Two banjo strings can’t keep it together, banjo player sits out one tune
Heading south from Ithaca, wide canopied backroads like Bald Hill and Hugg Hollow steam after a brief summer rain. Somewhere in these hills is a place called Fool’s Hill Farm where Togetherness Fest happens.
On this Spencer farm the bluegrass grows on a Saturday night. Not the cover-crop but the appreciation of string driven rhythms derived from anglicized African sounds homogenized with a winding and reeling celtic instrumentation. The bands are Notorious Stringbusters (Trumansburg), Dirty Blanket (Finger Lakes Region) and the Native Howl (Michigan).
Day two of Togetherness Fest was capped off with this trio of bluegrass bands starting with The Notorious Stringbusters. From their name it might seem the quartet is perhaps known for their on-stage antics and heavy-handed chord chops. This is somewhat true, however, Saturday’s grouping of Stringbusters are also all fierce harmonizing machines taking turns as both lead and back up–Barham Lashley (mandolin), Rylan Broadwell (banjo), Ash Broadwell (guitar), Dion Bor (upright bass)–pack their harmonies with vocal thunder, hard picking, and the fun-loving side of bluegrass. These are not men of constant sorrow.
Yes, there are lyrics about being a victim of life’s circumstances as Broadwell sings about loneliness and his time at the county jail midway through their set.
In its third year Togetherness Fest is put on by Fool’s Hill Farm and Brewery, bringing together varying regional and local acts. For this three day eclectic music fest the farmers/brewers carved out parking and built a stage that sits at the bottom of a natural hollow with a level plot for dancing. Set back 200 yards yard in the woods, the audience, approaching 100, look down on the small trapezoidal stage as performers alternately duck under each other’s instruments, but all bassist Bor has to do is keep his instrument upright during one of his many contributions – Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug” song.
Something not in the bluegrass songbook was Bor’s rendition of CeeLo Green’s “Maybe I’m Crazy”. The bassist brought out the bluegrass sentiment in the song by leaving out vowels and consonants here and there.
For Rylan Broadwell, banjo hanging under his beard, rearing his chin back, taking a gulp of air, he growls the words into the shared mic
I got my name painted on my shirt, I ain’t no ordinary dude“Waymore Blues” -Waylon Jennings
I don’t have to work, I don’t have to work
For Broadwell’s part he plays a hard-plucking twangy racket with his right hand and follows on the left with a delicate tickle to the frets, helping to drive the tunes while keeping it melodic.
To round out the bunch, mandolin player Barham Lashley, with is collared tie-die, adds a technical touch with short runs that compliment his bandmate’s playing.
Maybe i’m crazy but the Notorious Stringbusters brought life to the Spencer backroads Saturday night by keeping Central New York bluegrass alive thanks to Togetherness Fest and the folks at Fools Hill Farm.