The excitement was flowing through me as soon as I arrived to Sleepy Creek campgrounds. Or maybe that was the four cups of coffee I drank while running around trying to get ready for what was sure to be a wet weekend of bluegrass and campfires. So far the rain had held off pretty well and by 5 when I arrived people were already getting down to the sounds of Bats Dynamic String Band where my friend Leif was plucking away away at his washtub bass while Bats picked with lightning speed. By the time I had unpacked my stuff and gotten up to the stage the Plank Stompers, from Bluemont VA, were in full swing. I play a washtub bass so I’m never that surprised to see what someone has turned into an instrument and today we had a suitcase bass. But this wasn’t just some broom stick and beat up 1980’s suitcase, it was truly a work of art that was fully functional and sounded great. When the muted horn came out I knew we were gonna see something completely different and I was right. The Plank Stompers offered more than just bluegrass for the audience to stomp to. Next up was Gallows Bound, from Winchester VA, and they came to rock! Punkgrass? Is that a word yet? With an outlaw look and feel they kept a frenzied pace through most of the set with few moments to catch your breath.
By the time Brokedown Hustlers came on I was a half gallon into my homemade blueberry wine I had brought. Granted I was sharing with everyone but I was beginning to feel a bit tipsy and it was perfect timing when the lady in the Red Hat brought the whiskey around the boys thanked her with the aforementioned song. August West, vocals, gratefully and thirstily drank and strutted around the stage with the bottle for the entire show, while the rest of the band members had whiskey bottles of there own attached to their mic stands ready at hand.
Dry Mill Road from Virginia kept pace with their newgrass but was also able to mix in a little variety bringing some classic bluegrass harmonizing. By this time the sun was long gone and the rain was being illuminated by the light on stage. Still large crowds of people gathered around the fire dancers as they began to put on their own light show.
“WHAT RAIN?” Could be heard coming from the ragers standing front and center of stage as the rain steadily showered on them. It was as thick as it has been all day as members of Cabinet took to the stage and it became an all out war on the dance floor to secure your space for the inevitable boogying that was to come. We shimmied and slid our way across the mud pit that was once the dance floor as Cabinet ripped into fan favorites like Mr Spaceman and Old Farmers Mill then just when I thought I would run out of steam they came with a 15 minute Sublime mix of 5446, What I Got and Garden Grove that instantly gave me my second (third, fourth?) wind. For the Deadheads in the crowd Cabinet did not forget about us! They brought way back Pigpen style with an Easy Wind to chomp on. With that taste left in my mouth it was time to catch all the after festival happenings around the campfires, sharing stories of the shows so far and the anticipation of the day soon to come. I don’t really remember going to bed just crawling in the back of my jeep and making enough room for myself to lie down and recharge (mind, soul and cellphone). Day 2 we were treated to sunshine as we awoke and as everything around us dried out the sounds of Mateo Monk Music fell on our ears in perfect balance with the sunshine on our faces. All around the smell of bacon eggs and sausage we’re beginning to overpower my senses and soon I was heating up some coffee to go along with breakfast.
After a fresh clean bale of straw was laid down in front of the stage where we had dug a pit the night before dancing in the rain and it was a perfect playground for the little ones to keep themselves entertained as the adults enjoyed the solo project of John R Miller. Because as he put it the high life might have been a little too high to make it accompanying him.
Shortly after scraping some bacon cheddar cheese burgers that I cooked off my camping neighbor Patrick’s grill I was chowing down watching The Plate Scrapers pick it up where John left off. I consider myself very lucky to know and live around these talented musicians and sometimes take for granted that fact when I see them out at the Mecklenburg or Opera House in town but to see them on such a big stage with so many bluegrass legends truly had me in awe.
I have to admit that the cheeseburgers and endless beer were beginning to take their toll on me. As I tried to watch the David Via set from the comfort of my sleeping bag I was beginning to feel as if I could justifiabley close my eyes and sleep through the next couple of sets. After couple of songs I convinced myself to make my way up to the stage and listen for spell. David appropriately told stories and sang songs of old railways, beckoning the local locomotive to come charging by and join him.
Next on the menu for the night was Cumberland Maryland’s own, Grand Ole’ Ditch. Team Ditch brought a more contemporary sound including the festivals only dobro player, Jody Mosser, who had earlier played with The Plate Scrapers. The Ditch harmonized their way through songs like Dark Rider and By and By while fireworks lit the sky like it was the 4th of July.
Haha….I can make things outta clay and lay by the bay, I just may….sorry got lost there for a second in Happy Gilmore but I’m back and good too cause deadline for this review was 15 minutes ago. I gotta hustle like I’m brokedown and grind this thing out!
Larry Keel was up next but judging by all the instruments on the stage we could tell there was going to be a lot more going on then just Jenny and Will Lee playing along with them. And we were right david Via joined in for a couple of songs larry had picked out that were written by David like Corn Liquor appropriately sang just after the band took a moonshine sipping break. Larry played a very special set, probably one of my favorite sets he has ever done and when Jenny told us that we were in store for Larry does Jerry I was in complete bliss. Songs like Brown Eyed Woman, Tennessee Jed, Friend of The Devil and Dark Star had me on the verge of tears as they always do.
Rumpke Mountain Boys joined in with the Keels for the end of the set to seamlessly begin their own with Tiger Rose as the crowd danced to insanely fast pickin goin on on stage. Coming all the way from Cincinnati Rumpke is like a blast of moonshine from a water cannon, they hit you hard and before you notice you lose all control! So far we had seen everything from blue to new to punk and now trashgrass and no one was ready for the party to stop once the set was over.
After the shows were over and everyone had a chance to settle down and get back to their camps we heard that the Rumpke Mountain Boys, Plate Scrapers and a couple other musicians were playing a late night campfire set so hey bunch of us hopped into my golf cart and cruised around hitting up campfire after campfire recruiting people to build an even bigger fire that everyone together around. After many attempts to light soaking wet wood we eventually had a 30 foot high bonfire for everyone together around and jam until the sun came up.
And to add to the adventure of the night at some point my titanium and Gibeon meteorite wedding ring fell off of my finger and was found half in the mud by my new friend Jimmy who then posted a picture of it on the Facebook page that eventually found its way back to me. I don’t understand how it happened I could not have sent 50 hippies office in 50 different directions, are there 50 different directions?, that had any chance of finding it but somehow it did. Not only did Jimmy end up finding my ring back but he also got me into a sold out John K show at Gypsy Sally’s when we finally met. So thanks to Danny, Chris, Bill and Cindy and anyone else and everyone else that made this weekend one of the best festivals if not the luckiest festival I’ve ever been to. I can’t wait for things to thaw out and Spring Fest to begin see you then!