Archive for August 2012

THE ROYS, “New Day Dawning,” Rural Rhythm. Seven tracks.

August 27, 2012

I have to say, I’m not a fan of these downsized albums that seem to be growing in acceptance in bluegrass circles. Seven tracks is just enough to whet your appetite.

Yeah, it’s cheaper than a full-sized album.

But The Roys — the brother-sister duo of Lee and Elaine Roy — make the kind of music that you want to last as long as it can.

And seven tracks is barely a taste.

Born in Massachusetts and raised in Canada, the duo is making its mark on the bluegrass circuit with traditional vocals and progressive instrumentation as well as strong material that the Roys write themselves.

Their first album on the Rural Rhythm label — “Lonesome Whistle” — debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums chart last year. Two of the singles — “Coal Minin’ Man” and “Trailblazer” — charted.

The label is sending out “Still Standing” — a hard-charging song written by the duo and featuring Elaine Roy on lead vocals — as the first single.

The song tells the story of a woman who’s been knocked around by life, but is still standing.

It’s not the album’s best work though.

That would be “Daddy To Me” and “Grandpa’s Barn” — a pair of nostalgic ballads co-written and sung by Lee Roy.

The first is about a father’s funeral and the stories his friends tell about him.

The second is about the death of a well-loved grandfather.

There’s not a weak song on the album.

“New Day Dawning,” sung by Elaine Roy, is an uptempo song about hope for the future.

“Windin’ Roads,” sung by Lee Roy, is an uptempo number about a man finding in his windshield what he once couldn’t wait to put in his rear-view mirror — home.

“Living Scrapbook,” sung by Elaine Roy, is another nostalgia piece, tracing a person’s life through  photographs on the wall.

And “Fast As We Roll,” sung by Lee Roy, is an uptempo song about time that passes too quickly.

Strong album by a good new duo.

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I DRAW SLOW, “Redhills,” Pinecastle. 10 tracks.

August 20, 2012

I Draw Slow is a five-piece Irish band, formed five years ago by brother-sister songwriters, Dave and Louise Holden.

“Redhills,” released in Ireland last year, attracted so much attention in bluegrass circles that Pinecastle Records released it in the United States earlier this month.

The Holdens wrote eight of the 10 tracks on the album — all but the traditional “Kingdom” and “Buffalo Hunt.”

The songs are poetry set to music, somewhat haunting, somewhat dark.

“Lowdown Girl Like Me” invites a man to “leave your leatherbound Book of Revelations/And raise some hell tonight/Leave your wedding bed, meet me at the station/I don’t look good in white.”

In “Honeymoon,” they sing, “In a letter dated the end of the world/You wrote to tell me you’d lost your girl/You wrote to say how the well ran dry/You wanted to know if I was satisfied.”

The band’s sound has been described as alt-country, folk, roots, old-time, Americana and bluegrass. It’s a blend of  Appalachian mountain music and the traditional Irish music that influenced American folk.

I Draw Slow will join with Niall Toner, another Irish act, for a two-week American tour — “Irish Acoustic Music Invasion” — in October.

For details, check

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Bluegrass museum board has big plans

August 6, 2012

The dreams are big. But local members of the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s board of trustees say they believe the dreams can become reality within five to 10 years.

They talk about a Bluegrass Opry — a bluegrass version of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry — on Saturday nights during the fall, winter and spring.

They talk about a three-night-a-week bluegrass musical production every summer.

They’re working on plans for a national bluegrass disc jockey convention, expanding the local “Bluegrass in the Schools” program statewide, creating a music film festival and promoting concerts by the roots and branches of bluegrass including blues, gospel, Cajun, jazz and Americana.

And they talk about more than 100,000 bluegrass fans visiting Owensboro each year and an economic impact of more than $25 million from bluegrass by 2016.

But all that hinges on a campaign to raise $7 million — to be added to $3 million already pledged by the city — that kicks off this month.

Terry Woodward, board chairman, expects the money to be raised by March.

And he wants construction to begin in April to turn the old State Office Building at Second and Frederica streets into a 64,000-square-foot International Bluegrass Music Center.

The center would include a 30,000-square-foot museum, a 1,000-seat state-of-the-art indoor theater, outdoor festival seating for 2,000, a 4,500-square-foot bluegrass-themed restaurant with outdoor seating, an expanded gift shop and “niche venues for bluegrass vendors.”

Woodward wants it to open in April 2014 — just 20 months from now.

The museum opened in a “preview mode” in 1992 and full-time in 2002.

Now it’s time to move to the next level, Woodward said.

