Party in the Holler Review
Sept 12, Ace Adventure Resort, Gauley River, WV
by B.A. Jones
Starting the weekend after Labor Day, the Summersville Dam at Summersville Lake. WV, is released for 6 weeks. Each Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday through the third weekend in October, the Gauley River becomes the place to be for whitewater rafters. The release makes the shallow and tame Gauley River swollen, deep, and ferocious. For adventurous rafters hungry for a challenge, they are gifted these 6 weeks. Ace Adventure Resort accommodates thrill seekers with excursion packages, led by knowledgeable  and skilled guides- many who grew up rafting the Gauley & New rivers.
Ace celebrates the first weekend of the short Gauley season with one hell of a party! On Friday Sept. 11, the Gauley was ravenously filled, and Ace threw an after party for all the participants. Under the big top tent next to the lake, everyone watched their videos made that day on their rafting excursions. My heart pounded watching the videos of rafts entering a treacherous spot known as “The Box”, some being thrown out as rafts bucked and flipped. Others threaded the needle perfectly, and triumphantly kept their seats. After viewing their videos, they all got a treat of live music.
Josh Daniel/Mark Schimick Project

Josh Daniel/Mark Schimick Project

The Josh Daniel/ Mark Schimick Project took a small stage, and entertained us all. Mark Schimick on mandolin I’ve known for years since he used to play with Larry Keel & The Natural Bridge. His energetic prowess has always soothed me. Josh Daniel on vocals and guitar has that enigmatic voice I recognized immediately from The New Familiars. Both Mark and Josh sung and strummed so complimentary to each other. With skillful bassist Greg Howell, and guitarist Drew Mautlich, the four were in perfect synchronism. From folk to traditional bluegrass, their voices resonated melodiousness. They played two sets, including quite a few from their debut self titled album.
I met a couple of friends in the morning, and we caught a ride to the Gauley River Ace Adventure rest area early the next morning. When we got out there The Josh Daniel/ Mark Schimick Project was already down beside the river, playing an acoustic set under an e-z up. Light drizzle and rain was the forecast for the day, and I was prepared in my raincoat. Food was laid out on a covered deck 20 feet or so up the side of the mountain, and grills were cooking bbq pork and chicken for sandwiches. These half day excursions Ace offers includes a delicious meal, and today, live bluegrass music. My friend Chris (a guide) showed me where to squeeze between boulders to climb atop one of the boulders making up “The Box”. It is made up of 3 enormous boulders- one on each side, and one in front.
The vantage point was amazing, I could hear the music well, and I had a surge of adrenaline watching the rafters approach.  This run definitely seems geared to the more experienced rafters… I could hear guides yelling “back, back, back”, or “forward”- telling rafters which way to paddle. Videographers, and photographers stood along the edges, filming the show. Some rafts were able to maneuver away from The Box , and toward  the less treacherous middle of the river. Those that could not avoid it, went through, most safely. You could hear whistles blow as people were ejected from their rafts, to be fished out. Groups of rafters cycled through the Ace lunch spot, eating and enjoying the music. The Wood Brothers played a 30 minute set, then the Josh Daniel/ Mark Schimick Project joined them for two songs. My energy level was in the stratosphere, and this was only the beginning.
In the early evening Blacking Coal kicked off the festivities on top of the mountain. The rain deterred none, and at least 1,000 people filled the lawn in ponchos and under umbrellas. Their dirty blues and cadenced songs warmed us up from the inside. Their sound is strong, young, and inviting. Dale Sizemore’s songs struck a chord with every working man there. Blacking Coal was a great choice to kick off the night.
Members of The Wood Brothers with members of Josh Daniels/Mark Schimick Project

