Tag Archives: Bluegrass

Top American Roots Music Acts at Savannah Music Festival 2018

Savannah Music Festival has announced its 2018 programming. The festival will take place March 29th through April 14th, 2018, at several venues throughout Savannah’s Historic District.

In the American roots area, bluegrass sensations Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Claire Lynch Band will share the stage on opening night, followed the next day by the Mission Temple Fireworks Revival with Paul Thorn Band and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Songwriter-guitarist Margaret Glaspy is set to perform on a double bill with Argentine composer, singer and guitarist Juana Molina.

Tulsa’s John Moreland will share an alt-country bill with Nashville songwriter and guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan.

New acoustic music projects include Hawktail and the Savannah Music Festival debut of Kittel & Co., guitarist Tommy Emmanuel plays on a co-bill with Jayme Stone’s Folklife and the original production The Voice is a Traveler features Moira Smiley and Anna & Elizabeth.


Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal at Savannah Music Festival 2015 – Photo by Frank Stewart


Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal will return to the Lucas stage as a duo and Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives are set to play Ships of the Sea, as do the North Mississippi Allstars.

Recent MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens will present her first theater show at Savannah Music Festival, and Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn return with music from their new album, Echo in the Valley.

For ticket information and the rest of the programming, including classical music, world music, jazz theatrical productions and films go to www.savannahmusicfestival.org.

headline photo: Rhonda Vincent & The Rage


Artist Profiles: Railroad Earth

Railroad Earth

In 2001 Railroad Earth formed out of live sessions at the Pocono Bluegrass Society open mics. A few weeks later they recorded their first demos and were invited to play Telluride, Grey Fox and High Sierra music festivals before they ever played a formal gig.

As the frontman for popular Jersey roots act From Good Homes, Todd Sheaffer covered a lot of ground in the years before Railroad Earth. It was a time when Sheaffer, mandolinist John Skehan and bluegrass musicians Carbone and Goessling were in between projects that the band members first came together. While they knew of each other from New Jersey’s roots music scene, they hadn’t played together before the fall of 2000. It was during a series of open-mic events sponsored by the Pocono Bluegrass Society that the initial four first began playing together.

Bandmates Tim Carbone (violin, accordion, guitar) and Andy Goessling (banjo, dobro, guitar etc.) literally traveled more than a million miles going from gig to gig in their previous band Blue Sparks From Hell.

Sheaffer had written some new songs and played them for Carbone, Goessling and Skehan who helped to adapt them into neo-bluegrass numbers. Within a couple of months the Railroad Earth line-up was rounded out by the addition of (drummer) Carey Harmon (a former member of The Hour and the Bobby Syvarth Band) and finally acoustic bassist Johnny Grubb.

The band is an amalgam of influences and experiences. Carbone and Goessling have bluegrass backgrounds while Sheaffer is a singer-songwriter schooled on such icons as Dylan, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and Neil Young. With roots in the piano, Skehan plays the mandolin. The group also brings together players of different ages and perspectives. ‘It’s sort of a multi-generational band so there are influences that come from different moments in time‘ says Sheaffer. ‘It’s those different energies coming together that have created our sound.’

The band’s debut The Black Bear Sessions arrived in 2001 (BOS Music) following strong internet exposure. That was a year that found Railroad Earth becoming a popular act with many roots music fans as its improvisational style and bluegrass influence recalled the Grateful Dead and New Grass Revival. It was their blazing instrumental work and instantly classic songs that really connected with fans.

Their Sugar Hill Records debut, Bird in a House followed in 2002, thrilling critics and fans alike. While initially the band had begun to build a reputation with soulful sets at the country’s biggest bluegrass festivals and small venues Bird in a House accurately reflected the band’s potential and varied influences going from bluegrass to folk to Celtic to rock. At the same time it found Railroad Earth emerging as a songwriting force.

When it came time to record The Good Life, the members of Railroad Earth felt it was time for something new. Since forming in 2001, the band had released two lauded albums that were largely documents of the Railroad Earth live experience. Both rootsy sets were full of songs that initially came to life onstage and were then crafted for the studio.The Good Life however is the product of a very different studio experience.

This was the first record where we had even less of an idea of what might happen before we went into the studio ‘ said Todd Sheaffer. ‘We weren’t drawing from any material that we’d ever played live. This record was all fresh material written arranged and recorded in the studio.’

