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Going Flatt Out At Joe Val

20 February 2013

So there I was this past week, seated in the green room of The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. It had been a long weekend already, and it was only Saturday evening. The Joe Val Fest takes place under one roof— that would be the Mock Tudor palace known as ye olde Framingham Sheraton— but it can feel like a very large roof. Between catching acts on the main stage and in the Showcase room downstairs, catching up with friends in the hallways and sitting in on the occasional jam on the “picking floors” of the hotel, yer cousin Curly was feeling a tad peaked. I set my recording gear down, intending just to catch my breath for a moment, but soon I found my lids getting heavy. Next thing I knew, I was having sweet, bluegrass-tinged dreams…

As you can see, in my reverie, I am still at Joe Val, but it’s one year earlier. Spooky! My crew and I are passing through the hotel lobby, when suddenly— in one of those splices of time and place that can happen in a dream— one of the main stage acts appears, and they’re playing away. It’s Flatt Lonesome, a new act with old roots. As you can hear, the group draws from the wellspring of traditional bluegrass and country music. Half of the ensemble— Kelsi, Charli and Buddy Robertson— are siblings who grew up playing bluegrass and gospel in a family band. In 2011, this trio teamed up with friends Dominic Illingworth, Michael Stockton, and Paul Harrigill and Flatt Lonesome was born.

The band has had a busy year since their appearance at the 2012 Joe Val Festival. In September, Kelsi and Paul got married, and just a couple of weeks ago, the group released its first album. The song featured in the clip— I mean in my dream— is the lead-off track on the album, “You’ll Get No More of Me.”

Regular readers will know that I am not dogmatic when it comes to matters of style. I’m okay with a vocalist bringing jazz and folk inflection to their singing of bluegrass and old time tunes. That said, it’s refreshing to encounter two young women like Kelsi Robertson Harrigill and Charli Robertson who can— for want of a better term— belt it out, old school.

I was savoring Kelsi and Charli’s bracing harmonies when another high-pitched tone bored into my slumbering consciousness. I opened my eyes, and there I was, back in the Joe Val green room, only now seated before me was a cowboy in a black Stetson. As for that high-pitched sound, well…

That is musician Alan Kaufman on the right and filmmaker Bill Politis on the left. In addition to being “the Yoda of Yodeling,” Kaufman is the fiddler in the bluegrass band Flatt Rabbit, which played at this year’s Joe Val Fest. Yup— Flatt Lonesome and Flatt Rabbit. Very, very eerie. The rabbit reference could make you believe Lewis Carroll had a hand in this scenario. In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to have some excellent video of Flatt Rabbit in action, along with tons of other good stuff from Joe Val 2013, so don’t wander off. In the meantime, I’ve gotta get some sleep…

Yer Pal— Curly

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