vocal group IBMA seven times. Along with Moore on vocals and guitar the group includes Wayne Benson on mandolin and vocals, fiddler Justen Haynes and newest members Keith McKinnon on banjo and Blake Johnson on bass. IIIrd Tyme Out really is state-of-the art bluegrass and their show is sure to sell out.
May 2, it’s the return of old-time music master Frank Fairfield, a multi-instrumentalist who would be equally at home jamming with Uncle Dave Macon as he is playing major festivals like Hardly Strictly. Trace Bundy is an acoustic musician from the other end of the space-time continuum, playing cutting-edge guitar instrumentals for what should be a very dynamic, time-warping afternoon at Cumberland Caverns.
June 27 features one of the best musicians ever to grace the BGU stage, as cello virtuoso and songwriter Ben Sollee returns to the Volcano Room. You can catch his earlier appearance on Bluegrass Underground re-runs on PBS (check local listings). He’s got serious cred with alt-rock folks from his work with My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames, but he’s one of those special artists who obliterate all genre lines. Don’t miss him. High-energy old-time music revivalist Woody Pines will kick things off for Ben.
July 19, it’s a very special Bluegrass Underground with The Annie Moses Band. She leads a family group of her brothers and sisters, performing in an expanded string quartet format that effortlessly fuses bluegrass, newgrass and Americana with the rich classical music tradition. Moses and siblings Alex and Ben Wolaver are Julliard-trained and the band features arrangements by patriarch Bill Wolaver.
That alone would make the show a unique experience, but their Bluegrass Underground debut will include the young musicians from the Annie Moses Band’s Fine Arts Summer Academy program, the culmination of more than a week of intense practice and preparation. They’ve performed at the Grand Ole Opry among other major venues, getting promising young musicians out of the practice room and into major performance experiences. Note that this is a Sunday concert. All other BGU shows listed are on Saturdays.
Aug. 22, it’s an anniversary show and a homecoming, as BGU celebrates eight years of live subterranean music, since that August 2008 premiere with the original Steeldrivers. But the anniversary  show features the actual first band to play the Volcano Room. The Volunteer String Band was the canary in this particular saltpeter mine, as our founder Todd Mayo brought the VSB in to test the cave’s acoustics. You can find a Youtube of that historic event here:
Opening will be Jimbo Darville and The Truckadours. So come out and celebrate and welcome Grand Ole Opry star Travis Stinson back to the cave.
Sept. 5, another BGU favorite is back, as the Lonesome River Band returns. Driven by Sammy Shelor‘s banjo, LRB has it all: great picking, great singing and, with more than a quarter century as a band, a really deep catalog of great songs. Old Salt Union, a young progressive band out of Belleville, in downstate Illinois, opens the show. The band comes to BGU after a hot set in January at our sister show, Music City Roots at the Factory in Franklin.
Sept. 26, it’s two top progressive bands from west of the Mississippi. Taarka is led by the husband and wife team of mandolinist David Pelton-Tiller and classically-trained violinist Enion Pelton-Tiller and hails from Lyons, home of Colorado’s great RockyGrass Festival (the 43rd edition of which is set for July 19-23) and the incredibly vibrant year-round acoustic music scene that has grown up around it. Taarka plays a uniquely elegant blend of bluegrass, Americana, classical and Django-tinged jazz. Sharing the stage will be San Francisco’s Front Country, a band that features singer/songwriter Melody Walker, who won the 2013 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. And, coming from David Grisman’s home turf, it’s no surprise Front Country boasts a hot mandolinist, Adam Roszkiewicz, nominated for a GRAMMY for his work with the Modern Mandolin Quartet.
Oct. 3, it’s a legendary singer-songwriter who was Americana way before Americana was cool, as Ray Wylie Hubbard makes his Volcano Room debut. Now, every RWH show is a bit mind-altering, so putting him in the Volcano Room promises an afternoon to remember.
