Eric 2011/02/25 3:39

FROZEN IN TIME (Eric Gibson) -- About the only good that comes out of feeling out of sorts is that some of my best songs have been written when I've been in that frame of mind. In an otherwise excellent review, a writer said that we'd have been on every jukebox in America if we'd been born 30 years sooner. That weighed on my mind when I was working on this one. Our bad economy was all over the news around that time and I remember turning to my wife and saying, "Maybe folks aren't going to have any use for bluegrass musicians. Maybe I'm a dinosaur." I'm feeling much more optimistic now and I'm very proud of this song. I think it's the first time 'dinosaur' has made its way into a bluegrass song! Leigh's son Jack is going through a big-time dinosaur phase and makes Leigh play this song over and over again to hear that line.

HE CAN BE FOUND (Ira and Charlie Louvin) -- Leigh and I are huge Louvin Brothers fans. I loaded my iPod with the Bear Family boxed set and this one came on in the van while on shuffle one day this past summer. We hadn't heard it in awhile, so we played it again before shutting the stereo off and singing it ourselves. we recognized that the blend was working and that we needed to record it. Leigh and I think it might be some of the best harmonizing we've ever recorded. We were sad to lose Charlie Louvin about a month ago, but what a legacy those two brothers have left behind!

SINGING AS WE RISE (Joe Newberry) -- We went to the Joe Newberry well once again after the success of "Jericho" and I Know Whose Tears" from our previous record. I thought this song had a real Stanley Brothers feel and I know no one who knows the Stanleys better than Ricky Skaggs. We are so honored to have Ricky on this track. I think this song has a real tent revival sound. I know that I felt like shouting when we were listening to the mixes, and I still do when I hear this cut.

Eric 2011/02/25 11:23am

For "Ring the Bell," I wrote a little blurb about each song in the journal. I have had some people ask me if I would do the same for our new album, "Help My Brother."

HELP MY BROTHER (Leigh Gibson) -- A little over a year ago, I spotted a piece of paper in Leigh's guitar case backstage before a show. I had just started to read it when he snatched it out of my hand. "Give me that. It's #$!@...wanna hear it?" Shows how insecure writers are! He played it for me and I knew immediately it was a keeper. Leigh was inspired by a minister-friend of his who truly 'helps his brother' by collecting food and supplies for the needy. I think it sets the tone nicely for the remainder of the album. We wanted to start out on a hopeful note. I'm glad I looked inside Leigh's case.

WALKIN' WEST TO MEMPHIS (Chris Henry) -- We found this on Mike Bub's iPod, the same source for "The Wishing Well." Mike had recorded a set he had done with Shawn Camp, Chris Henry, Aubrey Haynie, and Dave Talbot at Nashville's Station Inn. I love this song's strut and think it is tailor-made for us. The protagonist has had enough of rambling and is making his way home to the girl he loves.

Eric 2011/02/01 10:05am

[2011/02/01 10:05 am]
A new album release always injects energy into our shows. It is exhilarating to try new songs on an audience. Our shows in the New Year have all been very well-attended and it has been a balancing act mixing requests and new numbers. "Help My Brother" will be released on February 22, but we've already started playing several songs on stage, "Frozen in Time," "Help My Brother," "He Can Be Found," "Safe Passage," and "I'll Love Nobody But You." We're getting ready to tour for two weeks straight in Iowa, Kansas, and Texas and will break out more new ones. I know we can't forget the older songs. In fact, we didn't get to some requests in Chazy, NY, Saturday night and I hope no one is upset with me. We honestly could have done a whole set of requests, but we wanted to do new material and the requests of someone so important to us: our father. Dad has had his health issues the past few years and hasn't made many shows. I couldn't even look at him and Mom in the front row while singing "Farm of Yesterday." I don't want to harden my heart when singing because I want the feeling to come out. However, if too much feeling comes out, I won't get through that song. I just looked over their heads, but I felt my heart getting heavy any way. He really wanted to hear "The Sunny Side of Life," a Blue Sky Boys songs we recorded in Nashville for a movie soundtrack recently. We also did "Holding Things Together" by Merle Haggard for him. I went to see him on Sunday, and he said, "I haven't been in the audience in a long time. Those people really like you."

