Craig Ferguson and Planet Bluegrass have tried many different formats over the years for this Mabon celebration. I do not know where this one stands now, but I know the music was exceptional. This year’s Mabon Festival was curated by Andrew Martin and Emily Frantz, Watchhouse (an ascendancy of Mandolin Orange). There was no Friday concert due to Regina Spector cancelling.
Opening the festival on Saturday was Andrew Martin and his five-piece band (mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass, and cello). The afternoon with mostly instrumentals, like his latest recording of his own originals. The band was tight and the tunes very pleasant and diverse. People who like to put bands into a genre will have a challenging time categorizing this band. As Andrew predicted, they played the rain away (with three brief rainfalls that afternoon).
On next was Big Richard, a local group of sassy women who have big fun on stage and play wonderful music with impeccable harmonies. They have burst onto the scene and are playing many festivals already. They start on their first national tour of the northwest soon. If you have not experienced them yet, do it before it is too late, and you can only see them in giant stadiums.
Then came a soul band from San Diego, Thee Sacred Souls, with big sound from them; and lots of excellent singing. And, more love songs then I have heard in many years. They have that old Motown influence. Josh Lane, singer and their leader, wrote most of the songs; and he even jumped off stage and sang in the audience for a while. He was a little surprised at how high that stage was; but he kept on singing and very well indeed.
Emmylou Harris, backed by Watchhouse, ended the evening with an amazing set of Emmylou’s music covering her many years as one of the best female vocalists on the music scene. The duo paid tribute to her by never overplaying and being always right there with her, giving her lots of room to be her marvelous self. The respect for her shined like the stars in the sky throughout the audience and the other musicians there. Curiously, she wore a glove on her strumming right hand that looked like the finger- tips had been cut off and she used a thumb pick. (It was a cold evening).
Sunday started off with a particularly talented and interesting young woman Yasmin Williams. She grew up in Northern Virginia and taught herself to play many instruments, but turned to the acoustic guitar for its versatility. She played with taps on her feet and a Kalimba (South African thumb piano) taped to the guitar. She karate chops (her term) the flattened guitar on her lap. Keep on eye on her, she is unique and skilled.
The Lil Smokies killed it with tunes from their latest CD and some of their favorite songs, plus a couple of covers from Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, proving their versatility in roots music. Jake Simpson, fiddle & vocals, stated how his career started and that it took off after playing his first Rocky Grass in 2006; and the respect he has for the hallowed grounds in Lyons. Andrew Marlin and Emma Rose (Big Richard) joined the Smokies for a few tunes. In my opinion this group is talented enough to be headlining one of the festivals in 2023. They had the crowd dancing and smiling.
Waxahatchee, the solo musical project of Katie Crutchfield, had the tough job following The Lil Smokies; but did an adequate job with great vocals and mostly originals tunes, and covered Lucinda Williams. She was backed by a bass and drums. But the tunes did not differ enough for me; although she had a very pretty voice and played fine guitar.
Watchhouse was the final act. It consisted of Andrew Marlin, singer/songwriter, mandolist and guitarist, and Emily Frantz, fiddle player, guitarist, singer, who are married to each other, who will next be performing around the world from Australia to all over Europe.
They both sing well, and their harmonies together are quite enjoyable, while their sound flows gently together. Andrew writes great original tunes. They were joined by drums, bass and cello, and put on a wonderful set of neo-acoustic music. I was extremely impressed with their musicianship and am now a big Watchhouse fan. I agreed with Emily who said she forgot how cold it gets in Colorado at night in September, and that it was easier to play guitar then fiddle when your hands are cold.