The International Bluegrass Music Association celebrated some of its finest members last night in an awards show that honored contemporary players alongside some of the genre’s surviving legends. After the ceremony, I hit the streets of downtown to get in some time with the final night of The Bluegrass Ramble.
Last year, a fellow fan complained loudly to me that the club shows were akin to a “pub crawl,” something it seems organizers worked hard to correct this year. At Kings, this came in the form of a handful of folding chairs, while the R-Line bus had been commandeered into “The Bluegrass Express,” taking attendees from venue to venue. Perhaps because I have youth on my side, the bus felt a bit unnecessary. The Ramble shows populated some of the same rooms as the recent Hopscotch, but all of them were within a few blocks of each other—Tir Na Nog, The Lincoln Theatre, Kings, The Pour House and so on. At any rate, most of the buses I passed looked entirely empty.
As Grayson Currin observed yesterday, the clubs on Thursday night were again far from capacity, even if they did have a bit more traffic. Tir Na Nog looked full around 10:45 p.m. during Constant Change’s set, but this seemed mostly due to the fact that all of the restaurant’s tables remained in front of the stage when they’re normally cleared out for Thursday night rock shows. Tir Na Nog’s crowd brought another strange surprise: People looked completely joyless, maybe just tired. A few bobbed their heads and tapped their feet, but most stared straight and blankly ahead.
The Morning After took to the Pour House’s stage around 11 p.m. to a sparse crowd. There were maybe 50 people on the venue’s main floor, with another 10 upstairs (not counting the eight others favoring a game of pool over the music). Aside from an act like Punch Brothers, the outfit is perhaps on the farthest fringes of bluegrass at IBMA. Indeed, their sound more closely resembled that of a bar-rock band; even the “traditional” bluegrass instruments of a mandolin and banjo were replaced by electric counterparts, even if the fiddle was safe. Singer and frontwoman Rachel Koontz was the most charismatic performer I saw all evening, a refreshing change from the mostly stonefaced middle-aged men I’d seen.
My only night of Bluegrass Rambling, then, was a mixed bag. It was fun, and the music was all right, but the energy didn’t offer the electrifying buzz I felt just a few weeks ago at Hopscotch. Perhaps once the “real” weekend hits, crowds will be more willing to turn out and up.