CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lights, cameras, adoring fans, and instant recognition -- these are some of the benefits of being a star. These perks were evident the moment singer and guitarist Dierks Bentley walked out onto the Clay Center stage Sunday night on "Mountain Stage." But some of these things can be a distraction from the music, especially the ear-piercing screams and camera flashes.
Bentley's probably used to it, he was relaxed and engaging as he and the Travelin' McCourys headlined the second Mountain Stage of FestivALL, with a mix of bluegrass and country songs. Highlights of their performance were the title track of their new album "Up on the Ridge," and a heart-felt ballad "Down the Mine." They concluded with a crowd favorite "Sideways."
Bentley's set was the conclusion to a "Mountain Stage" show packed with great music and one of the best shows that I've attended. (Disclosure: I work for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which produces Mountain Stage.)
Guitarist Bill Kirchen started the show with some toe-tapping rockabilly. I went into this show only knowing him as "the guy who played guitar on "Hot Rod Lincoln," but now I know he's an engaging songwriter and versatile guitarist. Kirchen brought the audience to their feet early with a driven version of "The Times They are a-Changin."
The John Jorgenson Quintet is known for Hot Club jazz, in the style of Djanjo Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. They played a song by Reinhardt ("Billets doux," or "Love Letters"), and then also combined Eastern European folk music with bluegrass, played progressive blues, and borrowed from Greek music with an absolutely beautiful tune called "One Stolen Night." For this song, Jorgenson switched from guitar to the bouzouki, a long-necked lute from Greece.
The quintet's playing was energetic and joyful, combining precision and freedom. Jorgensen and violinist Jason Anick both played great solos, and they were best when trading back and forth.
Charlie McCoy led a group of excellent musicians called the "West Virginia Superpickers" in a beautiful rendition of "Cold, Cold Heart" by Hank Williams and barn-burning version of "Orange Blossom Special." McCoy also featured a song of his own called "Take the New River," about a man in love with a moonshiner's daughter.
Fred Eaglesmith and his band performed several of Eaglesmith's songs, many of which are known in cover versions by various country stars. His "Freight Train" (a hit for Alan Jackson) was particularly well-received, and his concluding song, "Careless" was a dark and intriguing tango. Eaglesmith's music and wry sense of humor wove together well throughout their performance.
Julie Adams and the Mountain Stage band paid tribute to West Virginia Day with "West Virginia Chose Me," a touching song by Colleen Anderson.