Live Review

The Hackensaw Boys Invade a Rocking, Historic, Band-Driven NorFOLK Festival

Hackensaw Boys on August 12, 2017

Troy Breslow and the Company Band perform at NorFOLK Festival in Norfolk, VA. (Photo by Ron Wray)

The NorFOLK Festival came to downtown Norfolk, VA, for a second year, bringing truly outstanding music and musicians locally, regionally, and statewide. Held in O’Connor Brewing Company's brewery at the edge of the Ghent neighborhood, the weather was threatening, causing many outdoor performances to move inside. But no one was daunted, and the weather became beautiful, if hot, after the morning’s flooded streets.

The Virginia Beach band Brackish Water Jamboree created and put on the festival, doing a nearly flawless job of a huge task, with the support of O’Connor and other area sponsors. I think it has been a singular and historic venture in Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area.

I was there some 12 hours, but still couldn’t catch all the acts. Here are some snapshots:

The Hackensaw Boys  The headliners were spectacular. Enormous energy. Brilliant good old boys, beards and all, with unique and colorful charisma, their self-made percussion instrument in the middle. Young ladies in the crowd exploded to the stage to dance along. Old fans came, and new fans were made. I enjoyed a talk with the only remaining original band member, David Sickmen, and a shorter one with virtuoso fiddler, Ferd Moyse, afterward. They’re headed soon to Europe and a new album.

Brackish Water Jamboree  These guys put on the whole deal. Their fiddler Rachel Gaither was a fine fixture in this potpourri of folk/country/bluegrass sounds and textures, quick and with well-written songs. Their Jamboree is the real deal and a whole lot of fun. Magnificent, generous, and hard-working hosts, too, with Paul Bidanset and Wes Russo instrumental in pulling the necessary strings. Russo delighted one young fan by playing his washboard into the crowd and directly to her as she danced with her friends.

Bob and Jeanne MacDougal Zentz  A blast from the folk past and present. Bob, the maritime and Virginian iconic figure of Ramblin’ Conrad fame, played many authentic folk instruments. Bob and Jeanne are a pair for the ages, bringing a museum of music with them as well. Several guest artists from the area joined them, and a large crowd enjoyed their show.

Whiskey Wells  Out of Richmond, my friend Graham Stole (of Graham Stone Music) and his wife, with a talented, country-voiced band, tore up the stage with some great rocking Americana. They featured fine voices and instrumentation, along with distinctive original tunes by Stole.

South Hill Banks  Instant favorites, also from RVA, as they call Richmond. As one friend said, “ I had to get their album, they were the greatest.” They are a wonderfully fast and furious, solid Americana band, with fine songs and great musicianship.

Troy Breslow & The Company Band  Always on top of his game, Breslow showcased his fine original, and they are truly original, tunes, such as the one about being a Jewish-cowboy singer. He brought his authentic yodels and, with a solid, polished country band behind him, Breslow rocked out.

Gordon Bradley  With Gina Dalmas, of Gina Dalmas and the Cow-Tipping Cowboys, and other talented musicians, Bradley acted like he’d been doing this all his life. However, this new bandleader was unused to public performance. Nonetheless, he brought the goods, with original tunes and some smoking country covers. One standout performance, though, belonged, to Dalmas with a heaven-piercing Led Zeppelin tune, her voice doing all the ups and downs required.

Andrew Bertrand  He brought together a very talented, veteran (young and old) group of area musicians to form his band. Bertrand, a fixture at the popular open-mic outings of The Cure in Old Town Norfolk, came out with a fine voice, good original and cover songs, and solid guitar. He thoroughly pleased an overflow crowd. He later played with Brackish Water Jamboree, helping out with guitar and backing vocals.

One of his players was Sean Heely, a fine young fiddler who was also a featured performer and played in several bands, including the Zentz’s. Heely was heading to Ireland the next day for a fiddle competition.

Mountaintide  Everyone’s favorite Norfolk bank executive, New York City street busker, Hampton Roads concert and open-mic regular, and public broadcasting personality Jim Newsom, and his talented partner Holly Kirsten, made impassioned, yet gentle waves of sound on the O’Connor patio to an attentive crowd.

An occasion new to Norfolk and one created and driven by musicians themselves, brackish water brought fair skies and following seas to a stormy Norfolk weekend, as Brackish Water Jamboree filled a huge craft brewery with an outpouring of Virginia’s best songs.