Various Artists – Bill Monroe – 100th Year Celebration – Live At Bean Blossom
A CD sampler of live cuts from a bluegrass festival can rarely capture the real feeling and spirit of those special musical moments when bands play their hearts out to thousands of fans. However, second best to actually being there, some favorite LPs of mine were those double disc sets with many professional bluegrass bands driving their sounds from a festival’s stage. The 1973 LP called “Bean Blossom” comes to mind, and 1976 Ralph Stanley Live! From McClure, Va. is another winner. In more recent times, the Rural Rhythm record label released “Live at Graves Mountain” (RUR-1073), a great sampling of music from the 18th Annual Syria, Va. bluegrass festival in June 2010. That product celebrated the 55-year anniversary of the record label. Now, they’ve released “Live at Bean Blossom” (RUR-1090) as a salute to Bill Monroe who would’ve been 100 years old in 2011.
“Live at Bean Blossom” was recorded June 11-18, 2011 at the 45th Annual Bill Monroe Festival in Indiana. Twelve different professional acts pay tribute to the Father of Bluegrass Music. The album begins with “Uncle Pen,” one of the greatest bluegrass songs ever written and a tribute itself to one of the Big Mon’s key influences. “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’” is one that Bill Monroe referred to as a “true-life song,” with its autobiographical, yet also universal, meaning. Grasstowne’s a cappella quartet arrangement of “Were You There?” is particularly reverent and moving. The crowd never tires of the classic “Footprints in the Snow.” Some of the bands also choose to cover some of Monroe’s newer material such as “Six Feet under the Ground” (1978) and “Southern Flavor” (1988), as well as some of his most powerful instrumentals from the 40s and 50s such as “Big Mon” and “Bluegrass Breakdown.” The latter is performed with the three mandolins of Ronnie Reno, Jackie Miller and John Mayberry.
In the introduction to “With Body and Soul,” Chris West (of Blue Moon Rising) states, “I think Bill Monroe was the best songwriter ever, both in melody and lyrics. They’re just awesome.” This album affirms it, as well as the fact that Monroe started an entire genre of music that continues to grow around the world today. Every bluegrass musician has memories they cherish of Bill Monroe and his music. The man was larger than life, and this CD provides only a snapshot of the tremendous influence he’s had on so many others. (Joe Ross, CD Insight)