November 20, 2008

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Two days in the grass
The 2nd Annual Upper Valley Bluegrass Festival
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

It will be a weekend of toe-tapping, thigh-slapping guitars, fiddles and mandolins when the Lebanon Opera House presents the 2nd Annual Upper Valley Bluegrass Festival on Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at 51 North Park St. in Lebanon. The festival will feature the best in today’s bluegrass music, including Rhoda Vincent and The Rage, The Grascals, Jerry Douglas and The Seldom Scene.

Bluegrass vocalist and fiddler Rhoda Vincent has drawn comparisons to artists like Lynn Morris, Sonya Isaacs and Alison Krauss. Now one of the premier artists on today’s bluegrass scene, Vincent and the Rage have been gaining popularity at bluegrass festivals since their formation, playing hard-driving, high-energy contemporary bluegrass music. Vincent’s 2001 album The Storm Still Rages was nominated for seven International Bluegrass Music Association awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year. She has received an unprecedented seven consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the IBMA.

Incorporating elements of country, jazz, ragas, classical, Celtic, Dixieland, gospel, bluegrass and even Native American and Hawaiian sounds into his music, dobro musician Jerry Douglas seeks diversity without confusion.

“I want the music I play to be challenging, but I don’t want it to sound that way,” Douglas said.

Douglas has enjoyed a lengthy career as both a solo artist and a member of Alison Krauss and Union Station. With his group, The Jerry Douglas Band, he’s been able to play with artists like Paul Simon, and has a staggering 1,600 musical contributions to his credit, including album work for Joan Baez, John Fogerty, Brad Paisley, The Chieftains, James Taylor, Edie Brickell and Phish.

“I enjoy what I’m doing so much that after performing I sometimes say to myself, ‘I’m getting paid for that?’” Douglas said.

Though he’s done work on several collaborative albums, he’s released several solo works, including Glide, Under the Wire, and Slide Rule. Though technical in his mastery of the dobro, he strives to keep an air of fluidity to his sound.

“I always try to stay loose when I perform and when I record,” Douglas said. “But I always worry that if I get too far away from the main idea, the whole thing will fall apart.”

Douglas has netted 12 Grammy awards and numerous IBMA awards, has played at Bonnaroo, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and has been a featured artist on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Delivering traditional bluegrass and country with a contemporary intensity, The Grascals have been a popular bluegrass fixture since 2004, both as featured performers and as openers for Dolly Parton, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels and Big & Rich. The group earned two Grammy nominations for the albums The Grascals and Long List of Heartaches, and was named 2007’s IBMA Entertainers of the Year. They’ve appeared on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, the CMA Music Festival, Opry Live and the CBS Early Show.

Born out of a weekly jam session in the basement of banjo player Ben Eldridge, Maryland’s The Seldom Scene have been at the forefront of the bluegrass scene since 1971. The group performs modern bluegrass tunes as well as traditional songs like “Old Train,, “Lay Down Sally” and “Blue Diamond Mine.” Their current line-up features banjoist Ben Eldridge, guitarist Dudley Connell, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, dobroist Fred Travers and mandolinist Lou Reid, all of whom have been performing together since 1996.

Tickets for the two-day festival cost $33 per performance and $55 for a festival pass that includes premier seating for the shows, and can be purchased by calling the Opera House at 448-0400 or visiting www.lebanonoperahouse.org.