I was waiting for someone more competent and with a longer tolerance for great music to post something about the FreshGrass Festival that took place on the weekend of September 20 in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. You will have to take my clumsy word that this was a fabulous festival, even if I missed parts of it. Friday night started off with another great set by Sarah Jarosz, prodigy, song writer, multi-instrumentalist playing with her regular band, the great Alex Hargreaves on fiddle and Nathaniel Smith on Cello. Every arrangement is tight and they show great range. This was followed by Ralph Stanley and company. One of the most amazing moments I have ever experienced was Ralph Stanley singing “O Death” a cappella. The rowdy lively crowd, turned silent and intent. Both the song and the situation were startling. Old fart that I am, I resisted the temptation of the Deadly Gentlemen in favor of resting up for Saturday.
I am a mandolin dilettante. So I went to several workshops at the expense of missing several fine concerts. I was rewarded with useful insights from John Reischman and all the Jaybirds, Joe Walsh, and especially the charming and witty Matt Glaser. I managed to tear myself away from more education in time to catch the last half of Mike Marshall and Edgar Meyer. Do I need to say that they are amazingly skilled players who now have great instinct for each other. It was transcendent.
The afternoon of Gibson Brothers and Alison Brown drifted into an evening of Noam Pikelny’s all-star friends and Leftover Salmon. Mike Marshall came back and played a few songs with Alison Brown. Noam Pikelny had a stunning group that included Luke Bulla on fiddle and Brian Sutton on guitar. Now I wish I had taken notes to remember the other players names. Fabulous and then some. Again, I sacrificed the Wood Brothers for sleep. Another tough trade off.
It isn’t often that you can get to hear Jerry Douglas before noon. Much to my delight, Luke Bulla was back at with Jerry after playing with Noam Pikelny the night before. I got a big kick out of Greensky Bluegrass a very lively group of young (to me at least) players. They were to be followed by Sam Bush, but they brought him on to join them with a fiddle his fiddle saying “He used to be our idol and now he is our friend”. Both sets were thrilling.
Facing a 4 hour drive home we regretfully skipped the Infamous Stringdusters, Devil Makes Three and Del McCoury. Sigh, rationality is so overrated.
PS- There was one unusual off stage occurrence that some of you might be interested in. On Friday evening after we had dinner in the restaurant at the MassMoCa site of the festival, I went back to the car to retrieve our chairs before Sarah Jarosz’s set. As I was walking though the parking lot full of cars but bereft of people, I heard this long horn blast repeated several times. As I rounded Ralph Stanley’s bus I saw two men standing outside of the bus and one of them blowing on a Shofar ( a ritual hollowed out ram’s horn used to announce the new moon and other Jewish holidays). A big, crew cut blond was holding the Shofar and standing next to him with his full jet black pompadour was Nathan Stanley, Ralph’s grandson and band leader. I said to them “You’re a week late”. The Shofar player asked, “What do you mean?” I explained what the Shofar was and that a week ago it was blown at the end of Yom Kippur, the most sacred of Jewish holidays. He said he had no idea and had just gotten it from someone in Virginia and was fooling around with it. Since I had only heard long blasts, I asked if he knew how to play “Shevarim”, a series of short blasts. He said no and asked me to demonstrate, which I did. In retrospect, this was one of the most dream-like experiences I have ever had. The 3 of us alone in a parking lot at dusk; playing the Shofar on a Friday night (not allowed, if you are observant), bluegrass Gentiles trying out a sacred Jewish instrument. It was all somewhat unreal, but it happened.