My Friday at IBMA's World of Bluegrass began with Chatham County Line at noon
. While Red Hat Amphitheater wasn’t packed for the locals, the crowd still boasted a strong showing, especially for an early afternoon performance on a weekday. The band ran through a mix of new and old tunes, including "Girl She Used to Be," "Ghost of Woodie Guthrie" and "Gunfight in Durango. Frontman Dave Wilson bemoaned that there wasn't a train running by before the band launched into "The Carolinian."
"CSX has mucked it up once again," he said. What he didn't see, though, was the freight train chugging along quietly down the tracks through most of the song.
Chatham County Line, "Out of the Running"
I spent most of the afternoon bouncing around, checking out an excellent set from the Earls of Leicester
in the Convention Center and parts of performances by the Lonesome River Band and the Gibson Brothers.
The Earls of Leicester, "Big Black Train" & "Black-Eyed Suzy"
But my most anticipated set came from the banjo-playing power couple of Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck. The busy amphitheater was nowhere near as intimate as the hotel room I’d seen them play last year,
but the show was special in its own way. The pair blew through some of my favorites, like the Coon Creek Girls’ “Banjo Pickin’ Girl,” a breathtaking version of “And Am I Born to Die?” as well as “His Eye is on The Sparrow,” “Tayang Chulai” and “God’s Great Divine Bell.” Most folks might wonder how two banjos can work together so well, but Washburn and Fleck had some extra weapons at their disposal. Their instruments included a cello banjo, a fretless banjo and a baritone banjo that Fleck helped develop. Fleck’s precise picking wove in and out of Washburn’s steady, rhythmic clawhammer strumming, and the pair shook it up for Washburn’s version of a murder ballad by initially using the heads and strings of the banjo for percussion rather than strumming. It’s rare to see a duo complement each other so well personally and musically.
Photo by Grayson Haver Currin
Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck at Red Hat Amphitheater during World of Bluegrass 2014
Up next were Steep Canyon Rangers and Hot Rize. Brevard’s SCR delivered an energetic set, and it was nice to see them stretch out on their own after spending last year’s WOB performance as Steve Martin’s more reserved backup band.
Hot Rize’s set was refreshing and excellent, too, with the break in the middle featuring Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, a goofy Texas-tinged country outfit. (Spoiler alert: It’s all the guys from Hot Rize in Western wear).
The final act of the evening was the All-Star Jam, which featured Béla Fleck, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, Bryan Sutton and Jerry Douglas. The men teased and tormented each other throughout the set. They moved about to create different duos and took turns playing each other’s songs. It was during the Wide Open Jam that the audience got a little weird, to put it nicely. As I returned to my seat at the start, two police officers were questioning a man and his girlfriend for alleged weed use. The couple was allowed to return to their seats, but a few minutes later, the man stood up and slapped the woman (a stranger, I believe) sitting in front of him. He tried to run but was tackled and pinned to the concrete by another man in his row. Officers arrested him, and I didn’t see him or his girlfriend the rest of the night.
Later, a woman came running down the aisle like her hair was on fire, stopping in the front to dance. She flailed her body around like she was possessed. She got away with it for a few minutes before a staff member gently shooed her back up the aisle.
The jam ended with a rousing version of John Hartford’s “On the Road,” and the sextet was joined by Nickel Creek member and Punch Brother Chris Thile. Thile had been hanging out on the side of the stage for most of the day, and during the jam had apparently been feeding Sam Bush baseball scores. The group ran right up to the mandated 11 p.m. curfew, so there was no encore. Still, the day's picking had been plenty.