Ohio River Valley Folk Festival

‘Newgrass’ originator Bush
to headline fourth annual event

Storytellers, artisans, food vendors
are also part of festival

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

Ohio River Valley
Folk Festival Music Lineup

• 6 p.m. Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub
• 8 p.m. Richard Shindell
• 10 p.m. The Kennedys

• 2 p.m. Brigid Kaelin
• 4 p.m. Troubadours of Divine Bliss
• 6 p.m. Guy Davis
• 8 p.m. Tim O’Brien
• 10 p.m. Sam Bush

• Admission wristbands: $20. Pre-sale wristbands available through May 4, includes $10 worth of food and drink coupons. Gate admission is $10 on Friday and $15 on Saturday.  Children under 12 are free when accompanied by an adult.

• Information: (812) 265-2956 or visit: www.OhioRiverValleyFolkFestival.com.

(May 2009) – Fans have often called Sam Bush “the Jimi Hendrix of the Mandolin.” With his “newgrass” style of upbeat, modernized bluegrass music, his energetic tunes usually bring the crowds to their feet.
Bush will bring his rollicking, lively performance to Madison’s fourth annual Ohio River Valley Folk Festival, scheduled for May 15-16. He will headline the event at 10 p.m. Saturday, May 16. The festival celebrates the beauty of Americana, combining traditional folk music, folk art and storytelling for fun and education. Food vendors, beer and wine and special V.I.P. tents will be available during the festivities, which will take place along the riverfront at Madison Bicentennial Park.
As usual, the music lineup features a varied group of musicians from the national, regional and local levels. “Each year, we try to make offer a variety of musicians from the folk tradition,” said John Walburn, festival chairman. “There’s a little of something for everyone, from traditional folk music to country-influenced to contemporary folk.”
Bush is a diverse musician who enjoys playing anything from rock to reggae to bluegrass. “I was a kid in the 1960s when there were a lot of variety shows on TV,” he said during an April telephone interview. “I could listen to anything from the Beatles to the Everly Brothers. I felt there were no musical boundaries.”
A Bowling Green, Ky., native who currently resides in Nashville, Tenn., Bush got his first mandolin at age 11 and hasn’t put it down since. Today, he is known as one of the best pickers in the business. But mandolin isn’t the only instrument he plays; Bush is a several-time junior national fiddle champion.
“My parents called me a musical sponge,” he laughed.

Sam Bush

Photo provided

Musician Sam Bush
is best-known for
his contemporary,
modernized mandolin
sounds, but he is
also a champion
fiddler player.

“I grew up on a cattle and tobacco farm in Kentucky. Music was greatly encouraged by my family,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to live in an area where we simply had to adjust the antenna on the radio and we could pick up sounds from Nashville.”
During the 1970s, Bush moved to Louisville, Ky., where he formed a group called “Newgrass Revival.” The band helped develop a form of progressive bluegrass music dubbed “newgrass,” which features rock and roll grooves and extended virtuosic jams.
It was the first band to play extended jazz-like solos and improvisations and often played rock and roll songs on traditional bluegrass instruments. “In order to be good at newgrass, you have to be a good student of bluegrass,” he said.
Bush is often given credit for being the originator of the new style of bluegrass music and has been called “The King of Newgrass.”
“We never went around saying we made this type of music up,” said Bush. “It just became the generic term for the progressive bluegrass music we played.”
He is looking forward to coming to Madison, where he often stops to visit friends who live in the area. “It’s always fun to do different festivals with a variety of music,” he said.
He is currently working on an album, which he hasn’t yet named. The new album will feature more traditional bluegrass music than he has done in the past. “We will be doing our progressive newgrass, but with a bit more bluegrass to it.”
Walburn said Bush is always a listener favorite because he plays anything from Rock to traditional bluegrass. “He can fire up any audience.”
In addition to Bush, the music lineup features a variety of other folk traditions as well. “We are trying to educate people as to how broad folk music can be. Many people have no clue the variations there are to folk music,” said Walburn.
At 6 p.m. on Friday evening, Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub will take center stage.
Burch is someone whose parents instilled a lifetime love of music in him, starting when he was a youth growing up in rural Virginia and Maryland. They’d take him with them, often into venues on the District of Columbia’s club scene, where he’d watch and listen as people like John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt and Les McCann would perform.
His stint as a disc jockey on a West Lafayette station exposed him to numerous big name blues artists, and eventually he helped form the band Atomic Clock. Nashville lured him in the early 1990s, and while there he linked up with the WPA Ballclub. He was a music consultant for The Appalachians on PBS and became known for what USA Today called his recreation of the Depression era’s folk ballad style.
“He has a country flavor to his music that I think will attract many of the festival goers,” said Walburn.
Following Burch at 8 p.m. will be Richard Shindell. He emerged as an up-and-coming talent when Joan Baez first used three of his songs on her album, then asked him to tour with her in 1997-1998.

