Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ten Great Days in Shelby, North Carolina

Shelby, NC lies near the center of the bluegrass world, at least the one Irene and I have lived in for the past twenty years. Located in Cleveland County, on the South Carolina border. Shelby is near the birth place of Earl Scruggs, it emerged from the rich history of migrations from Appalachia to the mill towns of the South, many of which were located in or nearby.  Shelby was also the home of Dr. Bobby Jones, known to most of the wider world as blogger Dr. Tom Bibey, but in his real life a beloved physician to the local residents, regardless of social position, an avid golfer, a skilled mandolin player active in the local bluegrass community, and, of course, a loving husband and father.

Dr. Bobby Jones (Dr. Tom Bibey)

Soon after I began this blog, late in 2006, comments started appearing on it signed by Dr. Tom Bibey.  They were thoughtful and encouraging, while urging me to visit his own blog, which detailed the life of a small town physician, musician, golfer, husband, and father living in a fictitious southern town. After a rather long dance, we finally met, enjoyed each other's company, and began coming to Shelby for increasingly long and treasured visits. Sadly, Bobby Jones died, too soon, in 2012, attacked by a brain tumor. However, we kept coming to Shelby to spend time with the people we came to know through him - his widow Marta, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Rick Dancy (their friend and guide after Bobby's passing), and many others. Bobby's book, The Mandolin Case, is still available.  A week or so ago, we returned for a ten day stay at our lake cottage, in the nearby John H. Moss Reservoir campground, What follows is a little bit about our stay.

Our Lake Cottage on John H. Moss Reservoir

Wayne Taylor and the Carnegie Tradition - Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

On Wedneday we got a surprise call from our friend Wayne Taylor, who, after a distinguished career as a member, lead singer, and emcee of the U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band - Country Current, has retired to his home in North Carolina where he lives in the country and continues to perform. We met him and his long-time friend Pam Cooper for supper and a catch-up at the local Ruby Tuesday. Wayne is working with several bands and has recently released two CD's, one called The Carnegie Experience, which captures the excitement and music of Flatt & Scruggs. His other CD is called The Great American Country Band, with fine covers of 1970's and 80's country classic songs. With the two bands together, he is touring with a ninety minute show. Contact Wayne Taylor Productions for more information.

Wayne Taylor & Great American Country Band - Hank Williams Medley

As we were finishing our supper, Wayne looked up and said, "Here comes Carl White, now!" Now, this certainly wasn't an accidental meeting, but I quickly was glad that Wayne had invited Carl to join us. Carl White produces a television show called Life in the Carolinas which can be seen on a number of television stations in North Carolina. Some episodes can be seen on YouTube, too. He also writes a syndicated column, and you can subscribe to his newsletter. When Carl shows up, his trusty iPhone comes out, and, suddenly, you're in an interview...and it's fun! Carl has an infectious personality, asks piercing questions, and shows up in interesting places showcasing his home state.
Carl White

Wayne Taylor & Pam Cooper

U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band Country Current - The Bluenose
Wayne Taylor's Last Bluegrass Festival in 2010

Wayne Taylor

Darin Aldridge Teaching  at the Earl Scruggs Center

We were first introduced to Darin Aldridge at a jam in a semi-buried cinder block building built during the early fifties when nuclear attack was a legitimate scare in the U.S. The building, known throughout the area as the Bomb Shelter, is home to a regular Wednesday night jam, which Dr. Bobby brought us to. We heard a lot of hot pickers, but Darin Aldridge stood out, along with his fianee Brooke Justice. Since then we've gone to churches, concerts, festivals, small jams, and more as our friendship with Darin and Brooke grew and ripened. Here's an early recording I made of their first band:

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart - 2011

Darin has been an integral part of the development of the Earl Scruggs Center since its inception. He helped to prepare some of the exhibits. For instance, it's his hands demonstrating three styles of banjo picking in an interesting filmed display. On Friday morning, he was scheduled to teach two groups of elementary school students about the history of bluegrass. The kids would then go downstairs to the museum, with a series of questions to answer before they reconvened. Below, Darin is preparing his hardware including all three instruments he will play during his presentation, his boom box to play examples of music, which are coordinated with pictures he shows on the big screen behind him. Suffice it to say that few classroom teachers with advanced degrees would have a classroom preparation so well prepared in order to orient students ideas and concepts new to them.

