of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and
Jamie Downs, Editors
in the 'Burgs," Take Three
Text copyright by John McLaughlin, 2003:
Photographs copyright by Jamie Downs, 2003 :
|The Lost Ramblers have been carrying the banner for bluegrass in and around
the Stroudsburgs since about 1978, when Neil Morris, Pete Papallardo and
John Updike ("the other John Updike") first started getting together
to pick and sing. The configuration has changed somewhat over the years,
with various friends in and out of the band but "Once a Lost
Rambler, always a Lost Rambler" and then about three or four
years ago, the guys decided to throw their hat in the ring and go for broke,
with their own nonprofit organization see their website, at www.poconobluegrass.org
- and their very own "Winterfest" three-day bluegrass festival
(Fri Jan 31st, Sat Feb 1st and Sun Feb 2nd this year), to add to the monthly
"Shindigs" theyve been running for some time, up and downstairs
at the beautiful old Elks Lodge, on Washington Street in E Stroudsburg ("Dont
Park in the Rosens Lot Next Door!")
This year, their Third Annual, they got the redoubtable Bob Paisley and
The Southern Grass to headline on Saturday, plus an all-star lineup of regional
bands, from The Blue Ridge Mtn Boys (hosts of the annual Newfoundland Bluegrass
Festival, held each June up at the Greene-Dreher-Sterling Fairgrounds north
of here), to Stained Grass Window, a mostly-gospel bluegrass group from
out in Williamsport, to Raven Creek (from over Benton way), to Heavy Traffic
(from "somewhere across the river in Jersey"), plus of course
The Mason-Dixon Bandits, The Mill Creek Boys, and the Booglerizers
you believe in a tuba and the Mississippi Delta blues, dont you? Sure.
Listen to em
The Juggernaut String Band helped kick off the proceedings as part of
the "Coffeehouse Stroll" on Friday Night, and the Ramblers called
upon long-time friends and Old Time Music enthusiasts Wayfarers Too (Norm
Williams and Bob Mallalieu), together with Raven Creek (Joe and Lorraine
Feola) from up Benton way - the Pocono Choral Society and Rev Glenn
Simmons for Sunday mornings "Gospel in The Burgs,"
upstairs at the Elks Club and of course there were the simultaneous
sessions and shindigs going on everywhere you could shake a pick at. (We
wont even mention Todd Collins Mandolin Workshop, Frank Finocchios
Instrument Clinic, or Anthony Hennigan, stepping in to run the Fiddle Workshop
in place of the trapped-in-Ireland Tony DeMarco you get the idea).
But then the Columbia disaster broke in on Saturday morning. The Lost Ramblers
were not the only group who turned to "Amelia Earharts Last Flight,"
of course, but these are not the kind of people to wallow in borrowed grief,
and following a brief, respectful tribute to American and Israeli
and Indian heroes and heroines, the show went on.
Blueridge Mountain Boys
|The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys, onstage when we arrived,
delivered a high-powered, mandolin-driven set, marked by their version
of Ricky Skaggs "Red Apple Rag," with a rippling mandolin
(Scott Ero)-banjo (Tony McGill) duet, and their sorta-large bass player
(Matt) stepped up as an unlikely Jack Herrick clone, doubling on pennywhistle,
for a hard-driving version of "Blackberry Blossom," before,
as noted, turning without preface to "Heres to You, Amelia
Earhart," and rounding off their set with Fats Dominos "Im
Walkin," charging ahead into Larry Sparks "1949,"
and offering up a 4-part a capella intro to a nice stop-time "The
Fugitive," to carry them offstage.
||If youve heard Rhonda Vincent recently, then youd
be prepared for Straight Drives NY-based vocalist, Jen
Larsen, with the kind of voice that could cut metal and send Alison
Krauss running for cover. Tony McGill stayed onstage from The Blue Ridge
Mtn Boys set, directing the proceedings from his banjo mike, stage
right, big grin on his face at the crowds reaction to Jens
amazing attack (shes currently working with some other musicians,
like Fairport Convention, on a Child Ballad CD-ROM due out later this
year listen for her version of "Lady Margaret Doc
Watson does it differently, Id say!)
| and otherwise shepherding the band thro a very
tight set, featuring among others Todd Collins on Bill Monroes
"Kentucky Mandolin," riding thro a forest of mikes onstage.
But it was impossible to get past that Mother Maybelle Carter sound
of Jen Larsen on "Little Moses." A real keeper, someone to
look out for down the line.
||Second Wind, by contrast with most other bands
here who were taking advantage of all the mikes that festival
soundman Jim Crawford could line up for them (as many as nine at a time)
- went instead with a single mike suspended, old-time radio style, from
the centre of the stage, the bass-player skipping in and out on vocal
trios in time with the mandolin and guitar players a bit rough
on the banjo-picker (Andy Reiser), who couldnt hike his cheese-cutter
up that high, tho he sure sounded good if you watched close
|but the group delivered a mournful country weeper, "Best
Female Actress," that had the ladies nodding and smiling along
with the band, who, after a false start, ripped off a nice version of
the old Stanley Brothers "Old Country Church" to boot.