The disc is still very much a Railroad Earth experience, lush with rich mandolins, acoustic guitars, violin, banjo, upright bass and many other musical surprises. Yet there are clearly some more poppy moments throughout.


The Black Bear Sessions (BOS Music 2001)

Bird in a House (Sugar Hill Records 2002)

The Good Life (Sugar Hill Records 2004)

Elko (SCI Fidelity 2006)

Amen Corner (SCI Fidelity 2008)

Railroad Earth (One Haven Music 2010)

Last of the Outlaws (Black Bear 2014)

Captain Nowhere [EP] (Black Bear, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny was born February 27, 1981, in Chicago, Illinois. He is one of the finest banjo musicians in the United States. In 2004 he released his first solo album titled In the Maze. In 2010 he was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass earning him an appearance on the popular American TV program The Late Show with David Letterman.

In 2011 Pikelny released his second album Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail. The album hit both the Billboard Top Heatseekers and Bluegrass album charts and was the focus of a Funny or Die parody video starring Pikelny with appearances from Steve Martin, Ed Helms, Earl Scruggs, Chris Thile, Gillian Welch and others.

Noam Pikelny works regularly with well-known artists beyond the bluegrass world including Punch Brothers Wilco Fiona Apple Norah Jones and Jon Brion for the soundtrack to This is 4 a feature song on The Hunger Games soundtrack and a collaboration with Marcus Mumford for the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.

In 2013 Noam Pikelny released Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, an interpretation of traditional Bluegrass through a bold complete adaptation of one of the most influential instrumental bluegrass records of all-time. Joining Pikelny on this album are some the best instrumentalists in bluegrass: Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), and Mike Bub (bass).

The original album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe was recorded in 1976 five years before Pikelny was even born. It contains twelve classic tunes written by the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and performed by his longtime fiddler Kenny Baker (1926-2012). While many outstanding musicians worked for Bill Monroe, Monroe would introduce Kenny Baker to audiences as “the best in bluegrass.”

Baker’s fiddle provided an elegant and refined voice to Monroe’s music and Pikelny accurately transposes Baker’s versions to the banjo note-for-note track-by-track. It is the first bluegrass record that remakes an entire album in sequence though never turning into an exercise in musical impersonation; instead Pikelny uses the Monroe instrumentals as blueprints and catalysts for his own improvisations and those of his band.


In the Maze (Compass Records 2004)
How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, with Chris Thile (Sugar Hill 2006)
Punch, with Punch Brothers (Nonesuch 2008)
Antifogmatic, with Punch Brothers (Nonesuch 2010)
Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail (Compass Records 2011)
Who’s Feeling Young Now?, with Punch Brothers (Nonesuch 2012)
Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe (Compass Records 2013)
Universal Favorite (Rounder Records, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Nickel Creek

Nickel Creek

Nickel Creek was one of the hottest acts on the acoustic circuit in the early 2000s. They toured with Lyle Lovett, backed Dolly Parton and had two hit videos on CMT.

Their traditionally flavored pop-folk lyrics and acoustic licks performed by guitarist Sean Watkins, his violinist sister Sara and mandolinist Chris Thile reflected an eclectic mix of influences that included bluegrass, classical, jazz and rock. The trio made acoustic roots music relevant for a new generation.

The band members met through music when their parents took them to hear the Southern California band Bluegrass Etc. at their regular weekly show at the local pizza place.

Nickel Creek formed with Chris’s father bassist Scott Thile when a bluegrass promoter thought it would be cute to have a kid’s band which resulted in the group touring festivals for a decade. Scott Thile left the group and sent the young adults on their way when the debut album hit the streets.

As individual musicians they were always discovering new ways to hone their craft. “Musically this band never stays the same ” said Thile. “We love to grow. There are moments on stage where I look over and think ‘This is why I’ve been in this band since I was eight’… It’s so comfortable and yet we’re all focused on bettering ourselves on a solo level. Sean and I are writing and pushing each other to come up with better stuff.” Sean and Chris were the primary composers and writers for the group.

Nickel Creek disbanded in 2007, but returned in 2014 with a new album and 25th anniversary tour.