Darin Aldridge Prepares

...And in Action

Darin's presentation introduced and illustrated bluegrass music from its country origins with the Carter family and the Big Bang of country music in the 1929 Bristol recording sessions to Chris Thile's leadership of Prairie Home Companion, and much from in between, all in about 40 interesting minutes. He varied pace, means of input, and modes of presentation while providing lots of opportunities for kids and ask questions and interact. His presentation provided a model of preparation and skill for professional teachers. 

Kids Listening Intently

...While Half the Group Experienced the Exhibits

After Darin's presentations ended, the kids, under the direction of a music teacher from their school, sang "My Home's Across the Blue Ridge Mountains" on the Scruggs Center Steps, while their proud parents look on.

My Home's Across the Blue Ridge Mountains

The next day, we had scheduled ourselves to have lunch with Katie Wilson Espenshied and her husband Ace, who many of my readers will remember as they watched her grow up in a family band singing a song they loved, but she grew to dislike, "Five Pound Possum." When I turned the ignition switch to start our truck, it ground away without catching, a problem we had had repaired only two weeks previously at Rountree Monroe Ford in Lake City, FL. Sadly, we had to cancel lunch and call the tow truck, again!

Leadership Bluegrass Regional Seminar

Leadership Bluegrass is an annual intensive professional development program begun in 2000, which each year invites about thirty people from all areas of the bluegrass community to come to Nashville for a very well organized and useful conference of professional and personal development. Over the years, there have been over 400 graduates. Under the leadership of Ron Raxter, a retired attorney from Raleigh, a spring meeting was planned and held on Tuesday and Wednesday as the guests of the Earl Scruggs Center, which offers a large number of music related activities throughout the year under the direction of Executive Director Emily Epley. A group of ten Leadership Bluegrass graduates assembled for two days of discussion and planning. They included artists, a broadcaster, a member of a couple of IBMA Boards, a singer/songwriter, and several others. The discussions were enjoyable, active, and productive, as we sought to find a worthwhile project to pursue as a group for the good of the bluegrass community. More information about this effort will be forthcoming. The event also included an evening at the Newgrass Brewing Company, where those inclined jammed, enjoyed themselves as they enjoyed a beer and a sandwich. We were joined by Brooke Aldridge for a couple of her wonderful songs. Altogether, it was an enjoyable two days of fellowship and purposeful seeking. 

Facilitator - Ron Raxter

Scruggs Center Executive Director - Emily Epley

Bill Foster & Laurie Greenburg

Daniel Ruth (Nu Blue) and Mitch Coleman

Darin Aldridge

The Group with Earl Scruggs Statue

 Supper at the Newgrass Brewery

The Jam
Ron Raxter, Brooke, Darin, Daniel, and Bill

Here are the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band singing Ian & Sylvia's great song, "Someday Soon," which helped win her the 2017 Female Vocalist of the Year Award from IBMA.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge - Someday Soon

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Chesapeake Bay in Focus by Tom Pelton - Book Review

The structure of Chesapeake in Focus: Transforming the Natural World by Tom Pelton (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018, 280 Pages, $24.95/19.31) is designed to appeal to both the general reader and to the environmental specialist. In undertaking to appeal to two audiences who share similar concerns, but not identical levels of expertise or understanding, author Tom Pelton has taken on a difficult task, which he, largely, achieves. In each section, he seeks to maintain a focus divided between the various constituencies involved, aware of the contextual history of the use and misuse of the Chesapeake Bay, and describing the efforts to save the Bay from both those who love it and those who couldn’t care about it one way or the other.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. At least a dozen rivers contribute to its 200 mile long course through Maryland to the sea, with the Susquehanna River, originating in Lake Otsego, in central New York as the largest. Other major rivers include the James, Patuxent, Potomac, and many more. The opening section of the book takes readers to each of the major tributaries to Chesapeake Bay, telling something of its historical and ecological importance, as well as describing its beauty and degradation. As I read, I realized that my own acquaintanceship with the Bay and its contributing rivers goes deep into my own life.

