This week the local writers group I belong to set us the task of writing a short story that begins with Dicken’s classic line, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. It set me thinking – not about what I will write for the assignment but about the best and worst of times I’ve experienced recently. So I think I’ll share some of my best of times with you over the next few days.
The first one that springs to mind is the Appalachian and Bluegrass Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park last weekend. I look forward to it every year – and the rain barely dampened my enthusiasm.
The first band I wanted to listen to were a Canadian band, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, that I’ve been hearing about – they seem to be rocking the Canadian bluegrass scene. After I caught their set I can see why – they are talented instrumentalists who make it look easy. No matter what they tackled they were laid back and in control – with the subtle humour and attitude that’s typically Canadian. No flashiness or attention seeking – their music is enough to hold your attention. They kicked off their fortnight Irish and British tour at the festival. You can find out where to catch them on their website www.foggyhogtownboys.com.
My next stop was to catch one of Knotty Pine’s sets – the local band that made a big impression on me at my first bluegrass festival in Omagh several years ago. Knotty Pine are four musicians who play a wide variety of acoustic music. Accomplished fiddle, dobro and banjo work backs the two vocalists. Each singer has his own style and favourite music genres which adds to the diversity of the band’s repetoire. Besides playing well, Knotty Pine also know how to connect with the crowd. They entertain and engage the audience – and the band and the audience obviously enjoy it.
The band released a new cd, The Old Home Place this spring. I’ve liked the title track since the first time I heard them play it. In fact, it made such an impression on me that I opened a short story, A World Apart (The Fermanagh Miscellany 2, 2008), with lyrics from the song. The cd has a great mix of songs such as John Prine’s Souvenirs, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Greenday’s Time of Your Life as well as an original compositon, The Roundabout. I think it’s the first jazzy bluegrass tune I’ve ever heard. And the cd kicks off with a Mannfred Mann song, Fox On The Run, which has become a bluegrass staple. It’s a shame this band doesn’t have a website but they can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a whole afternoon of great music I didn’t think I could still be wowed but my last stop of the day was with Four Wheel Drive, a bluegrass band from Germany and Belgium. They play a traditional style of music with all 5 members gathered around a single microphone. Each player has amazing technical ability and they have a wonderful harmony. I could listen to their 5 part a capella harmony all day and never tire of it. What a fantastic finish to the day!
Omagh Ulster American Folk Park’s Appalachian and Bluegrass Festival is definitely in my best of times list!