Monday, July 2, 2018

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival - August 1 - 4 in - Preview




The Pemi-Valley Bluegrass Festival will run from August 1 - 4, 2018 this year featuring an exceptional lineup of national, regional, and local bands in one of the most beautiful locations in New England, Pemi Valley has consistently developed and improved itself since moving to the Benton's Sugar Shack Campground in Thornton, NH several years ago.  The Festival will run from Wednesday through to a rousing Saturday night finish featuring the Gibson Brothers with a ninety minute closing show. Opening with a strong band contest on Wednesday, this years version will also headline three time IBMA Entertainer of the Year Award winners The Earls of Leicsdters featuring Jerry Douglas, west coast sojourners The Kathy Kallick Band as well as Laurie Lewis the the Righ Hand, and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper. 

The Lineup
Earls of Leicester (Fri)

The Earls of Leicester were brought together by Jerry Douglas to record a CD and participate in a limited tour to celebrate the music of Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys during the period when Josh Graves, Curly Seckler, and Paul Warren were in the band, The present band features Johnny Warren (Paul Warren's son) on fiddle, Charlie Cushman who is generally considered to be one of the foremost Scruggs style interpreters extant, with Shawn Camp singing the Lester Flatt role. Jerry Douglas is still there on Dobro. The band has won a Grammy and three IBMA Entertainer of the Year awards as well as garnering a Male Vocalist of the Year for Shawn Camp last year. It would be dismissive to call this band a tribute band as they continue to honor the music that, along with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass boys cemented the musical style of traditional bluegrass music. They're a treat to see and hear.


The Gibson Brothers (Sat)

Fewer and fewer people raise their hands at a Gibson Brothers show these days when they are asked if anyone is seeing them for the first time. More and more people sing along even with their less well known music as well as their award winning songs. Sitting in the audience, you're surrounded with their music and the affection one of their shows engenders in audiences as they play out the lives of siblings while singing the songs they write and perform. Twice IBMA Entertainers of the Year, they are also the only duo ever to win Vocal Group of the Year, as well as a couple of fists-full of other awards. 

The performance below features one of their earlier songs, The Open Road. Fans who have known and followed this duo for years love to hear material from their early years as well as the newer songs they continue to produce. 


Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (Th)

Michael Cleveland has been named IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year a remarkable ten times, while the band has been named Instrumental Band of the Year three times. But this is not simply a fiddle centric band you listen to for Mike's great fiddle play. It's also the best band he's had, with the most consistent membership. Josh Richards has a pleasant, reliable solo voice. Nathan Livers is a virtuoso mandolin player and a strong singer. Tyler Griffith on bass and vocals along with Jasiah Shrade round out this very good band. Mike, with his bands, has also won several Recorded Event of the Year and Instrumental Performance of the Year awards. Here is one of his recent hits, "Fiddlin' Joe."


Tribute to Vern Williams
A continent is a long distance to separate those of us living in the east from two of the most loved and important bands in bluegrass. This year, both the Kathy Kallick Band and Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands will be at Pemi Valley. They will be joining together for a set celebrating the music of Vern Williams, known as the  West Coast's Joe Val, and an important force in the development of bluegrass music in the West. Both with Ray Park as Vern & Ray and with his own band, The Vern Williams Band. he worked with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Herb Pedersen, Laurie Lewis, and Pete Wernick. Here's the Vern Williams Band in 1992 at Grass Valley in California. 


