Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival

The Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival will run from July 30 - August 2, 2015 at the Sugar Shack Campground in Thornton, NH along the Pemigawasset River in eastern NH just south of the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. The lineup is strong, and the campground is located in one of the most beautiful and unspoiled locations we've ever stayed in. The site, however, just barely conforms to the name campground, offering very few of the amenities most campers demand while being quite expensive for electric hookups. Regardless of this, the Pemi Valley Festival has all the bells and whistles of a very good festival - strong national and regional bands, workshops, a thriving jamming community, and more. Here's the scoop.....

The Lineup

Blackstone Valley Bluegrass

A strong regional band featuring popular players with wide experience,  Blackstone Valley Bluegrass is best known for their vocal harmonies and the sort of large repertoire that develops when a band has played together for over a dozen years. 

Chasing Blue

We first saw Chasing Blue at the winter Joe Val festival a few years ago. Based in Boston and composed, largely, of Berklee Scool of Music graduates, the band features traditional and progressive songs in a hard-driving style. They recently opened for the Avett Brothers. 

Feinberg Brothers
Patrick Feinberg

The Feinberg Brothers are getting lots of play around New England this summer. Their intensity coupled with their youth and likability provide a good combination to go with their highly traditional musical choices.

Rourke Feinberg

Lonely Heartstring Band

Emerging as, perhaps, the best young band to come out of the northeast in recent years, The Lonely Heartstring Band, is composed of former students at Berklee and at the N.E. Conservatory of Music. The band was formed for a one-off appearance as a bluegrass cover band playing Beatles music. They have developed into an exciting band playing traditional, singer/songwriter, and bluegrassifications of rock music. Their version of Paul Simon's Graceland is simply stunning.

Patrick McGonigle & George Clements

Claire Lynch Band

Claire Lynch remains one of the most versatile song stylists in bluegrass today. Her music is easy on the ear and flirts with bluegrass, swing, jazz, and country. Her already very good band has been strengthened by the addition of young Jarrod Walker on mandolin. Mark Schatz on bass and Bryan McDowell on everything else, as needed, fill out the band.

Jarrod Walker

Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers

We've never seen Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers before and now we get to see them two weeks in a row. This Kentucky-based bands plays a good deal in the summer in the midwest and the northeast.  

New Town
Kati Penn

New Town, featuring Katie Penn on vocals and fiddle, has picked up its game and presents an engaging, pleasant show.

Junior William

The SteelDrivers

The SteelDrivers new CD The Muscle Shoals Recordings clearly signals the emergence as Gary Nichols as a leader in this band. Having arrived to replace Chris Stapleton, the fine country singer/songwriter, Nichols had to win over the respect of a rabidly loyal fan base who had been attracted by Stapleton, the new CD and his fine, nuanced live performances shows that the band chose the right man for the band, a singer with a flexible voice whose guitar picking is very good. Brent Truitt, the other changed position from the original band, brings humor and enthusiasm to the band, seemingly without great effort to engratiate himself to the audience. Richard Bailey is always fine on banjo, while Mike Fleming and Tammy Rodgers bring their usual high spirits and very good work sharing emcee, harmony and some lead, and fine picking to the band. This band is recovering from a low point, and will be reaching towards higher levels with a unique and welcome sound.

Brent Truitt, Tammy Rogers, Mike Fleming

The Gibson Brothers
Leigh Gibson

The Gibson Brothers are in the midst of another remarkable year. Because we see them at several festivals in New England and New York each summer, it may seem a little ordinary. But look at their schedule for a week or two. The two weeks beginning at Pemi Valley have them traveling from New Hampshire to New York to West Virginia to Maryland to Pennsylvania and back to New York. Each place they stop, the band comes out and gives its all. One of the top bluegrass bands in the world (no exaggeration), we're lucky to have this band in our back yard and even more lucky that they remember and are loyal to the festivals that provided them a boost when they needed it. I don't know if they're head to Alaska this year, but I think a trip across the Atlantic is in the offing for 2016.

Eric & Leigh Gibson

Gold Wing Express

Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk is from Ferrum, Virginia, along the Crooked Road in the southwestern part of the state. Not too far from the home of Ralph Stanley, he lives in the midst of the cradle of country and bluegrass music. His songs, whether old tunes written by the Stanley Brothers or newer ones he's capturing the spirit of rural southern life, he's a master of presenting and interpreting the music. An old soul in a modern body, he shares it with us, to all our benefit. 

Mary Maguire Band

Mary Maguire has had a career as a singer and instrumentalist for well more than a decade. She is an popular workshopper teaching singing and vocal harmony. Her band features local musicians in a program embracing bluegrass, folk, jazz, and country songs providing variety and quality. 

NewFound Grass

The house band composed of promoters Craig Engle and Steve Abdu along with a variety of others when available. 
Spinney Brothers

We've seen the Spinney Brothers a lot this year: Florida, North Carolina, Vermont, and now New Hampshire. While their show seldom varies, they bring professionalism and an earnest, serious approach to their amalgam of traditional bluegrass and country along with old-sounding new songs by the likes of Brink Brinkman as well as written by themselves. 

Gospel Sing & Jam

Kids Academy

Smokey Greene

Pemi Valley represents another stop on Smokey Greene's "Farewell Tour." Smokey has been a bluegrass legend for two generations in New York and New England, also, more recently, in Florida. His huge repertoire of classic country, bluegrass, and novelty songs delivered with humor and his own thoughts on this music is welcomed by his many fans. 

NewFound Grass and Friends


The Pemi Valley Bluegrass University will once again be presenting semi-private small group lessons on Saturday afternoon. The groups are taught by some of New England's finest picker/teachers. Organized by Tony Watt, the university functions at several festivals in the region. 

The Kids Academy will once again be directed to Ellen Carlson, whose work with children and adults in the region is well known. Kids Academy provides opportunities at many festivals for children at the beginner and intermediate levels to learn to pick together as well as to perform from the main stage on Sunday. It also gives parents a break while knowing that there kids are supervised in a very worthwhile activity. 

A Slow Jam Tent has become increasingly popular at festivals. Slow jamming provides an opportunity for people who love to pick, but aren't quite ready to join the hot night-time jams, which are also often a bit exclusive. Here they can sing and pick with others who are supportive and helpful.

The Performers Tent offers a chance to spend some time with individual bands who talk about their process, sometimes showcase new songs, and answer questions. This up close and personal approach is very popular. 

A Workshop with Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing

The Details

Tickets for Pemi Valley can be ordered on line through Ticket Leap here. Here's a list of prices:

  4-Day Advance (Thu-Sun)$110 
   3-Day Advance (Fri-Sun$100    
Thursday Only$35   
 Friday Only$50  
  Saturday Only$60    
Sunday Only$25   
 Dogs (1 time fee)$10

Camping: Camping amenities are limited at Pemi Valley, but it's one of the prettiest sites we attend. There are secluded sites along the Pemigawasset River, large sites appropriate for a couple of rigs to share, and open fields providing free camping. There are a few rather expensive electric sites. Here's a link to the layout of the campground with one of the best presentations we've ever seen. Here's a link to other accommodations in the area for those who do not camp. 

How to Get to Pemi Valley
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There's no place like New England in the summer. The days are long and usually warm. Nights are clear and cool. August and September are usually pretty dry. New Englanders are good at making the most of their short summers. This means that at bluegrass festivals there's often all night jamming and lots of fun. If you live here, you know. If you don't live here, now's the time to give it a try!