Reviewed by C. Eric Banister and John Walker
SA Today recently printed an article naming the Top Ten places to catch live music. Bean Blossom was among those chosen as a must see. This annual eight-day music event - the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival - is certainly one reason why. Attending this outdoor event is like a trip back in time. Neatly placed back in the woods with a gradual incline to set up your lawn chairs, one can sit back and tap your feet all day and night.
Each day had 8 bands performing a day beginning at 11 a.m. and a night session ending at almost midnight. Of course, there is always small picking sessions throughout the camp grounds at any given time, and it is not unusual to see one of the show performers walking up and joining in as well. Several performers had people they had met in the campgrounds join them on stage to play a song.
The week started out with a huge surprise. The immortal Earl Scruggs walked onto the stage and performed a few of his classic songs. Among the other artists participating that day were Larry Stephenson, John Cowan and the Lonesome River Band.
Sunday (June 15) highlights included Spanky Moore Bluegrass, which included a talented fiddle player and a powerful lead female vocalist. The Sullivan Family made their 41st appearance at the festival, along with James Monroe and The Midnight Ramblers.
Monday performances were easily highlighted by Dave Evans and Riverbend. Evans is one of the best male vocalists in the business, and his talents were on full display here. Glen Bonham and Southern Tradition, along with David Davis and The Warrior River Boys, The Muellers, and Pine Mountain Railroad also performed and did a good job keeping the audience going.
Things really started going later in the week as the young Doerfel Family Band kicked on Wednesday in style. Special Consensus later performed an amazing instrumental version of Berlins' "Blue Skies" during their engaging set. The Lewis Family, well known for their gospel favorites, did not disappoint either. Then, everything kicked up a notch as the rest of the lineup that day included five time International Bluegrass Music Association Fiddler Michael Cleveland, IIIrd Tyme Out featuring the impressive vocals of Russell Moore, seven time SPBGMA Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year James King, and closing out the night with The Grascals. Watching Cleveland was mesmerizing, as he received not one but two standing ovations during his encore.
James King and Special Consensus returned Thursday night for more of their great music. Joining them that day was Jesse McReynolds displaying his dexterous mandolin playing, Melvin Goins playing some of his older traditional music, Larry Sparks showing why his vocal talents are one of the best, and Danny Paisley & Southern Grass picking some fantastic music.
Paisley was back the next day as well with more traditional music, including a few songs from his late father Bob. Ralph Stanley II also performed along with one set by Gene Watson. Easily the highlights of this day belonged to Dailey & Vincent showing why they are on track for the IBMA Entertainer of the Year, along with Cherryholmes. Jamie Dailey has a vocal range unlike any other, joined by Darrin Vincent with some captivating harmonies. They received a huge standing ovation after performing the Statler Brother's classic "More Than A Name On The Wall," and once again with their vocal gospel encore. Cherryholmes closed out the night in grand fashion with their energetic music, flowing from one song to another seamlessly and keeping everyone in the audience tapping along.
The full week of music closed out with a few of the traditional favorites. Michelle Cupit got things rolling, and Alecia Nugent stepped up next doing a very good job. Cherryholmes picked up the energy again and set the stage for the rest of the night. Bobby Osborne performed a few a his classic Osborne Brothers favorites, including of course "Rocky Top." Paul Williams also took the stage and did a great job. Ralph Stanley & Clinch Mountain Boys were on stage next, each taking turns in front allowing each member individual talents to shine. JD Crowe & New South had Crowe showing his bluesy style of banjo picking, supported by two great vocalists, Ricky Wasson and Dwight McCall, who blended quite well together throughout. Closing out the show was Seldom Scene. Dudley Connell and Lou Reid are two more of the most talented vocalists in the genre, displaying their range with some traditional bluegrass standards along with a couple of covers of Steve Earle and Merle Haggard.
This full week of music is well worth the somewhat hefty price of attendance. It does not get much better than camping out, sitting back and enjoying the traditional sounds of music.