The dobro got a workout on the old boogie number, "Who Zat Who?"
and the bass got a slap-solo on "If You Got the Time" that
had the crowd demanding a second run-thro.
All of this did I mention "I Know Youre Married"
and "Bluegrass Stomp," "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Ill
Take the Blame"? before the headliner even appeared
Second Wind did more than warm up the crowd with a set that included
their version of "Armadillo Breakdown," just for the heck
of it, getting a well-deserved ovation before they vacated the stage
for the Paisley/Lundy Family Band
So what can you say about Bob Paisley and Southern Grass that
hasnt already been said in Bluegrass Unlimited? Not a whole heck
of a lot, admittedly. Bob, one of Natures Southern gentlemen,
has been playing this kind of music before many of his younger fans
traded in their pacifiers for flatpicks ("I Thought I Heard You
Calling My Name," oh my). Son Dan sounds more like Ricky Skaggs,
when he gets up there into the upper ranges of the known musical scale,
every year he comes around, promising "Ill Break Out Again
Tonight". TJ Lundy, son of the late Ted Lundy, is ever more the
sweet and deft middle-of-the-bow, top-shelf fiddler, who can cut you
as fat or thin a slice of any tune you care to name, from "Rachel"
to oh, yeah, "Armadillo Breakdown," step back, fellas. The
young mandolin-player Donny Eldridge is right up there with the rest
of the band, showing off his chops and vocal chords on
the Bill Harrell tune, "Are You Coming Back Again?" with Bobby
Lundy on the five-string cheese-cutter and steadfast Mike Paisley on
that rock-steady bass bringing everybody along on the set-closing "Shenandoah
Breakdown" and on over to the record-table, for Dad and Dan busily
signing a whole bunch of CDs. You betcha.
The Paisley Family
|Time for dinner. Down in the bar at the Elks Club, theyd
set up a monster TV set so nobody had to miss a note of Heavy Traffics
soaring set "On the Way Back to My Home"- and boggle
at the Booglerizers spoons, tuba and harmonica, an old-time
jug-band, swaggering thro, "Just Because You Think Youre
So Pretty" - over a Bud or two. Amazing music, this. Whew. You
wrung out yet?
Here come the Lost Ramblers and a pennywhistle
Barbara McMahon is the latest Rambler, getting herself lost in these woods,
somewhere between chamber-music (shes a classical flautist) and Sunday
marathons with Scottish strathspeys. Its a long story, shell tell
you if you ask her. Joined or re-joined by one of the original
Ramblers, crew-cut fiddler Anthony Hennigan, and by his son Mike on mandolin,
the festival hosts took over the stage before the return of Bob Paisley and
Southern Grass - bluegrassers always give you fair value for your money, dont
they? - and away the after-dinner crowd went, toe-tapping their way thro "Lost
John" and "Reubens Train," getting Barbara to skip them
thro "Little Beggarman," with Neil, Paul and John raising their
voices in a mournful version of "Rain and Snow."
A moments respectful silence for the seven Columbia astronauts led into
"Holy Ground" this is tact fiddle and then mandolin
picking up after the first verse, and the Lost Ramblers proceeded with the
rest of a nicely-chosen set, to some extent drawing on their most recent CD,
Are We There Yet? , the rest sounding casually-neatly off-the-cuff
(but guest fiddler Sue Cunningham joined them for a fiery, set-closing medley
of "St Annes Reel/Whiskey Before Breakfast") - before they
turned over the stage to their headliners, Bob Paisley and the Southern Grass,
one more time.
|Stained Grass Window
And so it went, one musical treat after another (you cant catch
everything, your ears go numb this is a bluegrass festival, remember?)
and this was just the scheduled program, with Williamsports
Stained Grass Window having the perhaps unenviable task of finishing
after Bob Paisleys crew at nights end.
|Nights end, did somebody say? There was still an open mike night
set to go, down at the Best Western in Stroudsburg
the morning, and then another Pocono Bluegrass and Folk Society Shindig,
upstairs and downstairs and everywhere else, at the Elks Club on Sunday
. Some people were gonna take this in stride, as their
. If we decided to head for home, while our
ears were still ringing, do you forgive us? But we made sure we got
ourselves our PBFS membership cards from the lady at the door, and well
certainly see yall next time. (Did you know the record table sold
out of CDs? You cannot make up stuff like this).