As a youngster, I attended a camp on Lake Otsego, the source of the Susquehanna River, the largest and longest river flowing into and helping form Chesapeake Bay. My early Susquehanna canoeing experience was on a river usually no wider than 25 or 30 feet, at the end of the day skinny dipping in it with my friends. As a high school student, I sailed the upper reaches of the Bay with my mother and sister in small sailboats based near Northeast, MD. As a young married couple, Irene and I spent a wonderful weekend on the Eastern Shore with a school classmate’s family, and later camped on the James river for a weekend with them. As adults we’ve camped on the eastern shore near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, crossing the bridge several times on our way to Myrtle Beach. We’ve walked the shores of the Potomac with our friend Katy Daly and visited Washington, DC, Williamsburg with our kids, and Annapolis. The Chesapeake Bay has often been part of the background of our lives. And it’s been slowly dying for decades, killed by farmers, watermen, politicians, developers, cities, politicians, and more, each seeking to meet their own needs, while ignoring the environmental, recreational, health, and safety needs of a 200 mile long body of water that has been a part of our history since before English explorers landed there in 1607.

Pelton begins the story by describing the Bay and its constituent tributaries, the rivers feeding it and the lands surrounding them. To do this, he must describe cities placed along the river which often introduce raw sewage into the river, farms whose owners permit runoff from commercial fertilizer and animal excretion, factories that allow dangerous chemicals to enter into the river, and developers who build along the Bay as well as in the great suburbs around Baltimore, Washington and other cities, allowing rain and sewer runoff to further pollute the Bay. He also describes the rugged independence of farmers and watermen who refuse to accept responsibility for pollution and over fishing. Pelton uses profiles of politicians, farmers, and environmentalists to give a human face to what might otherwise be only dry statistics, although there are plenty of these, also.

In a series of marvelous portraits, he describes the life cycles of crabs, oysters, striped bass, eels, and sturgeon, showing how each species relies on clean water being in the Bay for reproduction as well as being left alone enough to be allowed to reproduce in sufficient numbers to survive. He also profiles some of the humans who use and rely on the Bay to bring the conflicts and needs of various groups into sharper focus.

Finally, Pelton looks at the policy solutions which often place the needs of rural America in conflict with both cities and suburbs as they each seek to function effectively in an ever more competitive economic environment, and in the face of a changing climate that further threatens the life of the Bay and the existence of towns, cities, and institutions located on and near it. In formulating solutions and policy suggestions for saving the Bay, he suggests that without strong regional and national cooperation at the government level, there may be little help for the Bay. He cannot escape the reality that such cooperation in an age of decreasing cooperation and increasing competition for ever scarcer tax dollars make the likelihood of such cooperation visionary beyond current realities. The larger national implications of his policy prescriptions lead inevitably to consideration of national and worldwide action which, sadly, probably won’t happen under current circumstances.

Tom Pelton

Tom Pelton is the host of the public radio program The Environment in Focus. A former staff reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, he has also written for the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Harvard Magazine, and other publications. He has served on the staff of various environmental organizations focused on the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay in Focus by Tom Pelton, is a readable, useful, and important book for the environmentally aware, those who love the Bay, policy makers, and as a case study of the broader implications of regional, national, and international planning efforts in an age of selfish individualism and political rigor mortise. While at times the narrative gets pretty deep into the policy weeds, it is largely highly readable, even entertaining. Serious readers interested in these issues will find much of value. I was provided a pre-publication electronic copy of the book by the publisher through Edelweiss which I read on my Kindle app in my Amazon Fire.