Nov. 21, it’s longtime BGU favorite Mountain Heart. With a show that runs from hardcore grass to full-tilt blues-rock, to say these guys are a crowd pleaser is a woeful understatement. They will tear the place down. But on this particular Saturday, it just might be torn down before they even take the stage. Their opening act is internet phenom EmiSunshine, a ukulele-picking, 10-year-old blues and country belter  from Madisonville, Tenn., with the talent and stage presence of a major grownup star. This is a show you’ll be talking about for years to come. Here’s a clip from her 2014 Opry debut:
But that’s not all. We’ll be closing out 2015 with a couple December shows, including a Christmas extravaganza, that we’’ll be announcing in coming weeks. And we’ve got some very special Live From the Underground events on tap. Watch this space.
But that’s still not all. One of the biggest, most welcome changes coming in 2015 is that BGU is going to make it easier to come to what has become an international music destination.
Before every show, I ask the crowd the same question - “How many of you are here for the first time?” And every time, at least three-fourths of the audience are newcomers. Now, we know it’s hard to come to a new place for the first time, especially one, that, unlike Nashville, doesn’t have a well-established music tourism infrastructure. Of course, that’s one of the charms of McMinnville. But we’d like to make it easier for everyone to experience Bluegrass Underground in all its “Nova-Meets-Austin City Limits” glory. So the BGU team has been organizing all-inclusive “Bucket List” packages with show tickets, accommodations, cave tours and other amenities. All you have to do is get here. We’ll do the rest.
And we’re starting that “Bucket List” Bluegrass Underground Experience with the March 27-29 PBS TV taping, offering a very limited number of ticket packages.
For more information on Bucket List packages:
This year, it’s easier than ever to come see us at Bluegrass Underground and hear some unforgettable music in the really, really Deep South.
- Larry Nager

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Rebecca Jackman, longtime string orchestra teacher, is now teaching mandolin to students in the Billings Public Schools. She is a member of the Yellowstone Bluegrass Association and was seen jamming with the likes of Dave Fischer and Trent Indreland (mandolins), Dennis Anderson, (guitar) and fiddle virtuoso Tom Finnecum at the recent YBA midwinter event.  These guys are excellent pickers all! Jackman is having after school mandolin sessions for youngsters at Lewis and Clark Middle School. This is by far the best way to get kids interested in bluegrass instruments and music. Many years ago the late Ed Harris, a musical icon in Billings, began having after school guitar sessions which my son attended. The district had purchased a number of nylon strung guitars and my son came home playing Ed's "Magical Changes, G, E, C, and D" on his own guitar at home. My boy, now 48, has continued to write music and play guitar in his and other bands from Billings to Bozeman to Seattle to Austin, TX to Nashville where he now resides. The teaching of Ed Harris was an important step in his musical life.  Former YBA board member, Brad Sherseth, was also in that Ed Harris group.    

My violinist daughter called me from Missoula last night. I mentioned talking to Becky Jackman, who inquired about her, at the YBA midwinter event. We recalled the summer 20 years ago when she was  ten years old and in fifth grade. I drove her down to L & C school to attend a summer orchestra program there. As we approached the music room we were spotted by the teacher who warmly invited her in. It was Becky Jackman. So for more than 20 years she has been introducing Billings kids to good music. (My daughter is now one of the better violinists in Montana. She has performed in every symphony orchestra  in the state. She is now teaching orchestra at the Target Range district adjacent to Missoula, maintains a private studio for violin and viola, is the assistant concert master of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and performs regularly with the String Orchestra of the Rockies, a chamber orchestra (meaning conductor less). And she can crank out a hot version of "Ragtime Annie" or a beautiful rendition of "Ashokan Farewell" at any time, too. Thanks to Becky Jackman and other teachers for all of that. 