I was already feeling high at the end of the show from the audience response when Mike Perry walked up to Leigh and me. Mike lives in Georgia but planned a trip to see his daughter for a time we'd be playing in the North Country. He had written our web site a few times saying how he treasured his time pitching for the Lyon Mountain Miners and how much he loved "Iron & Diamonds." He looked us straight in the eye and said, "I love your albums, but the live shows are even better. I was in the Marines for 30 years, and this is American music. It makes my heart want to burst." He made mine want to when he said that. If our music can do that to a tough, grizzled Marine, we must be doing something right. 

We don't do everything right. Earlier in the month, we did a few package shows with Nova Scotia's Spinney Brothers in Lexington, MA, and Bellows Falls, VT. The shows went over very well and we enjoyed working with the Spinneys, friends since the early 90's. Rick Spinney, the banjo-playing brother, made a comment about Leigh's appearance on stage that got a laugh during their Bellows Falls set. We knew that after our show, the Spinneys would join us on-stage for several songs. We decided to sabotage Rick's banjo to pay him back. I took the resonator off his banjo and Leigh stuffed Rick's bright orange t-shirt inside the banjo. We put the resonator back on the banjo and carefully placed the instrument back in the case in the shadows on the side of the stage. After our final number, the Spinneys and their band joined us as planned to play some 'brother' songs together. We could see the orange shining through Rick's banjo head where his fingernails had worn down the frosting. The plan kind of backfired on us. We started with "White Dove," the mournful Stanley Brothers classic. Leigh and I were trying to sing the chorus while hearing Rick's muffled banjo in our right ears. "Plink-plink-plink-plink-plink." No sustain at all. It sounded like a toy banjo coming through four inch speakers. It's not cool to burst into laughter when singing "since Mother and Daddy are dead." We had to tell the crowd why we ruined the song. Luckily, they seemed to get a big kick out of it.

The New Year is off to a good start. We hope it is a year to remember like 2010 was.


Eric 2010/12/19 10:03am

I love to mess around with different instruments. One of my favorite things to do when I find myself alone at the house is to plug my Fender Telecaster in a little tube amp and play along with albums. I write using my acoustic, a G-70 Gallagher, all the time. My younger son gets a kick out of the fact that I've written a few songs on his little satin-finished Martin. I peck around on my older son's mandolin quite often around the house, trying to learn tunes that I can show him. He's leaving me in the dust at this point, figuring things out that I can't. Heck, I even play my little guy's saxophone, a blast from the past for me recalling my school days when I played from fifth grade until graduation. I used to play a little dobro. I broke my finger in high school at a time when I was playing banjo in a little gospel group at church. I couldn't fret with a brace, so learned some dobro so I could play the shows we had scheduled. I'll grab the fiddle and make awful noise when no one's around. I guess I'll try anything with strings. But as much fun as I have messing around, banjo always feels like coming home. It just feels right in my hands where it has been now for 28 years.

Leigh and I took lessons for about a year and a half from a great guy and super player named Eric O'Hara. He plays anything he can get his hands on and had a lot of patience for two pre-teen-aged farm boys. He was trying to teach me rolls on the banjo (right hand patterns associated with Scruggs-style banjo picking). I just wanted to find the melody and play SONGS. I couldn't understand why I had to bother with these cumbersome rolls. At one lesson, Eric gave me a tape of Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall. It was a near-religious experience for me. Earl's playing was magical, and I could hear the melody notes coming out amidst the rolls. His playing was sparkling, ear-tickling. It made me sit down and learn those rolls, devoting I'm sure hundreds and hundreds of hours of my youth trying to get it right. I turned into a bluegrass geek. I can even remember singing "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" to keep from being scared on a rollercoaster at LaRonde in Montreal. I was hooked. 

