Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pemi Valley 2014 - Thursday and Friday: Review

Pemi ValleyBluegrass Festival has one of the great natural environments for a festival that we've ever visited. Located on a former farm that now calls itself the Sugar Shack Campground about sixty miles north of the state capitol in Concord and lying along the free flowing Pemigawassett River as it flows out of the White Mountains, the campground is surrounded on three sides by low rolling hillsides while the river, excellent for swimming, floating, and canoing drifts slowly past. As you stand on the central plateau above the river, there isn't a single house visible in the distance. The plateau falls off to a natural amphitheater where the stage is set with plenty of room for a large stage tent, a variety of vendors, and a spacious, colorful stage. The shape allows sound to roll up the hill without echo or hindrance, a wonderful setting for Rosewood Sound to provide its excellent services. Below the stage and campground are woods leading towards the river with a couple of small meadows and a number of secluded tent and small trailer sites available. Other sites allow for small groups of campers to have plenty of room for jamming or children's play. I haven't even mentioned the festival lineup yet. Suffice it to say that the three top national bands are all likely to be candidates for IBMA Awards in October while the regional bands were some of the best available in New England. 

Rehearsal in the Campground

Vendor Setup

Mike Robinson - Emcee

Crab Grass

Crab Grass is a good name for a good local band coming from Cape Cod. They're tuneful and fun. They also had the unenviable job of opening the festival on Thursday afternoon, which they made a good job of.
Dan Fortier

Steve Finch

Rick Sweeney

Les Beaven & Alice Malone

Chris Minor

The Rim Surrounding the Stage Area
Good Viewing and Listening from Here

Washington County Line

Washington County lies just south of the Adirondack Park north of Albany. The band offers straight up bluegrass in a straightforward fashion. Since we first saw them at the 2011 Jenny Brook Band Contest they have shown consistent improvement.

Steve Wood

Ken Meyer

Sean Quinn

Daryl Smith

Jim Bevins

Hot Mustard

Hot Mustard has become a regular and welcome performer among regional bands in New England. Developing out of a state arts grant to explore the possibilities of double banjo performance involving banjo teacher Bruce Stockwell and his student Bill Jubett, Hot Mustard has become a traditional bluegrass band with a twist, two couples singing and playing with close harmony and fine instrumental work. Highlighted by Bruce Stockwell's always thoughtful and innovative combination of Scruggs style banjo with melodic flourishes and the rough, mountain style singing of April and Bill Jubett, the combination works very well. Kelly Stockwell has become an excellent bass player as well as handling most of the administrative detail for the band. 

Bill Jubett

April Jubett

Kelly Stockwell

Bruce Stockwell

Bill & April Jubett

Irene & Kelly Burke

Welcome Back, Cherrie Wescott

Zink & Company

Corey Zink has been involved in bluegrass and country music for most of his life, first in his father's country band, then in a bluegrass band called Acoustic Blue and now with his own band, Zink and Company. Zink has a resonant and effective country voice, catching emotion and telling stories well. He has surrounded himself with a band that plays well and delivers plenty of zesty humor. The mixture of classic country standards and old sounding new songs, many of which Zink writes himself engages audiences, who enjoy the variety. The band also mixes in plenty of bluegrass to keep themselves and the audience honest. A strong band.....

Corey Zink

Larry Neu

 John Roc

Ray Evans

Music at Pemi Valley is over on the main stage at 10:00 PM, allowing for plenty of time for people to get back to their rigs, pick up their instruments and head out to the jams, which range from small, slow jams to high level expert jams attracting hot pickers and good sized audiences. We generally go to bed, and I fell asleep pretty quickly, but for some reason I woke up to the pounding of the bass and the jangle of a banjo along with some human voices. The music stopped at just before 4:00, and I suppose I dozed for an hour or so before I got up to write. Shortly after dawn I walked down the aisle to the porta-john to find Aaron Foster and Michelle Channing standing outside talking. They hadn't been to bed yet.....


The Seth Sawyer Band

The Seth Sawyer Band has had a very busy summer, and it shows. The band has played at festivals around New England and at smaller events frequently this summer; they've become increasingly tight with increased opportunities to perform. After some years with variable personnel, the band has settled into a comfortable and effective four piece group with Dave Ted Orlomoski on mandolin and guitar, and Dave Shaw on banjo and fiddle, giving the band good versatility to allow its sound to vary with the demands of the song. Further, Shaw and Orlomoski can each sing tenor, lead, or baritone. This fits well with Seth's fine lead vocals, particularly on his own sad, evocative songs. Candi Sawyer, the promoter of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, continues to stand  beside her husband providing a solid bass beat. 