Both the YBA in Billings and the MRBA in Missoula have attempted to get to bluegrass in the schools by arranging to have groups perform in schools. They have both found that to be limited in success. They may have heard of the IBMA's program for "Bluegrass in the Schools." The IBMA does NOT try to get bands to play for kids, but to find local teachers who are interested in bluegrass and then provide them with the proper teaching materials to use with their students. That is the type of instruction that Becky Jackman and  Ed Harris have done on their own. That is the way to get kids involved in the music.

Earlier I referred to my daughter in Missoula. She teaches her Target Range orchestra to play some basic fiddle tunes such as "Devil's Dream" and "Old Joe Clark."  She would love to have some MRBA pickers come out and play along with her orchestra and later perform some of their tunes for the kids.  I believe that so far she has not been approached by anyone from the MRBA.  What say you MRBA?

Monday, March 9, 2015


The weather was very beautiful for early March and the Yellowstone Bluegrass Association's "midwinter"jam on Saturday 3-7-2015. The turnout was excellent with some pickers coming all the way up from Thermopolis, WY. Food was catered by Montana Jack's and was supplemented by many home desserts.
Following are some photos from the jam:


More pickers and grinners in Billings on March 7, 2015.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


(By Delegates Eldridge, Storch, Moore, Fluharty, Lynch,
                                Bates, Ashley, R. Phillips, Williams, Marcum and Arvon)
 Proclaiming and making the fiddle the official musical instrument of the State of West Virginia.
            Whereas, The fiddle arrived in Appalachia in the 18th century from immigrants from the British Isles, bringing with them the musical traditions of their countries. These traditions consisted primarily of English and Scottish ballads, which were essentially unaccompanied narratives, and dance music, such as Irish reels which were accompanied by a fiddle. The fiddle soon became a staple of life in West Virginia, being played in churches, in logging and mining camps, at weddings and summer picnics and in the homes and on porches of many West Virginians. It has remained so ever since, being showcased in music festivals around the state, from the Augusta Festival in Elkins, the Vandalia Gathering held on the grounds at the State Capitol and the Appalachian String Band Festival at Camp Washington Carver in Hilltop, just to name a few. West Virginia has also produced some of the finest fiddlers in the nation, and continues to do so; and
            Whereas, Fiddler Blind Alfred Reed was born on June 15, 1880 and was one of the artists who recorded at the Bristol Sessions in 1927, along with Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family, which are the first recordings of traditional country music. He was raised in a very conservative family, and acquired a violin at a young age. Later, he began performing at county fairs, in country schoolhouses, for political rallies, and in churches. He even played on street corners for tips. He used to sell out printed copies of his compositions for ten cents each. After the Bristol Sessions, Mr. Reed recorded his most famous song, that is still being sung today, "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?"After 1929, he stopped recording, but continued to perform locally until 1937 when a law was passed prohibiting blind street musicians. He is buried in Elgood and was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007; and
            Whereas, Edwin "Edden" Hammons was born in 1874 and is considered by many to have been one of the finest traditional West Virginia fiddlers of all time, and tales of his musical exploits and eccentric lifestyle flourish among the inhabitants of mountainous east central part of the state. Mr. Hammons was the youngest of four brothers and three sisters, and his musical abilities were soon recognized to be superior to that of his siblings. Family tradition holds that his ability was recognized and encouraged at an early age and that the boy was spared his share of the burdens of frontier living as a result. Mr. Hammons's first attempt in music was with a fiddle made from a gourd, he soon progressed and he secured a store-bought fiddle and there was no dispute that he could draw out exquisite harmonies from the instrument. Whether because of immaturity or musical passion, Mr. Hammons refused to lay his fiddle down "like most men did" as he grew older and was faced with supporting a family. Mr. Hammons' s three-week marriage to Caroline Riddle in 1892 came to a head when