IBMA's Wide Open Bluegrass
Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh
Friday, Oct. 2–Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015
On Friday, I rushed to get to the Raleigh Convention Center in time to see the weekend's only public performance by Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass. Paisley reminds me of James King. A larger-than-life personality, he personifies the history of bluegrass while still having much to contribute to the genre's growth. Paisley's country crooning reached near perfection during his rendition of "Shackles and Chains," bolstered by the return of fiddler TJ Lundy's beautiful instrumentation. The group showcased its overall strength during "Don't Throw Mama's Flowers Away," the upbeat yet tragic telling of a daughter visiting her mother's grave site for the first time. Too bad it may be a full year before he visits the Triangle again.
The city deserves praise for making World of Bluegrass work indoors last weekend, but for me, the only real positive from moving the event into the convention center—aside from it happening at all—was the ability to move quickly between rooms and catch more groups in less time. After Danny Paisley, I ushered to the "Martin Street" stage inside one of the dark conference rooms to catch the South Carolina Broadcasters. Since swapping members earlier this year, the trio has signed on to John Boy & Billy's record label and will release Tell Me Truly later this month. (In a throwback to bluegrass programming of yesteryear, the group also has a 15-minute radio show that airs on WPAQ Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 2 p.m. EST.)
Saturday morning brought me to Exhibit Hall B, the site of the performances scheduled for Red Hat Amphitheater. Ticketing, which essentially changed from the majority being reserved to mostly general admission, caused an anxiety-filled ordeal of people rushing toward the prime seating in order to claim their space. Over the house PA, an up-tempo banjo instrumental served as the soundtrack to the stressful process of selecting seats up until the time the first group of the day, Flatt Lonesome, took the stage. Celebrating the release of their third album, Runaway Train, the group quickly pointed out not being at their best because of a familiar narrative—they'd been spending much of the past few days and nights awake and pickin' with friends. Still, strong harmonies served as a considerable eye-opener.
Taking a break from the traditional led me to see Raleigh's own The Morning After, who played upstairs in the ballroom. The group mixes considerable outside influences of rock, salsa, Afro-Cuban and has recently emerged from a long hiatus that followed lead singer Rachel Koontz exiting the band. The Morning After's non-traditional approach to music met high praise from the crowd, who danced in the back of the room and batted around beach balls given away by a nearby vendor.
I headed back to the Exhibit Hall for the most intriguing event of the entire festival: the Kruger Brothers pairing with jazz great and Durham resident Branford Marsalis. After the Krugers played a handful of selections with the Kontras Quartet, Marsalis joined the core group for a rendition of "St. James Infirmary Blues." The Kontras Quartet returned with Marsalis playing on "Fields of Gold" and "Blackbird" before finishing with "Jack of the Wood." The set finished with what might have been the most standing ovations of the entire festival.
The Earls of Leicester ended my 2015 installment of IBMA. The group that swept the Thursday night IBMA awards were on tap for an extended 90-minute set. The performance lagged in some areas, as the strength of lead singer (and 2015 Male Vocalist of the Year) Shawn Camp's voice seemed a bit worn from what was likely a long week. As group leader Jerry Douglas explained mid-way through the performance, "There were a lot of projects we could be working on, but I wanted to put a fresh coat of Flatt & Scruggs on the world because no one was doing it quite how I had in mind."
Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass, "Don't Throw Mama's Flowers Away"
The South Carolina Broadcasters, "Tell Me Truly"
Flatt Lonesome, "Still Feeling Blue"
Morning After Music, "Four Years"
Kruger Brothers & Branford Marsalis, "St. James Infirmary Blues"
The Earls Of Leicester, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" and "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms"