THROUGH THE LENS: Bluegrass in New Jersey? Americana in Scotland? Roots Music Is Universal
Sid Griffin's Banjo - Glasgow Americana Festival 2021 - Photo by Carol Graham
I hope you are not weary of reading about and seeing the photos of roots music festivals. I certainly am not. This week’s column again features two. One being one of the oldest bluegrass fests, the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in New Jersey. Our coverage of that fest features the reporting and photos of Steve Ramm, who’s attended every Delaware Valley fest since 2014. His photos have graced the column on numerous occasions. The other one is the Glasgow Americana Festival in Scotland, featuring the reporting and photos of Carol Graham. Carol has covered several Scottish fests in the past, and her AmericanaFest photos have been featured here many times.
Glasgow Americana Festival by Carol Graham
The 15th annual Glasgow Americana festival, which took place Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 this year, was the first music festival for many attendees since Scotland’s lockdown last year. It felt like a family reunion, with audience members greeting each other like long lost friends. Most musicians were playing solo, and many confessed to being nervous about their first public performances after such a long time away. The pandemic has been a challenging time for promoters and organizers, so it was especially good to see Glasgow’s best loved Americana festival rise again so strongly.
My festival highlights included Nathan Bell, starting his UK tour in Glasgow, with an acoustic performance of his Red, White and American Blues album. Bell was superb, combining hard-hitting lyrics with stellar guitar playing and humor. Bell gave an illuminating interview to Celtic Music Radio whilst in Glasgow.
Local singer-songwriters Jill Jackson and Roseanne Reid, both with headlining shows, would be equally at home on AmericanaFest’s best stages. Jackson did two superb, sold-out shows, one with a full band, and the other an in-the-round acoustic set with Cahalen Morrison. Reid, a protégé of Steve Earle, has blossomed over the last few years. Her vocals are at once both smooth and world-weary, and her showcase confirmed she is clearly destined for greater things.
Emily Barker’s acoustic show took place in a historic church (c. 1865), providing the perfect theatrical backdrop to her haunting vocals. Her solo rendition of “Nostalgia,” the theme song to the TV series Wallander, alone was worth the price of the festival pass, and brought a beautiful stillness to the audience. Sid Griffin played mandolin, guitar, and banjo and added storytelling, laughter, and education to his memorable performance.
Exceptional new talent was also showcased at the festival, with notable gigs from songwriters Scott Ashworth, Kirsten Adamson, and David Latto. Ashworth is a military musician, and his powerful song “The Letter” is currently raising funds for a veterans’ mental health charity. Adamson, the daughter of the late Stuart Adamson, frontman of Big Country, opened for Barker and became a name on everyone’s lips throughout the festival — a talent to watch.
Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival by Steve Ramm
In 1971, Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley asked the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music to host the first bluegrass festival in the northeastern United States. Thus, the Delaware Bluegrass Festival was born on Labor Day Weekend 1972. Originally held in Bear, Delaware, the festival moved to the Salem County Fairgrounds near Woodstown, New Jersey, in 1990 and “Valley” was added to its name.
The festival, held Sept. 3-5 this year, is not a large one, perhaps 1,000 attendees equally comprised of RV campers and day trippers. I’ve never seen any tent camping there.
Proof of vaccine was not mandated, masks were encouraged but not required. The fairgrounds setting offers plenty of space, and with a half dozen covered pavilions, no one gets wet if it rains and there’s shade from the sun.
Each day 10 acts perform on the large stage (great sight lines), most performing both an afternoon and evening set, each with different songs. Attendees bring their own chairs (virtually no one stands to watch) on sit on wooden bleachers that are provided. While I got to see all the Friday and Saturday sets, car trouble caused me to miss the Sunday performances.
Multiple IBMA award winners and fan faves The Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Sister Sadie, and Doyle Lawson (who is making his last tour) brought in loyal fans. But we were also treated to Bill & The Belles, Irene Kelley, Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, Blue Octane, Mike Compton & Joe Newberry, Tatiana Hargreaves & Allison de Groot, The Henhouse Prowlers, Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band, and Appalachian Road Show, who went on to win IBMA awards for Instrumental Group of the Year and New Artist of the year at the end of September.
Each year there is also a “crossover” artist, and this year it was Kathy Mattea. There was bit of Louisiana flavor as well: Cajun band Jourdan Thibodeaux et Les Rodailleurs found new fans and sold lots of CDs at the merch pavilion. Speaking of which, all the weekend’s performers did meet and greets there, signing albums, T-shirts, and other items. That’s what bluegrass fans expect, and that’s the little bit extra that bluegrass artists provide. It also creates a special bond between artists and fans that makes bluegrass so special.
The full lineup for the September 2022 fest will be announced in December. I, for one, can’t wait. In the meantime I urge you to check out this list of all the folks who have performed at the festival during its 49-year history.
Now, the photos by Steve Ramm and Carol Graham. Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slide show.