Caroline demanded that Edden either quit playing fiddle and go to work or she would leave. Given the ultimatum, Mr. Hammons chose the fiddle. When he was older, Mr. Hammons participated in five to ten fiddle contests each year, and rarely came away with less than first prize. Perhaps Mr. Hammons's most distinguished contest adversary was Lewis "Jack" McElwain, regarded by many others at the time to be the premier fiddler in the State of West Virginia. Mr. McElwain's accomplishments included a first-place finish at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. At a contest in Marlington in 1909, Mr. McElwain and Mr. Hammons tied for top honors. Later, there were disagreements about the selection of judges, Mr. Hammons insisted that the judging be left to the attendees. Mr. Hammons usually won; and
            Whereas, Fiddler Melvin Wine was born in Burnsville in 1909. At the age of nine he began to play his first fiddle tunes by sneaking out his father's prized possession, the fiddle. Mr. Wine eventually gained the courage to inform his mother of the progress he had made with his father's fiddle. One evening his mother bravely shared this with his father. At the time, Mr. Wine believed he might receive a whipping for sneaking out the fiddle. But instead, from this point on, his father supported the young boy's efforts. Mr. Wine's father learned the fiddle tunes that he passed on to Melvin from his father, Nels, Mr. Wine's grandfather, Mr. Wine passed away in 2003; and
            Whereas, Mr. Clark Kessinger was born in Lincoln County on July 27, 1896. Mr. Kessinger began playing the banjo when he was five years old and two years later he performed at local saloons with his father. He switched to fiddle and began performing at country dances. After serving in the Navy, Mr. Kessinger's reputation as a fiddler increased and he visited many local fiddling contests. He teamed up with his nephew Luches "Luke" Kessinger performing at various locations. In 1927 Mr. Kessinger and Luches Kessinger had their own radio show at the newly opened station WOBU in Charleston. On February 11, 1928, the Kessingers recorded twelve sides for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender recording company. In the late 1920s, the Kessingers' records were best sellers, including "Wednesday Night Waltz," "Turkey in the Straw," "Hell Among Yearlings," "Tugboat" and "Salt River." Mr. Kessinger was also greatly influenced by classical violin players such as Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Szigeti and Jascha Heifetz. Following his last recording session on September 20, 1930, Mr. Kessinger retired as a recording artist. But in 1963 he was rediscovered and soon was competing at several fiddling contests. In August 1964, Mr. Kessinger formed a string band in Galax, Virginia, winning first prize in the string band category. In April 1971, he won the World's Champion Fiddle Prize at the 47th Old-time Fiddler's Convention in Union Grove, North Carolina. Three more albums followed on Kanawha Records. His albums were later reissued on Folkways and Country Roads. In 1971 Mr. Kessinger recorded 12 tracks for the newly formed Rounder Records. The record company had plans to record many albums with Kessinger but before they could initiate what they had planned, Mr. Kessinger had a stroke and collapsed on the scene at a fiddler's convention in Virginia. His left hand became numb, and he was unable to play the fiddle for the remainder of his life. Rounder released his recordings as "Clark Kessinger: Old-time Music with Fiddle and Guitar." He died in 1975 and was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007; and
            Whereas, Ed Haley was born in 1885 and was one of the best known fiddlers in his region of Appalachia. He traveled frequently and performed in a variety of venues and played over WLW in Cincinnati. He also made occasional studio recordings for friends, such as for Doc Holbrook in Greenup, Kentucky. He seldom recorded commercially because he was worried that record companies would take advantage of a blind man. Late in life, he made recordings for the family on a Wilcox-Gay disc-cutting machine brought home from the service by his stepson, Ralph. The recording featured Ed, Ella, Ralph (on guitar) and daughter Mona (vocals). Ralph eventually distributed the recordings among his five siblings. Eventually about one third to one half of those recordings were released to Rounder Records, but it is estimated that two thirds of Mr. Haley's recordings are still missing. Beginning in 1990, legendary bluegrass, folk musician and songwriter John Hartford began researching the story of Mr. Haley's life and music. Generally, Mr. Hartford spent the last years of his life promoting Mr. Haley and his significance in the world of music. He learned a number of Haley's tunes and recorded them on the Grammy-nominated album, "Wild Hog in the Red Brush" and "Speed of the Old Long Bow: A Tribute to Ed Haley." Mr. Hartford and Brandon Kirk, a Harts-area historian and genealogist, collaborated on a Haley book project from 1995 until Hartford's death in 2001. In March 2000, the "Smithsonian" magazine featured a story about their research. In October 2015, Ed Haley will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame; and
