The Grascals

The Grascals at Emelin Theatre

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The Grascals headlined a show at Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, NY last night. When they introduced the band, it turned out they weren’t simply headlining a random show. Emelin had been hosting a Bluegrass series and The Grascals were the final act of this year’s series. I’m sorry we were unaware of the rest of the series, but we only found out about this show because we’re big fans of The Grascals.

This was our fourth time seeing The Grascals live. Each show has been great, so without a doubt, there will be a fifth show in our future. It’s been 15 months since the last one, so they’re spaced out long enough to have some withdrawal going on. It also gives them time to write (or cover) some new material as well (how nice of us). Smile

Before I tell you a bit about the show (and it will be less than I typically do), I’ll point you to the post about the last show. Aside from the fact that I think I accurately describe the nature of most (all?) Grascals shows (their setup, etc.), Emelin allowed zero photography last night. So, I don’t have a single shot of any of them. If you want to see what they look like in concert, click on the link to the Highline show.

We did get one shot of the Set List as we walked to our seats. You’ll see it says Kokomo, IN. This wasn’t the exact script they followed, but of the four sheets on stage, it was really close, so there you go. I’m throwing in the cover of the Program as a bonus. Winking smile


They followed their usual format (thankfully!), of basically being two separate groups that share a stage (and songs) perfectly. Three wonderful vocalists who also hold up the rhythm section. Three extraordinary instrumentalists who thrill individually and complement each other.

The crowd at Emelin was filled with Bluegrass lovers (obviously, as most were probably subscribers to the entire series, not just there for The Grascals). Totally appreciative of every nuance on the banjo (Kristin Scott Benson), fiddle (Jeremy Abshire) and mandolin (Danny Roberts). In fact, while I too have the instinct to applaud after every individual burst, I would ding this crowd for doing it too much (meaning, every time), because The Grascals rotate the leads in rapid succession, so while you’re applauding a mandolin lead, you’re missing the first part of the equally amazing banjo one, etc.

There was one unannounced guest that seemed somewhat ill-fitting to me (though he got a ton of applause, so either I missed the point, or people are way too polite). I couldn’t easily find him online, so I’ll use that as an excuse to say no more about it/him.

Including a one-song encore, they were on stage for exactly 90 minutes. A wonderful set, filled with humor, great singing and mind-boggling virtuosity on the banjo, fiddle and mandolin.

You can tune out now if you’re only interested in The Grascals. If you’re friends of ours, keep reading about our evening leading up to the show. Smile

I had never heard of the Emelin Theatre before (they claim to be the oldest continuously operating Performing Arts Center in Westchester). When I saw The Grascals announcement to play there, I was even more excited, because we have friends that moved to Mamaroneck last summer. We hadn’t gotten to see their place yet, so we were hoping that we’d get them to join us for the show.

The plan couldn’t have worked out better. They have a 6-month-old (who we have seen, just not at their place), and the grandparents were visiting for the weekend. We got to spend time with the extended family in their home, then all of us had dinner together. So great to catch up with everyone and get a dose of wonderful kids (no better way to lift your heart).




The grandparents then babysat for the kids while the four of us got to enjoy the show.

The Grascals at Highline Ballroom

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When a band plans a tour there is very little wiggle room in any given city. They’re generally on the move all night (if they have a professional bus driver), or all day (if they’re driving themselves). There are many things you can’t control when planning months in advance.

Two such things are the unbelievably frigid temps currently inhabiting NYC (thanks global warming!) and the local team making the championship game in the NFL (thanks J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!). Smile

The weather and the Jets might have kept some fans from making it out last night (entirely their loss!), but it didn’t stop The Grascals from blowing away those of us who were smart enough to choose them!

This was our third time seeing The Grascals and it most certainly won’t be our last. The other three people at our table had never seen them before. They are indescribably amazing (or, as one of the people we saw it with noted: “The Grascals are truly absurdly talented”). Of course, I’ll still do my humble best to give you a sense of their magic.

Highline Ballroom is a wonderful place to see a show, in particular one with a big group and a big sound. The Grascals are that.

While all six members of The Grascals blend perfectly together, I actually view them as two separate groups (more accurately, a group within a group). Each group is great in their way but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To whet your appetite, check out the amazing number of awards they’ve won as a group and as individuals.

