The 40-year-old Music Festival Virgin


11. Aug. 2008, 12:45

Thu 7 Aug – Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival

Cadillac Sky will blow you away. Period. End of Story. I can end my review here. With the beta fiasco I am tempted to….

I took the plunge and attended my first Outdoor Music Festival. When I moved to Minnesota, KRFC’s bluegrass goddess told me to look into the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA), and to go see bluegrass band Monroe Crossing.

MBOTMA’s music series are the main event. This is the 29th Annual summer festival, which has now been joined by a Summer Kickoff at El Rancho Manana just outside St. Cloud, in Minnesota lakes country. They also have 2 winter shows in the Twin Cities (indoors, of course!) and participate in a couple community concert series. It’s a lot of work to bring good Bluegrass and Old Time Music to the scattered masses!

MBOTMA is a participatory organization I have learned. Bring your guitar, mandolin, banjo, stand-up bass, dulcimer, mouth harp, and deep knowledge of obscure old-time and bluegrass music. There’s an impromptu jam at every camp and a friendly smile to go with ‘em. It’s almost a bit scary.


I’ve wanted to see Brennen Leigh for over 5 years. Orignally from the Fargo area, her brother Seth was the first to send me a CD when I started my Americana radio show on KRFC-FM in Fort Collins, Colorado. I tried to get them on-air but they were starting to rip through the Texas Music Scene and I never got to be in the same place at the same time. Brennen took the stage Friday afternoon. “It’s good to be back,” she said, after ripping through a couple songs she said they have been working on recording for a new record. Brennen’s progressed from a traditional old time-bluegrass regional act to a traditional honky tonk angel in the best tradition of Kitty Wells or Patsy Cline, as demonstrated by her recent duet album with Jesse Dayton. Can you say Tammy Wynette picks up a mandolin? I thought you could…. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Thursday afternoon started off with a couple local acts to warm up the stage. 6:00 pm and most of the real estate was claimed with folding chairs back up the hill almost to Dakota. One advantage of going solo is I could wedge a single chair in close to a tree, about 40 feet back from the stage. I am glad I got there then, ‘cause I was really impressed with the opening act, The Ditchlilies from the Twin Cities. These 20-something (?) women are grounded in a variety of “old-time” folk and mountain music. They play Carter Family and Harlem Hamfats, Hank Williams and Bob Wills. Personable on stage, and diverse in their instrumentation, they take traditional country tunes and give them new life. There’s even a bit of swing-dance involved. These ladies have potential.

Cadillac Sky is the band that got me to delve into the fray. I’m not much for crowds, but Sacha72 saw them play in France two weeks prior and convinced me that they are a must-see.

C-Sky took the stage just before 8pm. I was a bit skeptical when their sound check took longer than some of the showcase sets. Plug this into that and adjust and tweek and try it again. First chord and it was all worth it. The C-Sky lead reminds me of a younger, Texas version of Dan Tyminski. Solid progressive bluegrass, somewhere between jambands and Nickel Creek.

8pm set as best I could figure not being real familiar with their music:
3 new songs off the new album they said
Banjo show-off tune
Won’t be over you
(slow train coming)
You Again
How Mountain Girls Can Love

10:30 set:
Born Lonesome
Paranoid? (head in a lion’s mouth)
Instrumental jam
By the bit
I Hate How Happy She Is
Yo-Yo Boy (guest from the audience)
Can’t Trust the Weather Man
Wish I Could Say I’d Been Drinkin
Encore: Inside Joke (track on MySpace)

The Stairwell Sisters did the 8:50 show. They’re good and clogging is involved. Remind me of the Be Good Tanyas if Lloyd Maines was producing (which he did). I was put-off with their left-wing, San Fancisco commentary, but I suppose that’s to be expected.

Minnesota’s hardest-working bluegrass band Monroe Crossing was the mainstream attraction Thursday night—though their lead singer said the only reason his kids wanted to come was to see Cadillac Sky perform. I am impressed with Monroe Crossing, good solid mix of traditional & gospel tunes, these folks have been playing together for some time. Their Live From Silver Dollar City CD is a good representation of this set, even the same jokes. Too bad their not streaming This vid's from California of a track on the set:

MBOTMA gives me the feeling of a 1,100 member family band that has been playing together for some time. I felt welcome as a new-comer, but it feels less like a night at a show in a club and a lot more like gathering around a cousin’s porch for a family picnic. I only planned to stay a day my first time out. Next year I suppose I should dust off my guitar and join in the fun.



  • Sacha72

    Great review of your festival! It's also great that you got to find a YouTube thing from Cadillac Sky in Craponne! It brought me back to that evening in an instant. Glad I was convincing enough for you to go to that festival... Sacha.

    11. Aug. 2008, 12:57
  • jcshepard

    I've never seen so many mandolins in my life! C-Sky is doing their CD premiere from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville next week. If you're gonna to a bluegrass release, there's hardly a better place.

    11. Aug. 2008, 13:36
  • MrModernRock

    I really wish there was some place close to me that had shit like this. The closest I'm getting to this is the Drive-By Truckers show at the Charlottesville Pavillion with the Avett Brothers opening. Good journal, too. Sounds like you had a great time. C-Sky sounds pretty cool, too and according to their Myspace page, that Inside Joke track is going to be on Gravity's Our Enemy. I'll probably pre-order it before the weekend.

    11. Aug. 2008, 22:57
  • jcshepard

    What? Virgina should be a hotbed of bluegrass! C-Sky is in West Virginia in a couple weeks. DBT's gonna get you more Southern Rock, have heard they do a heck of a liveshow. Come April, Merlefest down North Carolina ways is a big honkin festival with progressive right beside tried & true grass--I have NO idea how long it takes to get anywhere on the East Coast, it looks like one big long city from here.

    11. Aug. 2008, 23:36
  • MrModernRock

    The Steeldrivers are going to be at the Fortune Williams Festival (never heard of before looking at their the Steeldrivers site) in Staunton next month. I wish I could make it, but with school starting up I can't really afford to take more days off in September than I have to and since they play smack dab in the middle of the day, I would have to take the day off. It would be nice though because Staunton is only a hop-skip-and-jump away from my house. They're swinging back down here, though, next year in May. I'll try to make plans to catch them then. But honestly, there isn't much going on in the Western part of VA - at least anything that gets any publication. Piedmont and Tidewater region gets a ton of music through them, though, but I'm not going 6 hours to the Norva to see a band.

    11. Aug. 2008, 23:52
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