Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival - Wednesday & Thursday - Preview

This year's Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival, held in the Benton Sugar Shack Campground from August 2 - 5, began with a Wednesday evening band contest and ended on Saturday night with one of the strongest sets of closing acts we've ever seen. Even with a deluge suppressing the Saturday day crowd, the festival turned out to be the best edition of this festival we've attended. The site is varied and beautiful. The vibe is always welcoming. The jamming is varied and pervasive. In sum, this is one of the best. 

The Band Contest

The band contest, a new feature of a restructured and imagined Pemi Valley festival,  strongly suggested the vital quality of of the regional bands that have emerged in New England. The entire six state region is only marginally larger than the entire state of Indiana, yet produces first rate, entertaining bands coming from the grass roots as well as polished, superbly trained bluegrass bands from Boston, a jumping hive of musical experimentation. Currently popular touring bands like The Lonely Heartstring Band and Mile Twelve had their earliest performing experiences in band contests. This initial offering at Pemi Valley offered more seasoned local and regional bands, but, with a year to recruit, look for more range and different experiences next year.

Brock Hill Bluegrass

Brock Hill is a bluegrass band playing a range of the traditional repertoire. 

Mike Reynolds

Steve Finch

Steve Healey

Dave Choate

Kelly Burke 

Long Journey

A folky duo singing gospel and a variety of folk and bluegrass/country songs. 

Amrita Lash

Karl Mullen


Winner of the first band competition at Pemi Valley, Borderline generated interest and excitement with its wide variety of song choices, fine singing featuring close harmonies, and strong instrumentals. As they emerge in the New England scene, they should increasingly brighten the stages of regional festivals and other events. 

Kate Greeley

Nora Kranis

John Kranis

Anthony Jaccorino

Bluegrass Revisited

Bluegrass Revisited comes from northern Vermont and sings mostly traditional bluegrass in a traditional fashion. 

Ernie Minetti

Larry Longley

Neal Brown

Allen Gratton

Band competitions add flavor to a bluegrass festival as well as giving new, or not well known bands the opportunity to perform before a festival audience. There are often pleasing surprises, such as the emergence here of Borderline. It's truly useful when bands, no matter how small or insignificant, are easy to access online. As bands move from the local jam scene into a more regional spotlight while beginning to seek more bookings in local events and regional festivals, it make sense to develop, at least, a Facebook Page to represent them and their work.

Skip Gorman and the Waddy Pals

Skip Gorman, who lives in Vermont, headed west to Utah for graduate school, where he began soaking up cowboy culture and music. Adding this component to his bluegrass roots, extending back to Bill Monroe. He also added story-telling to his music, making him an engaging link to two seemingly separate American folk cultures. Add to this his connections to Celtic music and culture, and you have a performer well worth listening to and learning from. He often performs as a single act at story-telling events. At Pemi Valley he was joined by his son Angus and two old friends to create a melange of musical experience. 

Skip Gorman

Angus Gorman

Kate McCloud

Ann Downey

Micheele Canning

Michelle Cannning has been a familiar figure in the New England bluegrass scene for at least a decade. Many of us watched her grow up at festivals here, gaining experience as a performer and an emcee. Now, a graduate of the bluegrass and traditional music program at Moorehead State University in Kentucky, she has put together a solid band composed of former classmates. With solid singers and pickers her own age, the band is the most impressive she's led. 

Michelle Canning

 Samantha Cunningham

 Thomas Albert

Casie Glover

Karl Shifflett & Big Country

Karl Shifflett & Big Country re-create the look, feel, and sound of the early days of bluegrass barnstorming, when bands drove to small, rural radio stations to perform for half an hour at breakfast or lunch time advertising their live performance later that evening. Using the technology of the time, they spread bluegrass music throughout the south with their ceaseless travel to find audiences. 

Karl Shifflett

Justin Harrison

Kris Shifflett & Danny Bureau

Billy Hurt 

Brennan Ernst

Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass

The Paisely family, with roots in Ashe County, North Carolina has lived in southeastern Pennsylvania for two generations, where they have made a name for themselves as a hard driving, raw sounding bluegrass band. The third performing generation is now represented by seventeen year old Ryan Paisely, who has taken his place as a virtuoso mandolin player who we remember as a seven year old chopping beside Donny Eldreth, who now plays bass in the band. T.J. Lundy, on fiddle this week was accompanied by his brother, Bobby Lundy on banjo, placing two of Ted Lundy's sons back in the band beside the two Paisley's, in a welcome reunion. Danny, who won the 2016 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Award was in fine form. 

Danny Paisley

Ryan Paisley

Bobby Lundy

T.J. Lundy

Donny Eldreth

Special Consensus

Special Consensus has been a successful touring band for over forty years under the leadership of Greg Cahill, who has also distinguished himself as a leader in the bluegrass industry and a strong advocate for getting bluegrass music into the schools. The band is the star here, but Cahill is a noted banjo stylist bringing a variety of musical styles to the instrument. They're always a strong band at any festival. 

Greg Cahill

Rick Faris

Nick Duman

Dan Eubanks

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent and the rage spent two days at Pemi Valley, playing four sets in which they never repeated a song. In addition, Rhonda visited around the campground, recorded a couple of videos, and, as usual, spent quality time with each person who wanted to chat with her. The unique element about a Rhonda Vincent visit to a festival is that she draws large crowds to her merch table, and takes the time to visit with each and every person in the line, taking special time with children and disabled people. When she's with a fan, she's locked on each one, never looking over their shoulder to see who's next. A Rhonda Vincent fan spending a minute with her feels like he or she has had her complete attention and made a friend. Other performers have much to learn from her. 

Rhonda Vincent

Aaron McDaris

Mickey Harris

Hunter Berry

Sally Berry 

Brent Burke

Josh Williams

Rhonda Playing Kim Vickery's Mandolin at the Vickery Campsite
with Scott Vickery on Guitar, Steve Abdu on Bass, and Todd Hutchinson on Guitar

The opening day of a band competition followed by a solid band offered a good day of entertainment as campers arrived, set up their sites, and got ready to spend a weekend listening to and making music as well as socializing - the stuff of a good bluegrass festival. Pemi Valley is augmented by having one of the most beautiful sites in all bluegrass. More coming in a day or so. 

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