The Ins & Outs: Countdown to the Festival on the Green

a blog about music, visual arts, entertainment and everything in betweenby tamara hilmes, internWith the 31st Annual Festival on the Green taking place just four weeks away on July 12-18, it seems only fitting to spend the remaining weeks that stand between us and the sweet, sweet celebration of both sound and summer by taking a look at a number of the bands and artists that will be featured in this year's festival. By zeroing in on a different group each week, I hope to highlight some of the extraordinary talent that Middlebury will be playing host to and build even more enthusiasm for the event that, according to the Festival's Web site, has been described as "the essence of New England summers." I am also thrilled to point to the great diversity in musical style that the Festival will encompass this year, and I can't wait to give you all a taste of this through samples, links, album reviews, and so much more. That being said, I'd like to kick off this musically-inspired and enhanced series of blog entries withCrooked Still The quintet known as Crooked Still is described as alt-country, bluegrass, and string band that sounds like anything but old hat. Banjo, Cello, Bass, Fiddle and vocals meld into one heck of a solid sound in each of the three albums that this Boston-based band has produced since forming in 2002. The group, which consists of vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, banjo player Dr. Gregory Liszt, bassist Corey DiMario, cellist Tristan Clarridge and fiddler Brittany Haas, is known for its alternative bluegrass-y style.

Their 2004 debut album, Hop High, includes such gems as "Last Fair Deal Gone Down," "Look On and Cry," and "Shady Grove," set off by the haunting, Allison Krauss-like female vocals and bouncing banjo laying a fiddle-fortified foundation.

Shaken by a Low Sound added a bluesier sound to the mix with "Ain't No Grave" and "Can't You Hear Me Callin'," while still maintaining that good-ol'-boys-sittin-on-the-front-porch-steps style bluegrass. The whole album in fact is rather reminiscent of George Clooney in a pair of grimy overalls with one strap undone. If you like the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"soundtrack, you'll love this quality countrified quartet.

The band's latest album, Still Crooked, which was released just last year, relies on the same country/folk roots as their previous two, but takes it to a whole new level by playing around with the fiddle a bit more and highlighting O'Donavan's strong yet mellow vocals to a greater extent than in the past.

More recently, the band has been touring around Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, playing 18 shows in just 20 days in late May and early June. Currently the band is at the Telluride Music Festival, a bluegrass bonanza set up in the mountains of southwest Colorado, and will head back East in July for a Northeast tour including a stop at Middlebury's own Festival on the Green.

Crooked Still is set to perform on Wednesday, July 15 at 8:30. If you simply cannot wait until then to hear their string-infused sound, you can check them out on myspace or pay a visit to their surpringly classy web site. Some of their previous performances can also be viewed on YouTube, like this rendition of "Can't You Hear Me Calling" as performed last June at the 33rd annual Fathers Day Festival presented by the California Bluegrass Association:

The music of Crooked Still is best listened to while "driving up highway 1 between big sur and monterey, drinking copious amounts of honey wine, having a picnic with your shoes off, grilling italian sausages, reading ann landers, backcountry skiing, water-skiing, on a pier by a blue lake with your feet dangling in the water," according to one particularly enthusiastic fan on amazon.com. But he forgot one thing off his list: sitting on a blanket on the town green with a Noonie's sandwich — which is what I plan to be doing while simultaneously bobbing my head to the storm of bluegrass that is Crooked Still.

Online editor's note: Check back next Thursday for another update in the "Countdown to the Festival on the Green" series by Addison Independent intern Tamara Hilmes.

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