Seth Sawyer

Candi Sawyer

Dave Shaw

Dave "Tex" Orlomoski

Irene & Martha Sheperd

George Crawford

Lonely Heartstring Band

The Lonely Heartstring Band, a group of five former and present Berklee College of Music Students. Students from Berklee are at the center of the roiling, boisterous acoustic music scene in Boston. Frequently they are innovative to the point of incoherence, while at other times their efforts seem passing and trivial. The Lonely Heartstring Band is none of the above. It's a fine bluegrass band on the way to creating a unique sound that still fits comfortably within the box. They are truly my surprise band of the festival! They began their life as a band as a Beetles Bluegrass cover band, coming together for a special event. Their repertoire ranges from Monroe, to Flatt & Scruggs, through the Beetles to Paul Simon, whose "Graceland" took on a special sound as a bluegrass song. Their original songs are interesting and tuneful, their approach to the audience mature and thoughtful. This group of talented musicians has a significant future as a bluegrass band should they decide to continue in the directions they've chosen.

Charles Clements

Matt Witler

Gabe Hirshfeld

George Clements

Patrick McGoniglr

Lonely Heartstring Band - Something - Video

Flatt Lonesome

Flatt Lonesome made their first appearance in New Hampshire to warm enthusiasm and genuine audience appreciation. Their harmonies remain close and soaring, their instrumentals based largely in Mike Stockton's Dobro play and Paul Harrigill's fine banjo play are better than acceptable. Many people find the close sibling harmonies effective. As a young and relatively inexperienced band, their repertoire is not well developed enough to support four sets over two days. 

Buddy Robertson

Kelsi Robertson Harrigill

Charli Robertson

Paul Harrigill

Michael Stockton

Dominic Illingworth

The Slow Jam Tent

Led by Mary Maguire

Time for a Swim

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards greatest days as a singer/songwriter were in the seventies when he had several hits and earned a gold record. Or were they? Now, in his mid-sixties, he travels the country with a small and fine band playing in arts centers, clubs, some small places and some much larger. His delivery is sure and his singing pure and self-assured. He bears a remarkable resemblance to one of his (and my) heroes, Pete Seeger. He's doing pretty well, and that seems just fine with him. Backed by Tom Snow on keyboard and Joe Walsh on mandolin, with Steve Abdu (Pemi Valley co-promoter) sitting in on bass for a couple of songs, he charmed his audience personally and musically. His loyal audiences love his work, and he easily wins over new ones. Not a bad way to keep doing what you love.

Jonathan Edwards

Tom Snow

Joe Walsh

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards - Sunshine - Video

Balsam Range

Balsam Range consists of five men from Haywood County North Carolina, a sparsely populated rural county, in the western part of the state, where the last shot of the Civil War was fired and Cold Mountain, the symbol of a major "walking home from the war" novel was set. Its major industry is a paper mill, about which the title song of their fourth CD was written. Their fifth, recently released and titled Five after five musical friends making their fifth recording, continues the record of musical exploration, versatility, and excellence characterizing the four that preceded it. Each member of the band brings differing strengths to an enterprise that comes together to create an exciting event wherever they perform.  Their New Hampshire debut was an unqualified success.

Caleb Smith

Darren Nicholson

Tim Surrett

Buddy Melton

Marc Pruett

Jamming Day & Night

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers are the home team here, even though they come from upstate New York, not New England. Their appearances are eagerly awaited, and we watched people moving toward their seats mouthing the words to even the more obscure of their songs. It may even be difficult for them to introduce new material here, as requests for songs from some of their hoariest recordings are among fans' favorites. But proximity and familiarity are not what their appeal is about. Over the past decade we've watched their act mature and their self assurance grow as we've seen their reputation expand. We've seen them from New Hampshire to Florida, from New York to western Kentucky as they meet audiences who haven't ever heard them and win them over. We've come to know Gibson Brothers fans who come from Texas to attend bluegrass festivals and even concerts in New England just to see them. The quality of their harmony, the authenticity of their thought provoking lyrics, their melodic purity, and the joyful teasing of their sibling rivalry all contribute to their ability to capture and hold people, turning strangers into fans with one appearance. With their recent signing by Rounder Records, the Gibson Brothers' star is still on the rise.

The Gibson Brothers - Eric & Leigh

Leigh Gibson

Eric Gibson

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock

Mike Barber

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson & Mike Barber

Mike Barber & Jesse Brock 

Some Gibson Brothers Fans

Dave & Sharon Ward

Kelsi Robertson Harrigill & Charli Robertson

Aaron Foster