My poor brother may not look back on these times as fondly as I do. I would pretty much force him to back me up on the guitar. To this day, he doesn't particularly care to play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." I still love that song, but I was never bullied into playing rhythm guitar behind it. He's a heck of a rhythm player now, and I will take some of the credit. He was much nicer than I was. When he got into the fiddle, I hated backing him on the guitar and probably soured him on getting deeper into the instrument. He had a knack for it, too. I should have returned the favor and played without complaint, but I didn't and can't change it now.

I started with a banjo Dad bought from Sears. I think it said Kay on the headstock. After a couple of years he got me a Hondo which I thought was really nice until some pickers at the Crafstbury Vermont Banjo Contest told me I needed a better banjo. I was so hurt because it had been a Christmas present, but they were right. Almost immediately, Dad and Mom ordered a Gibson RB-250 Mastertone from Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. I couldn't believe it when I got home from school to find it in the music room. As I progressed, I realized it wasn't the greatest banjo in the world, but it was a Gibson, and that was something. A few years later, I traded it for a Flatiron that I played for a number of years, even recording our first CD with it. I bought a Stelling Bellflower right after I got married and recorded our first two Hay Holler recordings with it. I played a Stelling Virginian on "Another Night of Waiting." I really enjoyed my Stellings and think Geoff Stelling does great work. My banjo life would change when Leigh bought me a banjo that I've played since 2002. It was a 1933 Gibson TB-3 (tenor banjo) that had been converted to a five-string with a Huber tone ring and a Frank Neat neck. I love that banjo and it means so much that my brother would dig into his pockets and make it mine. I've recorded all our Sugar Hill and Compass records with it. It has been my primary banjo, although I've played a Gibson Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe and a 1993 Gibson RB-3 on-stage as well the past few years. The conversion banjo has convinced me that I'm a mahogany man. I've had maple and mahagony and keep coming back to mahagony, preferring its warmth to maple's brightness.

I am proud to say that I now endorse Deering Banjos. I am playing a new Deering Tenbrooks Legacy and can't put it down. After hanging out with Terry Baucom this summer and hearing his Deering, I decided I wanted one. I told Janet Deering that I wanted a good mahogany banjo, and the Legacy arrived at my door. I love its tone and playability. It's my new toy and makes me feel like that little kid back in the 80s, fired up to play. This is the kind of thing that makes all those hours of practice seem worthwhile. I'll have to grab Leigh and try "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" one more time.


Eric 2010/10/29 5:07pm

We were able to enjoy a few days at home after the IBMA Awards Show before heading back to Nashville to record our new album for Compass Records. We have said before that it's all about the material, that when the songs are there, we know it's time to record. We had a batch of songs we couldn't wait to cut, so we headed back to Music City with confidence. Fresh off our night at the Ryman, we were fired up even more than usual. We had met Ben Surratt about a month earlier at Pickin' in the Panhandle in West Virginia, hit it off, and immediately knew that working with him as a recording engineer would be fun. It's a good thing, because the work is hard. There have to be light moments. It reminds me a little of haying season. We worked like dogs in the summer time, but we'd always find time to play ball or have a water fight or to pick on each other or the hired men. There was no ball or water fights in the studio, but there was loads of good-natured ribbing. If you work with us, you need to be able to take it. Ben was great, both professionally and personally. I really believe that to make a successful recording, everyone has to be as comfortable as possible. Ben helped foster that kind of environment at Compass Studios.

