What a great Summergrass festival we had this year! Produced by the hard working and non-profit San Diego Bluegrass Society and the North County Bluegrass and Folk Club at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista August 19-21, Summergrass brought some mighty fine bluegrass and acoustic music to San Diego.
Headlining the event was the nationally, and internationally, acclaimed Grascals. In 2005 this band won the International Bluegrass Music Association Artist of the Year Award as well as the Song of the Year award for “Me and John and Paul” (which they performed onstage at Summergrass to great acclaim), and in 2006 and 2007 they won the IBMA Entertainer of the Year award. The band features Terry Eldredge and Jamie Johnson on guitar, along with three-time banjo player of the year (and current reigning champ) Kristin Scott Bensen on banjo, Jeremy Abshire on fiddle, and Terry Smith on bass.
The Grascals can flat out play and sing. Characterized by high, three-part vocal harmonies sung by Terry Eldredge, Jamie Johnson, and Terry Smith, the band’s forte is its original material complemented by its repertoire of traditional bluegrass and great story songs. Even if they weren’t great singers, which by the way they are, one could listen to Kristin Scott Bensen and Jeremy Abshire play the banjo and fiddle, respectively, all night long.
Wayne Taylor and Appaloosa also turned in great stage performances. Looking sharp in their black suits and ties, this band presented outstanding vocals and instrumentation. Those who attended Summergrass a few years back may remember Wayne Taylor as the band leader for the U.S. Navy Band Country Current.
A new band that is garnering considerable national acclaim was also on the scene. Anchored by Bill Bryson on bass, Loafer’s Glory features Herb Pedersen on guitar and vocals. Herb has a stellar career in acoustic music having performed with Emmylou Harris, the Desert Rose Band, and many others; he’s also penned some of the classic songs in the bluegrass genre such as “Old Train,” which Herb and Loafer’s Glory performed on the Summergrass stage. Loafer’s Glory features well-known old time fiddler Tom Sauber and his super talented son Patrick on banjo. Bill Bryson, Herb Peterson, and Patrick Sauber do the work, and do it astoundingly well, in presenting three-part vocals.
Bluegrass Etc. was back again at Summergrass 2011. This group, with super-fast picker John Moore on guitar and mandolin, Dennis Caplinger on banjo and fiddle, and Bill Bryson on upright bass has become something of a Summergrass stalwart having made many prior appearances. The crowd never seems to tire of this great and entertaining band.
There was also a well-received contingent of local bands. Prairie Sky, Gone Tomorrow, Sara Petite, Plow, Next Generation, and Old Town Road all made appearances that represented San Diego local bands, and Windy Ridge and the Bladerunners came down from the Los Angeles area as well.
The weather was perfect this year at Summergrass, clear and sunny in the high seventies with a light cooling breeze. And, Summergrass included much more than just the main stage performances. There was the “boot camp,” offering intensive instruction to adults on the bass, guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and a special vocal harmony class with Herb Pedersen. And, there was the annual Kids Camp for youngsters aged six to 16 who spend portions of each day in classes receiving instruction on their individual instrument as well as ensemble instruction learning to play in a group. The Kids Camp culminates every year in a Sunday main stage performance by the kids, who did a great job this year. As part of their program to support bluegrass music, the non-profit San Diego Bluegrass Society and North County Bluegrass and Folk Club provide scholarships to the Kids Camp for many of the students.
No mention of Summergrass is complete without talking about jamming. In fact, the informal jamming at Summergrass may be the highlight of the festival for many of the attendees. There were jams into the wee hours throughout the campground, and even throughout the main museum grounds. For players of every level it was a true pleasure to simply wander the Summergrass grounds, instrument in hand, and stop by to join informal groups of friends and new people, soon to become friends, playing in the various jams. Whatever your level, you can find a jam to meet your needs.
The traditional Summergrass raffles were also held with instruments donated by Summergrass sponsors, including Martin Guitars, which donated a D-18 guitar and Deering Banjo, which donated a “Crow” banjo. There was also a silent auction of an impressive collection of classic LPS from the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Buffalo Brothers was there with its collection of guitars, banjos, fiddles, and ukuleles, as was Tricopolis Records with its instruments and music. There was also a nice presentation of jewelry, handmade wooden toys, and other interesting vendor items. For those interested in instrument making violin maker Bob Gravilan was there doing demonstrations and talking shop, as were Corky Shelton and Jeff Scott, showing off their handmade Illusion guitars. Combine all these activities with the museum gift shop, blacksmith shop, old schoolhouse, and collection of antique farm equipment, and there was something fun for the whole family at this year’s Summergrass.
I can’t wait for next year’s 10th anniversary event!