Members of The Wood Brothers with members of Josh Daniels/Mark Schimick Project

The Josh Daniel/ Mark Schimick Project kept the bluegrass flowing like fine moonshine. Josh Daniel’s voice is comforting and warm, while his ever affirming accompaniment – Drew Mautlich and he bantered with their guitars. Their bass player Greg Howell is a bass monster, spanking the strings, and keeping an intense beat. He was in his own world in which bass beats are transformed into oxygen for our consumption.  All three together, amazingly incite Mark Schimick to the edge of mandolin insanity. His notes and chords audaciously bold, yet somehow tender, tickle goose-bumps from my arms. The crowd was dancing anxiously and I could feel the energy building, like dragging your socked feet across the carpet in the middle of Winter. When they were done, the crowd screamed their appreciation and love for this NC quartet; who mesh together musically as well as concrete and water.
The Steel Drivers arrived to a cheering mass of eager fans. They all looked happy, and dressed to impress. The energy crackled like feedback in a monitor. This band could possibly be the greatest collaboration of studio level musicians bluegrass has ever seen. Gary Nichols on vocals and guitar has played with Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. The astounding Richard Bailey on banjo has played with such legends as Al Green, and George Jones. Beguiling Brent Truitt on mandolin has graced stages with Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, and The Dixie Chicks. Add beautiful and alluring Tammy Rogers on the fiddle and astronomical bassist Mike Fleming; and you have all the ingredients for a bluegrass bomb!
Although it was my first time ever seeing The Steel Drivers, I had heard many accolades from music lovers and press alike, and I expected a phenomenal show. From the first song the audience was captivated. Gary’s voice was encapsulating and flavored with confidence. The aria they create as a whole seems to blanket the mountain, cool and creative, like the early morning fog. The crowd sang along, impressively on key, and the musicians fed from our energy. The sound production was impeccable, and The Steel Drivers were mixed so well- no one musician was too loud or overwhelming.
They took turns accentuating each song, stepping in gracefully like antelopes approaching a lake to drink. Their compatibility was evident, and they were as cohesive as a wolf pack on a hunt. Richard was stunning on the banjo, his picking exceeded traditional, with a raw and addictive speed. Mike Fleming on bass drew the ear in, soulfully coaxing an energetic atmosphere. Tammy Rogers’  fiddling seemed to seep into my soul, making me smile. She kept the crowd participating the entire set, and her fiddling was heavenly. Brent Truitt on mandolin carried our minds into the wind with euphoric notes, and I was inebriated in their expertise. The Steel Drivers set was more than phenomenal, it was miraculous and life affirming.
The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers took the stage to a roaring crowd, hungry for their delicious music. I Love watching Chris Wood, his bass playing seems to become a living entity, dancing with gusto through an audience. The chemistry between Chris and Oliver Wood is like Christmas for music lovers.  From seeing them by the river that afternoon, I also knew Jano Rix was a wise addition. Subtly endorsing the Wood Brothers on melodica, drums, or “shuitar” (a shitty acoustic guitar he plays with drum brushes), he fills the background gently, magnifying the brothers.
Anyone who has ever seen them is aware that there is something spectacular about their unison. The Wood Brothers seem to have a psychic bond that leads their music quietly into another realm. Chris’ self assured bass playing is simultaneously modest and confident. His chi energy exudes beyond auric limits, and affects all around him. Jano is amazing, and the three harmonized exceptionally well. He played a drum set for a couple of songs- quieter than I’ve ever heard drums played- to embellish our musical journey the Wood brothers were taking us on. Perfection was the primal fuel, feeding the wood burning dimension we had easily slipped into.
Oliver Wood has to be one of my favorite vocalists of all time. His voice is bluesy, provocative, and as smooth as sock coffee* on a rainy morning. His singing gave me chills and I was awe struck for awhile, soaking in the Wood Brothers extraordinary performance. They share their souls, infusing us with ardor. Oliver’s bluesy foundation celebrates each song in this union of brothers, bluegrass and folk influences add sweetness and sincerity.  Their headlining set effected me so deeply, tears of gratefulness streamed freely down my face. The Wood Brothers music is as organic and soul appeasing as any I’ve ever heard. To be in their presence and share their prodigious euphony is unparalleled. Everyone was enchanted by their music, and we all reveled with them. Oliver sang Ophelia at the end of their set like a vocal wizard! They left the stage momentarily and the crowd cheered fanatically. The Wood Brothers took the stage for an encore, just as we were able to see stars in the sky. Their incredible set left me speechless- which is rare. I thanked the universe for such an eargasmic night of legendary music.
     I drank moonshine with my friends beside a cozy fire, with my spirit satiated. There is no place I would rather be than bathing my soul in the precious source of our kinship and love. Party In The Holler was sensationally comforting, and an indescribably fantastic way to commemorate a new season in our lives. To say I adulate these astounding musicians, and this supremely beautiful venue is an understatement. I have left a piece of my heart there, and will return as often as I can. During the cold Winter to come, these memories will warm me, like an ember in a campfire. I shall forever feel blessed to love this life we lead.
                                     B. A. Jones
*sock coffee= half coffee and a little sugar / half 130 proof moonshine= 65 proof coffee shine. I took it out of the cooler and couldn’t find my koozie. My friend put a fleece sock on the jar so we could take the chilled concoction to the riverside and share It with the musicians. So I was just calling it sock coffee.