Music News & Reviews

Renfro Valley is the place this weekend for bluegrass fans

At age 84, Ralph Stanley still puts on a show. He and the Clinch Mountain Boys perform Friday at the Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival.
At age 84, Ralph Stanley still puts on a show. He and the Clinch Mountain Boys perform Friday at the Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival.

Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival

1 p.m. June 24 and 25 at Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, Renfro Valley. $25-$75. 1-800-765-7464.

OK, you've had your rest. A full two weeks have passed since we all baked like country hams under the 90-plus-degree temps that heated up the Festival of the Bluegrass. It's time to hop aboard the festival express again this weekend. The destination this time is Renfro Valley.

Highlighting the event known until recent years as the Old Joe Clark Bluegrass Festival will be several key acts that didn't find their way to the Festival of the Bluegrass earlier this month.

Leading the pack will be tonight's headliner, bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley. A leading voice in Appalachia-inspired string music for more than 60 years, Stanley remains, at age 84, a commanding stage presence. Admittedly, his shows in recent years tend to feature the latest lineup of his long-running Clinch Mountain Boys Band as much as Stanley himself. But with Harlan-born banjoist Steve Sparkman still in the group, that's hardly a liability. You're guaranteed to hear Stanley command complete audience quiet for his stark a cappella reading of O Death. There's a pretty good chance you will also hear a tune or two from Stanley's fine new album of bluegrass spirituals, A Mother's Prayer. And if we're lucky, he might just treat the crowd to a brief blast of his renowned claw-hammer banjo playing. The latter doesn't happen at every show, but it did last fall during his set at the Christ the King Oktoberfest and proved to be a major audience hit.

Also performing Friday night will be The Grascals. The award-winning new-generation bluegrass quintet issued an EP recording earlier this month designed as a tribute to The Andy Griffith Show. Titled Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin', the record is built around the kinds of family-friendly themes and humor that made the setting of Griffith's show, Mayberry, something of a country nirvana during the 1960s.

To do that, the disc pulls together six songs that were featured in the TV series (including, coincidentally, Ol' Joe Clark) plus one original tune by The Grascals.

Can't get enough Grascals this summer? Then check back as the season draws to a close. The Grascals will share a bill with The Oak Ridge Boys for a free concert Aug. 21 at the Kentucky State Fair.

Look for Joe Mullins to help round out Friday night's festival bill in Renfro Valley. Ronnie Reno and the Reno Tradition, Marty Raybon, Gold Wing Express and an encore set by Mullins will highlight the Saturday lineup.

Mayfield encore

Back in the spring, we had the opportunity to experience live the torchy folk and exquisitely moody pop atmospherics of Jessica Lee Mayfield. Among the many mentors who helped shape her songs has been her brother David Mayfield.

He has co-written extensively with his sister, recorded with her and toured enough as a member of her band to develop some prominent connections — namely, another pack of insurgent folk-pop siblings, The Avett Brothers.

The Avetts regularly invited David Mayfield to sit in during their shows. In turn, they were guests when he began recording his own songs. That alliance, along with attention for his work with neo-country jam band Cadillac Sky and the increasing popularity of his sister's music, has led to The David Mayfield Parade. The ensemble also played Cosmic Charlie's only weeks after sister Jessica's performance.

In concert, brother Mayfield presents a more folk-savvy and roots-conscious variation on what sister Jessica conjures onstage. But there are similarities, too, including the repertoire. David's version of Blue Skies Again — a wonderfully plaintive highlight of Jessica's recent album Tell Me — becomes a quiet country meditation. But he can turn a roadhouse staple like Freeborn Man into a brittle, blues-heavy show piece or a bluegrass gem such as Rye Whiskey into a rural-country hurricane.

The David Mayfield Parade offers an encore on Monday as a late addition to a WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour taping at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main Street. Also performing will be Austin, Texas, blues guitar/vocal star Carolyn Wonderland. (6:45 p.m. $10. (859) 252-8888.

Guilty charge

We haven't had a local performance by Dave Alvin since the release of his album Ashgrove more than six years ago. And that's quite a shame.

A lead voice of West Coast punk-era roots rock, Alvin created an international fuss alongside vocalist/brother Phil Alvin during the early '80s with The Blasters. Over the past 21/2 decades, Brother Dave's solo work has borrowed from similar roots-inclined sources, along with elements of vintage folk, blues and country. During the latter half of the '90s, when he released such expert albums as Blackjack David, Alvin made his way through Lexington for performances at the defunct Lynagh's Music Club on a nearly annual basis.

Alvin won't be Lexington-bound anytime soon, but he will be at The Southgate House, 24 East Third Street in Newport, on Thursday to preview his newest band, The Guilty Ones (his previous ensembles have been The Guilty Men and, perhaps understandably, The Guilty Women) and music from his impending album, Eleven Eleven.

The album is highlighted by three duets, including the first recorded vocal square-off with brother Phil (Dave stuck exclusively to guitar and songwriting duties with The Blasters) called What's Up With Your Brother. It's a sleek blues excursion with one of the most infectious electric guitar hooks that Alvin has designed for a non-Blasters album.

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers will open Thursday's show. (8 p.m. $20, $25. (859) 431-2201.