Saturday, July 24, 2010

35 Annual Chiba Bluegrass Festival, Sakura

Saturday was clear and hot, until it rained like hell and started steaming, and the agenda was for nothing but renting a car, doing some driving, and listening to American country music played by unironic Japanese men. And some women.
If you don't know what bluegrass is, this post is unlikely to change your life. Since I started checking out the Japanese bluegrass scene with visits to Rocky Top, I've described it variously as 'music that makes you want to say yee-haw' or 'music with banjo'. Surprisingly, a good number of people don't know what banjos are.
Nobody at the 35th Annual Chiba Bluegrass Festival could be accused of not knowing what a banjo is. There's one in every pot, or in every tent, and also in almost every group that passes quickly through the stage (with 12 hours and 40 bands, they have strict timing as well as stairs on both sides of the stage). There are people standing out in the field playing music, 
and there are people standing under trees. And it's all good, either because they're good or just because they're into it.
Not to belabor the point, here are some videos of bands that I enjoyed.

This guy was probably the second-best banjo player I saw, and considering the insane inappropriateness of the most technically-skilled guy, you could say he was the best.

Geez, that laugh at the end - you'd swear it was my dad, wouldn't you?

I love this guy - he's like a Japanese John Duffy (and he loved it when I told him that). I played with him and his band at Rocky Top one, and played with them in various configurations at their tent too.

The first bluegrass I saw in Japan was Cabin 18 playing at Rocky Top. I walked in right in the middle of a song like this where they were sporting the 4-part harmonies, and then Kojima san played a mind-blowing dobro solo, which is actually a redundant description of his solos. Kataoka san the banjo player (and bass singer) has been organizing the festival since the beginning, and was also super-nice to me - have a seat, have a beer, hang out all day, have some dinner kinda super nice. Thanks man!

This is a bluegrass festival at its best - these guys were standing around behind their tent, warming up in the dark. How good does this sound - purely acoustic, under the trees?

I think this is the same guys, but on stage. The banjo player is good, eh? He was playing, get ready for this, a Fender banjo. I know, like, shut up! I was stunned. Plus they had a dancer on stage. And I like this song, and I like the fact that the singer has no idea what the lyrics are on the chorus - it sounds almost like he says 'Baton Rouge' instead of 'bottle of booze'.

Not crazy about the singer's voice, but he's a great player, and check out the vocal blend they get on the harmonies. My favorite thing in music (other than playing huge guitar solos) is great harmony vocals. And this is that.

More parking-lot stuff. I like this song too.

Sort of an all-star thing going on here, with great players from a couple bands.

Or in this version, with Grace singing. Her voice is awesome, isn't it?  I met her one time at Rocky Top when she was wearing jeans and boots and had her hair up, and it's tough to connect the two images.

For southern rock aficionados like me, I'd like to point out that the mandolin player likes to be called 'Dicky', and has a tiny music store in Ochanomizu focused on bluegrass (On the Border). Not sure what I'm talking about in the background, but it appears to be in Japanese. What the?

Really one of my favorites, and I like White House Blues too. You'll recognize the mandolin player from up above, and Sakai san the banjo player was really mellow, making me play his banjo in the parking lot while we sat under the tarp and rain pounded down. They were complaining later that this was too fast, but they're kinda old, eh?  Still, most bands have one really good player, but here there are at least three. And a good singer.

I hate to save this for last, but it's the last thing I filmed. This kid was certainly the most technically-proficient banjo player at the festival (and also in Japan, I think someone once told me; he's pretty well-known), but the degree to which he overplays is comical. If your kids play banjo, show them this and make sure they understand why it's a crime to jerk off like this (if your kids are reading this, sorry about the language). I also enjoyed the confused looks from the other band members when he finished soloing, like 'what just happened?'

That's it, folks. You'll find that my YouTube channel has a lot more videos if the above somehow leaves you wanting more!  And next year's festival will be right here.

1 comment:

  1. Hey- I just started learning banjo (nov 2009) and will probably retire in Japan (chiba) around 2013/14 and looking for bluegrass connections. thanks !