            Whereas, Tim O'Brien was born on March 16, 1954 in Wheeling and plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and mandocello. He has released more than ten studio albums in addition to charting a duet with Kathy Mattea entitled, "The Battle Hymn of Love," a No. 9 hit on the Billboard Country charts in 1990. He eventually moved to Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s and became part of the music scene there. In Colorado, he met guitarist Charles Sawtelle, banjoist Pete Wernick and bassist/vocalist Nick Forster with whom he formed Hot Rize in 1978. Over the next twelve years, the quartet earned recognition as one of America's most innovative and entertaining bluegrass bands. In 2005, O'Brien won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for "Fiddler's Green." In 1993 and 2006, O'Brien was honored with the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA)'s Male Vocalist of the Year award. His band Hot Rize was the IBMA's first Entertainer of the Year in 1990. In November 2013 he was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame; and
            Whereas, Glenville resident Buddy Griffin, was born at Richwood on September 22, 1948, and recalling his Nicholas County childhood has said "Everybody in the family played music. It was never expected, it was never forced on us. Nobody ever handed us an instrument and said, "You have to play this." It was just trying to be part of what was going on, "cause there was always music at the house." Mr. Griffin was a part of his family's music from an early age. "The first instrument I ever touched was a bass fiddle. They kept it leaned up behind the couch. I'd stand up on the couch when I was about five, maybe six. I couldn't note it, but I could play the strings. So if they'd play some old fiddle tune, I'd have all three chords to go with it. I'd stand there and just play the strings." He soon learned to play the guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo. His parents were good singers especially in the style of the Carter Family, and they taught their children the older country music. The Griffin children, however, tended toward the faster, more modern bluegrass. Erma played the guitar and bass and sang harmony. Richard played guitar and fiddle, along with other instruments, and sang the lead. Richard's father, Joe Griffin, born in 1883, played the old clawhammer style of banjo. Joe traveled to logging camps in Roane, Lincoln, and Calhoun counties and played dances on Saturday nights with some of the local fiddlers, mostly Enoch Camp. Parts of Mr. Griffin's family tree can be traced to Revolutionary War times, some of his ancestors reportedly received land grants from General Washington. Mr. Griffin later became a staff musician at WWVA's Jamboree USA in Wheeling, played more than 200 times on the Grand Ole Opry, toured the country for more than 30 years with some of the biggest names in country and bluegrass music, appeared on more than 150 record albums, and established the world's first college degree program in bluegrass music at Glenville State College. In May 2011, he received the coveted Vandalia Award, recognizing his lifetime of devotion to entertainment and education; therefore, be it
            Resolved by the House of Delegates:
            That the House of Delegates hereby proclaims and makes the fiddle the official musical instrument of the State of West Virginia; and, be it
            Further Resolved, That the House of Delegates recognizes the importance and significance of the fiddle in West Virginia's history, traditions and culture; and, be it
            Further Resolved, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates forward a certified copy of this resolution to Buddy Griffin, Tim O'Brien, Clark Kessinger's daughter, Frances Goad, the descendants of West Virginia's other great fiddle players, Blind Alfred Reed, Edwin Hammons, Melvin Wine and Ed Haley, The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, the Friends of Old Time Music and Dance (FOOTMAD) and John Lilly, Editor of Goldenseal, the official State magazine of West Virginia traditional life.