Group #1 is a core vocal and rhythm driven ensemble comprised of Jamie Johnson (guitar and vocals), Terry Eldredge (guitar and vocals) and Terry Smith (upright bass and vocals). The three of them sing so well individually (each sings lead) and together (three-part harmony on every non-instrumental song). Jamie and Terry share MC honors, keeping everything light and funny in between songs.


Terry Smith is also a top-notch bassist. On two numbers he demonstrated a perfect slap technique that was a blast to listen to and watch.

Group #2 is comprised of three of the best instrumentalists you’ll ever hear (they don’t even have vocal mic’s so you never hear them speak or sing). Danny Roberts is an incredible mandolin player. Jeremy Abshire is an extraordinary fiddle player. Kristin Scott Benson is a mind-boggling banjo player (multiple time Banjo Player of the Year winner!).


Each of Danny, Jeremy and Kristin can give solo performances that knock your socks off. When they play together, most of the time one of them is being highlighted in the lead, but the other two are supporting the effort with complementary riffs. On some songs (only one brief moment last night), they have duels, which have them each repeating the same riff in a competition where the only winner is the audience!

When Groups #1 and #2 combine (on most songs), you get the best of both worlds. Amazing vocals sprinkled with virtuoso leads on the mandolin, fiddle and banjo.

They were all on fire last night, and the audience gave extended ovations after every number (and for nearly every lead during each song). Each of the three soloists was brilliant.

Jamie then thanked us and introduced the last song, Sally Goodin, off of their self-titled album (The Grascals, for those of you not paying any attention). On that CD, the song is just under four minutes, and features incredible solos on the fiddle, banjo, mandolin and then around again.

Last night, as incredible as each of Jeremy, Danny and Kristin was, this last song took it to another level. I didn’t have a second of disappointment during the earlier numbers, but after this, I realized that they were holding something in reserve.

Jeremy opened the number (just like on the CD). After his solo, Kristin took hers. Then Danny. Just like on the CD, Danny’s solo was longer than the others, only last night, Danny’s kept going (and going). Then Jeremy walked to the middle of the stage and took over Terry Smith’s vocal mic as everyone else took a few steps back.


He wailed on the fiddle in one of the longest, most inconceivable solos. Every time it looked like he was about to relinquish the lead, he took it up a notch. You had to be there to believe it. Finally, after leaving us all shivering a bit, Kristin stepped back to her mic and continued the round until they finally called it a night.

Their live version of Sally Goodin lasted over nine minutes. It was more than twice as long as the CD version. Jeremy’s solo itself lasted longer than the entire CD version. All I can say is that if that were the only song they played (meaning, if the entire show was just those 9+ minutes), I would have felt that I had gotten my money’s worth. The rest of the show was a bonus!

Every person at Highline rose to give them a long standing ovation. Of course, they came back for an encore.

New York, those of you who passed on this show have no idea what you missed. OK, perhaps you know now. If you miss the next chance to see The Grascals when they return, it will be on you then. You’ve been warned! Winking smile

After the show, we purchased an EP and one CD that we didn’t already own. Both Jamie and Danny signed them for us.

Here is a representative set list (not the identical one played last night) with the two CDs that we bought:


To top it all off, the five of us shared a fantastic meal and enjoyed each other’s company for two relaxing hours before the show started. The food at Highline Ballroom is wonderful, but our companions were even more wonderful. Smile



The Grascals at Birchmere

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Last night we saw The Grascals at the Birchmere. It was our second time seeing them live. I covered the first time extensively in this post (2/3 of the way down), and all but one comment from that post applied to last night! The one comment that would require updating is that they now do indeed include photos of Kristin Scott Benson on their site. 🙂

So, I won’t repeat it all, but rather, summarize those points as concisely as I can. The three guys in the center of the stage, Jamie Johnson (vocals, guitar and general MC), Terry Smith (vocals and bass) and Terry Eldredge (vocals, guitar and the secondary MC) sang wonderfully together last night:


Again, the biggest highlight of the evening was Jeremy Abshire on the fiddle. He’s so fast, and keeps up the speed for really long stretches, that it just doesn’t seem possible. Very close behind him (as I noted in the last post) is the amazing Kristin Scott Benson. I purposely picked seats toward the right side of the stage (normally we aim for the middle) so that I could sit right in front of Kristin, and watch her fingers fly (apparently effortlessly) on the banjo.

