Author Archives: Eric Rayburn

Greensky Bluegrass Red-hot in Atlanta

Article & Photos by Eric Rayburn

Rarely is an overnight success truly overnight. Bands work and toil in obscurity for years before hitting the right note that resonates with music lovers.

Greensky Bluegrass was founded in 2000 and won the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass band competition in 2006. These men are veterans of the road and of the studio. Now on tour in support of their new album “If Sorrows Swim” these Princes of Progressive Bluegrass are firing on all cylinders with a fun, energetic and interesting combination of originals and covers. The album was number one on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart last week and sits at number three as of Oct 1, 2014.

The recent show at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on Sept 27 saw the quintet from Kalamazoo, Michigan apply bluegrass to such unlikely artists as Peter Tosh and OutKast, while playing their own originals they are known for.

Kicking off the evening was Brooklyn based, Swear & Shake. Led by the sweet vocals of Keri Spieler, they brought the crowd out of its seats with well constructed folk-rock rhythms.

Greensky started their first set with “Worried About the Weather,” an uptempo number from the new release. In all, six songs from “Sorrows” were performed. The first cover of the night was “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” the Wayne Walker tune made popular by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The first set concluded with a nod to Georgia legends, The Allman Brothers with a smokin’ version of “Midnight Rider.” The song included an interlude with lyrics from “Ms. Jackson,” from Dirty South hip-hop stars OutKast’s 2000 album Stankonia (The duo was performing two shows over the weekend at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park across town). The crowd loved it and sang along to every word.

After a short set break, another old-school bluegrass tune, the Stanley Brothers’ “Pig in a Pen” started the second set. The band brought Kari Spieler for a duet with mandolinist/singer Paul Hoffman on “Forget Everything,” a song that could very well find itself on a movie or TV soundtrack. A blistering version of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” led into a 21-minute long version of “Don’t Lie” that included plenty of long-form improvisation as well as more OutKast lyrics, this time from “Hey Ya.” For the encore, Greensky brought out the whole of Swear & Shake for a group sing of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.”

The tour continues through the Fall and includes stops at Southern Ground Festival in Charleston, SC and Suwanee Hulaween in Florida before heading West with support from the Dead Winter Carpenters. It concludes back home in Kalamazoo on November 28. If they come with driving distance, I recommend tying on your dancing shoes, getting in the car and seeing them as soon as you can.


Grateful Grass and Grateful Gospel: Making festival mornings brighter

Article & Photos by Eric Rayburn

Mornings at most music festivals are usually reserved for nursing hangovers, struggling to find coffee or trying your best to sleep in, despite the noise your neighbors insist on making. The organizers at this years Lockn’ Festival did their best to make mornings a bit brighter. At 11 am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday Fredricksburg, Virginia’s own Keller Williams opened the day with special sets of Grateful Dead inspired bluegrass.

“The Lockn’ shows were super fun,” Williams said. “I rarely get a chance to go to festivals for more than five hours at a time so that was a real treat.”

Friday and Saturday saw Williams’ Grateful Grass perform while Sunday morning he took the festivarians to church with a performance by Grateful Gospel.

This version of Grateful Grass consisted of Williams on guitar and vocals along with Jeff Austin (mandolin and vocals), Keith Moseley of The String Cheese Incident (bass) Jason Carter of the Travelin’ McCourys (fiddle) and Jay Starling on dobro. An earlier version saw Michael Kang of String Cheese join Williams, Austin and Moseley for a performace that was recorded and recently released as “Dos.” All proceeds from the sale of “Dos” are going to the Rex Foundation, the charity set up by the Grateful Dead in 1983 in honor of longtime crewmember Rex Jackson.

“A few years ago I was set to play the Fillmore in Denver,” Williams explained. “I called on Keith and Jeff, who live in the area, and they jumped right on board.”

Friday’s set started with a rousing “Cold Rain and Snow” followed by “Jack Straw”, which is usually sung by Bob Weir. Williams mentioned Weir and sent the song out to him in his absence. Weir was scheduled to perform at the festival, but had to pull out for unannounced reasons. Next, a jammy “Jack-a-Roe” led into a slow, shuffling “Sugaree.”

The crowd that packed into the shady Triangle Stage area wasn’t afraid to sing right along to every word of every song as the music of the Grateful Dead was presented in string band fashion.