Little Cowpoke (Choo Choo Records, 1993)
Here to There (1997)
Nickel Creek (Sugar Hill Records, 2000)
This Side (Sugar Hill Records, 2002)
Why Should the Fire Die? (Sugar Hill Records, 2005)
A Dotted Line (Nonesuch Records, 2014)


Artist Profiles: Mollie O’Brien

Mollie O’Brien

Mollie O’Brien was born October 25, 1952 in Wheeling, West Virginia.

In the mid-1970s she moved to Colorado, where she performed with a number of local jazz and R&B groups. Mollie formed her own band in the early 1990s.

With brother Tim O’Brien she released three duet albums to widespread acclaim. Her first Sugar Hill solo album Tell It True stayed in the Top 10 of Gavin’s Americana Chart for six weeks-astounding bluegrass fans and reacquainting her with R&B fans.

She’s appeared at the leading acoustic music festivals and venues in the US and has toured the UK, Europe and South America.


I Never Move Too Soon (Resounding Records 1987)
Take Me Back with Tim O’Brien (Sugar Hill 3766 1988)
Live At The Alvada Center with The Mother Folkers (Propinquity 1989)
Every Night In The Week (Resounding Records 1990)
Remember Me with Tim O’Brien (Sugar Hill 384 1992)
Away Out On The Mountain with Tim O’Brien (Sugar Hill 3825 1994)
Tell It True (Sugar Hill 3846 1996)
True Life Blues with various artists (Sugar Hill 1996)
Big Red Sun (Sugar Hill 3885 1998)
9 Baseline with Rich Moore (2007)
Things I Gave Away (2000)
Saints and Sinners, with Rich Moore (2010)
Love Runner, with Rich Moore (2014)


Winners of the 28th Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards Announced

The Earls of Leicester, winners of the Entertainer Of The Year category at the 2017 International Bluegrass Music Awards

The winners of the International Bluegrass Music Awards, hosted by Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, were announced yesterday evening, September 28, 2017. The Earls of Leicester won the prestigious “Entertainer of the Year” for the third year in a row. Awards were also presented to many first time recipients, including Molly Tuttle, the first female to win “Guitar Player of the Year.”

The award ceremony took place at the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. Awards were voted on by the professional membership of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).

The recipients of the 2017 International Bluegrass Music Awards are listed below:

Entertainer Of The Year:

The Earls of Leicester

Vocal Group Of The Year:
Flatt Lonesome

Instrumental Group Of The Year:

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

Song Of The Year:

I Am A Drifter” – Volume Five (artist), Donna Ulisse/Marc Rossi (writers)

Album Of The Year:

Mountain Voodoo – Balsam Range (artist), Balsam Range (producer), Mountain Home Records (label)

Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo


Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year (tie):

I Found a Church Today” – The Gibson Brothers (artist), Eric Gibson/Leigh Gibson (writers), In The Ground (album), Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson, and Mike Barber (producers), Rounder Records (label)

Sacred Memories” – Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White Skaggs (artist), Dolly Parton (writer), Sacred Memories (album), Joe Mullins (producer), Rebel Records (label)

Instrumental Recorded Performance:

Fiddler’s Dream” – Michael Cleveland (artist), Arthur Smith (writer), Fiddler’s Dream (album), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label)

Emerging Artist Of The Year:

Volume Five

Recorded Event Of The Year:

I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You” – Bobby Osborne with Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, Todd Phillips, Kenny Malone, Claire Lynch, and Bryan McDowell (artists), Original (album), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label)

Female Vocalist Of The Year:

Brooke Aldridge

Male Vocalist Of The Year:

Shawn Camp

Banjo Player Of The Year:

Noam Pikelny

Bass Player Of The Year:

Alan Bartram

Dobro Player Of The Year:

Josh Swift


Fiddle Player Of The Year:

Patrick McAvinue

Guitar Player Of The Year:

Molly Tuttle


Mandolin Player of the Year:

Sierra Hull


Previously announced inductees into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame – pioneering bluegrass artists Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, master fiddler Bobby Hicks, and Roland White, whose impressive career includes contributions to several seminal bands – were honored at the show.

