Fri., Sept. 30, 8 a.m., Sat., Oct. 1, 8 a.m. and Sun., Oct. 2, 9 a.m. 2011
It says something about how bluegrass band-dom and fandom work that the Boxcars were nominated for more IBMA awards this year than any other group. It was only last October that they released their debut album, which is hardly enough time for total newbies to rise to the top of the heap. Here’s the thing: The members of the Boxcars — just like those of any number of other bands playing Bluegrass Fan Fest — have been around the block. They’re familiar to bluegrass audiences because they’ve already put in time elsewhere: mandolinist Adam Steffey with the Lonesome River Band and Alison Krauss & Union Station (trad-minded veterans and modern acoustic superstars, respectively, both on the Fan Fest bill), and fiddler Ron Stewart and bassist Harold Nixon with progressive legends J.D. Crowe & the New South (also appearing this weekend), to name just a few examples. Bands are always splintering into new bands, and players leaving one outfit for another, or starting their own. And it’s not like bluegrass pickers have a shelf life; their audiences are in it for the long haul. Considering that this September was the 100th anniversary of the birth of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe — in whose bands many a picker and singer apprenticed — it’s only fitting that there’d be a tribute performance led by forward-thinking singer-guitarist Peter Rowan, who played in Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the mid-’60s. Then there are the Steep Canyon Rangers — who were churning out stylishly straight-and-true bluegrass long before they got the gig backing Steve Martin — and 18 South and the SteelDrivers, both of whom have their share of veterans, but, thanks especially to their vocalists, approach bluegrass with an anything-but-traditional Southern soul feel. Speaking of standout voices, Fan Fest will feature the honeyed hillbilly singing of Donna Ulisse and Dale Ann Bradley and the robust traditional edge of Josh Williams, who’ll be immediately preceded on the main stage by bluegrass’s brightest young headliner, Sierra Hull.