Posts Tagged ‘Megan Lovallo’


Keeping Time With Adam Steffey

22 March 2012

The Boxcars are a bunch of bluegrass veterans who joined forces a couple of years ago. They have just released their second album, entitled All In. It’s available on the band’s website, among other places. This gives us an excuse to celebrate the work of The Boxcars in general and their ace mandolin player Adam Steffey in particular.

Way back in the old days, when there was still this thing called winter, Steffey held a mandolin workshop at The 2011 Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. Some of his observations might surprise you. Have a look, and while you’re at it, enjoy some tasty samples of The Boxcars’ show on the main stage at Joe Val:

Lots of pickers share Steffey’s passion for working out with a metronome. Even so, I suspect many would be taken aback to hear him say, “If I’m playing with a good guitar player and a good bass player, and I’m able to work rhythmically with what’s going on, I would never take another solo.” After all, as much as anything, Steffey is known for his fluid and tasteful solos. Those of us who marvel at the way he tosses off those lightning fast scale runs or laces intricate triplets into a melody have a hard time getting our head around the notion that he would just as soon stand in the back and chop away. We’re less concerned about “Keeping Time With Adam Steffey” than “Keeping Up With Adam Steffey.”

I hear a lot of Steffey’s influence in the playing of many of the most gifted younger mandolin players out there today. I would put him in an élite corps of masters who have reinterpreted the fundamentals of bluegrass mandolin as laid out by Bill Monroe, players like David Grisman, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile and Ronnie McCoury.

The key to Steffey’s distinctive sound is twofold. On the one hand— the right hand, in fact— Steffey gets a very sweet tone from his instrument with very little discernible attack on the string. On the other hand— the left hand— Steffey doesn’t really use his pinky for fingering. Instead of stretching out his hand to make up for this, he slides around the fret board, creating a sound that is at once clean and slinky. As they say, “Often imitated, never duplicated.”

Yer Pal— Curly


Buck White: “Sui Generis”

8 March 2012

We shot a ton of great stuff at this year’s The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. As is always the case, a lot of the most magical experiences were products of pure serendipity. Here’s a moment we caught backstage…

The gentleman on mandolin is Buck White, Grand Ole Opry member and pater familias of the country/bluegrass/swing outfit The Whites. He’s playing with fiddler Matt Glaser, Artistic Director of Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Music Program. White and Glaser are later joined by Charlie Rose, a versatile Boston-based musician who plays with everybody who is anybody.

Although he has shared the stage with some of the very top bluegrass musicians (dobro star Jerry Douglas was a member of his band for several years, and Ricky Skaggs is his son-in-law), White is really an example of a performer who comes to bluegrass by way of other genres. As he mentions in talking with Glaser, growing up in Texas, he wasn’t surrounded by bluegrass. A lot of the influences that shaped his music were more homegrown, which of course means he was exposed to a healthy dose of Texas swing. Here’s an example of that infectious musical style from The Whites main stage set at Joe Val. Buck is joined here by daughters Cheryl (bass) and Sharon (guitar). The tune is “My Window Faces the South,” a song popularized by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Whether watching Buck White on stage or behind the scenes, it’s hard to believe this is an octogenarian at work. This is a legend who is still very much living it up!

Yer Pal— Curly

P.S.— Thanks to Megan Lovallo for the fine editing.


Hallway Jams at Joe Val

13 February 2012

The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival is upon us once again. For folks who are used to picking around a campfire, the jams at Joe Val require a mental adjustment. Have a look at this video and you’ll see what I mean…

The Joe Val fest takes place in the dead of winter within the confines of a Sheraton Hotel just off the Mass Pike in Framingham, Massachusetts. For three days in February, every available inch of the hotel is given over to bluegrass. The main stage is in the ballroom and the workshops and vendor displays are in the conference rooms. Any leftover space is filled with jams of every level. If you watch the video closely, you’ll catch a glimpse of some industrious teenagers who have repurposed a phone booth to run through some fiddle tunes.

Some aspects of the jams captured in this video are standard issue for bluegrass fests, but that doesn’t make them any less cool. Were a Martian anthropologist to drop by a bluegrass jam, it would note how participants in this earthling activity share the spotlight rather than showcase just a few talents. At the very start of the clip, you can see ­­­­­­Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae and Sten Havumakiof the Professors of Bluegrass and Billy Wylder teaching the changes on “Look Down That Open Road” by Tim O’Brien to veteran banjo picker Rich Stillman of Southern Rail. Stillman proceeds to acquit himself very nicely while apparently playing the tune for the first time.

Finally, the jams at the Joe Val fest, like most bluegrass picking sessions, are a demonstration of radical democracy. Not only do they feature players truly aged eight to eighty, but they also encompass everyone from novices to stars of the bluegrass circuit. No matter how many times I attend the Joe Val fest, I don’t think I’ll ever lose my sense of wonder at having the elevator doors open, revealing a bunch of musicians with national profiles jamming with everybody else in the lobby.

With this video, another new superhero from Team Curly makes her debut. Mistress of Mayhem Megan Lovallo cut this piece together, and she did a fine job of capturing the magic of the moment. Megan and I will be covering the Joe Val fest together this year. We look forward to seeing some of you in the halls…

Yer Pal— Curly

%d bloggers like this: