Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival - Thornton, NH: August 2015 - Review

The Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival has landed on one of the most beautiful natural sites of any bluegrass festival we attend. Surrounded by on three sides by the gently rising foothills of New Hampshire's White Mountains, and on the fourth by the lovely Pemigawassett River, where campers can swim or canoe, the site feels isolated while lying only a few miles from Interstate 91, running north and south along the eastern side of the state. From the vast meadow at the top of the site, you can turn 360 degrees and not see a single building. A short walk takes you into the woods where a large variety of small wooded campsites give way to several gentle meadows where larger groups of campers can congregate. Though the site has few electric hookups and no running water except at a central standpipe, it stands out for its beauty and flexibility, as well as its capacity. Along one edge, the plateau gives way to a short hill which forms a natural amphitheater where a stage has been built and a much needed shade tent erected, The performance area could easily accommodate 1500 festival goers. In short, there aren't very many places better suited for a bluegrass festival. 

The Feinberg Brothers

The Feinberg Brothers come from Long Island, New York, where they have based their performances on the music and styles of first generation bluegrass bands like the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, and  Flatt and Scruggs. Coming from such a young band, their music strikes me as being somewhat out of touch with the directions contemporary bluegrass is headed, but they deliver their material with skill. Though the summer is only a little more than half over, their performance has benefited from hard touring. Their show was tighter and much more musical than just a little over a month ago. 

Patrick Feinberg

Roark Feinberg

Terry McGill

Ronnie Feinberg

Pete Elegant

Chasing Blue

Chasing Blue is one of the many bluegrass bands growing out of the fine acoustic and bluegrass music programs at Berklee School of Music and then continuing in the Boston area, where a hot, young bluegrass community has sprung up and from which it is spreading its influence across the nation. It plays traditional, classic bluegrass and newer material with facility and sometimes a little twist. Several times I noticed that they were adept a taking an older, very familiar song, playing it as many bluegrass pickers grew up hearing it played, and then giving it some tweaks that served to give the song a more contemporary twist without ever doing the original material a disservice. This band is fun to watch and listen to.

Maggie McKay

Danny Musher

Laura Orshaw

Michael Reese

Alex Muri

Smokey Greene

Smokey Greene, accompanied by his ever patient and loving son Scott on bass, is on his farewell tour before taking his leave from active performing after more than fifty years at it. His old country and bluegrass songs along with his often very funny and clever novelty numbers and, increasingly in recent years, gospel standards are legendary in New England, New York, and Florida. We wish him well in his retirement.

Smokey Greene



Newtown, a Kentucky-based band featuring Kati Penn Williams (and her new daughter) on fiddle and vocals, plays traditional bluegrass and fiddle tunes as well as some touching and effective more modern material. The band has become tighter and more effective with good continuity in it, and put on two solid performances at Pemi Valley despite have too little sleep after a long drive.

Kati Penn Williams

Junior Williams

 Tony Mowell

Travis Anderson

Clint Hurd

Sleepless Junior Williams & Little Miss Williams

Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers

Larry Efaw is an award winning mandolin and guitar player who promotes festivals in Ohio as well as a bluegrass cruise. His band plays traditional bluegrass in a traditional fashion. Solid singing and good playing the way many people like it. My apologies to the bass player David Bowlin.

Larry Efaw

Christopher Hill

Stanley Efaw

Anthony Prater

The SteelDrivers

The SteelDrivers have brought qualities back to bluegrass that many have thought were missing or lost. By reintroducing a Delta Blues flavor, they recognize the importance of a soulful quality that many critics of contemporary bluegrass assert is missing from much of the highly technical music played by some bands. Gary Nichols' Muscle Shoals influenced singing and fine guitar work help create an environment beyond the often over-heated emphasis on drinking and carousing some associate with their music, which, at its heart and in its execution is serious, thought provoking, and, always, interesting. 

Gary Nichols

Brent Truitt

Richard Bailey

Tami Rogers

Mike Fleming

The Trio
Tami, Mike, Gary

Mike Fleming & Gary Nichols

The Claire Lynch Band

Claire Lynch delivered the best two sets of her music I've ever heard. The three time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year seemed more relaxed, happier, and more at peace with herself than I've ever seen or heard. She has discovered a new space within herself that projects a warmth and expressiveness greater than I've seen or heard from her alread well-recognized and awarded voice. Her supporting band of Mark Schatz (two time IBMA bass player of the Year), Bryan McDowell and Jarrod Walker is composed of major virtuosos in their own right who are performing at the top  of their games. They really delivered to the Pemi audience.

Claire Lynch

Mark Schatz

Bryan McDowell

Jarrod Walker

Claire Lynch & Mark Schatz

All told, the first two days of the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival presented wonderful and varied bluegrass music in a near perfect setting with fast improving fine weather. Couldn't find a much better way to start the first weekend in August. More to come.