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Loser's Bracket by Chris Crutcher - Book Review

I met Chris Crutcher at a National Council of Teachers of English convention in Orlando (could have been Anaheim) in the late 1980’s where he was giving a presentation on Young Adult fiction. He was a trim, handsome, athletic looking man who was a school counselor and an athlete. Someone asked him what set young adult fiction aside from other fiction works. He responded, “The length.” I was intrigued, bought a couple of his books and devoured them avidly. I was teaching English at the time and chair of a large English Department in a Pennsylvania school district. I enjoyed the books, thought them useful for non-readers and less able students in our district, and encountered strong resistance to using them as assigned reading when I suggested it to my colleagues. Since heading in other directions, I rarely read Young Adult (also called Adolescent Literature) these days, but when I do, I usually enjoy a good read dealing with the problems of developing young people whose feelings are close to the surface and whose experience is limited, to be interesting and arresting reads while not demanding too much of me. They deal with the real problems adolescents encounter: popularity, over-weight, dis-functional family life, adjustment to sexuality, and maturation, and more. These are all real problems that young people often find it difficult to discuss with adults. Thus the novels can provide help to them, or a platform for such discussions. As such, reading them can be crucial to helping with problems young people are encountering in their real life in ways that can displace the problem onto others they encounter in the pages of a book. They can discuss these issues with other kids or adults who know how to listen in constructive and useful ways. English teachers who say, “I’m a teacher, not a therapist” are missing the point as well as a chance to involve their students in literature which can turn them into lifelong readers.

Loser’s Bracket by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow Books, 2018, 256 pp, $17.99/9.99) is told in first person narrative by Annie Boots, both a gifted athlete and student, whose life has been fractured. Her mother Nancy is over-weight, an alcoholic and drug abuser. Her sister Sheila a drug abuser in and out of rehab, an absent father, and Sheila’s son, who has his own problems. Nancy has been removed from custody, and Annie has been fostered by an upper middle-class family named Howard, which has its own problems, but, despite the father’s controlling needs to make her a star athlete, which she is anyway, Annie’s in a good situation while yearning to stay connected to her biological family. The story revolves around the interactions between and within these two families and the custody system. Annie describes the situation in breezy, accessible language with a degree of understanding and anxious good humor. She comes across as likable and insightful while trying to deal with her own problems.

In the guise of a book club held at the local library, and definitely not in school, Crutcher includes a chapter about the writing process that, for any student struggling with writing anything contains some of the best advice I’ve ever read about how to achieve a desired outcome, no matter what emerges and how surprising it might be. Annie, carrying all her load of Nancy, her mother, Sheilla, her sister and Sheila’s missing son, as well as her foster parents and all the talents and skills she has remains, as she has been throughout the book, an open conduit to experience with a blockage for internalizing what she learns. As the story moves along, the characters learn that unlike in the books they read to each other, they are the authors of their own stories. Thus, the novel moves the characters and the reader toward an understanding of each of our capabilities for taking charge of our own lives. The disappearance of her brother creates dramatic tension, keeping the story moving forward as does the tension between Annie’s foster parents and within her biological family.

Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher is the critically acclaimed author of twelve novels, an autobiography, and two collections of short stories. He has won three lifetime achievement awards for the body of his work: the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Outstanding Literature for Young Adults, the ALAN Award for a Significant Contribution to Adolescent Literature, and the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award. Drawing on his experience as an athlete, teacher, family therapist, and child-protection specialist, he unflinchingly writes about real and often-ignored issues that face teenagers today. He lives in Spokane. (Amazon profile)

Chris Crutcher writes stories that address issues not unlike similar issues dealt with in any novel focused on adults, but revolving around the lives, concerns, and developmental problems of teenagers. Telling this story in first person put the reader inside the skin of an adolescent girl facing and surmounting problems that would be difficult for anyone. He uses lively dialogue bringing the kids to life while the adults are not the adult stereotypes often found on television and in lesser books. These are real people living real lives. Loser’s Bracket is not just a good young adult novel, it’s a good novel. I was supplied a digital copy of the book by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it using my Amazon Fire tablet.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Sertoma Bluegrass Festival 2018 - Review

Five years ago, the oldest bluegrass festival in Florida, was on its last legs. Attendance had fallen and the Board of Directors was considering dropping the event from its schedule, all designed to support the efforts of  Sertoma International, a century old service club focusing on help in children with hearing problems. Evans Media Source took on the problem, began rebuilding the festival by improving the lineup while providing a more welcoming and diverse environment for those attending. The 2018 version of the Sertoma Bluegrass Festival culminated that effort, filling the campground and increasing the number of day attendees to crowd the performance shed and keep activities alive and interesting over three days of music with five days of fun. 