The key to the center’s success, he said, is the Bluegrass Opry, an idea that’s been kicked around since March 1989. The idea of a summer musical has been talked about since 2005.

“This could be the strongest thing we do,” Woodward said. “Everybody would know that if they came to Owensboro on a Saturday night during the school year, they could see a bluegrass show.”

During the summer months, when bluegrass bands are busy with festivals, he wants to see a musical play running between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“The key (to the success of the Bluegrass Opry) is radio and TV,” Woodward said. “You need that exposure. I’d like our Opry to have members like the Grand Ole Opry has. A lot of the bands we had at ROMP would love to play for the exposure if we have radio and TV.”

Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, said several NPR stations are interested in the idea. “And we could work with WNIN (in Evansville) to try to get on PBS,” she said.

NPR stations saw the value of bluegrass programming during ROMP, Gray said, when WNIN radio’s “listenership went from 230 on a typical Saturday night to 1,927 when they were broadcasting the performance of Old Crow Medicine Show.”

On Saturday, she said, WAMU radio in Washington, D.C., “the mothership of NPR,” will begin airing performances recorded at ROMP on its “Open Mic” program.

“This is terrific news,” Gray said.

“We’ll know we’ve arrived when people start calling wanting to be on the Bluegrass Opry,” Ross Leazenby, one of the board members, said recently.

Woodward said the musical would likely run Thursday through Saturday — at least at first.

“We will have to build the audience before we expand into more nights,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is play to an empty theater.”

It’s possible, Woodward said, that the musical could have a different guest artist each week.

“That would add a level of excitement,” he said.

“We could do a different musical each year,” Gray said. “And, after a while, we could have a different one running each night we’re open during the week.”

That would keep bluegrass tourists in town for more than one day, she said.

Streaming video on the Internet can be a profit center for the museum, Woodward said.

“WaxWorks (the company he owns) put together a video for the NBA — ‘Greatest Slam Dunks’,” he said. “We put it on Hulu and in the first two months, it’s been streamed 151,000 times. We get $1.25 for each of them.”

The museum needs to “own our content from ROMP and the Bluegrass Opry and stream it,” Woodward said. “We could share the money with the artists. WaxWorks can get it on all the streaming sites for us.”

Gray said the most watched video from ROMP so far this year on YouTube is a song by the 23 String Band that had had 746 hits by Wednesday. YouTube is free, however.

Woodward said having a 60,000-square-foot facility — roughly three times the size of the current museum — will likely lead to a major increase in the number of people taking music lessons at the museum.

Gray said the classes enrolled 323 students — two-thirds of them children — this year. That was up from 209 last year.

“If we take on more faculty, we can expand,” she said. “We have several students from Louisville and southern Indiana now.”

“We can expand into more of the region,” Woodward said. “In 10 years, we could realistically have 1,000 students.”

He also wants to see the museum add camps for students who want intensive instruction.

It currently offers a Bill Monroe-style mandolin camp each September. But guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle and Dobro camps could easily be added, Woodward said.

He said with the new facility, the museum’s staff will have to roughly double from the current eight full-time-equivalent jobs to 15.

“We’ll need more marketing, curatorial and events staff,” Gray said.

“I think we could have a music film festival every year,” Woodward said. “With all the film we have, people could spend a week here and never watch the same thing twice.”

The museum has filmed interviews with some 200 bluegrass pioneers and completed documentaries on most of those.

The film festival idea has been talked about since 2003.

“We could trade some of our material with other film festivals and have an annual event where we show our films and other people’s music documentaries,” Gray said. “It needs to be in the winter when we’re not as busy.”

Woodward said films could be shown in the theater that’s being planned in the proposed center “during the day, and we could have music performances at night.”

He said the museum needs to “incorporate bluegrass music from other countries. We’d like to have a Japanese wing, an Eastern European wing and others.”

And Woodward would like to create a national bluegrass disc jockey convention in Owensboro.

“They used to have a convention during IBMA’s World of Bluegrass,” he said. “They talked about moving it here a couple of years ago, but we didn’t have any place to hold it then. They would like to come back to Owensboro. I think that’s a strong possibility and bluegrass artists come to that convention. It may be in the convention center rather than the bluegrass center, but that’s just a block away.”

Gray said several colleges and universities have bluegrass programs, some of them leading to degrees.

“We might have a convention with classes during the summer for those students,” she said. “We could draw a lot of hot musicians here.”

“That could be a great outdoor program,” Woodward said.

Leazenby said the new center needs to try to attract support from Sirius XM satellite radio.

“I would love to see ‘Bluegrass Junction’ come out of Owensboro rather than Nashville,” he said.