The Kennedys

Photo provided

Husband and wife duo The Kennedys
will bring a contemporary sound
and original music to the Ohio
River Valley Folk Festival, on
Madison, Ind.’s riverfront.

He’s studied Zen Buddhism, played for coins in the tunnel of the Paris Metro and even appeared with John Gorka as part of the Razzy Dazzy Spasm band and Cry, Cry, Cry with Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky.
Shindell lives in Buenos Aries now, writing what have been described as “veritable novellas framed in haunting acoustic melodies.”
Husband and wife team the Kennedys round out Friday’s lineup. They take center stage at 10 p.m. Maura, who met Pete in Austin, Texas in 1992 when he was part of Nanci Griffith’s band, has a diverse range of vocals. Her voice can growl if it needs to, but generally it has an underlying sweet lilt that can’t be duplicated.
Pete plays the guitar, ukulele, mandolin and electric sitar among other instruments. Together or solo they’ve amassed an impressive book of their own tunes, and they’ve covered everyone from Bob Dylan to Les Paul. One reviewer called them the “Husker Du of new folk,” and Pete’s even performed George Gershwin’s classic Rhapsody in Blue on the uke.
“The Kennedy’s bring a big, contemporary sound and original material to our festival,” said Walburn. “They will be a contrast to some of the more traditional folk musicians.”
Brigid Kaelin, who hails from Louisville, will get the crowds warmed up at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Her voice has been described as biting, upbeat, reflective and even mirthful. But just when her audience thinks they have heard her whole range of music, she often surprises them with Blue Dreidel No. 9—which she yodels.
Her style can be unpredictable, which may be among the reasons she’s performed with the likes of Elvis Costello in venues such as A Prairie Home Companion. WFPK-FM picked her as its 33rd greatest artist of all time, a notch above a fellow named John Prine. She’s been called the Bette Midler of alternative country, and her style has been described as Carole King meets Lyle Lovett sung by Natalie Merchant and played on accordion, or piano, or guitar—all of which she also plays, or even— like it’s some great, big surprise for such a diverse artist—a musical saw.
Following Kaelin at 4 p.m. will be Troubadours of Divine Bliss. Described on their website as “the wild soul of Janis Joplin in two truly sweet women,” they first met at a charismatic church their families attended in Shelbyville, Ky. They started performing on the streets of New Orleans, and today travel around four days every week from their Louisville base to take their music to audiences around the world.
Guy Davis, who has performed in Madison during other festivals, will take the stage at 6 p.m. Davis is a prolific writer, actor and all around performer. He’s known for his work both on and off Broadway. He’s appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and nationally syndicated radio shows like A Prairie Home Companion. He was even an opening act for Jethro Tull in the early 1990s.
But it’s his talent as a singer and songwriter that’s brought this self-taught guitarist and part-time didgeridoo player to this year’s Ohio River Valley Folk Festival.
At 8 p.m. Grammy winner Tim O’Brien will heat things up. O’Brien, from Wheeling, W.Va., was one of the original members of the renowned group Hot Rize back in the late 1970s. He won the Grammy for best traditional folk album with his Fiddlers Green release in 2006, and has gone from being a self-taught guitarist to a highly-accomplished musician who today counts the violin, mandolin, bouzouki and banjo among the instruments he plays.
“Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush are two of the best mandolin players in the world,” said Walburn. “Although O’Brien is more traditional than Bush, I am excited about what is going to happen when O’Brien takes the stage.”
There have been some changes in the way the storytelling will be presented this year, said Walburn. There will be two storytellers, Sharon Kirk Clifton as “Jack’s Mama” and Tom Cunningham and his “Fiddletales, and people on the lawn will be able to hear them speak.
He also said Madison Bicentennial characters in period costumes will be walking around the festival, and Historic Madison, Inc., has offered free admission to the historic Sullivan House to festival goers with wristbands.
The festival changed the way it does sponsorships, as well. Instead of a title sponsor, this year, levels of sponsorships were offered. At the top, or platinum level, is Cruisin’ Auto. The gold level includes Gaylor, while the silver level includes Riverboat Inn, and Historic Broadway Hotel and Tavern. Other sponsors include Hanover College’s River Institute, joeyG’s, Madison Precision Products, Riverside Chiropractic, WFPK 91.9 FM and WNKU 89.7 FM.
‘No one is going to be bored,” said Walburn. “I feel this could be the breakout year for us despite the current weak economy.”

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