9/16/2013 9:44 AM
What draws you to Ellnora is the amazingly diverse talent. Where else can you see Buddy Guy, John Scofield, Cindy Cashdollar, Dweezil Zappa, Del McCoury, Lucinda Williams, and about a zillion other artists at the same venue? But what I didn't expect was how intimate such a big festival could be. The Krannert Center in Champaign Il. is a beautiful place to see and hear music, but the stages are situated in such a way that you have in incredible access to the artists. Case in point: Someone was sound checking a mandolin today, with people milling about all over the place. I took a closer look and realized it was Sam Bush. He got off stage and was just hanging out, and happily recounted his story of stealing the very first issue of Guitar Player from his high school library, along with a bunch of other great anecdotes. When his duo partner for the night, bluegrass legend Del McCoury, showed up, Sam brought him into the conversation, as he did with Cindy Cashdollar when she walked by. When attendees or workers recognized them and said hi, they were all gracious and mellow.
It was an education to watch Cindy Cashdollar sound check with the Lee Boys and Fiona Boyes. She played lap steel with both but played completely differently. As this year's Artist in Residence, she's expected to be flexible and versatile, and she truly took that to another level. And these were just the sound checks!
There are so many great sets at Ellnora that it can get a little overwhelming. It seems like every 45 minutes or so there's another must-see performance. Thankfully the Krannert Center is set up so logically that you don't have to go far, and I felt like I was able to see pretty much everything. Everyone played great, but here are some sets that stood out for me.
Luther Dickinson and the Wandering
After a super-cool lesson on open-D and fingerpicking, Luther joined his mostly acoustic band for a set of traditional American music. The band featured a deep groove, unique instrumentation (that included bamboo cane fife), and deft interaction between the musicians. A huge bonus was when Cindy Cashdollar sat in on Dobro.