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Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band at Dead on the Creek Music Festival 2010
Then and Now
Bluegrass at Dead on the Creek Music Festival 2010
A Saturday in the California hills listening to hillbilly music at the Dead on the Creek Music Festival is close to heaven for this Kansas girl! You may as well know that bluegrass music is still very much alive and so are the people who love it so. Thanks be to Uncle John, Mama Jo, and their lively crew up in Willits who produce this 3-day music festival every year for those in the know. It is always sold out, so I’m very fortunate to know these guys.
I didn’t get to spend the full three days and only had a chance to sample one afternoon. I chose to hear Peter’s band because I have such fond memories of hearing him and his brothers play in Stinson Beach and Mill Valley when I was young and could stay up dancing all night. Ahh, nostalgia!
It was blissful to see and hear Peter Rowan and his Bluegrass Band. And what a perfect place, with others just like me (hippies) old and young, equally blissed out, in perfect weather!
Peter Rowan and his brothers are very well-known and toured extensively all over the world. Nowadays he plays his music with many other great musicians like Tony Rice (a DVD of these two playing and teaching guitar is new and available on Tony’s website). If you are interested, go to Peter’s website also and see his biography! It is impressive. As usual, these incredible musicians are so very generous with their time and knowledge and offer up lessons for the price of a DVD and also some free lessons on YouTube.
His band at Dead on the Creek included world-famous Jody Stecher, who is a master on the mandolin (and guitar and a bevy of other instruments). I’m trying to learn the mandolin, so I zeroed in on him. When I came home I discovered his lessons on YouTube on mandolin and guitar. He is a gracious, generous musician, so skilled it takes your breath away, but he speaks gently and has a country soul, not pretentious. He plays with a purity that would not be possible if his soul were not also pure. Stecher also plays East Indian music and it is apparent when he puts one of those eastern scale riffs into an otherwise totally bluegrass song. When he does this it really wakes you up! His sound is distinct and masterful. His singing varied between traditional bluegrass and more bluesy notes.
Paul Knight is a favorite bass player, accompanying with perfect rhythm and deep harmonies and also a masterful musician. I think the stand-up bass provides the underpinnings for the whole sound of this band and those rich, deep notes hold down the high wailing harmonies that bluegrass is all about.
Avram Siegel was standing in at the last minute for the regular banjo player, Keith Little. I thought Avram was an exceptional banjo player but it was obvious to me that he probably didn’t get to rehearse very much and so any little bobbles he made were totally understandable.
Bluegrass music is all about the blending of voices and instruments with rhythm and lyrics so that the sound is plaintive and tender and molten, like hot lava running down a mountain, when it is played right. In every bluegrass band I’ve ever heard or seen the musicians love of the genre and appreciation of each other is so apparent - its like a love-fest! You can understand why the Grateful Dead, using bluegrass to blend with rock and blues were so very popular and their traditions continue, while pure bluegrass also thrives.
Its good to remember our American musical roots and pay close attention to the way this music is made, because it is as demanding as any classical concerto, East Indian raga, or extemporaneous jazz number. The musicians must not only have full control of their instruments and voices, but must also hear and anticipate each other. When you think this bluegrass is getting predictable and you know just where the tune is going, they will drop in some rhythms and wails that surprise and delight, as though they psychically know just what the other band members are feeling.
I have about three hours of video, which I have just begun to edit and refine but I’ve put one of their songs on YouTube for y’all, so far. More will be ready in the coming weeks.
- Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band
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