“Playing bluegrass versions of Dead songs is like skinny dipping to me,” Williams said, “in that it makes sense, feels good and is totally natural. Plus I suspect Jerry would have liked it. Skinny dipping that is!”

Austin took over vocals on a “Loose Lucy” that featured Starling’s dobro licks. The morning concluded with a fantastic rendition of “Shakedown Street”.
Saturday’s set continued the vibe from the previous morning with covers of “One More Saturday Night”, “Althea”, “Scarlet Begonias” and ending with a ten minute jam on “Bertha”.

“The first and third sets I played over the weekend were probably more crowded,” Williams said. “But the second seemed probably more relaxed.”

Sunday morning found “Brother” Williams, dressed in a black suit and tie (but still without shoes), bring a new group to the stage for Grateful Gospel. Fronted by singers from Williams’ band More Than a Little and featuring Furthur’s John Kadlecik on guitar, the music of the Dead was given a gospel edge.

Starting with “We Bid You Goodnight” the band moved through a number of Dead classics including “Ripple”,  “Samson and Delilah” and a “Eyes of the World>Feel Like a Stranger” that encompassed 23 minutes and allowed John K. to stretch out as he would with Furthur. Garcia Band favorite “My Sisters and Brothers” closed the set, which also included an epic cover of “Mighty High”, a 1975 R&B tune originally sung by the gospel band Mighty Clouds of Joy that JGB played about 20 times in 1976.

“I think it turned out really well,” Williams said afterward. “(It) is probably perfect for a Sunday morning festival slot. At Lockn’ it seemed to really suit the vibe of the crowd. I would most definitely do it again- no fear here.”

More than once fans were heard in the crowd saying “If church was like this, I’d go more often!” Williams said he likes to think the crowd connects with his loose interpretations because he’s one of them.

“I’m a music lover first, a musician second and a songwriter third,” he said.

Next up for WIlliams is a trip to the studio for a new solo record, one with which he hopes to break new ground.

“I’m going for an acoustic dance music vibe or what I like to call ‘ADM’,” he said. “I think of it as super funky beats underneath huge acoustic upright bass filled in with acoustic instruments. My idea is to create a record of something I’d listen to as opposed to just what I play- which isn’t always what I’m listening to.”

He also is slated to “cross something off the bucket list” when he joins Dead/Furthur bassist Phil Lesh onstage at the Capital Theater November 21 and 22 and a member of Phil and Friends. Can we expect some “grassed-up” versions of Dead songs?

“I’m extremely excited and nervous about playing the Capitol Theater with Phil, although bluegrass isn’t likely for those shows,” he said. “I am hoping for pure color coming from the speakers as we have improvised musical conversations.”

Cabinet and Tauk Lockn it up!

Article & Photos by Eric Rayburn

One of the things that makes Lockn’ Festival special is the “interlocking” aspect of the weekend. Organizers have set it up so that one band plays right into another, making for roughly 12 hours of non-stop music per day. This can sometimes create jarring transitions, but it can also lead to some interesting moments.

At this year’s festival, held September 4-7 at Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Va., there were fewer unannounced sit-ins than last year. Two notable sit-ins this year were the Del McCoury Band literally walking from one stage to the other to join the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Susan Tedeschi joining Widespread Panic Sunday night for “Use Me”. But there was a moment early Friday afternoon that showcased two of the smaller bands and how bands of different genres can interlock with the best of them.

Tauk is an instrumental 4-piece from Long Island. Led by the dynamic and driving drumming of Isaac Teel, the band plays a funky, jazzy type of prog rock. They had the first hour long set on the Ridge stage Friday and they used every minute to their advantage, moving from one song to the next, often without any pause. The set was dark, driving and almost brooding. It felt like a gritty, gray and rainy New York City day. As Tauk worked toward the end of their set another band was setting up over on the Oak stage.

Cabinet is sextet from Pennsylvania known for energetic and bright bluegrass. They have been establishing a loyal fanbase in the Northeast built on a tour heavy schedule. With two studio albums under their belt, Cabinet is on the cusp of breaking out from being a regional band to going national.

These two bands shared a moment that likely wasn’t planned and may not have even been that noticed by most in attendance. As Tauk finished their set (a few minutes late) with “Mindshift” (which is in rotation on SiriusXM’s Jam On), “Heavy” and “The Chemist”, Cabinet immediately began. This is where the boys who bill themselves as “High on Pennsylvania Bluegrass” showed themselves to be accomplished musicians who can play more than jaunty, upbeat and happy mountain music.