At the Special Awards Luncheon held earlier in the day, the recipients of the following awards were also announced:

Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year:

Cindy Baucom

Bluegrass Event Of The Year:

Pickin’ in Parsons; Parsons, West Virginia

Best Liner Notes For A Recorded Project:

Bill Nowlin; J.D.Crowe and the New South (40th Anniversary Edition)

Best Graphic Design For A Recorded Project:

Casey Campbell; Mandolin Duets: Volume One

Casey Campbell – Mandolin Duets: Volume One

Bluegrass Print/Media Person Of The Year:

John Lawless

Bluegrass Songwriter Of The Year:

Tim Stafford

The previously announced 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award recipients – Norman Blake, Bluegrass Today, Louisa Branscomb, Fletcher Bright, and Silver Dollar City – were also honored at September 28th’s luncheon.


Enthralling Songs of the Mountains

Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home, 2016)

Mountain Voodoo was released on November of 2016 and it’s a superb contemporary bluegrass album by western North Carolina band Balsam Range. This talented group of musicians is one of the rising stars in the bluegrass scene with its captivating mix of harmony vocals and masterful instrumental virtuosity.

Mountain Voodoo features dazzling instrumentals and deep-rooted ballads where contemporary bluegrass, classic country and blues are skillfully intertwined.

The lineup includes Buddy Melton on fiddle, lead and tenor vocals; Darren Nicholson on mandolin, octave mandolin, lead vocals, baritone and low tenor vocals; Dr. Marc Pruett on banjo; Tim Surrett on bass, dobro, baritone and lead vocals; and Caleb Smith on guitar, lead and baritone vocals.

Buy Mountain Voodoo


Sake of the Sound

Front Country – Sake of the Sound

Front Country – Sake of the Sound (Front Country, 2014)

Front Country is an excellent San Francisco Americana band inspired by bluegrass, old time, blues, and classic country music. The band’s sounds is characterized by the passionate voice of Melody Walker, strong vocal harmonies, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitars. Although the band is rooted in tradition, they incorporate unexpected progressive elements, especially with the fiddle that make their music unique and more attractive.

The lineup includes Adam Roszkiewicz on mandolin; Jacob Groopman on guitar, vocals; Melody Walker on vocals, guitar; Jordan Klein on banjo, vocals; Leif Karlstrom on violin; Zach Sharpe on bass.

Buy Sake of the Sound


Artist Profiles: Lee Sexton

Lee Sexton

Lee Sexton is one of the most respected and revered traditional musicians in eastern Kentucky. A master of traditional banjo styles both two-finger picking and “drop-thumb” (clawhammer) Sexton has lived his whole life near his birthplace in Letcher County Kentucky.

Born in 1927 he grew up in an intensely musical family and community He worked for a week clearing a field to earn the dollar that bought him his first banjo a homemade wooden fretless model with a groundhog skin head that he acquired when he was eight years old With instruction from his father and uncles (one of whom was the legendary banjo player Morgan Sexton Sexton soon mastered the instrument and the fiddle as well He is also a powerful singer whose repertoire includes such classics as “Cumberland Gap” and “Little Birdie.” As a young man he would work all week in the mines and then play music all weekend at house parties, bean stringings and corn shuckings.

In his sixty-five year musical career Lee has been an essential figure in the musical life of his community and one of the foremost tradition bearers of Kentucky’s mountain music heritage He has played from front porches and community dances to radio stations national festivals and college campuses.

He is a regular at Appalshop’s annual Seedtime on the Cumberland festival and at Hindman Settlement School’s Family Folk Week. He was featured in Appalshop’s music video, Whoa Mule, shown on Country Music Television and The Nashville Network and garnered a brief scene in the 198 film Coal Miner’s Daughter based on the life of Loretta Lynn where he appears playing at a square dance. In 1999 he was presented with the Kentucky Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.


Whoa Mule


Bluegrass Guitar and Mandolin Wizardry

Billy Strings & Don Julin – Fiddle Tune X

Billy Strings & Don Julin – Fiddle Tune X (Don Julin & William Apostol, 2014)

Fiddle Tune X features recreations of traditional bluegrass songs and tunes along with classics by Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Merle Travis and other songwriters

Billy Strings is a young virtuoso guitarist who has attracted a lot of attention. He’s joined by veteran mandolin maestro Don Julin.



Fiddle Tune X showcases the talent of two remarkable bluegrass instrumentalists.



Buy Fiddle Tune X