“Bluegrass Junction” is a bluegrass music channel on Sirius XM.

Woodward said the restaurant that’s being proposed for the bluegrass center should be like a Hard Rock Cafe for bluegrass with memorabilia on the walls.

Rosemary Conder, one of the trustees, said she’s hoping the restaurant will specialize in barbecue.

“To not have barbecue downtown hurts my feelings,” she said.

Gray said the restaurant needs to have a license to sell alcoholic beverages to help it be profitable.

Woodward said he would like to expand the museum’s “Bluegrass in the Schools” program statewide.

Some 8,500 local school children now take part in the program each January.

With a recording studio at the proposed center, he said earlier, the program could be sent statewide via computer.

“We could charge $100 per school and never have budget problems again,” he said last year.

This year, the museum’s ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival sold 18,451 tickets to 9,745 people from dozens of states and at least six countries. Many people bought tickets for all three days, which means that ticket sales outnumbered the people attending.

Children 14 and under did not need tickets if they were accompanied by a paying adult.

Gray estimated that total attendance was around 21,000.

An estimated 28 percent of those visited the museum while they were in town, she said.

“It was crowded all three days,” Gray said. “And we sold $16,000 worth of merchandise at the museum and at Yellow Creek Park.”

ROMP attendance has grown from 7,000 in 2010 to 15,000 in 2011 to 21,000 this year.

The museum is anticipating more growth next year.

“Of the first 500 responses to a survey we’re conducting, 90 percent said they are exceedingly likely to attend next year,” Gray said.

The bluegrass center would work to promote all the bluegrass activities in the area, she said, including the Monroe Homeplace in Ohio County and the “Uncle Pen” cabin that James Monroe, Bill Monroe’s son, is building near Rosine.

Woodward said the center will likely do even more than the board now expects.

“When we put plans together for the RiverPark Center (in the late 1980s), we tried to imagine all the things it could be used for,” he said. “We didn’t come close to envisioning what it became.”


PAUL WILLIAMS & THE VICTORY TRIO, “Going To Stay in the Old-Time Way,” Rebel. 12 tracks.

August 6, 2012

Paul Williams is 13 years into his second career in bluegrass now.

And, at 77, he shows no signs of slowing down.

The man who was born Paul Humphrey made his mark initially in the influential Lonesome Pine Fiddlers around 1950 and went on to become a member of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys from 1957 to 1963.

Then, in 1963, he left the road and went to work for the post office, performing only at church functions.

But once he retired from the post office in 1996, Williams hit the bluegrass gospel trail with a vengeance.

His 1999 “Old Ways and Old Paths” was nominated for a Grammy.

“Going To Stay in the Old-Time Way” is his 12th album for Rebel Records since then.

Williams, one of the best tenor singers in bluegrass, is also a major songwriter.

His songs have been recorded by Martin, Ray Charles, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams Jr. among others.

He wrote three of the songs on “Old-Time Way” — “He’ll Calm The Troubled Waters,” “Kept And Protected” and “The Vision.”

Dan Moneyhun, the band’s guitar player, sings lead on two tracks — “I’ve Never Been This Homesick Before” and “It’s All Up To You.”

Some bluegrass gospel albums lean more toward gospel. But William & The Victory Trio don’t neglect the bluegrass. The album definitely fits both categories.

And listeners come away thinking death might not be such a bad thing after all, with lines like “Oh how can I wait till He calls me to join them on that beautiful shore” and “Everybody shoutin’ glory Hallelujah as we leave this sinful ground/What a time in heaven, when I put on a robe and crown.”

Good album by a bluegrass gospel legend.

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Rebuilding Uncle Pen’s Cabin

August 1, 2012

ROSINE — High on the hill above the town, as the song says, James Monroe is rebuilding his great-uncle James Pendleton Vandiver’s cabin.

Sometime next month, he hopes to have the cabin on 2.5 acres atop Tuttle Hill above Rosine open for bluegrass fans to visit.

“This was the last place my father (Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass music”) lived in Kentucky,” Monroe said. “I think bluegrass fans will want to see it.”

James Monroe had the original cabin dismantled in 1991 and used some of the planed logs to build a memorial cabin in Beanblossom, Ind., as part of his plans to turn the Monroe family’s 55-acre park near Nashville, Ind., into a tourist attraction and country music venue.

That ruffled some feathers in Ohio County.

But Monroe said there wasn’t enough tourism in Rosine at the time to rebuild the cabin there.

That was before the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival in Rosine was drawing 18,000 people a year and the ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival in Owensboro was drawing 21,000.

Many of those fans seek out other Monroe sites in the area, including his boyhood home, which is on the site of the Jerusalem Ridge festival.

