Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival 2016 - Thursday & Friday: Review

Located less than a mile as the crow flies from I-93 running from near Boston to the St. Johnsobury, VT, the Benton Sugar Shack provides the illusion of being isolated from time, progress, the hustle and bustle of modern life, politics...everything but bluegrass music. Yet, as I sat in our trailer, I was able to capture a cell signal, which probably came across the rippling Pemigewassett River bordering the campground. There are few, if any, better places to spend a summer weekend at a customer friendly, well-run bluegrass festival. 

Our Site - It's Only Lonely for  a While

Getting the Stage Area Set Up

The Pemigewassett River

Big Rock - Popular for Swimmers During the Festival

Ellen Carlson Teaching Wernick Style
Jam Camp

Parker Hill Road Band

The Parker Hill Road Band had the unenviable task of opening the festival on Thursday afternoon while people were still arriving and getting set up. Fortunately they returned twice more during the event to share their delightful mix of classic bluegrass and adapted music from a variety of genres, all fitting neatly into a bluegrass template. Seemingly a bit rough, this band grows on your sensibility as they continue entertain with enthusiasm and skill.

Tim Cate

Chris Cate

Mike "Woody" Woods

Paul Amey

Tom Rappa

Vendors Row - More Later!

Around the Campground

Zink & Company

Cory Zink has improved his band significantly with the addition of Dan Menzone on banjo, while upping the quality of his own singing. A bluegrass aficionado commented on the similarity between elements of Zink's singing at that of early Charlie Waller, pretty good company. The ration of talk to music seems a bit high to me, but this band has proven itself to local and regional audiences throughout New England. 

Cory Zink

Jon Roc

Dan Menzone

Keith Edwards

Lonely Heartstring Band

The Lonely Heartstring Band may have begun life as a Beatles cover band for a local wedding, but, after four years of winning contests, touring, working closely together, writing increasingly strong music of their own, and choosing their rock covers very judiciously, the band has matured into a tight-knit, musical ensemble of rare quality. Their singing and musicianship put them into elite territory. Meanwhile, their showmanship continues to improve. Superb banjo player Gabe Hershfeld's offbeat humor has grown on me as his laconic manner has become more content focused. They never cease to impress. 

George Clements

Charles Clements - George's "Wombmate"

Matt Witler

Gabe Hershelfd

Patrick McGonigle

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage made a rare two day appearance at Pemi Valley. More of her on Friday's coverage. 

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Chris Jones, the long-time "True Grass" host on Sirius/Xm radio and more recent columnist for Bluegrass Today has played with a number of fine bands and fronted his own band for twenty one years. With plenty of songs written by award winning Jon Weisberger and fellow award winner Jones himself, the band features a distinctively cool demeanor and plenty of musicality. The addition of Gena Clowes on banjo the band will inevitably change personality, but it's quality remains high with her driving and, at the same time, precise banjo play. 

Chris Jones

Jon Weisberger

Mark Stoffel

Gena Clowes

Rhonda & Sally Guests on Chris Jones' Set

 Mary McGuire: Host of Slow Jam Tent

Helen Highwater String Band

There was no Hell or High Water with the appearance of the Helen Highwater String Band, but there was plenty of good bluegrass with an interesting mixture of styles representing the four distinctive styles of its virtuoso musicians. Each member of this band is renowned in their own right as a band leader or go-to sideperson. Mike Compton plays Monroe style mandolin possibly better than Mr. Monroe himself. David Grier was named Guitar player of the decade by Flatpicker magazine, Missy Raines has been IBMA Bass Player of the Year seven times, and Shad Cobb plays with numerous bands as well as recording for both bluegrass and country musicians. Their performance reflects the shades of bluegrass shown in the resumés. 

Mike Compton

David Grier

Missy Raines

Shadd Cobb

How's This for a Tow Vehicle?

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent may be the biggest draw in bluegrass music. Where Rhonda appears, audiences seem to grow larger. Thursday's crowd was larger than any other Thursday at Pemi, and they came to stay. Rhonda despite the fact that the band was headed for Milan, MI after her Friday performance, she gave, as she always does, full measure. The addition of her daughter, Sally Berry, to the band relieves her of having to sing quite so much, as her extremely demanding touring schedule would sap anyone's energy and challenge their vocal chords. Meanwhile, every other member of this band is a legitimate star in their own right. Still one of the very best.....

Rhonda w/Mickey Harris

Hunter Berry

Brent Burke

Mickey Harris

Aaron McDaris

Josh Williams

Brent Burke

 Seldom Scene Meet & Greet

The Meet and Greet tent at Pemi Valley often provide an excellent place to see members of a band in a very informal setting where they answer questions, talk about their work, and sometimes workshop new songs or show how they arrange them. It's always an interesting hour. When members of The Seldom Scene sat down for a meet and greet, most of the discussion revolved about the members of the original band and how the present members see their role in maintaining the sound and style of the band, while making their own unique contributions. 

Dudley Connell

Fred Travers

Ronnie Simpkins

The Seldom Scene
Ronnie Simpkins & Dudley Connell

The Seldom Scene became a game changer in bluegrass music as it created a new, mellow sound incorporating a range of music from the late sixties into the eighties into bluegrass. The current band, four of whom represent a core band that's been together longer than the original five members were, the band preserves the sound which meant so much to so many. While their sound represents a crucial change in bluegrass coming about a generation after Bill Monroe's original formulation of the music, it also establishes a model for ongoing change in a vibrant and developing musical form. 

Rickie Simpkins & Lou Reid

Lou Reid

Ronnie Simpkins

Fred Travers

Dudley Connell

Rickie Simpkins

Dudley Connell

Friday gave the audience a fine, varied day of music showing how bluegrass could vary and yet be true to its roots. Two days to go. Come back for the next installment.