JeremyAbshire2 JeremyAbshire1

KristinScottBenson2 KristinScottBenson1

Once again, Danny Roberts was incredible, and incredibly fast as well. He also has a great smile on stage, easily disarming the audience every time he flashed it. 🙂

DannyRoberts2 DannyRoberts1

They played an electrifying 65 minutes, then let us know that they would be playing the last song for the night. Given the long opening set (to be covered shortly), we wouldn’t have been too disappointed at the short-ish set that we thought we were about to experience. But, we were wrong.

The last song lasted 10 minutes! It was also the only instrumental number of the entire set. Each of the three brilliant musicians, Jeremy, Kristin and Danny took unbelievably awesome and long solos. Each time you thought they might give up their solo to the next person, they would crank it up again. The audience was in awe.

When they finally stepped off the stage, it was to a standing ovation. They returned shortly, and took a request from the audience for the encore. In total, roughly 80 minutes on stage, each and every one of them delicious.

A month ago I made a mental note that they would be at the Birchmere, but I didn’t buy tickets in advance. As such, I paid no attention to whether there was an opening act, or who it might be.

We attended a Girlyman concert this past Sunday at Birchmere, and while there, decided that we would be up for the 2-hour round-trip drive to return for The Grascals, and I bought two tickets then. I noticed that there was an opening act, and who it was, but to be honest, I still didn’t focus on the names enough.

Either way, I was going…

The opening group was Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen. The two are life-long friends, and were in The Desert Rose Band together (we loved them!). Chris was also in The Byrds (one of my favorite groups when I was growing up) and The Flying Burrito Brothers. In other words, worthy of headlining any place they would choose, making this an even bigger treat than expected!

Joining them for the entire set was David Mansfield, violin/fiddle, previously unannounced. Of the three, David is by far the best musician. He didn’t sing or speak, but he played superbly on each number.

DavidMansfield2 DavidMansfield1

Chris Hillman still has a strong, crystal clear voice, with an excellent range as well. He plays the mandolin solidly (and played guitar on one or two numbers). While Chris is as generous as one can imagine in sharing the spotlight with Herb and David, it’s still clear that it’s his spotlight to share.

ChrisHillman3 ChrisHillman1

He’s warm and engaging with the audience, sharing stories in a self-effacing manner. The bond with his fellow musicians on stage is strong, palpable and enveloping.


Herb Pedersen sang and played guitar, very well (both). His voice is every bit as good in the same dimensions that Chris’ is. The two of them blend perfectly in their harmonies. Given the broad range that both have, typically, whichever one is taking the lead sings lower and the other one takes the high notes. Herb took the lead in a fair percentage of the songs.

HerbPedersen2 HerbPedersen1

They played quite a range of songs, which wasn’t surprising, given their longevity in the business and the great groups they’ve been part of. On the second number in the set they performed Turn Turn Turn! a song that was also the title of the second Byrds album.

They also did a very nice version of Eight Miles High (another Byrds classic). It wasn’t the more rock version that they Byrds used to do, but true to the roots of the song nonetheless, while suiting the style of these three performers well.

They performed a Stanley brothers song, as well as other classics that had the audience whooping it up. They were on stage for 65 minutes (very long for an opening act). They received a rousing standing ovation when they walked off, and could not avoid coming back for an encore (also atypical for opening acts!). So in total, roughly 70 minutes on stage!

At intermission, Lois went out and bought two of their CDs: Chris and Herb together on Bakersfield Bound and Chris’ The Other Side. Both signed the Bakersfield Bound CD.

After the show, we purchased three more CDs. We already own all three of The Grascals CDs, but we downloaded all of them from, so we didn’t have a physical CD. We bought one of those for all of them to sign (which they did). We also bought a Kristin Scott Benson CD (which she signed) and a Danny Roberts one (also signed).


Lois asked Jamie for the set list, and amazingly (they are all so nice it’s hard to describe), when they left to go back to the dressing rooms, he had Terry Eldredge come back out and give it to her. Wow!


At dinner before the show (I’ve mentioned numerous times how good the food is at the Birchmere!), we had a series of nice conversations with a father and son who sat across from us, and a lovely couple to our right. The six of us passed the time very pleasantly before the show started.