Bill Monroe’s grave in Rosine Cemetery, which is topped by 20-foot obelisk made of 14 tons of white North Carolina granite, continues to draw fans from around the world nearly 16 years after his death on Sept. 9, 1996.

Tuesday, Jerry and Betty Boyd, bluegrass fans from Tomball, Texas, stopped at the cemetery to visit Monroe’s grave.

“I remember listening to Bill Monroe on the Grand Ole Opry when I was a kid,” Jerry Boyd said. “We were in Alabama for a family reunion and then came up to Nashville to visit my sister. I said, ‘As long as we’re this close, why don’t we go to see Bill Monroe’s boyhood home.’ “

If Uncle Pen’s cabin had been open, the Boyds said they would have visited it too.

“It’s on the original site, but it will be mostly new logs,” Monroe said of the two-room cabin.

Joe Johnson, co-owner of Johnson & Johnson Construction of Dundee, which is building the 24- by 20-foot cabin, said four or five logs from the original cabin will be used around the fireplace and to

make a shelf in the kitchen.

The cabin is made of 5-by-12 logs, planed smooth rather than rounded.

There is no view from the cabin. There are too many trees around it.

But an old wagon road from the days when Vandiver lived here is still visible through the trees.

Johnson said he’s trying to locate the farm’s old well to get it in use again.

“We’ll have old pictures of my uncle and fiddles and information about him,” Monroe said.

James Monroe joined his father’s Blue Grass Boys in 1963, when he was 22.

He recorded with his father on 35 sessions through the years.

Then, the younger Monroe struck out on his own, forming his own band, The Midnight Ramblers, in 1971.

 He bought the Vandiver property in the 1970s and gave it to his father as a birthday present, he said.

“It had been neglected for years and we had been on the road and didn’t have time to keep it up,” Monroe said of the original cabin. “Most of the wood was rotten by the time I tried to save it.”

He said three or four people will be hired to oversee the cabin in the 200 block of Uncle Pen Lane, keep up the grounds and conduct tours.

“I think it’s a wonderful tie-in with everything that’s going on in the area,” Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, said of the project.

“I’ve been there and you can envision why Bill Monroe thought it was so special,” she said. “I was blown away by how beautiful it is. People will come from far away, to quote the song, to see it. It is truly a magical place.”

Vandiver, who died in 1932 at age 63, was the brother of Bill Monroe’s mother, Malissa Vandiver Monroe.

She died when her youngest son was 10.

Monroe’s father, James Buchanan “Buck” Monroe, died when he was 16.

After his father’s death, Monroe lived for brief periods with his Uncle William Monroe and, then, his Uncle Jack Monroe. When Jack’s house was placed under a measles quarantine, Vandiver invited Monroe to “batch it” at his cabin, according to music historian Ralph Rinzler.

Vandiver was crippled and on crutches, having been thrown from a young mule spooked by a passing train. But he was a well-known fiddle player and played for dances all over Ohio County, often accompanied by his young nephew on mandolin and sometimes guitar.

“He was one of Kentucky’s finest old-time fiddlers,” Monroe wrote on the cover of his 1972 album, “Bill Monroe’s Uncle Pen,” a compilation of Monroe’s renditions of Vandiver’s tunes. “And he had the best shuffle with the bow I’d ever seen.”

“He done the cooking for the two of us,” Monroe wrote once. “We had fat back, sorghum molasses, and hot cakes for breakfast followed by blackeyed peas with fat back and corn bread and sorghum for dinner and supper.”

 Biographer Richard D. Smith quotes Monroe further: “A man that old, and crippled, that would cook for you and see that you had a bed and a place to stay and something for breakfast and dinner and supper, and you know it come hard for him to get …”

Monroe continued to keep his horses in his Uncle Jack’s barn near the Rosine train depot while he lived with Vandiver. At the end of the day, as he put the horses away, Monroe could hear his Uncle Pen playing outside his cabin on Tuttle Hill.

Years later, he would immortalize Vandiver in a bluegrass classic, “Uncle Pen” — “Late in the evenin’ about sundown/High on the hill and above the town/Uncle Pen played the fiddle/Lord, how it’d ring/You could hear it talk/You could hear it sing.”

In 1929, when Monroe turned 18, he took the train north to Hammond, Ind., where he worked with his brothers, Charlie and Birch, at a Sinclair Oil refinery.

Vandiver died three years later.

On September 13, 1973, Bill Monroe unveiled a monument to Vandiver in Rosine Cemetery with the words to “Uncle Pen” engraved on it it .

It has attracted bluegrass fans from around the world for 39 years.