Among the traditions forged by the Festival of the Bluegrass has been an annual visit by Lonesome River Band.
Newer acts have been ushered into the festival schedule, especially in recent years. But patrons have been able to count on the longstanding LRB – still with four-time International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year Sammy Shelor at the helm – being part the lineup for well over two decades.
They could, that is, until this year. But fear not, LRB fans. Shelor and company will still be in Lexington this week. Their pal BoB is seeing to that.
“It has ended up for us that every two or three years we do this festival for the California Bluegrass Association,” Shelor said. “This year, everything happened to fall on the same weekend. We didn’t realize that included Lexington.”
So LRB will be performing a sold-out in performance in Carlsbad, Calif. at the Museum of Making Music as the Festival of the Bluegrass gets underway this weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park. But before heading west, the group will help kickoff the second annual Best of Bluegrass celebration tonight at Natasha’s with a free performance that also includes the popular new generation string music troupe Town Mountain.
“This California festival is a great opportunity for the band,” said Festival of the Bluegrass producer/organizer Roy Cornett. “At the same time, I knew there was going to be a large segment of my audience that was going to be disappointed. But I’m also on the programming committee for BoB, so the first act that came to mind for that was Lonesome River Band. Getting them here kind of solves the problem. They can do the BoB show earlier in the week and people from the Festival can still get their LRB fix.”
“We’re very glad we’re still coming up there because we love the Lexington crowds,” Shelor said. “They’re real energetic and just lots of fun to play to. So we’re hoping to get some of that Festival of the Bluegrass crowd there on a Monday night.”
Local bluegrass fans are likely versed in LRB music thanks to 30 years of albums that culminated with the three volume Chronology. Each edition offered new recordings by the current LBR lineup – Shelor, guitarist Brandon Rickman, fiddler Mike Hartgrove, bassist Barry Reed and mandolinist/Strunk native Randy Jones – of tunes cut by the band throughout its history. But Shelor said the band has also completed a new album two weeks ago for release in the fall. He said the results may surprise a few fans, too.
“Some of it is more old timey-leaning. But then we added percussion to it. We had this incredible percussion player, Tony Creasman, come in. He’s a studio musician I’ve known for 20 some odd years. He knows how to play our music and not get in the way, but he still manages to makes it bigger sounding. So we’re just trying a few little different twists.”
The song list includes four songs co-written by Rickman (including one with Lee Roy of The Roys, which play a BoB show Tuesday at Willie’s Locally Known) as well as covers of Merle Haggard’s Shelly’s Winter Love (which the band based on a vintage arrangement by the Osborne Brothers) and Earl Scruggs’ Cumberland Gap.
“We tried a few different things to see if it peaks people’s interest,” Shelor said. “But it’s still a Lonesome River Band record. Anytime we do a record, we’re going to sound like us.”
Best of Bluegrass Kickoff Party with Lonesome River Band and Town Mountain begins tonight at 8 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Admission is free. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.bluegrasslex.com or www.beetnik.com.