Making its second appearance at Grey Fox will be Astrograss for Kids, a hip newgrass children's band from Brooklyn. They'll be playing songs of their new CD Let Me Stay up All Night, as well as an album of Shel Silverstein poems set to bluegrass music. Woodstock resident and banjo legend Bill Keith will be on hand conducting workshops, including a special not-to-be-missed Banjo Masters session Friday afternoon with Béla Fleck.
Festival gates open Wednesday, July 16, but diehards have been camped out in a neighboring farm since July 9 for a weeklong pre-festival picking party. After all, Grey Fox is as much about playing your own bluegrass music as it is about seeing your heroes. So if you go, make sure to bring a stringed instrument.
Performances start at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 17 and run 'til midnight. Friday and Saturday music goes from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday there is a 10:30 a.m. gospel set with Festival host band the Dry Branch Fire Squad. The show closes with a goodbye set at 2:30 p.m.
Full weekend camping passes at the door cost $170. Day passes are $45 Thursday, $55 Friday and Saturday and $25 Sunday. For more information including directions, performance schedules and pictures of the new site, check out www.greyfoxbluegrass.com. The Walsh Farm is at 1 Poultney Road in Oak Hill.
Tim O'Brien returns to Grey Fox Festival
After a year's hiatus, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Tim O'Brien will be back at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival next week in Oak Hill, Greene County, touring on his new album, Chameleon. A highly prolific songwriter, Tim O'Brien has been a fixture of the bluegrass, old-time and Americana music scenes since the late 1970s, when he was part of the Boulder, Colorado-based bluegrass band Hot Rize. His 2005 album Fiddler's Green won a Grammy, and he has twice been named the International Bluegrass Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year. A list of his album credits would stretch for pages, but he has recorded bluegrass standards (both old and new), Irish music, a Bob Dylan tribute, duets with his sister Mollie and countless original songs, in a unique country/folk, bluegrass-flavored style.
Chameleon (Proper American Recordings) features O'Brien performing 16 new original songs, solo, on various instruments: guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, bouzouki and mandola. There is a political undercurrent to Chameleon that is more overt than is typical of O'Brien's material. Songs explore the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, patriotism and fear, in addition to his usual staple of artfully crafted pieces on love, life and music.
Bluegrass crowds outside the Northeast can be quite conservative, and left-leaning O'Brien says that at the outset of the Iraq war he started getting urges to speak out more, but approached it cautiously. "I'm a little reluctant to stick my neck out sometimes; and on the other hand, I think I couldn't live with myself if I didn't," he said over a crackling cellphone from Port Townsend, Washington, where he was teaching last week at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes.
Entirely self-taught, O'Brien is known as a master of numerous instruments, sometimes switching around on the same album or concert set. But in Chameleon he explores the tonal qualities of each one, letting it stand alone with his voice and lyrics. "I really learned to play the various instruments because I wanted more musical colors to choose from," he says. His first instrument was guitar, but he learned to play the fiddle because, with so many other guitar-players around, the sounds he heard seemed to need something else.
At Grey Fox, O'Brien is a fan favorite. Though a significant number of festivalgoers spend more time picking with friends at their own campsites than checking out the music on one of the four stages, few people miss O'Brien's sets. This year it will be challenge to see them all, because he will be appearing so frequently. In addition to his solo set, he is also scheduled to play with the Infamous Stringdusters, a virtuosic band of 20-somethings helping to define bluegrass's current generation. And he will do a set in the Masters' Tent, giving a workshop on Celtic music's influence on bluegrass.
Hot Rize, which also included Peter Wernick, Nick Forster and Charles Sawtelle, will be getting together for a 30th-anniversary reunion set Saturday night. Bryan Sutton will play guitar, standing in for Sawtelle, who died in 1999. Also making an appearance for the first time in several years will be Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, suspected by many to be Hot Rize's comedic alter ego. O'Brien, however, denies any connection between the two acts, which appear at the same festivals, but never at the same time.
"I'm amazed those guys are still alive," O'Brien said of the Trailblazers, adding that he is not really a fan. Neither is he sure why Hot Rize fans always beg the band to let Red appear on its billings. "One thing that will never happen, though: Hot Rize and the Trailblazers will never appear on the same stage at the same time," O'Brien says. "I put my foot down on that question."
Though he says that he missed Red Knuckles at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival recently, perhaps he'll catch them at Grey Fox. The Trailblazers are playing at the Dance Tent about an hour after Hot Rize's set on the Main Stage.
@ Jonah Bruno