It’s that time of year again, when all those holiday letters arrive from folks we haven’t seen in years, telling us how they’ve been bungee-jumping in New Zealand and such. But here’s one year-end note that, hopefully, you’ve been part of.
Bluegrass Underground is closing out what by any measure has been a year of seismic proportions. The biggest news is that the BGU experience is now as close as your TV. With its fall debut, Bluegrass Underground became Bluegrass Underground, National Public Television’s hottest new music show, taking viewers from around the country deep into Cumberland Caverns for a high-def look at “Austin City Limits-meets-Nova.”
But even as the show has gone nationwide, (and of course, worldwide on the Web) some of the most memorable moments of 2011 were the most intimate: the haunting majesty of Ralph Stanley singing “O Death” to a pin-drop-silent sellout crowd back in March. Or the power going out in the middle of New Found Road’s June show, as, without lights or sound, the band didn’t miss a lick, Joe Booher going into an extended mandolin jam, before Tim Shelton rang through the pitch black, singing – what else? – “Ain’t No Sunshine.” There were bluegrass legends like Larry Sparks and Doyle Lawson, great new bands like Milk Drive and Greensky Bluegrass as well as major legends-in-the-making like New Found Road, Sierra Hull and the all-star Boxcars.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my time, starting before I was 10, when my parents took me to see people like Van Cliburn and Mahalia Jackson, and going on to a 25-year career covering music for daily newspapers, as well as 40 years of playing music professionally (yes, I’m old). But I have never seen a cooler venue than the Volcano Room. Amazing what a few million years of construction can do. And it helps to have an infallible Architect, of course.
But even after that momentous year, 2012 promises to steal the show. Look no further than the weekend of Feb. 24-26, as Bluegrass Underground TV shoots its second season.
Friday, Feb. 24, it’s the first-ever evening Bluegrass Underground, with a truly jaw-dropping lineup that includes the IBMA’s newest Hall of Fame inductee, Del McCoury, with his Del McCoury Band, plus future IBMA Hall of Famer and BGU perennial fave Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Add to that the hottest Americana act to come out of Nashville in years –the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White, better known as The Civil Wars, whose Jan. 12 Ryman show sold out instantaneously. The David Mayfield Parade fills out that very special night.
Not a bad start, but then, on Saturday, it’s Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill and his all-star western swing band, The Time Jumpers, owners of Monday nights at The Station Inn, the hottest weekly ticket in Middle Tennessee. The Time Jumpers feature one of the best singers alive, Dawn Sears, as well as cowboy music great Ranger Doug. Add to that Nashville’s reigning steel man, Paul Franklin, and a bunch of other session aces and it really doesn’t get any better. But wait, there’s more, as they say in those infomercials. Jim Lauderdale, a man of many hats, from Americana to Bluegrass to mainstream country, will make his Bluegrass Underground debut. And, in the newcomer slot, dynamic singer/instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz.
Sunday’s 1 p.m. show features one of the greatest instrumentalists of our time in any genre – dobro master Jerry Douglas, taking a break from his regular gig with Alison Krauss and work with everyone from Elvis Costello to Paul Simon (he’s also been playing in an electric jazz fusion trio he jokingly describes as “Jethro Beck”). Jerry will top a young, Americana-edged lineup with the Black Lillies, singer/songwriter and former V-Roy Scott Miller and Jackson Mayo’s favorite band, The Vespers.
It’s all coming soon to your TV, but why wait? You know it’ll be even better live.