Starting with “Celebration” and moving into “Susquehanna Breakdown,” the band seemed to be projecting a more moody side of bluegrass. These songs, normally a bit brighter and more bouncy, seemed to be played a touch slower, a bit darker. In doing so, it provided a more seamless transition between two sets of very different music. Maybe they planned it that way or maybe it was like that only to my ears, but as they moved into “Eleanor>Mysterio” the music became brighter and happier, as if clouds had parted revealing the blazing Virginia sun that beat down on the festival patrons.

In spite of the heat, people were dancing and smiling. In spite of the difference in style these two bands showed the spirit of a festival dedicated to improvisation and interlocking. Both Tauk and Cabinet played their hearts out that day and hopefully garnered some new fans in the process.

Carolina Chocolate Drops and L Shape Lot Duo, Wilmington, NC

Carolina Chocolate Drops perform at Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, NC on 2/26/2014. Photo by Eric Rayburn Photography.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops brought a foot-stompin’ good time to the Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, NC on Feb 26, 2014. A sold-out crowd braved cold and rain to pack the converted church for a night of old-time and bluegrass.

L Shape Lot Duo supports Carolina Chocolate Drops at Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, NC on 2/26/2014. Photo by Eric Rayburn Photography.

The night began with a fantastic opening set from local Wilmington band L Shape Lot Duo. Comprised of Eric Miller and Alex Lanier, the duo is the acoustic half of the band L Shape Lot, a past winner of Floydfest’s On the Rise competition. Playing a blend of folk, bluegrass, rock and jam, the Duo’s set encompassed originals and familiar covers. Miller kept up a humorous stage banter asking the crowd at one point “How many of y’all have no idea who we are? Raise your hand!” A highlight of the set was a speedy and folksy cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”.

Alex Lanier of L Shape Lot Duo supports Carolina Chocolate Drops at Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, NC on 2/26/2014. Photo by Eric Rayburn Photography.

The Chocolate Drops played a single set lasting about and hour and a half. The show was a mix of songs from the 1800s to present day, blending old time spirituals, 20s vaudeville jazz and modern bluegrass. Led by Rhiannon Giddens, the quartet played a variety of instruments, including the primitive percussion of “bones”. Used by slaves when drums were taken away, the bones are similar in sound to spoons or castanets.

Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops performs at Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, NC on 2/26/2014. Photo by Eric Rayburn Photography.

Giddens, whose powerful voice induced chills more than once throughout the evening, was not afraid to step back and let other members, including multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins take over, showcasing vocals and instrumental chops a plenty.

Once of the most interesting touring groups out there right now, a show from this band is guaranteed to get your toes tappin’. And where else are you going to see a beautiful African-American woman from Greensboro, NC bust out a tremendous version of a traditional Scottish folk song IN GAELIC? The rest of the country has taken notice of this band from the North Carolina piedmont and you should as well.

Recommended Articles

Follow Recommends – The Jon Stickley Trio

If you enjoy fast, precise, masterful and tuneful flat-picking, allow me to introduce you to the Jon Stickley Trio. Emerging from the up and coming West Asheville, NC, the group has had a year to remember in 2013 and from all indications are looking forward to an even better 2014.
Composed of Stickley on guitar, Lyndsay Pruett on violin and Patrick Armitage on percussion, the group plays a brand of music that veers between traditional bluegrass to a progressive sound that has been called “jazzgrass” by BOLD Life Magazine.

Stickley hails from Durham, NC and has played with numerous bands in the past including Colorado Playboys (with Travis Book of The Infamous Stringdusters and Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon), Broke Mountain (also with Book and Thorn) and Big Fat Gap. Having a close relationship with Thorn help the Trio land a spot as openers on some dates of Leftover Salmon’s most recent swing through North Carolina.

The group’s eponymous album, available on CD Baby, is an instrumental delight that plays between a Spanish influenced “Tico Tico” to a more violin-focused “Blackberry Blossom”. The longest song on the album (and my favorite) is “Saje”, a downtempo jam. The song is itself an interesting story in that not even Stickley knows how to pronounce it.

“Some call it ‘Sage’ while others just spell it out S-a-j-e,” he said. “We just call it the A/E jam, because those are the primary chords. When we named it I just put my initials in with the A and E.”