Covered Dish Supper

The activities began on Wednesday with a corn-hole tournament, bingo, and the covered dish supper that always precedes the opening day of an Evans Media Source festival. Music was provided by Greg Bird with his mellow baritone voice and his Karaoke machine, fried chicken was provided by the promoters, and, despite a somewhat chilly day, a very satisfying day ensued.

Greg Bird

Berna Lou Gibson & Harold Asher

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado

Jeff Scroggins has been a fixture in the western U.S.'s bluegrass world for a generation, winning the National Banjo Championship at Winfield in 1989. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado is his latest effort, featuring his son Tristan, awarded an IBMA Momentum award in 2017 in recognition of his current accomplishments as well as his potential in the future. Ellie Hakanson on fiddle brings her own recognition from the California Bluegrass Association. Meanwhile, Greg Blake continues to anchor the band with one of the finest voices in bluegrass and fine flat picking. Scroggins himself, though a retiring personality, is a first-rate banjo player in a number of styles reflecting broad experience and time spent studying under Alan Munde. Original bass player C.B. Denson joined the band on the present tour. The band is lively, the by-play between Ellie and Tristan amusing, while the music reflects bluegrass and country music from a variety of eras. This is a band you should see, if you haven't already become a fan. 

Jeff Scroggins

Tristan Scroggins

Ellie Hakanson

Jeff Blake and C.B. Denson

C.B. Denson

Greg Blake

The Vocal Trio
Ellie, Greg, Tristan

The Dave Adkins Band

Dave Adkins brings a big personality to the stage, performing with his whole voice and every part of his body. He's assembled a band of Nashville professionals with enough strength and skill to provide him with the support he needs while getting out of his prodigious way. While all displaying excellence, they're smart enough to stay out of the limelight, making him look good. Adkins has learned to take advantage of this approach and bloomed as a solo performer. Not that the band doesn't do a fine job, they're among the best that Adkins could hire for the job. 

Carl Caldwell

Barry Crabtree

Ray Cardwell

Dave Freeman

Dave Adkins

Davie Adkins' Merch Table

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy always seems to enjoy its work. As the band has improved in recent years, they've given up some of the clowning the partially defined them, while improving their vocal and instrumental material. They continue to cover terrific music from the Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene while performing lots of original music, much of it written by Mike Andes, mandolinist and the band spokesman. Chris Sexton's bravura performance of "Orange Blossom Special," featuring some of his classical training as well as impressions of a number of singers and musical styles, continues to be a show highlight. Next year, Nothin Fancy will perform at all Evans Media Source festivals. 

Mike Andes

Chris Sexton

Caleb Cox

Mitchell Davis

James Cox

Andes & Davis

The Cox Brothers

Barbara Martin Stephens Conducts Workshop
about her life with Jimmy Martin

Barbara Martin Stephens

Vintage RV's

Kat Kimbrough-Brake

Irene Shooting

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road kicked off Friday with plenty of enthusiasm showcasing their hybrid country-grass style, the most recent manifestation of the Lady of Tradition. It's good to see Tommy Long becoming stronger with each performance. The addition of Matt Hooper on fiddle has enabled increased versatility by allowing Josh Goforth to concentrate on guitar and for the band to present twin fiddle pieces.

Lorraine Jordan

Tommy Long

Josh Goforth

Ben Greene

Matt Hooper

Brad Hudson

Williamson Branch

Williamson Branch is a highly gospel oriented, show-style family band based in Nashville. They received strong support from the audience based on their lively, animated performance. 

