On Saturday morning, our son Rick and I took a walk through the campground as people were starting to stir and prepare for another day of music. The Benton Sugar Shack campground provides a magnificent site with enormous potential as a commercial campground as well as a venue for commercial events. Because it spreads out, providing several distinct camping areas and environments, the Sugar Shack can accommodate those who wish solitude, shade, sunny meadows, riverfront camping, a quiet nook, or to construct a compound of circled rigs wishing to be together for jamming or socialization. At present there are a number of sites were electric hookups are available. Presently, there is no water on the site. For environmental and cost reasons, it's unlikely there will ever be sewer sights. Nevertheless, we're told a leach field with an associated shower facility is in the planning stage. Should provisions be made to provide even a few standpipes at convenient locations, the Sugar Shack would prove attractive to a large range of both self contained and primitive camping situations.
The policy of this blog continues to be that we will cover a band once during a festival. Bands which appear several times over a couple of days will be placed on the blog in a way which contributes to balance and makes it possible for individual posts to be a reasonable size. Thus, if you compare the review to the schedule, you will inevitably find what you might consider to be holes. We try to cover every band appearing on the main stage plus activities at subsidiary venues, and usually manage it.
Cruncy Western Boys call themselves "New Hampshire's own folk and bluegrass band," which seems to be a pretty good self-description. They provide festivals, bars, Farmer's Markets, and other events with light, enjoyable, well-performed bluegrass and folky standards as well as band originals. They recently returned from an extended western tour during which they opened for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and played a variety of venues. There's lots of humor and liveliness in their delivery.
Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing continue to impress and grow on me with each time I get a chance to see them. Amos, for a dozen years or so ending about a decade ago, was the lead singer, guitarist, arranger, and song writer for the Colorado-based, internationally known band Front Range. They disbanded after the death of their mandolin player and Amos returned to his native St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where he has established a studio. He's now established a new band composed of his daughter Sarah, whose wonderful voice provides family harmonies and wonderful lead singing, and three local players, each of whom plays at the top of his game with Catamount Crossing. Bob Dick on bass is also a Front Range alumnus and a very good bass player. Freeman Cory has been a well-known fiddler with several regional bands. I've never seen Steve Wright before this, but he a commanding presence on stage, possessing a pleasing voice and quality rhythm and lead guitar. Gary Darling has never sung nor played the mandolin so well before. His performance suggests he's been doing plenty of wood-shedding. His bass harmonies on gospel quartets are fine. Promoters beyond the immediate New England and nearby New York region should listen carefully to his new CD Borrowed Time.
This year, Steve Abdu and Craig Engle, who've assumed promotion of Pemi Valley this year after years of apprenticeship under Sue Marsden, decided to replace the traditional "workshop" tent with a more aptly named Performer's Tent emphasizing the opportunity for bands to meet and greet with groups of fans, respond to questions, and perhaps play a few songs without amplification. This new model seems to have been quite a success.
Tony Watt's Bluegrass University has become an increasing success, as it is now present at five important festivals in the region. The faculty is chosen from some of New England's best known teachers, workshoppers, and performers. The curriculum now emphasizes teaching aimed at the beginner level, but there's a good deal of flexibility in the designs to meet the needs of students who show up. At Pemi Valley a free slow jam experience was added, that was quite well attended. Classes at the University are two hours long and cost a very reasonable $35.00 with class sizes limited to seven. If you want to begin playing a bluegrass instrument or improve your skills, consider this opportunity.
Group Picture of Kids Academy
Smokey Greene is an institution at bluegrass festivals in eastern upstate New York, New England, and Florida. Years ago he hosted his own bluegrass festival and toured with a band. More recently he has performed as a single or with his son Scott in support on bass and/or guitar. He specializes in a pleasing combination of old country songs and humorous novelty numbers that are both familiar and nostalgic for his audience. He's announced this year as his final tour, but I wouldn't count on that.
Nothin' Fancy has toured with essentially the same band for about twenty years now. They drew the largest Sunday afternoon crowd we've seen in quite a while to close the very successful Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival. Over the years we've heard their music become more varied, reflecting particularly the skills and personality of each performer. Chris Sexton on fiddle brings fine fiddle play into conjunction with trained violin to present an added dimension. Mitchell Davis on banjo is an understated humorist, an excellent straight man. Tony Shorter on bass is crucial to the trio as well as offering a certain hygienic sex appeal to the band. The addition of Jesse Smathers supplies better flat picking than the band has ever had, a strong rhythm guitar, and excellent tenor harmony. He's stretched the band and challenged them to continue growing. Mike Andes, who refuses to call himself the leader of the essentially democratic organization, nevertheless serves as emcee, while writing and singing much of their repertoire. Nothin' Fancy has a significant fan base almost everywhere, which shows up regularly for their performances.