Sleepy Creek Spring Dig Review
May 5-8, 2016, Sleepy Creek Campground, Berkeley Springs, WV
Written by B.A. Jones
Sleepy Creek Spring Dig raged from May 5 – 8 2016 in Berkeley Springs WV. When I first saw the line – up, I was like a brook trout hitting a lure! I am a fanatical fan of bluegrass in all its forms and sub – dialects. From traditional and gospel, to jam, punk, and folk grasses, I love it all. It was held in a campground adjoining the Potomac River, in a charming town, in a state I adore! I’ve never been to the venue or festival before, and liked that it was super easy to get to. We arrived Thursday afternoon, and got to pull our RV up next to a friend’s camper and be his neighbor for the festival.
We realized quickly that the railroad tracks that ran beside the campground and stage were very busy! Yes, trains are loud, especially if they sound their horns, yet I slept like a baby each night. People may ask, how was it to have trains going by while bands were playing? Truthfully, for me, I thought the trains actually accentuated the bluegrass bands. Of course the rain started Thursday night along with the music.
I have never heard either band that played Thursday night, and I was sincerely impressed! National Headliner, a three piece bluegrass ensemble warmed us inside, and was as hot as the bonfire. Their washtub bass player may be the best I’ve ever heard! They were a very easy to love psychedelic bluegrass band with good energy, oozing charisma. I thought they were a fantastic choice to kick off the festival.
I sat at the bonfire and enjoyed Still Hand String Band from there. They are an up beat jam – grass quartet from PA. Besides being tremendous pickers, they had a great stage presence, and bantered with the crowd. Their rich sound is finely worn, like an old oiled leather baseball glove. They are sages with lyrics, and their melodies seemed as familiar as Granny’s apple pie. I had such a good time, I forgot it was raining till it was time to head home for the night.
We slept so well, we didn’t wake up until noon Friday. I cooked us some breakfast, so we missed Hillbilly Carnival, and Uncle Jake & the 18 Wheel Gang. It was raining, and wouldn’t stop until Saturday morning. So we brought an ez up and two chairs to the stage area, and stayed dry all day and night. There were also bonfires there each night, and they brought huge bales of hay and spread them out to help with the sloppy mud.
Swampcandy is a two man American Roots band, who really sounded great! With Ruben Dobbs on guitar and vocals, and Joey Mitchell on bass, they were very entertaining. Kids played in mud puddles, and folks happily danced in the mud and rain. Colebrook Road, a 5 piece bluegrass band from PA took the stage and kept the fun going. Their traditional songs were a savory mix of heartfelt Americana, and old timey story telling songs. I especially loved their fiddle player, Joe McAnulty. Having such a large permanent stage with a high roof, and walls on 3 sides definitely helped keep the musicians and their instruments dry. A small city of ez ups multiplied, and attendance grew steadily all evening.
Strung Like A Horse, categorized as garage – grass, gypsy – punk took the stage, and I adored them. Their high energy, dirty bluegrass really sang to my soul. They were fabulous, and got the mood uplifted and our spirits soaring. The atmosphere turned festive, and attendees were all smiling and reveling. The sound production all weekend was great, the bands sounded crisp and clear.
Everyone we met all weekend, staff, vendors, and other revelers were all kind and friendly, and I felt a fellowship with everyone there. The atmosphere was one of kinship and fun. The Hornitz set was eagerly anticipated by us, and was the first non bluegrass band to play. This two man EDM number use a variety of instruments (guitar, bass, keyboards, saxophone, and trombone) and electronic looping machines they call “little boxes” to make electrically charged dance music. Their sound is joyous, and I love seeing them! The venue was full front to back, and people were dancing in electric jubilance. Their light show and visuals were astonishing, and their set was pure fire! They killed it!
The Brokedown Hustlers came out and the crowd was fervent. Known as “acoustic Outlaws”, or punk – grass, the audience moved in close to party. The massive hoard cheered on The Brokedown Hustlers as their rowdy set got everyone in a raucous mood! Upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and guitar played as one, each arrangement a cohesive journey into musical hillbillary. They were definitely the highlight of my night! August West’s bluegrass rapping is innovative and raw. Their unique sound is both creative and boisterous, opening new musical thresholds. If Kid Rock and Cabinet had a baby, it would sound exactly like The Brokedown Hustlers.
It was still raining, and dancing in the primordial ooze only enlivened the multitude. You could tell The Brokedown Hustlers were the hometown heroes, as hundreds of folks sang along word for word! They worked the audience up into a frenzied crescendo, and they screamed their approval. I handed them up a little blueberry moonshine for thanks, and August took it. The next song he started singing, ” the man’s gonna come and try to take my moonshine still”… Perfect timing! They were absolutely phenomenal, and I seriously need to buy some of their CD’s!
The Fritz ended the night’s music with their funk rock fueled symposium on fun. I’ve seen them lots, and their funky jazz ballads command your booty! Their music is fuel for dancing feet, and they always make me smile. The visual imaging light show was astounding, and tied into each band’s sound. It was a great end to an enjoyable day and night of superb music.
Saturday was mostly rain free, and I was wound up for the line – up! it was a bluegrass lovers dream! Mateo Monk played the first set, he is an enlightening flautist. I did get to see him all weekend as he sat in and played with other bands, and emphasized each of them greatly. He is truly gifted, and I appreciated his craft.
Urban Pioneers satiated my craving for old time bluegrass. This trio is accentuated by their beautiful and talented fiddle player, Liz Sloan. Their melodies almost magical, flowed in unison and rejoiced in the Spring sky. The kids and babies were all happy and smiling, and so was I.
The Plate Scrapers graced the stage with their traditional bluegrass, and I couldn’t love them less! Their charismatic picking and divine harmonies endear me more to them each time I see them. I was content being surrounded by other avid lovers of bluegrass, and enjoyed their set while people watching. I am a bass lover, so I had a grand time watching Evan Bell play.
M.C. John Way enticed us to Yee – Haw, and reminded us that fun is so fun! Grand Ole’ Ditch, a 7 piece progressive bluegrass band from Cumberland MD kept our spirits aloft, and coerced our ardor. It seemed like the audience had grown tenfold, most likely by people coming in for day passes. The venue was full and exuding delight, and the sun tried peeking through the clouds.
We walked back to our RV and grilled some chicken. We listened to The Hackensaw Boys from afar, and walked back in time to see them play a few more songs. I’ve been bringing my boys to see them since Feb. 2003, and I see them as often as I can! Their bluegrass anthems fuel my love for this life! Their blend of old timey, and jam is addictive, and I’ve always treasured Ferd’s fiddle playing. And no matter their legacy of revolving members, I’ve never seen a bad Hackensaw Boys show in the past 13 years.
I was beyond eager for the Larry Keel Experience. They’ve definitely been a favorite of mine for around 7 years! I saved my favorite – raspberry shine – for Saturday night, as my most admired bands were all playing! And, a few of them enjoy raspberry goodness as much as I. I also got to hang out with more friends that I found on Saturday. I had a permanent grin, and the entire mob of folks were as jubilant as me.
Larry Keel Experience embellished not just the stage, but the atmosphere itself. Will Lee and Larry Keel both dapper, and Jenny Keel in all her glorious grace, how could you not instantly smile? I was up front exhilarated as they cajoled my reverence once again. I would see them once a week if I could! They were on point, as usual, and I sang along. The mass of people moved as fluent as leaves dancing in the wind, and we all greatly adored their set. Their cohesiveness as musicians and kindred spirits alike, is powerful. The time flew by and their set ended way too soon for me.
It was getting chilly, and there were spotty showers. I went and bought a hoodie that a vendor silkscreened for me live earlier in the day. I chose the color of my hoodie and paint for the lettering, tan hoodie, white lettering. it kept me warm and dry, and they even bartered with me. They let my friend Alex get a hoodie, and in trade I gave them a tie dye for each of their kids!!!! I thought that was pretty cool of them, and now Alex and I have souvenirs!
I saw CTS pull up backstage just as Better Off Dead started their set. I got to hang out with some cool friends I don’t get to see often, and enjoy Better Off Dead. I actually saw John Ferrara warming up backstage on his bass, and he played right along with the band. They are most likely the best Grateful Dead cover band, and hail from Raleigh NC. They have a genuine knowledge of Grateful Dead material, and each other’s prowess as musicians. Dead tunes sung by such a talented singer as Whitney Pearsall is what gives them the edge of individuality. They did a stunning set, and the crowd was more than satiated.
Besides the formidable amount of glorious bluegrass, I was also lured in by the last band of the festival, Consider The Source. Their Sci Fi/ Middle Eastern Fusion is not only a fresh sound on the music scene, they are immensely talented. In my opinion, they are the most remarkable 3 man band since Rush. I also love that they don’t need lyrics or singing, and are entirely instrumental. The visual lighting was trippy, and Consider The Source was euphoric. This band is made up of three “musicians’ musicians”, three of the most talented and impeccable musicians alive. Jeff Mann on drums is the beating heart of CTS. Whether he is on his drum kit, or percussions, electric or acoustic sets- Jeff has the perfect tone and volume. His drumming pumps the blood through each song.
Gabriel Marin is the spirit of Consider The Source, and I’ve never seen anything like him. He plays a double guitar, one of which has pedals that mimics other instruments. He takes Sci Fi music to another dimension. He can burn sonic speed middle eastern riffs, or finesse his strings to sing. He is flawless and passionate, and sometimes his playing is furious. The central nervous system of Consider The Source is John Ferrara. Like the central nervous system, John seems to be the brain and spinal cord of CTS. His bass lines originate as thought, then move his hands and fingers to compel each song’s momentum and life. His bass notes are the nerves that control the movement of a song, and sends the message to YOUR body to move.
Consider The Source always affects my energy and emotions, and give me goose – bumps! My essence amplifies, and their music is absorbed into my soul. This is a band whose music I am fully devoted to. Attending any show they play is akin to a religious experience for me. They awaken my spiritual realm, and progress me and their music to an inter – dimensional domain. Their set was astounding, and when they were done, I was sad that SpringDig was over!
The music all weekend was truly incredible, and we had a blast! I loved the venue, the people, and the town.. I will definitely recommend this festival to friends. We have already decided to come back next year, and maybe another event there this year. Hopefully next year the weather will cooperate, and I can visit the river. My sincerest thanks to everyone who worked so hard to throw this event! I am ever so grateful to have such an enormously good lineup of bluegrass, and music in general, so close to home. I can’t wait to see both The Brokedown Hustlers, & Consider The Source next month at The Mad Tea Party Jam in PA! Rabbit’s Choice **** four stars.