Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 5 Reviews

Star Stage
Sunday, October 2
By Sarah Bardeen and Mike Alexis

The Czech five-piece Druja Trava took the stage on the dewy Sunday morning, opening with "Good Morning Friend" and galloping through an impressive array of traditionals and originals with the kind of twangy verve we might have expected only of native mountain boys. The lead singer crooned in both English and Czech, at one point setting Czech lyrics to a Peter Rowan song. The crowd gave the group a lot of love, in part for their enthusiastic performance and in part because they'd never heard Czechs play bluegrass before. "It was a really interesting Czech spin on bluegrass that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before," remarked audience member Colleen Cassity as she applauded the end of their set. Bluegrass aficionado Zahavah Levine chimed in: "It's remarkable -- they sound like they're from Appalachia. Who knows how they were exposed to this music, but this is the kind of cultural imperialism I can support!"

The crowd swelled just before Vancouver-based favorites -- and Jolie Holland's former group -- the Be Good Tanyas took the stage. Led by a soulful trio of female singers, the group delivered a pleasant, rootsy set marked by their trademark shuffling rhythms and subtle three-part harmonies. Dancers abounded, but the show was also enlivened by an incredible and rare event: the sun came out, driving off all vestiges of fog and forcing audience members to shed their shoes and extra clothes. "I think we're all just glad it's sunny and warm," said one concert-goer who only identified herself as Rachel.

The group's gorgeous rendition of "Don't You Fall" fit the drowsy atmosphere perfectly, though some audience members regretted the set didn't include a few favorites like "Junkie Song" and "Lakes of Ponchartrain." But a bluegrass fan named Emily took the time to lavish some love on the event in general: "The cool thing about this event is that they bring in stuff that's really eclectic....Old punkers who come to see X [former X members are in the Knitters] will end up seeing Gillian Welch if they stick around." The lovely Tanyas finally retired from the stage, and the crowd drained away.

Anyone who stayed -- and there were plenty -- got a totally different experience when Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers took the stage. The group came out rocking, all tattoos and white wife-beaters, throwing up devil-horn hand signs as the lead singer abused his harmonica and shrieked like a demented bluesman over the group's rockabilly stylings. A skinny whip of a guy, the lead singer mugged all over the stage, immediately upping the wattage but paradoxically drawing in a bit of fog. "I thought God wouldn't let Dolly Parton play in the fog," muttered an anonymous concert-goer, glancing at the sky.

While the group played a lot of originals, throwing everything from polka to punk into the mix, they did pay some attention to the traditionals as well, offering a souped-up version of "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms." A high-powered performance that stood in huge contrast to the earlier performances, one anonymous male audience member found that "They really surprised me; they came in at a time when I needed a kick. The energy brought up the crowd. Great showmanship." Another, older man had a comment to make as the band left the stage: "I think this is the closest thing I've ever seen to an ethnic festival for Anglo-Saxons."

Half way through the day, the Star Stage field was completely full. Colorful blankets covered up every inch of grass, looking like a football-field-sized quilt. With beach chairs and coolers in hand, many people still tried to make their way down to the front in search of a highly coveted few square feet of space. There was a chill in the air, yet tank tops and shorts were everywhere. This crowd seemed to be willing the sun out of hiding.

The Austin Lounge Lizards took the stage in trademark loud Hawaiian shirts, breezing through a set full of their good-natured, satirical, and very funny songs. 2005 marks the Lizards 25th Anniversary and-as evidenced from this performance--the band hasn't lost its bite. Deftly able to genre hop, depending on the song's subject matter, the Lizards tangoed ("Strange Noises in the Dark'), did a Klezmer number ("What Happened to Susie Rosen's Nose"), and the band's newest member, mandolin and fiddle player Korey Simeone, even did rap complete with a beat-box accompaniment.

As if on cue, the sun came out right after the Lizards finished their set, and to help heat things up even further, Split Lip Rayfield brought its punk-infused style of bluegrass to the Star Stage. With a vintage gas-tank configured into an upright bass, an acoustic guitar, and a banjo, this Wichita Kansas trio barreled through impossibly fast songs, kick-starting many with the quick yelp of, "1, 2, 3, 4!" The band played with such intensity, Guitarist Kirk Rundstrom actually broke the same string twice.

By now we were all fully primed for what many felt was the most eagerly anticipated performance of the festival. Surrounded by her 12-piece band in matching brown vests, Dolly Parton strutted around the stage in a bright blue dress studded with blinding silver sparkles. Opening with "9 to 5" was perhaps unexpected, and it boldly stated Dolly's intentions: we were to be entertained with hit after hit. "Two Doors Down" and "I Will Always Love You" received huge cheers. Also unexpected and very well received were some choice covers from Dolly upcoming record, including an inspired rendition of the Kris Kristofferson-penned "Me and Bobby McGee" and a reverent take on Tony James and the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover." Dolly had some technical difficulties early on with her banjo and rhinestone-encrusted dulcimer, but she didn't miss a step.

Throughout the show, the entire crowd was on its feet and the lawn was no longer a quilt, but a sea of people that stretched way into the distance. Some found refuge (and a great view) in the trees, prompting Dolly to say, "Are those monkeys or people up there?" A group of women towards the front waved a bed-sheet sign that read "Dirty Dirty Queerdos Love Dolly" to which she replied, "Well, I love you too."

The sun shone directly onto the Star stage, illuminating Dolly and her band in a bright orange glow. They ended the day with a sublime version of John Lennon's "Imagine," enchanting us while the sun slowly set.

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