I am so proud of how the band performed. The guys all seemed at the top of their game. Mike Barber again co-produced the record with us. Leigh and I lean hard on Mike. His sense of timing is just so good. He has a good sense for the feeling of the song. Are we rushing? Are we playing behind? Simply put, are we playing together? That's what making music is in a nutshell. Are your ears out? Are you making music? Leigh and Mike are so good at locking in on guitar and bass. I put them up high in my headphone mix and lean on that bed they're making. When the song has the feel that puts smiles on our faces and leads to heads bobbing in agreement, we go with the track. We try to fix as little as possible, but we always have enough separation that we can fix where we need to. The older we get, the more we think about a song's feel. I believe that feel will trump instrumental acrobatics every time.

We recorded songs by Joe Newberry, Chris Henry, The O'Kanes, Louvin Brothers, and Jim and Jesse. The rest of the songs are new originals. I am very proud of all the material, but I'm especially excited about our originals. I know songwriting is what really drives Leigh. I've written with him and he reminds me of a fine painter. He just has to get every little detail right. He will hunt a line down long past the point where I'll have given up. I'll say, "I'm sick of this. I'll work on it later," Leigh, if he has the time, will just keep hunting until it is done. He wrote a song for this record that follows the Gibson line from the boat in Scotland to present day called "Safe Passage." It's so beautiful. He wrote another one called "Help My Brother" that I spied in his guitar case last winter. I asked, "What's this?" I grabbed it out of my hands and he said, "It's awful...wanna hear it?" Shows how insecure we can be as writers. He played it for me and I couldn't get it out of my head. We co-wrote a couple on the record, one with Tim O'Brien and another with Jon Weisberger. I think they're both special. Leigh and I need to make more trips to Nashville. Both songs came from a songwriting trip we took last fall. I wrote several songs that I think stand up as some of my best.

Once again, we put our harmonies down simultaneously on a microphone owned by our friend Dave Sinko. I love singing that way. One night we pushed ourselves farther than we should have. We thought our voices were starting to wear out, but we sang "He Can Be Found," an amazing Gospel song by the Louvins to end the day. The next morning, we asked Ben if we could hear it. Mike is not melodramatic by any means,and I hope he doesn't mind me telling this, but he had to leave the control room filled with emotion. I hope it hits many the same way.

We had some very special guests on this record. Ricky Skaggs came in and sang on Joe Newberry's "Singing As We Rise." We have always waved the Skaggs flag. He is a hero of ours and very much a part of who we are musically. It's an honor to have him on our record. We are also honored by Claire Lynch's, Alison Brown's, and Mike Witcher's presence. Claire lent her angelic voice to Leigh's "Talk To Me," a tender ballad we'd forgotten but dug up by our buddy Dick Decosse from a session we did at his farmhouse in Churubusco, NY. Alison Brown came in on a wooden banjo and locked in immediately. I said, "Thank you, Alison. I'd never have thought of that part in million years." She said, "Ah, yeah you would. The banjo would have brought it out of you." I don't think so. Mike Witcher came in and played great dobro. He's an equally fine photographer and took hundreds of shots of us the Sunday before the sessions.

So here we are, borderline-exhausted after driving eighteen hours to Nashville, putting in eighty plus hours in a week in the studio with a show in Kentucky in between, followed by an eighteen-hour drive home. Where does it leave us? I think we have a remarkable record in the can that will be released early in 2011. I think you will hear the results of band that has worked together all over America, in Canada, Germany, and Ireland in a blur of a year or so. I think you'll hear the joy of having just taken home some IBMA awards. We are so close to the project and have yet to mix it, but I really hope it is as good as I think it is.


Eric 2010/10/03 10:31am

A magical year hit its crescendo on Thursday night when we were honored by the IBMA with Gospel Recorded Performance and Song of the Year for "Ring the Bell" at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. I had tried to downplay the nominations to some degree for self-preservation, not wanting to get our hopes up and then feeling disappointment. I thought we might have a chance as we really felt good about our record and toured heavily in support of it. We had so many folks tell us the past month or so that they'd voted for us and were pulling for us. Having an album with two number ones might have been a sign as well. The feeling I've been getting on stage lately with a band that's been playing a lot of shows -- kind of like driving a Cadillac with everything clicking on all cylinders and the crowds' responses to that feeling -- might have been a sign. The little voice telling me to buy a new suit for the occasion might have been an indicator as well. Still, right before the first award was announced, Leigh turned to me and said, "You do the talking if our name is called." I responded, "No, YOU do the talking!" I thought for a moment and said, "Don't worry about it. We won't be up on stage anyway."

