One Big Family: Freshgrass 2015
Little did the Hunter Center audience realize when they wandered out of the warm sunny field of North Adams, Massachusetts’ Mass MoCa that they were witnessing the beginning of a heartwarming episode. They had no realization that this moment would later culminate in one of those special festival “moments’ that the participants and their extended bluegrass family would take home from this year’s Freshgrass Festival.
The crowd was multigenerational with older grizzled bluegrass veterans here to see Del McCoury and Dwight Yoakam while the younger set was eagerly awaited Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon and the Punch Brothers. Only the truly dedicated or otherwise informed would’ve known to check out the Best Band finalists inside while the other two stages under perfect weather boasted some of the finest roots music of the year. The Best Band contest featured five excellent ensembles picked as finalists. They ranged from Seattle Washington’s Blackberry Bushes Stringband, St Louis’ Old Salt Union to a trio of young Massachusetts entries. These included former members of The Deadly Gentlemen, Boston’s all-star band now called Stash Wyslouch Stringband. Mile Twelve, a talented group of Berklee School of Music students who individually had taken best banjo and best fiddle awards yesterday as well as a Western Massachusetts entry called Max Wareham and the Morning Bugle. The Morning Bugle’s set is where this narrative started to form. The band finished it’s set with a beautiful mournful original tune called Voices in the Pines which culminated with Max’s astounding yodelling reminiscent of a young Peter Rowan.
At the conclusion of the set, both Max and Bugle fiddler Eric Lee were seen sprinting through the grounds toward Freshgrass’ main stage performance. However, Peter Rowan, the former Bluegrass Boy who left to Bill Monroe’s displeasure, had just finished his last scheduled song as the panting pair of young musicians hit backstage. Fortunately, the applause for an encore brought an opportunity for Peter Rowan to return onstage and introduce Eric Lee and his nephew Max Wareham! The extended group gave a well received version of the Old and In the Way classic, “Midnight Moonlight.” The two young musicians could barely control their glee but both admitted to nerves because as Max admitted, “Jerry Douglas was just a few feet offstage to his left!”
While this reunion was short and poignant, there was more in store for this 2015 Freshgrass audience. When Max and the Morning Bugle hit the festival’s pop-up stage later that day, the veteran sing and songwriter was in the audience. When the band began to perform the previously referred to, Voices in the Pines, none other than Peter Rowan was invited onstage. While Peter was humble and begged to be in back, a spirited yodelling contest broke out between uncle and his young protege. It was amazing to witness and a moment to savor for a young aspiring artist and a gracious good natured veteran.
Expect great things from this auspicious meeting. The audience sensed the moment and it was proof that the best moments don’t always happen on center stage under the bright lights. Sometimes there are unexpected unplanned times when everyone present realizes their good fortune to have witnessed something special. This music fan considered himself lucky to be part of the family, Thanks Freshgrass 2015 for a very special weekend.