There is nothing better to crack the ice dam of a nagging winter than a few hours of live music so the DC Bluegrass Festival arrived this weekend in the nick of time. My afternoon of musical delights began with a band from Carbondale, Illinois. The Bankesters are a family affair led by three sisters, ,Melissa on bass, Alysha on Mandolin, and Emily on fiddle, father Phil on guitar and Melissa's husband, Kyle Triplett on banjo. They moved effortlessly from swinging romps to ballads like Carolina Rain and Guardian Angel to the spiritual, The Master’s Garden.
The Winner of the Mid-Atlantic Band Contest, Grande Ole Ditch did their best to bring the house down (not easy in a Sheraton ball room) with their irreverent foot stomping blue grass band. “If loving you is killing me, what a way to go,” was for openers.
Even lead singer Jody Mosser had to admit their closer, Pigeon Eatin’ Catfish, was a little weird:
When the preacher, told me son, “You need some Jesus in your life,
I turned and left the chapel and went lookin’ for my wife,
I said “that pigeon-eating catfish, well he needs a drink or two
Get on that moonshine, a swig or three ‘ll do.”
There was nothing weird about the way Mosser attacks his dobro, at one point it reminded me of Jerry Lee Lewis. Grand Ole Ditch is named after the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, a pet project of George Washington that runs along the Potomac up to the Band’s hometown of Cumberland, Maryland. They describe themselves as a band that “utilizes nickel-wound vibrations emanating from historically pigeon-holed boxes composed of wires and wood.” My description is more succinct: They are hot.
The group that really knocked me out was another family band from nearby Winchester, Virginia. Gold Heart is the Gold sisters: Tori (mandolin), Jocey (guitar) and Shelby (fiddle) with dad Trent on bass. They showcased their own songs with Aint That Crazy and O.K. Corral. But it wasn’t until they lowered their instruments and sang a cappella that these ladies transported the audience with the magic of their sibling harmony. During their rendition of Vince Gill’s Go Rest High on That Mountain, you could have heard a pin drop. Ten years of singing and playing together demonstrated that practice does make it sound perfect.
Later I dropped by a workshop where mandolin player Sierra Hull was answering questions and demonstrating techniques to a rapt audience of pickers and fans. When she finished playing one request, a silver haired gentleman shook his head and announced, “It doesn’t sound like that when I play it.”
Although I didn’t get a chance to hear some of the headline acts like The Seldom Scene and Blue Highway, I got a look at some of tomorrow’s stars and the DC Bluegrass Union’s message: Uncle Sam wants you to make more music.