On Friday, April 5th, The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers brought the bluegrass to Dante’s, along with local Frostburg, Maryland, band Day Old News.
Day Old News started off the show with a cheerful tune to get the crowd excited. The band is made up of four players. Jeremie Hamilton was on fiddle, Tom Bond on vocals and guitar, Sam Lauver on bass and vocals, and Dennis Merrill on the banjo. Their bright songs all told a story of love or loss, and brought the audience along through a journey of pain or happiness.
The joy and energy of the band was uplifting, and they set the stage for a great show. Each member had a chance to lead the band with a solo, and each was a welcome part of the song. As they moved through the set, they played numerous songs with percussive banjo, an enchanting fiddle part, and beautiful brassy guitar. Underneath all of these parts, the upright bass kept the tempo and drove everyone from the bar to the stage.
Day Old News ended their set with the requested song “Green Cat Eyes” by The Plank Stompers, and blew everyone away with one final bass solo. The energy of Day Old News excited the crowd and more than warmed up the stage for The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers.
After a brief break, The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers (JFS) took the stage and launched right into their set. The band was short one member, as dobro player and vocalist Jody Mosser was not at the show. The members present were Gary Antol on vocals and guitar; Libby Eddy on fiddle and vocals; Ray Bruckman on mandolin, fiddle, and vocals; and Evan Bell on upright bass.
They whisked the crowd away with “Get Along Gone” from there second album, White Lightning Road. The upbeat song quickly got the crowd up and moving, and ready for the rest of the show. They then moved into “Wild Rose of the Mountain,” with it’s sweet vocals that paint a picture. After that, they launched into “Don’t Go Across the Ocean.” As they played, it was very obvious how much fun they were each having up on stage. They then moved into “You Never Even Knew My Name,” “Mannington #9,” and “Randall Collins.”
Their next song they played was “Tight Like That,” and the fun lyrics and quick beat just added to the fun atmosphere at Dante’s. Each member had a chance to solo before the end of the song, and each solo blew me—and the crowd—away. To follow up that amazing performance, they slowed the pace down and played “Scattered Pieces.” Antol and Ebby’s combined vocals were incredibly beautiful over the sweet melody.
JFS then moved into instrumental “Bennezette Blues,” and then into “In the Gravel Yard.” The driving bass and the percussive instrumentals kept the energy in the room high. “County Melodies” was next and opened with a bright guitar intro. Antol then broke a string and all the band members left the stage except for Bruckman.
Bruckman proceeded to treat the crowd to his solo song “Maverick of a Higher Creed.” Bruckman had just released his new solo album (titled Foundations) that day, so the crowd was able to witness one of these new songs live. He played alone with just a fiddle and his voice and proceeded to tell a riveting story of an outlaw. His fingers flew on his fiddle as he played a percussive and melodic accompaniment to his voice.
To follow up this enrapturing performance, the rest of JFS came back for a cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” JFS made it theirs, and Ebby’s vocals made the song sassy and joyful. They then played “Poison River,” “Red Prairie Dawn,” and then straight into “White Lightning Road.” They played “White Lightning Road” and “Moonlight Gown” back to back with excited cheers from the crowd. Despite the late hour, the crowd was excited and dancing along. They played a few more songs before ending on “I Know You Rider.”
The energy throughout the concert was high, and each song was played back to back with very little pause. Antol told me before the show that JFS doesn’t write set lists, but they instead play what feels right in the moment. He also said that the first time they performed together, they wrote a set list, but sometime before or during the performance, someone stole it off the stage. They haven’t written one since, claimed Antol. Because of this and no announcement before all but one of the songs, each song was a welcome surprise. The crowd was having a great time, and so was I. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.
Before the show, I was able to talk with the band and talk to them about the future. They will be playing at Sleepy Creek SpringDig this year and are very excited. They also have a full year full of shows, with one this Friday, April 12 at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas that they’re excited about, and numerous others. They played 163 shows last year according to Antol and hope to play even more this year.
For more information about JFS, here is their Facebook and website. Check out Ray’s new solo album here. You can also check out Dante’s Facebook and website here.