After taking some recent time for a vacation in Puerto Rico with his girlfriend, Stickley and his bandmates are ready to hit the road starting with a 15-day tour of Colorado aptly named the “Colorado Ski Tour” which includes a date opening for Hot Buttered Rum. Festival dates are planned as they are already booked for Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC on April 24 and hope to make a return to Floydfest in July.

Check out for more.
–Eric Rayburn

Railroad Earth Brings 3 Nights Of New Tunes To Asheville For NYE

Railroad Earth performs at Asheville, NC’s The Orange Peel on 12/30/2013. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

Words & Pictures by Eric Rayburn

For the first time in its 13 year history, Railroad Earth brought in the New Year in the South. Spreading the joy across 3 days at Asheville, NC’s Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the band played to packed crowds on December 29 and 30th. A sold out show on the 31st had fans stalking the front of the club with one finger in the frigid night air looking for tickets that were few and far between.

Carey Harmon of Railroad Earth performs at Asheville, NC’s The Orange Peel on 12-31-13. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

River Whyless, an Asheville quartet, opened the first 2 nights. Formed in 2009, the group combines Americana with baroque-folk. Led by vocalists Ryan O’Keefe and Halli Anderson they turned heads with their innovative sound.

Railroad Earth performs at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC on 12-30-13. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

The run began with “Like a Buddha” and the smiles spread across the room as the “Hobos” in the crowd started to dance. The first set ended with what may be the group’s break-through song “Chasin’ a Rainbow” off the upcoming album Last of the Outlaws, which is being released January 14, 2014. The song has been getting a fair amount of radio airplay in numerous markets across the country. The second set of the night saw a breakout as the title track was played for the first time. Slow and haunting, “Last of the Outlaws” brought the tempo down before building to a crescendo with an “Elko” closer that had numerous decks of cards flung into the air during the line “I need a card! I need a card!”.

Railroad Earth performs at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC on 12/29/2013. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

Night two picked up right where the previous night left off with “Way of the Buffalo,” a seldom played “bonus track” off of 2004’s The Good Life. A frenetic “Untitled #12” saw fiddler Tim Carbone almost saw through his strings in the middle of the set, which ended with another song off the new album, “One More Night on the Road”. Andrew Altman was dropping bass bombs on a “Walk Beside Me” encore that soundman Mike Partridge had dialed in perfectly. People walking out into the mountain air were excitedly talking about the NYE show and throwing around predictions for songs.

Timothy Carbone of Railroad Earth performs at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC on 12-31-13. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

New Years Eve 2013 saw the Peel transformed with decorations to reflect the “Moonlight Masquerade” theme the band had chosen for the night. There was even a brand new backdrop for the show painted by Alyssa Trudel, an artist living in Healdsburg, CA. The backdrop depicted North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain, which is also the title of a new song on “Last of the Outlaws”. Many of the fans in attendance were dressed in masks and costumes for the night which began with “Seven Story Mountain” that transitioned into “Mighty River”. The aforementioned “Grandfather Mountain” appeared in the middle of the first set and showed the power and beauty in the words of songwriter Todd Sheaffer.

Todd Sheaffer of Railroad Earth performs at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC on 12-30-13. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

The second set saw the band re-emerge from backstage wearing masquerade masks to ring in 2014. The obligatory balloon drop brought the first song of the New Year- another new one, “Monkey” was played for the first time. Throughout the run, the light show, choreographed by Alex Anderson, complimented the music perfectly, adding that extra layer that always makes Railroad Earth shows so enjoyable. The coming out party for the new CD continued with a tune that was talked about and anticipated by many through the 3 days. “Face with a Hole” was debuted sandwiched between “The Forecast” and “Spring-Heeled Jack”. This new song is a part of a 21-minute multi-movement piece composed by Sheaffer and mandolinist John Skehan. An encore of the Charles Johnson’s “My Sisters and Brothers” – made popular by Jerry Garcia – had many grooving and singing along as they bid farewell to the band and walked out the doors and into a new year.

The Infamous Stringdusters Play Ziggy’s by the Sea

The Infamous Stringdusters perform at Ziggy’s by the Sea on 12/14/2013. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

The Infamous Stringdusters brought the Road to Boulder tour to a close in Wilmington, NC on December 14 at Ziggy’s by the Sea. The tour, which featured Denver-based Paper Bird as support, was sponsored by Oskar Blues Brewing and raised funds for flood relief efforts in the Front Range area of Colorado. That area, which includes Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, was hit with devastating floods in September of this year. One dollar from every ticket sold throughout the tour, which began in Madison, WI, will go directly to flood relief efforts, according to The Stringdusters’ website.

