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NAPERVILLE - Naperville Bluegrass Music Festival 1998, review (Chgo Trib, March 31, 1998)

Naperville Bluegrass Music Festival, 1998

Chicago Tribune

March 31, 1998

Tempo section

Arts Watch

Concert Review

Bluegrass Music


By David Duckman [David Royko]

Special to the Tribune

Like most major bluegrass festivals, the fourth annual Northern Illinois

in Naperville Bluegrass Music Festival, held last weekend in the ballroom of

Naperville's Holiday Inn Select, offers two distinct yet related forms of

entertainment. What draws many first-timers and festival veterans alike is

the music on stage, and with a lineup boasting grassy glitterati such as Del

McCoury, Eddie Adcock, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lynn Morris, Rarely

Herd, the Warrior River Boys, and mandolin master Don Stiernberg, the

near-overflow attendance was no surprise.

But equally alluring is the bluegrass festival experience, which is

virtually unique among various types of music festivals in the degree of fan

participation. Walking through the lobby of the hotel and down the corridors

past conference rooms, one could see and hear scores of impromptu

all-acoustic jam sessions, the air alive with the crystalline jangling of

banjos and mandolins.

From rank beginners who started taking lessons as a New Year's resolution

to amateurs in name only with instrumental and vocal technique that could

make many professionals blush, the common bond was a love for playing and the

typical attitude "come one, come all."

Sunday's fiddle contest, where the winners walk away with a little cash

and a lot of bragging rights, is where the on- and off-stage worlds meet.

Junior Division champ Aaron Weinstein and Open Division victor Kenny Stone

are terrific players, though the spirit of the contest and the festival in

general was perhaps best exemplified by the father who, before turning in a

performance that only a mother could love, announced that he had entered

because he told his young daughter that, if she agreed to compete, he would

too. His efforts were met with enthusiastic applause.

As for the pros, it seems nobody can top the Del McCoury Band these days.

The beauty of McCoury's accomplishment is that he now heads an all-star band

that has won more International Bluegrass Music Association awards than can

be easily counted, not because he put together a group of superstars, but

because his band members have all become all-stars under his leadership.

Surrounded by the enormous heft of Jason Carter's fiddling, the granitic

strength of banjoist Rob McCoury and the brilliant mandolin soloing of Ronnie

McCoury, Del McCoury's intensely expressive voice cut through his ensemble's

sound like a jet through the eye of a hurricane.

Lesser only in voltage was the Sunday set by mandolinist extraordinaire

Don Stiernberg and guitarist John Parrott, who delivered a diverse program

highlighted by several "golden era" pop and jazz standards.

A protege of the late mandolin giant Jethro Burns, Stiernberg's

improvising tickled the ear with unexpected but delightful changes of

direction, somehow maintaining a feathery swing while manipulating the inner

rhythms in a wholly personal fashion.

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