Monday, August 10, 2015

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival 2015: Saturday & Sunday - Review

One of the great joys of Pemi Valley, in addition to its strong lineup, is to stand in the middle of the central plateau, turn 360 degrees, and not be able to see a house in any direction. Then, when you park, to discover that a powerful cell signal, probably located somewhere near the invisible and unheard I-93 pounds in with four bars of Internet availability. Meanwhile, secluded campsites abound and the Pemigawassett River flows nearby, providing a cooling environment as well as very nice swimming. Each year Dan Burke takes me on a golf cart trip through the camping area. I'll scatter these pictures throughout this review to provide a more clear idea about the joys of this place as a venue for a great bluegrass festival.

Dan Burke

The Mary Maguire Trio

The Mary Maguire Trio is my surprise band for the festival. I've heard Mary in different settings before and always been impressed by her wonderful singing, in a deep, heartfelt alto voice, but not heard her featured or singing her own material. The songs she writes are thoughtful and both thought provoking and emotionally satisfying. She's marvelously supported by Jeff Horton on bass and John Tibert on mandolin, each in their own right strong singers and songwriters, to create a musical impression that, even at 11:00 AM stays with a listener in its haunting and lilting quality. Give Mary's work a good listen next time you get a chance. 

Mary Maguire

John Tibert

Jeff Horton

Mary Maguire

GoldWing Express

Paul Baldridge

Shawn Baldridge

Steve Baldridge

Bob Baldridge

Motorcycle Camping

Bluegrass University Central

The Spinney Brothers

The Spinney Brothers brought their warm personalities and good singing to Pemi Valley. The Spinneys have been touring hard all year, finding fans and increased success across the nation. Their strong combination of bluegrass and old country covers, with plenty of old sounding new songs from song-writers like Tom T. Hall and Mark "Brink" Brinkman strike a strong note with many bluegrass fans.

Rick Spinney

Allan Spinney

Terry Poirier

Gary Dalrymple

Rick & Allan Spinney

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Jim Beaver, an astute observer of the bluegrass scene and New England bluegrass and traditional music DJ, considers Junior Sisk to be one of the three top interpreters of traditional bluegrass music playing today. It's difficult to argue with this assessment. Junior, coming from Southwestern Virginia, is deeply steeped in the music of Ralph Stanley and the sounds emanating from the Galax area. His hard driving rhythm guitar and plaintive mountain-tinged voice help create a unique contemporary sound that always contains elements of his origins and enthusiasms. 

Junior Sisk

Jonathan Dillon

Jamie Harper

Kameron Keller

Jason Davis

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have emerged over the past five or six years as both the most musically engaging and entertaining group in bluegrass, or perhaps any other genre. Their brother harmonies have placed them in a position where their most recent CD "Brotherhood," their first Rounder Records release, wherein they have re-vitalized many long forgotten brother duos of the pre-bluegrass country era stands as a tribute from a band whose own thought provoking and plaintive songs are rapidly reaching into the very soul of the music themselves. The other night, as we lay in our bunk, we heard the wonderful Something Coming to Me being sung in a jam. Such recognition signals the wide and deep influence this band has achieved. Meanwhile, Eric and Leigh Gibson have been chosen to host the upcoming IBMA Awards Show in Raleigh, NC on October 1st. Their occasionally edgy and always funny banter will be just the element to enliven a sometimes stodgy show.

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock

Mike Barber

Eric & Leigh Gibson

The Gibson Brothers Workshop

The Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival has a "Meet & Greet" workshop tent located a short stroll across the plateau where fans can get a closeup opportunity to ask questions and hear songs from the participating bands. Over the years we've found that attending workshops provides a rare insight into bands' personalities and process. Nowhere is this more evident and real than with the Gibson Brothers. When they're in the midst of their creative process, they often begin showcasing their new songs long before the material is ready for prime time, giving their fans an opportunity to both hear what they're developing and to gauge the effectiveness of the songs. This particular afternoon they sang requests from deep in their catalog, talked about their early experiences as performers, and reminisced about life on the farm. Toward the end of their show, they were joined by regional singer/songwriter Seth Sawyer to sing one of his signature songs, Engineer without a Train, which the brothers had recorded earlier in their career. A wonderful hour.......

Martha & Jay Sheperd

Leigh, Jesse Brock, Eric & Seth Sawyer

Kelley Gibson on Photo Safarai

Sundays at bluegrass festivals are a true treasure for those who stay for them. After Saturday night's often exciting musical finish and later exuberant jamming and partying in the field, many people are eager to pack to return to real life. Others take a more leisurely approach by attending the Robinson's Gospel Sing & Jam, staying to support the Kids Academy where nascent bluegrassers are nurtured at many festivals, or sitting in the sun to luxuriate with one more afternoon of bluegrass music before heading home. Breaking camp becomes a process of combining music, packing, and fond farewells until the next time. A truly satisfying way to spend part of Sunday before hitting the road home.

Gospel Sing & Jam

Itinerant evangelist and frequent emcee Mike Robinson, along with his wife Mary, present a popular gospel sing & jam on Sunday mornings before the rest of mornings program continues.

Mike Robinson

Kids Academy

The Pemi Valley's Kids Academy, under the very capable direction of Ellen Carlson, grew this year in both musical ability and age range. Kids Academies improve immeasureably when slightly older, more accomplished young musicians decide to join, participate, and help mentor younger pickers coming along. Perhaps one of the great examples is Aaron Foster's emergence both as a fine picker and a committed music educator. This year's Pemi Valley Academy was enthusiastic and enjoyable.

Here's a link to a more complete photo album of the Pemi Valley Kids Academy. Please help yourself to the photos, tag the pictures and share them with your friends. 

Ellen Carlson

Future Participant?

NewFound Grass

The remainder of Sunday afternoon's music was filled by festival promoters Steve Abdu and Craig Engle and their band, NewFound Grass. It was time for Abdu and Engle to enjoy doing what got them into bluegrass and promoting: play some music, which they did with enthusiasm and skill. Joined by veteran Dave Shaw and Ron Swisher along with a variety of guests, the group provided good music for die hard bluegrass fans who wished still one more hour of music.

Steve Abdu

Craig Engle

Ron Swisher

Dave Shaw

All-in-All, the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival grew again this year, and deservedly so. Craig and Steve put together a first rate, balanced lineup of national and regional bands with plenty of variety meeting the tastes of all but the most narrow of bluegrass purists. The venue is well-suited to continued growth. The promoters, in conjunction with the family owning the site, are making improvements to the site's infra-structure which will continue to attract more fans. They pay careful attention to the needs and desires of their fan base, which will result in continued growth and improvement. We're already looking forward to next year's edition and plan to be there on the first weekend in August, 2016.