The camping field is grass covered, gently sloping and spacious. There’s room for hundreds of RVs, but no hookups except for a water and electric reserved for the performers and a few people whose handicaps are significant enough to require electricity. This weekend the campground doesn’t appear overly crowded. The only complaint I would have about the whole camping setup is that there’s a shortage of sufficient porta-johns in the field area. Not all campers, even those with self-contained units wish to use the facilities they have with them, particularly if they’re on site for even a slightly extended period. Half a dozen more portable toilets would relieve congestion in the facilities and make the entire experience more comfortable.
The annual Snobird & Cracker Reunion Bluegrass Reunion held at Craig’s this weekend began on Thursday at 6:00 PM with an evening of local and pickup bands. Craig’s is well known as a venue friendly to jammers and makes sure that time is provided for jam groups to take the stage during the hour before the scheduled music session begins. Many local semi-professional bands first came together as jammers at festivals. Here it is common to find members of professional bands jamming around the field with the fans, and this is a quality setting bluegrass apart from other musics. Imagine Garth Brooks or Toby Keith out in the field or parking lot after one of their shows, let alone Celine Dion. But Bela Fleck, Danny Paisley, the Infamous Stringdusters, Little Roy Lewis, and many other headliners do just that.
Three local groups featuring members of other bands to be performing later played on Thursday evening. Harbor Drive, Generations Band, as well as Roger Bass and the Hillbillies all played sets to the enjoyment of early arrivers. With the exception of Roger Bass, who’s a regionally well-known country and bluegrass singer, you won’t find these groups on the Internet or on MySpace, but they sing together and enjoy performing. The music is traditional bluegrass and the enjoyment is genuine as old friends gather to make music and listen to it together. Everyone has a good time and goes home happy.
Friday, a started as a bright sunny day, became cloudy and blustery as a Florida cold front rushed through, and finished clear and slightly chilly. Smokey Greene opened the day and then took the set immediately after the dinner break. Smokey is an old campaigner, a man in his late seventies who has been playing and singing country and bluegrass music for probably fifty years or more. He plays his ancient Martin guitar well, has an easy to listen to, mellow baritone voice, and sings classic country, bluegrass, and a variety of funny novelty songs, many of which he wrote himself. His music is very familiar to the senior crowd who make up a large part of bluegrass festival audiences in Florida. Listening to him is like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes. The crowd makes many requests, and Smokey is happy to oblige. Smokey is followed by Swinging Bridge and then Ernie Evans & Southern Lite, the bands of the two promoters of this event. Alan Colpits as promoter takes on the major effort of organizing, providing for facilities, selling tickets, and making sure the necessary details of bringing off a bluegrass festival are taken care of. His band, Swinging Bridge, is pleasant listening. Ernie Evans takes on the job of booking bands and organizing the entertainment. Building a bluegrass festival’s schedule requires the promoter to balance many often conflicting factors. The cost of bands, the tastes of the audience, variety of offerings, and more all need to be considered. The audience here is generally older and prefers its bluegrass traditional and all acoustic. Ernie Evans has a deep commitment to showcasing young and upcoming musicians as well as expanding the tastes of those who attend, attracting a younger fan base, and broadening the audience. The crucial issue is to keep enough people happy that they stay for the shows, support the vendors, and return next year.
The Wilson Family Band
Cadillac Sky is a progressive bluegrass band coming out of Texas. All their instruments are miked and their presentation is strongly rock influenced. The five men in the band are each accomplished musicians and fine singers. Their performance is strong and well-choreographed. This band is part of the Ricky Skaggs stable of performers and recording artists and have received considerable attention over the past two or three years. They are currently working on their third CD. The audience for a festival like Snobird & Cracker vastly prefers listening to traditional bluegrass. The challenge facing a band like Cadillac Sky when they appear before such a crowd is to win the crowd over before moving into their preferred mode. This can be done by taking the stage and opening with several pieces of hard-driving bluegrass music from the Monroe/Flatt & Scruggs era to show both respect for the founders and then the ability to reproduce this music. After such a showing, the band can move towards its preferred music and probably keep the audience in its seats. By taking this posture, Cadillac Sky could broaden their appeal and remain true to their preferred tone, pace, and sound. Cadillac Sky chose not to take this route and early lost much of the audience to volume, electrified instruments, and their brashness. Many people left before they gave this excellent young band sufficient chance to show its stuff. In the middle of their set, for instance, they produced a very fine version of “How Mountain Girls Can Love” which, had they chosen to open with it, might have done the trick. To ignore or disdain the audience is self defeating for Cadillac Sky and deprives them of a part of the audience they could capture by showing them greater respect. Individual musicianship and singing in this group is of the highest quality and they deserve widespread recognition. At present, they have chosen to go for a younger, more hip audience. Those people were present on Friday night and very much enjoyed the show. It’s a little sad they weren’t joined by the older contingent who went home.