I've spent the day here in Wilmington enjoying a fairly relaxed day of bluegrass. Fest organizer Joe Mullins and his band, The Radio Ramblers
kicked things off for a lineup that included Paul Williams, Bobby Osborne, Continental Divide, and Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.
But the thing worth going for was a rather historical moment in bluegrass. Tonight the crowd enjoyed a long set by Tom Gray, Eddie Adcock, Charlie Waller's son, Randy, and Jimmy Gaudreau. It was a Country Gentlemen Reunion, and it was glorious.
The Country Gentlemen came together almost 50 years ago (it will be 50 years this July 4) after bluegrass music's popularity began to fade as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and the like brought Rock and Roll on to the scene. Eddie Adcock told the story of how he made around $16 playing for a week with with Bill Monroe. He went to DC, met up with a couple other Gentlemen, and started playing bluegrass in their own voices, and made the rounds at a few colleges. One night, he made a whole $24! And so the band known as The Country Gentlemen
This is a quartet of extraordinary talent. Eddie and his wife, Martha, are well known (and did a set I missed on Friday night) and loved; Eddie was an original Gentleman. Tom Gray was the second bass player the band had and as one of the founders of The Seldom Scene became one of the more influential bass players in modern bluegrass. Charlie Waller, who died in 2004, was the band's guitarist and lead singer, a role now played by son Randy, who has a beautiful voice and impressive vocal range, not to mention a pretty smokin' hot guitar style. (Randy just released an album, Keeper of the Flame, with the current Country Gentlemen line up.) Finally, yankee mandoliner Jimmy Gaudreau has what Kenny Baker called "the cleanest mandolin playing" in bluegrass. I don't know all that, I just know that, damn his Rhode Island accent, Jimmy Gaudreau is an incredibly smooth player....beautiful lines, not a wasted movement. (My recent acquisition, Unit of Measure, features Jimmy alongside Tony and Wyatt Rice. Incredible.)
Further, over the years, members of TCG have included folks like Ricky Scaggs, Doyle Lawson, and Jerry Douglas, to name a few.
I don't think this particular audience, some of which talked through this set to my enormous dismay, really understood what they were privy to. This was a great set, with lots of favorites like Matterhorn and the one I'm sharing here, Bringing Mary Home. This is an ensemble that clearly has distinguished itself from anything most folks at today's fest had heard before or after them. In fact, despite two more sets, I had to call it a night after the Gents were through. How can you top their version of "Mrs. Robinson"? You just can't. So you call it a night, and before you walk out the door, you glance over at the four of them, exchange a smile of thanks, and head on out.