Brush Creek/Bluetowne (#304)

Two native Kentucky bluegrass bands.

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Two Kentucky bluegrass bands who “play for the fun of it”—Brush Creek, based in Barbourville, and Bluetowne from Lexington—take the stage on this episode of Jubilee. Their performances were taped at the Red Mule Bluegrass Festival in Berea, KY.

First, Brush Creek Grass, with Doug Ham on bass, Charlie Bays on lead guitar, James “Red” Hamilton on banjo, Don Frederick on rhythm guitar, and Harold Mosley on mandolin, showcases a traditional bluegrass sound that Ham describes as “music rooted in the Stanley tradition.”

The music of Brush Creek Grass reflects the hard life that many people in Southeast Kentucky have lived, Ham says. Named for a coal-mining area called Brush Creek, the band shows off its tight vocal harmonies on performances of such songs as “When You Go Walking After Midnight,” “Bluegrass Show Tonight,” and “On the Banks of the River.” The versatile group also performs several instrumentals.

Next, Bluetowne, whose members all play with other bands, too, serves up a more progressive bluegrass sound. According to banjo player Dean Osborne, the Central Kentucky-based Bluetowne is the largest bluegrass band in the country, with 55 active members. This performance features Osborne, who is from Lexington, along with guitarist Richard Bennett, fiddle player Wanda Barnett-Bennett, and bass player Curt Chapman, all from Richmond; dobro player Phil Leadbetter of Knoxville, TN; and guest mandolin player Rickie Simpkins of Nashville.

“We developed Bluetowne as a means, first and foremost, to have fun playing with people who have a lot of mutual respect and love for each another,” Osborne explains. In this Jubilee performance, the band has fun with an interesting mix of traditional tunes, such as “Rough and Rocky Road,” “Pallet on the Floor,” and “Shackles and Chains,” along with progressive bluegrass songs such as the jazzy instrumental “Bluetowne Shuffle.”