You see, in the music business you get used to hearing "no." You steel yourself to it and know there will be disappointments, but the highs are worth the lows. So you play little mental games with yourself to keep it together. People were telling me they were praying for me, and I was thinking, "Pray that I can handle coming away with nothing." I could tell people it was nice to be nominated -- which it was -- but deep down I really wanted to come away with something. I could tell that was the feeling a lot of people in the Ryman were feeling. THAT in itself was a reward. I think we've fought the good fight and have put out a quality product for years. Somehow it all came together Thursday night. "Ring the Bell" was announced and we heard the applause and I'm on my feet before I know it and Leigh's hugging me. Somehow we made it to the stage with RTB songwriter Chet O'Keefe and I hope the words that came out made sense. Our hearts are full and we are happy.

The night is still a blur to me. We had people like Del and the boys, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Claire Lynch, Tim Stafford, Mark Schatz, Mike Bub, and Alison Krauss congratulating us. We had never met Alison before, so it was such a thrill to exchange a few words with her. Dierks Bentley and Michael Martin Murphy were very nice as well. Jamie Dailey and Darren Vincent (big winners again) came up to Leigh with huge smiles and kind words. We feel so proud to be a part of the bluegrass world. I was touched to hear John Hartford's words from his daughter when accepting John's entry into the Hall of Honor. "Bluegrass is America's last small town, a place where everyone knows everyone and you don't have to lock your doors." God, I hope it stays that way even as it grows and more and more people come under the tent. I know I am biased, but bluegrass is a special place.

We will not rest. This gives us a major shot in the arm heading into our next recording this month. We rehearsed a lot on our latest California swing (which was great and I haven't had time to process. Lots of sunshine, laughter, and Mexican food! California always feels so right). The boys in the band kept smiling and saying, "Man, this is going to be a great album!" It needs to be. Especially now.


Eric 2010/09/07 8:56am

Ireland has always held a special place in my heart, though I'd never been there until this past week. Growing up, we had records around the house by the Chieftains, Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, Irish Rovers, DeDanaan, and more. Most of them were brought over to the farm by a neighbor, Mary (Mullen) Felch, who brought my mom with her several times to see Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. My dad rarely left the farm, but I do remember him taking Mom to see the Irish Rovers in Plattsburgh. I'd hear him singing, "I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home..." during milking or to wake us up in the morning when we didn't want to get out of bed. We knew we had Irish blood but weren't sure from where. I am certain of it on my mother's side, especially now after playing in Ireland. Her family, the Finlaysons and Finnells, look and act like so many of the kind people I met over there. My grandparents, Arleigh and Joan Finlayson, went to Ireland with Aunt Molly shortly before Arleigh passed away. It was one of the highlights of their lives, and now it is one of mine.

We weren't there nearly long enough, as we went there to work and were not able to build in a lot of sightseeing. We did get to 'play' a little, I mean, a wee bit. We played in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in County Tyrone at a wonderful festival at the Ulster American Folk Park. The people were so receptive to our music that we sold out of Cd's on the first day. They really seemed to enjoy the story songs the most, just like my aunts and uncles and cousins did in Arleigh and Joan's kitchen. There were tears on the slower pretty songs and shouts on the rowdy ones. Familiar. As much as I enjoyed playing, I think what I'll take away the most is the conversations I had with people, hearing about their struggles and hopes for a lasting peace. I went there purposely with my antennae up, and I bet there'll be new songs as a result. The lilt in their voices was musical. We'll steal many of their expressions as well. I visited a lot, but I listened more. I'm trying to write about it now while it's fresh, but I'm still feeling sensory overload and should probably come back to it at another time. But I like writing when I feel this way.

