By ROBERT MOORE, Community Columnist Commonwealth Journal
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev'ryone goes, 'cause everyone knows
— Neil Diamond
Well, I am teed up for another go at the annual installment of the Master Musician's Festival. I tell people that this is the only weekend of the year that I block out on my schedule. Only family can bring enough pressure to get me to forgo it. I am really excited about it this year but then I am every year. It is hard to believe that this is the last year for touring for J.D. Crowe. The first time I recall seeing him was in 1969 in the lounge at Holiday Inn North in Lexington. I was a much younger man, for you mathematically challenged I was 21, and bluegrass was not my forte in those days but one always has to be impressed with talent. I observed many playbill leaders serve an apprenticeship under J.D. then move on to stardom. In the intervening years I have broadened my music appreciation and I am happy to be able to have that memory. Shucks, a lot of you weren't even a gleam in your parent's eyes then. J.D. Is the epitome of bluegrass and it will be a wonderful treat to see him again.
Tiffany Bourne and the MMF board have done a darned good job with the lineup this year. One of the criticisms I heard from last year was that Steve Earle wasn't an energetic enough performer to end on. I have to tell you that I thought that landing Steve Earle was a coup. His prowess at writing and performing are a match for anyone in the business these days and he was in Somerset at MMF. Count yourself lucky to have been there. However, this year's selection of The Punch Brothers should get the heels hopping for a closer.
Until my grandson told me I was not aware of who Jason Isbell was. I have spent some months becoming familiarized and he could be the one I am looking forward to seeing the most. A former member of the Drive By Truckers, he has branched out on his own with some wonderful music in the style of what we now know uniquely as Americana. The lyrics to his songs are poignant and meaningful. Listen for Dress Blues. A musical take on our soldiers and what they endure and sometimes end up. Also, Hurricanes and Hand Grenades is one of my favorites.
What can one say about Billy Joe Shaver that has not already been said. Those Texas Troubadours have got something in their whiskey that gives them a gift if they can handle it. Last year we had Guy Clark who is legendary and, according to Steve Earle, his mentor. Steve counts himself a Texan even though he's from Virginia. In the past we've had such Texans as Robert Earl Keen, Junior Brown and numerous others perform here in Somerset. Billy Joe Shaver, though, has written many songs taken to hit status by others and has been in the business long enough to have known many of the early performers. Shoot, he might be one of the early performers. I can recall him from at least the early 1970s.
I am glad to see Mitch Barrett again. He is a tremendous area performer but, to be truthful, I probably liked him better with Carla Gover as Zoe Speaks. He is a talented musician and has a flair for our Appalachian heritage. I have seen Ben Sollee before and, while he is a talented musician, I just am not sure I am sophisticated enough to appreciate his interpretations on the cello. However, I believe one of the goals of this festival is to educate people in the arts so I will once again present myself for education and perhaps I will have an eureka moment.
I am also pretty keen on Cuzin Earl and the Barry Mando Project. I am a bit familiar with the former and not so much with the latter but eager to pick up on some of the conversation I have heard about them. The 23 String Band is an amazing collection of area musicians. One of the things I like to see is local musicians getting exposure on a stage like this. As Michael Jonathon of the Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour says, all one has to do is go out and listen. There is a wealth of music, great music, that does not get air time but is every bit as good as that which does.
This festival is always done so tastefully with a family atmosphere in mind. One can come with chairs, blankets but no umbrellas with which to shade oneself from the tortuous July sun. Oh, and Kelly, no pets. I have always placed myself front row center but, as I said last year, I'm thinking more of the shade this year. Also, front row center works pretty good until Saturday night and then it becomes more front row behind all the dancers and vision for a sitter is obstructed. It seems just a short few years ago that I was one of the dancers and revelers but once I start counting it may have been longer than that. Whatever the case, these days it's about the music. And my friends.
These days it seems that work and daily chores consume so much of our time and it is at the expense of those friendships forged in a younger day but which still retain that sweetness that comes from shared time and experiences. I rarely see many of them but at this festival it is like Old Home Week. They are all there even if they do appear a bit different. And they still bring just as much of that sweetness and reverie I knew long ago.
I hope you'll come out to help make this home grown festival a success. In this economy one would be hard pressed to get more bang for the buck. I'm looking forward to writing a review of the festival in a couple of weeks with some photos. If you see me there come over and introduce yourself and sit a spell.
My take on a long anticipated weekend. Hot or not, rain or shine.