Dangerous skies: Picnics and harmony below

Uncle Henry's Favorites
at Rhythm on the River at Dorrier Park in Scottsville
September 5

Last Sunday, September 5, saw yours truly, for the second time ever, making his way to Scottsville for a Rhythm on the River concert in Dorrier Park– and except for the occasionally foreboding cloud that flittered in and out of my consciousness, I could not have asked for a better time.

The first cool weekend of the seasonal changeover, it was a perfect opportunity to pack up the kids, gas up the SUV, and make our way out for an afternoon of Dr. Spock-style bonding. The big impediment to that scenario is, of course, my total lack of kids and SUV, and the fact that the only Dr. Spock I've been catching up on lately is the resurrected one in Star Trek IV.

This month's Rhythm on the River featured local bluegrass band Uncle Henry's Favorites. Although the park was less crowded than last time I sallied down Route 20 (and the sno-cone stand was missing!), about 75-100 people were arrayed with their picnic finest in front of the stage. For the sound check, the group– banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and stand-up bass– performed a bluegrass rendition of the techno hit "Cotton-eyed Joe!"

After the soundman tweaked exactly one knob as he drank his beer, it was time for the main event, and the group started off strong with "Roll on," sung by the fiddler, Pete Vigour, with group harmonies. Right away, it was apparent that this wasn't your polished, Britney Spears-type bluegrass. (You know, the kind written by committees in soulless music production buildings.)

This was what bluegrass must have been like, back in the day, when a moonshine jug and a jew's-harp were all you needed to get your neighbors moving.

The next tune was written by fiddler Arthur Smith in the 1930s, "Do False Heart," a love song about "loss and sadness, as they all are," or so said the acoustic guitarist, who also sang lead vocals on the tune.

Vocally harmonized by the group's female mandolinist, the slow song was quiet and mournful, without losing the energy that makes bluegrass what it is. "Shackles and Chains," a waltz-time tune with a fiddle intro, also had great three part harmonies by the mandolinist/guitarist/and fiddler– the number chugged along bass-strum-strum, bass-strum-strum, not quite at a moderate rock tempo.

Though the sky got dark before I left, the weather was still beautiful, and rain held off for the evening, allowing the short car ride home to be a windows-down affair.

Uncle Henry's Favorites