Text by Lizzy Scully
Photos by Jonathan Dowdell
Muddy grounds and constant rain didn’t put a damper on the spirits of the few thousand music lovers who swamped the grounds of Planet Bluegrass for this past weekend’s Folks Festival. Highlights of Friday included (in the author’s opinion) Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin and Amos Lee, the last three performers for the evening.
Ritter, who taught the prior week at RockyGrass’ annual song school, offered the audience a mellow voice and powerful performance, two things he cultivated over years of “wearing out his tires” on the road. Ritter was so persistent with his career that, until he finally found a booking agent, he would relentlessly call and email venues. “You have to give people the opportunity to have them hear you,” he said with a laugh. Ritter has become a star in Ireland and was named one of the 100 best living songwriters by Paste Magazine.
Griffin stated on the RockyGrass website, “some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard is when you catch somebody singing to themselves. I wanted to make music that had that feeling.” She certainly succeeded at her goal. Her voice sounded like wind chimes on a breezy day, and her songs were pure poetry.
I had never heard of Amos Lee prior to this event, but was stunned by his original, rhythmic, soulful singing. He said he draws inspiration from Neil Young and James Taylor, among others, and I glimpsed their style in his tunes, but really, Lee brings his own brand of sexiness and funk to the stage in both his movement and his dance. And true to folks music traditions, in his intros he teased the audience, telling people to “stop doing the Dr. Seuss dance” because they might hit someone with their wild, hippie moves.
Other highlights of the event included Todd Snider, Missy Higgins and Tim O’Brien. No stranger to Planet Bluegrass, O’Brien as easily transitions from bluegrass to folks music as he does from the violin to the guitar to the banjo. A master of all stringed instruments (as far as I could tell) and a fantastic singer to boot, he brings as much style and energy to the stage as an entire band.
Australian Higgins, though just a babe in the music world at 23, has a powerful and gorgeous voice that boomed across the ranch like the thunder that rumbled all weekend. And Snider, whom I’d never heard of before the festival, brought an old folks tradition to the stage: long, comical introductions complete with political statements and self deprecation, in addition to a full voice and fantastic guitar playing.
My two favorite bands – Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers and The Waifs – rounded out my Folks Fest experience. The three Sixers bounced across the stage like monkeys on speed, and sang a few harmonies that shook the rafters. They had audience members out of their seats cheering and dancing. The two female lead singers of The Waifs, from Australia, had totally different voices, but complemented each other beautifully, and played guitar and a ripping set of harmonica.
As always, and making this event more enjoyable for tree huggers (such as the author), Planet Bluegrass strived to make this event an almost no-waste event, encouraging people to recycle and compost almost everything they used over the weekend. Despite having to wear a full Gortex suit on Friday, I enjoyed this annual event immensely and will certainly return for a third year in 2009.
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