Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) is home to one of the world’s premier particle accelerators where two beams of heavy ions are spun in separate rings at nearly the speed of light and are then collided together to create a huge burst of energy equal to 4 trillion degrees Celsius, about 250,000 times hotter than the center of the Sun…
The collision started on The Crooked Road, as a collection of musicians from the southwestern part of Virginia’s Appalacian Mountains accelerated into town on Friday night March 26 with enough energy to get hundreds of feet tapping and hands clapping to the beat of their down home bluegrass and old time music.
Amazingly, the group had never played together until the day before their appearance at BNL. Not surprisingly, occasionally it wasn’t clear who was supposed to play next or what tunes they would play and at one point Linda quickly realized that the key they started in was too low for her range, requiring they take it from the top. In this sense the evening resembled an informal jam session but that just added to the fun. Once the music began however, the collective talent assembled on stage left the crowd in awe.
Jon Lohman, the Folklorist for the State of Virginia served as the emcee, kept the evening rolling with his droll banter, and did a remarkable job filling in on vocals and harmonica for one of the musicians (Jonny Clutch) who was allegedly recuperating from an unfortunate accident. His voice and harmonica sounded remarkably close to the Jonny Clutch and the Jambusters CD and the photo of Clutch in the program looked suspiciously like James Dean, leading many to conclude that Jonny was, in fact Jon’s alter ego. Jeremy Stephans (banjo), Danny Knicely (mandolin), and Nate Leath (fiddle) started the evening rolling with an electrifying uptempo instrumental that showed off their incredible individual technical skills. Linda Lay (bass) and her husband David (guitar) then followed with several ballads featuring Linda’s crystal clear, sweet voice.
The remainder of the evening included various combinations of the musicians, ranging from Linda’s pure and powerful a capella vocal to all six musicians playing and singing together. They displayed amazing versatility… Jeremy doubled on guitar, Linda switched to autoharp, Danny tripled on guitar and fiddle, and Nate put down his fiddle for a rolling, room service steam table cart on which he played percussion. Linda and Danny even showed off some remarkable traditional Appalachian dance steps including two distinct styles known as flat footing and back stepping. Long Island’s own Buddy Merriam, friend and disciple of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, made a special surprise guest appearance joining in for several numbers highligting his fine mandolin picking. (continue to Part II)