Another fabulous evening out, listening to top-notch Bluegrass music!

City Slickers Bluegrass Festival

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This past Saturday, May 9th, 2009, seven of us attended the City Slickers Bluegrass Festival in Richmond, VA. How and why we came to attend will be the subject of my next post, this one will just cover the event itself.

There were three headliners and one opening act. The opening act, Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon came on at 3pm. We weren’t able to get there until 3:30pm, so we caught the last 30 minutes of their set. Nothing worth mentioning (sorry), so I won’t waste space on them.

At 4:25pm, the first of the three headliners (and the one I was most curious to see live) came on, Sierra Hull. I was familiar with Sierra Hull because a very good friend of mine (an American who lives in the UK) bought me her CD (download on iTunes) a while ago. I loved it from the first listen (thanks again Chris!).

What I didn’t pay attention to until long after I loved the album was that Sierra was only 17-years-old (still is!) and that she plays the mandolin in addition to singing lead. I feel silly saying plays the mandolin, it sounds so mundane. I really love the mandolin, and I try to pay attention to the difference in style and abilities of the various top players.

Up until now, I would have rated my top three favorite mandolin players as follows:

  1. Chris Thile
  2. Adam Steffey
  3. Ricky Skaggs

Choosing between #2 and #3 above is a little arbitrary, they’re both so good. #1 however is a no-brainer for me. That’s still probably true, but I have to tell you, that after seeing Sierra Hull play for nearly 120 minutes (in two sets) on Saturday, I might slip her in between Chris and Adam. And, she’s only going to get better, I’m sure!

Lest you think I’m dissing Adam Steffey, here’s a quote on Sierra Hull’s site (front page) by Adam Steffey himself!

Sierra Hull is without doubt my favorite mandolin player!

See! 🙂 Sierra also played guitar (beautifully!) on roughly four numbers, but she was born to play the mandolin!

Backing up Sierra is a group called Highway 111.

Clay Hess plays the guitar and sings a ton with Sierra (lead and harmony). Clay is an awesome flatpicker, and he sings really well too.

Corey Walker played the banjo and sang as well. He’s really good. It was hysterical to hear Sierra (all of 17-years-old) saying “Can you believe how good Cory is, and he’s only 19?”. 🙂

Jacob Eller rounds out the band on the upright bass. Wonderful in every sense of the word.

The four of them blend beautifully together. Sierra is also as personable and commanding a stage presence as you could imagine, a seeming enigma for someone so young. The show would have been worth it just for Sierra’s two sets, but wait, there’s more! 🙂

Sierra Hull and Highway 111

Sierra Hull and Highway 111

Lois got her picture taken with Sierra right before Sierra’s second set. According to Lois, she’s as sweet and personable one-on-one as she is in front of the entire crowd!

Lois and Sierra Hull

Lois and Sierra Hull

At 5:45pm Seldom Scene came on the stage. As much as I love Bluegrass music (and trust me, I’m totally in love with the genre), I’m not a real aficionado of enough of the leaders in the category. I know a lot of groups which I love, but there are so many more that I’ve either never heard of, or have heard of but don’t really know their music.

Seldom Scene has been at the top of the Bluegrass world for over 30 years, but they fell into the category of heard of but not known by me. One of my friends (Richmond-based, but unfortunately out of town this past weekend) is a major fan, so I was really looking to finally getting to know them.

Wow! Even though these are no youngsters, they jam as well anyone blessed with youth. Their voices are amazing, individually and when singing harmony together. They are superb musicians, though none of them stood out to me like Sierra (folks, that’s not a complaint or a put-down of Seldom Scene band members). The songs were fantastic, and their 80 minute set was outstanding from the first note until the mandatory encore!

Seldom Scene

Seldom Scene

The second (literally) that the encore was over, the heavens opened up. They had predicted possible thunderstorms throughout the show, so it was nice that it held off until after 7pm, and waited until a natural intermission too. Severe lightning caused them to power down the sound board and stage. Better safe than sorry.

Sierra Hull was scheduled to come back on the stage at 7:30pm. Amazingly, shortly after that time, the rain stopped, and we were blessed with a cool evening. The show was only delayed 10 minutes, as Sierra was back on at 7:40! As I already noted above, she blew us all away again.