Kevin Williamson

Melody Williamson

Kadence Williamson

Anthony Howell

Debbie & Kevin Williamson

Melody & Kadence

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

Doyle Lawson, approaching age 74, a member of some of the most acclaimed bands in bluegrass history - Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe and the New South, and The Country Gentlemen before founding his own band, Doyle Lawson & Foxfire which morphed into Quicksilver, he has been at the center of traditional bluegrass as well as breakthrough bands that changed bluegrass forever. His mentorship has paved the way for so many musicians to go their own way to success that it has become known as the "Doyle Lawson School of Bluegrass."  He continues to tour hard with his carefully structured show featuring lots of bluegrass gospel as well as songs well-know to bluegrass fans while also continually introducing new music. His band is strong at every position, without featuring real stars. All the members, though, stand out in their own right and Doyle makes sure to feature each one. Dobro player and comic foil Josh Swift was named IBMA Dobro Player of the Year in 2017.

Josh Swift

Eli Johnson 

Joe Dean

Dustin Pyrtle

Stephen Burrell

Doyle Lawson

Emcee Jo Odum

Sound Man Josh Griffen Leads a Banjo Workshop

Alligator Alley

Alligator Alley, a regional band from South Florida led off the day on Saturday morning. The band has become a regular part of the Evans Media Source festival scene, holding down a role in the jam tent late into every evening, encouraging new and inexperienced jammers as well as old hands to join in the fun. Meanwhile, with regular performing and constant jamming, they have improved tremendously on the stage. They are a welcome presence for their spirit and their music. 

Justin Mason

Charles Mason

Shawn Mason

Joe Choina

The Vocal Trio
Charles, Justin & Shawn

The Darrell Webb Band

Darrell Webb began his professional career with the Lonesome River Band in 1994. Since then he has toured with Rhonda Vincent, Audie Blaylock, as well as performing guest appearances with Dailey & Vincent and others. With his band, he plays a regular gig at Ole Smokey Distillery in downtown Gatlinburg, TN.  His voice and mandolin play generate excitement wherever he plays. Whether he's singing the Ralph Stanley standard, and one of his signature songs, Little Maggie or Eric Clapton's version of the Robert Johnson classic Crossroad, he's an in-you-face, first rate musician and performer. His songs about the coal miner's life in the Kentucky mines are particularly evocative. This week, Jason Davis played banjo with the group, adding his driving, Scruggs style drive. Jared Hensley is the single most constant player in Darrell's band, bringing strong flat picking and rhythm guitar to the band. Austin Brown on bass is strong. Guest fiddler Tina Ray Miller provided effective singing and playing. 

Jared Hensley

Austin Brown

Jason Davis

Tina Ray Miller

Darrell Webb

Ernie Evans Introduces the Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have risen to become one of the most popular and reliable bluegrass bands on the circuit. Rather than present a spectacular show, they feature a seemingly endless catalog of their own songs sprinkled with bluegrass classics reflecting their rural heritage and farm background. They celebrate home, family, and rural life in a modern idiom eping them current and up-to-date. Their brother harmony and brotherly bickering which never slips into areas that would make an audience wince provides humor that works without ever seeming over-prepared or rehearsed. Each of their last eight CD's has reached the top of the charts and remained there for months. And they're genuinely nice people, too. The ensemble they've assembled is deeply experienced, always in tune with them, and top notch. Jesse Brock, on mandolin, is one of the top stylists in the world on his instrument.

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Jesse Brock

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

The Gibson Brothers

At the Merch Table

A Tribute to Buck Owens

The Saturday evening show ended with a tribute to Buck Owens put together by Ernie Evans, largely after he recognized the degree to which Greg Blake could impersonate Owens' voice. Darrell Webb on Telecaster ably played the role of Don Rich. JR Davis played drums with veteran steel player Brian Goodpasture adding the typical country background. The songs were familiar to country fans and were very well received. This late show was rewarded with a standing ovation from the relatively small crowd that remained after this long and rewarding day. 

Greg Blake

Darrell Webb

JR Davis

Brian Goodpasture

Ernie Evans

On Sunday morning, the happy campground took its time leaving. Some people attending Jan Ladd's Sunday gospel sing while others packed and cleared the campground. As usual, the bluegrass crowd left a fairly neat and well picked up grounds behind. The festival was fully satisfying, leaving Ernie and Debi Evans with the un-enviable task of topping it next year.