I stood in the waters of the North Atlantic in Sheep Head's Bay in Donegal and thanked God for letting me be there. I really felt Him there. I want to go back with Corina. I couldn't help but wonder if some of the folks in my bloodline had been there, too.

"...I'll eat when I'm hungry, I'll drink when I'm dry, and if moonshine don't kill me I'll live 'til I die."


Eric 2010/08/21 12:42pm

I wrote in "Picker's Blues" that music 'can drag you down or make you dance on air.' Well, we weren't dancing in the van when we heard about our four IBMA nominations on Sirius XM, but there was a lot of smiling going on as we made our way from Green Bay to Gettysburg on Wednesday. I have to admit, my heart IS dancing. Album of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Song of the Year, Gospel Recorded Performance...I didn't see it coming. Sure, we had folks coming up to us the past few weeks predicting we'd get multiple nominations, but we wouldn't let ourselves believe it. We are so honored to be considered as a contender in each category. We are a band that has been working hard at this for a long time, our only goal to get better, to get as good as we can at this. To get this kind of validation sure feels good, and we're thankful to all who made it possible. I knew when we cut "Ring the Bell" that we had something special. I thought we had a record with songs that fit so well together. When I heard Chet O'Keefe sing the title cut in a barroom in Muncie, Indiana, I just knew we had to have it, that it could be a song that could advance our career and touch hearts. Now it's up for Song and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year. Thank you, Chet! Thank you, heart, for making me follow you.

People tell us stories all the time on the road, and some of them are better than any award. A gentleman spoke to me in Gettysburg about his dad. I get lots of 'dad' stories these days, and I am touched that folks are touched by our tribute to our father and mother, "Farm of Yesterday (which is #1 in Bluegrass Unlimited!)." This particular story really got me. He said, "My dad loved two bands, bands he wouldn't miss for anything -- you boys and the Johnson Mountain Boys. He passed away in 2000. I still have the truck that he drove, and in it is an old tape of you guys. I can't bring myself to take it out of the cassette player, knowing he listened to it so much. I have played it so many times, but I won't take it out because of him. I figure if it breaks, then it's time. But it keeps playing. Spend every moment you can with your parents while you have them." He tore me up. My heart is still heavy thinking about it. His story made that song that much more special to me. Whether we take home any trophies or not, we are definitely being rewarded.

Eric 2010/08/09 11:10am

Our evening set at the Podunk Bluegrass Festival was invaded by a trio calling themselves The Honkytonk Angels. Clad in short skirts and colorful wigs, they danced in front of us enthusiastically and got on-stage to sing their 'hit,' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honkytonk Angels." I had several folks say, "You guys acted like you had no idea that was going to happen." That's because we didn't. We had fun with it. Leigh's response was priceless: "Well, I don't know who those girls were, but I hear there's a new band on the scene that will make its debut during Rhonda Vincent's show. I hear they don't wear pants." The whole festival had a fun factor you don't see everywhere. The line-up was stellar. The weather may have contributed, an absolutely perfect day to experience outdoors. The sound company, Rosewood Sound, did an incredible job. Everything lined up for C. Roger Moss, the promoter, and I'm glad because he's worked so hard. Later on in our show, I was buying time for Leigh to re-tune for "Mountain Song," mentioning our Facebook page and saying that we'd like to get some new friends from this happy crowd. Leigh jumped in, "I don't need that kind of friend. I need the kind that's going to go over to our record table after the show. Forget Facebook friends; I need Checkbook friends." He is one witty sonofagun.

We did a songwriting workshop that confirmed what I already knew: we're ready to record again. We have the material and a band that's cooking. It's time.

