Graves Mountain Bluegrass Festival, May 31-June 2
By Tayloe Emery
If the recent Graves Mountain Bluegrass Festival is any barometer of cool, then the Appalachian strip and the mountain music scene are due for a revival of epic proportions.
For the past year, legends from the good Doctor Ralph Stanley to the young and deserving Allison Krauss have all seen their hipness factor ascend beyond anything they ever dreamed with the help of a certain soundtrack album.
The fallout from Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? has also been good to smaller bands that have merged the ethos of punk and indie-label do-it-yourself thinking with the traditional acoustic plinkin’ and washboard scratchin’ of Appalachia.
It’s what helped Southern California band NickelCreek sell over 500,000 albums last year (from California for Godsakes!) and helped them start the month of June by packing Graves Mountain with close to 10,000 shhh’ing and adoring fans.
Throngs of young girls in Confederate halter tops and pulled-back hair squirmed in their chairs in the front row (they had to camp out in line for two days to get the first-come seats) sipping ice cold Cokecolas through straws and inspiring 20-year-old Chris Eldridge of The Seldom Scene to whisper to me after their set, “This is the best Graves Fest ever, and we’ve played at them all…”
A decade old, the festival this year was the largest ever, but still comfortable and relaxed as the sweet, high-lonesome sound resonated through the hollow. Ten thousand bluegrass aficionados swayed in the hot sun and sweated into the hairy underarms of their lovers.
Children without sunscreen were immediately fried and sent to bed without supper in the campground.
But the Saturday evening crowd, redeemed and cooled down in the nearby Robinson River, had settled in for a long night hosted by The Seldom Scene, The Isaacs, and Ralph Stanley— who, along with his son and grandson ran through a teary-eyed collection of favorites including the ever-cheerful ballad “O Death.”
It all made me think of the Hackensaw Boys, whom I admire enormously. Surely, the revival of Appalachian music has been good for them this year as their two self-released albums continue to sell well, their tour bus, “The Dirty Bird,” continues to roll through the back roads of America, and a well-respected band like Cake invites them to open for them on a few dates. Not bad at all.
The music press has finally picked up on the scent and begun to swarm fromVirginia to Georgia looking for an angle, any angle. In the past month I’ve read articles in five different magazines across the U.S. and Europe predicting an alt.folk/alt.country/Americana/Slamgrass revival. Call it what you want. Quite frankly, I think the names are all wrong.
“Hick-Hop.” That’s the new breakout sound.
I’ve started my own record label, and when I find the five funkiest, folkiest white guys in town, I’m gonna take them up to Brooklyn and get Biz Markie to lay down some beats.
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