The final headliner to take the stage was The Grascals. Lois and I own three of their CDs, so we’re familiar with their music, and love it. I’m going to gush about them in a minute (including covering them individually), but take the time to read their bio to see how many awards they’ve won in their impressive but reasonably short career!

OK, you don’t win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Entertainers of the Year award (in consecutive years no less!) without being something extremely special. They are indeed very special. This was our first time seeing them live, and I was really looking forward to it!

They are all superb musicians, but the focus is really on the fiddle, banjo and mandolin. The bassist is superb, but not really highlighted, and the two guitarists support the sounds wonderfully, but they are never highlighted (even less than the bass!).

Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Danny Roberts on the mandolin. He’s really good. Very fast, very clean, very interesting licks. Highlighted a lot in most of their numbers.

Jeremy Abshire on the fiddle. Holy Cow! This guy is amazing. If I had to make the call, I’d say that The Grascals highlight him slightly more than the rest, but who could blame them. He’s outstanding in every respect. Fast as greased lightning, but always interesting.

Jamie Johnson on vocals and guitar. (No particularly good link to him personally, sorry.) Jamie is the main MC (Master of Ceremonies) for the group. He also sings a slight majority of the leads. He’s very funny, has a good voice, and keeps the action rolling throughout the show.

Terry Smith on vocals and bass. (Also no good direct link.) Terry anchors the group nicely on the bass. On one number, he played slap-style, and was awesome. Terry sings on all of the songs, lead on a few. More on that in a minute.

Terry Eldredge on vocals and guitar. (Again, no good personal links. This isn’t as big as surprise to me, as I mentioned above that neither of the guitarists is a solo star in their own right.) Terry shares the MC duties (he’s quite funny), and sings lead just a tad less than Jamie, otherwise singing on every number.

Kristin Scott Benson on the banjo. Another Holy Cow! Kristin is the current IBMA Banjo Player of the Year! A month after winning that honor, she joined The Grascals. (They need to change the picture on their site to include her!) 😉 Folks, she’s amazing! I think they highlight Jeremy on the fiddle a drop more than they do her, but not by much. On a few numbers, she plays a mind-boggling riff, and Jeremy follows it on the fiddle in his own mind-boggling way, and then Kristin goes again, in a dueling fashion. Incredible!

OK, since I did my three favorite Mandolin players above, I’ll do my three favorite Banjo players here:

  1. Bela Fleck
  2. Ron Stewart
  3. Jim Mills

As with the mandolin, I’m being somewhat arbitrary in ranking #2 and #3 above, as I could listen to both for hours on end. Also like the mandolin, I think Bela is simply the best, no questions asked. Ron Stewart currently plays banjo with the Dan Tyminski Band, and Jim Mills plays with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder.

Anyway, while I might not alter the above list (as I think I would for Sierra Hull), it would be a close enough call to consider Kristin for the #2 or #3 spot, and I’ll confidently declare her in my top four! 😉

Terry Smith is probably the strongest vocalist of the three as a soloist, but he rarely solos for them. The other two (Jamie and the other Terry) are both good individually, but really nothing special in my opinion. But, when the three of them sing together (which is on nearly every song), they produce magic. The three of them are so tight, and their voices blend beautifully.

The Grascals are fantastic, and I look forward to seeing them live again.

Sorry about the quality of this next photo. It was already dark, and the lighting wasn’t good enough for our compact camera:

The Grascals

The Grascals

This was our first festival, so we were nervous whether we’d be able to sit outdoors, on folding chairs, for seven hours. It was a piece of cake, with fabulous music, good food (BBQ) and a well-run show.

Here we are, enjoying ourselves completely!

Lois and Hadar

Lois and Hadar

Thank you Rotary Club of Richmond, VA for putting on a helluva show. We’re already planning on returning next year!

Here’s a shot from behind the stage, to give you a sense of the beautiful and relaxed atmosphere of this event:

Behind the Stage

Behind the Stage

P.S. If you’ve made it this far, Bravo! I know I rambled on about how awesome Sierra Hull is, and perhaps you don’t want to hear any more about her. But, if you have more patience, here is a long, but fantastic article profiling her five years ago, when she was all of 12-years-old! Read it all the way to the end, it’s priceless!