My oldest son Kelley is a big Ricky Skaggs fan (like his father). We have hundreds of CDs in the house, and one day I found eleven of them on his desk -- all Skaggs records. He begged me to take him to Podunk to see Ricky's show and to possibly meet him. I've known Ricky for a long time, but I wasn't going to bug him with so many people vying for his attention. I didn't need to. Stan Zdonik introduced Kelley to him. Ricky made a big deal of him and asked him if he'd like to play the mandolin he'd just purchased last month. Kelley, having no idea that it had belonged to Pee Wee Lambert and was on all the early Stanley Brothers recordings (including "White Dove"), said he'd very much like to play it. Backstage, I watched Ricky put the strap around my son's neck and held my breath as I witnessed Kelley playing on wood and wires something worth way more than his old man is. Ricky smiled and said, "The boy pulls great tone!" Kelley will never forget it, and neither will I. 

When Ricky came out of the shadows backstage at the Ryman over a decade ago and told us how much he enjoyed our singing, it was a red letter day for us. We'd seen him on Hee Haw and Austin City Limits. We'd gone to the Clinton County Fair with our girlfriends as teens and watched him from the front row. We loved his early bluegrass records and rooted for his country songs as they climbed the charts. When we recorded our country record with him, it was a dream come true. Things did not work out for us and the record has never come out, but I think the time we spent with Ricky made us better musicians. It was a good feeling Saturday night to hear Ricky say, "I was talking to Eric Gibson about the Stanley Brothers backstage..." Growing up on that farm, I never dreamed we'd get to work with him, or he'd be talking about me on stage in front of 5,000 people...or that he'd put his Loar in my son's hands.


Eric 2010/08/06 8:48am

Playing the Blueberry Bluegrass and Country Festival in Stony Plain, Alberta, gave us chance to stay in one place for three days straight, something that hasn't happened in some time. Most of the bands were there all three days as we were, so we were able to participate in all sorts of after-hours jamming with all the bands staying at the same hotel. We joined forces with Claire Lynch and her cast of all-star pickers for a good deal of the weekend. Claire could sing the phone book and I'd be happy hearing it, but it was fun hearing her sing songs from the likes of Don Gibson and Flatt and Scruggs. The festival itself was run like a well-oiled machine, this being its twenty-fifth year. The staff takes pride in being accommodating, and we couldn't have been happier. The audience was so appreciative, making us want to return to Western Canada a soon as possible.

We had never hung out with Rhonda Vincent much, despite crossing paths many times with her the last dozen years or so. I had admired her music and also her work ethic, witnessing her standing in blazing temperatures signing autographs for an hour and a half at Gettysburg until the line finally subsided. However, we'd never really had the opportunity to talk much until this weekend when Leigh staked our merch table next to hers. She and her mom Carolyn worked her table for all three days as we did. She was so friendly and approachable, taking picture after picture. She is a superstar in the bluegrass music world, and I saw no evidence that any of it has gone to her head. In fact, I came back to the table after playing a show to find her selling Gibson Brothers CDs for us! She and her mom also volunteered to do a vocal workshop with us at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday after she'd already done a mandolin workshop. On late Sunday afternoon, George McKnight announced from the stage that there would be a supper break and that the music would continue in an hour. Carolyn said, "We should jam and keep the energy up." Rhonda took her lead and said, "Yeah, we should. Do you guys wanna play?" Of course, we did. We're talking about a person who has won every conceivable award our music has to offer going way above and beyond the call of duty all weekend-long. For the next hour, Mike, Leigh, and I jammed with Rhonda, Carolyn, Brian Vincent, and Hunter Berry. A large group gathered in the merch area to listen to us, and I do believe the fun we had added to the overall energy. I came away from the festival even more impressed with Rhonda than before. She has earned everything she has. Not only is she extremely blessed with talent, but she's a smart businesswoman who will not be outworked. We're fans.