Paper Bird opens for The Infamous Stringdusters at Ziggy’s by the Sea on 12/14/2013. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

The show began with a short set from Paper Bird, a septet consisting of two sets of siblings, Genny and Esme Patterson (vocals) and Sarah and Mark Anderson (vocals and drums) along with Caleb Summeril (banjo, guitar), Macon Terry (upright bass) and Paul DeHaven (guitar). While the music of Paper Bird isn’t bluegrass but more of a folk/roots groove, the band, which was the winner of 2013 FloydFest’s On the Rise competition, blends haunting melodies and harmonizing by the 3 women with on-point musicianship from the men. Playing songs from the new album Rooms, the group had won over many new fans by the end of the set and “Who was that?” and “I like this!” was heard repeatedly in the crowd.

After a short break, The Stringdusters took the stage for the second time this year in Wilmington. In April, they opened the outdoor season at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. This time they played to a packed house at Ziggy’s by the Sea. The 750-person venue is the newest addition to the music scene in Wilmington and the first branch of the revered Winston-Salem club that has played host to Phish and Widespread Panic among others. Kicking off a 30-song performance with “Ain’t No Way of Knowing” and moving quickly into “Fork in the Road” the quartet from Virginia showed the excitement and smiles the ‘Dusters’ fans have come to expect. Behind the vocals of dobro player Andy Hall, “Well Well” changed from an frenetic number to a spacey 7-and-a-half minute jam. The Flatt & Scruggs essential “I’m Head Over Heels In Love” followed before a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, the first of two Dylan covers of the night.

Andy Falco of The Infamous Stringdusters performs at Ziggy’s by the Sea. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

The Stringdusters’ brand of bluegrass moved between more traditional sounding numbers like “17 Cents” to more progressive songs such as “Like I Do” which employs more use of Andy Hall’s special dobro sound. Bassist Travis Book got soulful on vocals during the groovy “All the Same”. The beautiful instrumental “Middle Fork” brought guitarist Andy Falco (and his red pants) to the fore and showcased his perfect flatpicking. Jeremy Garrett lit up the strings on his fiddle during “Time to Part” as Hall took over the vocals. The blend of vocalists (the only one who doesn’t sing is banjoist Chris Pandolfi) is one of the many things that can help take the band in so many directions and guards against a stale stage show.

Chris “Panda” Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters performs at Ziggy’s by the Sea. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

During the setbreak, the friendliness and excitement of the “Jamily” (more hardcore fans of the band) showed as people introduced themselves to each other and celebrated with those who were being “Dusted” for the first time.

The second set opened with “Light and Love”, “Rivers Run Cold” and “How Far I’d Fall”. This was followed by “Don’t Mean Nothin’” off the most recent album Silver Sky, a song referred to as “Heavy Metal” on setlists. An over 9-minute “No More to Leave You Behind” flowed into a “3×5” that clocked in at 6-and-a-half minutes, bringing an extended jam that had smiles throughout the venue. Things picked back up with “Hitchhiker” and featured Pandolfi picking at a furious pace. The show closed with “Echoes of Goodbye” before a goose-bump inducing encore of “I Shall Be Released” that brought out the ladies from Paper Bird for the vocals.

The Infamous Stringdusters perform at Ziggy’s by the Sea. Photo by Eric Rayburn.

The Infamous Stringdusters leave it all on the stage night after night, not holding back and giving fans more than their money’s worth at each show and this was no exception. This show, and all other live shows, can be streamed for free from The Show Hive on the band’s website.

-Words and Pictures by Eric Rayburn

Editor’s Note: A fellow Dawg from the University of Georgia – America’s finest institution of higher learning – Eric has a background in journalism but earns his pay as a physician assistant in the emergency room. A resident of Wilmington, North Carolina, Eric and his wife enjoy traveling for shows and taking care of their two bulldogs, Munson and Loran. He takes great photos and obviously has great taste in blogs. A big thanks is due to Mr. Rayburn for allowing me to take a night off!

Follow The Infamous Stringdusters on Spotify and be sure to shop for tracks using this link from our Associate account at Remember, 100% of’s proceeds for the remainder of 2013 will be donated to the Tony Rice Foundation. Buy these tracks or anything you want through the link and help out one of bluegrass music’s true greats!

And don’t forget to vote for the fantasy JamGrassers band!