Kathy Kallick Band (Fri/Sat)

In 1975, Kathy Kallick, along with Laurie Lewis was a co-founder of Good Ol' Persons, a largely female band dedicated to featuring women's voices with men who'd perform with them described as "infiltrating." They recorded five albums as well as other projects, becoming an important voice for inclusion in what had been a dominantly male form of music. They disbanded in 1975. Kathy Kallick  formed her own band in 1996 and has set a standard for others to live up to. She has won a couple of IBMA awards as well as a Distinguished Achievement Award from the California Bluegrass Society. The only problem with The Kathy Kallick Band is that they don't perform often enough in the East. Here's the band singing Kathy's song "The Foxhounds" 


Laurie Lewis & the Right Hand (Fr)

Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands is another superior band coming from the West Coast. Her song, "Who Will Watch the Homeplace," has become a standard, but no-one can sing it like she does. While her band has had a few recent changes, it remains extremely strong and consistent. Brian Godman, Patrick Sauber, and  Sam Grisman are standouts. Tom Rosum has been Lewis' musical partner for more than thirty years.  A co-founder of Good Ol' Persons, too, she's been a voice for women, for music, and for the environment for years.

Laurie Lewis

Laurie Lewis - Who Will Watch the Home Place
with Members of Della Mae in Lexington, MA

Lonely Heartstring Band
Charles & George Clements 

The Lonely Heartstring Band is one of the very fine, young bands with Boston and Berklee College of Music connections filling the acoustic landscape with excellent music these days. They have long since matured beyond their birth as a Beatles cover band. They rarely play those any longer. However, their eerily accurate and evocative covers of Paul Simon, John Hartford, John Fogerty wonderfully complement the music they themselves write and perform. Gabe Hirshfeld has rapidly gained recognition as one of the finest young banjo players around. Enjoy their work on John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aereoplane" at last year's Pemi Valley. 


Nothin' Fancy (Thu)


Nothin' Fancy has continued to develop musically, as their singing and musicianship has improved, at least partly to devoting less attention to humorous bits and more serious attention to their music. The addition of the the Cox brothers, Caleb and James, hasn't hurt, either. Just returned from a trip to Norway, they should have some tales to tell about their recent travels as well as continuing to find added depth in their music. Here's an example with Mike Andes singing his song "Andersonville."


The Feinberg Brothers (Sat)


The Feinberg Brothers hail from the well-known bluegrass region of Long Island, NY, where they were nurtured under the able direction of their Dad, Ronnie. Brothers Patrick and Rourke have been familiar in jams throughout New England and New York, and are now making their mark with appearances at major festivals throughout the region. Meanwhile, both young men continue their studies in music as well pursuing their degrees at Stony Brook (SUNY) and St. Joseph's College, where they are enrolled. Incidentally, never underestimate the nurturing bluegrass environment in and around New York and its suburbs. Here's a sample from a recent show at a library, singing "The Streets of Bakersfield."


Remington Ryde (Fri)

Remington Ryde comes from central Pennsylvania and promotes a large annual bluegrass festival in Centre Hall. Here's a sample of their work with leader Ryan Frankhouser singing his tribute to country music. 

Colebrook Road 


Colebrook Road comes from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. They have been consistent winners at bluegrass festival band concerts over the past couple of years with their strong instrumentals and able original song writing. They've begun to attract attention at the national level, and I expect much more to come. Don't miss seeing them at Pemi, so you can say, "I saw them before they were famous." Here they are playing "Feel the Burn" at a recent performance in Philadelphia. 


Chris Henry & Hardcore Grass (Thu)


Chris Henry amp; Hardcore Grass gets its name from the intensity it generates as it roams the bluegrass world from Bill Monroe, of whose style Henry is a master, to other material, some written by Chris himself and more chosen from the rich traditional bluegrass repertoire. Here's a recent performance:


The Misty Mountaineers (Th, Fri, Sat)

Founded in the mid-seventies by Wilf Clark, the only remaining original member, the Misty Mountaineers sing a variety of bluegrass songs from various eras. Dan and Kelly Burke are regular Pemi Valley staffers, and the band is well known in the region. Here are a couple of their songs:


Newfound Grass (Sat)


Newfound Grass is the host band for the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival. Fronted by festival promoter Craig Engel, on guitar and singing lead, the band plays a range of music based in bluegrass and classic country but incorporating the influence of other music. Steve Abdu, Dave Shaw, and Ron Swisher contribute, each from their own interests. Here they are singing at The Flying Monkey a few years ago:


Monadnock (Thu)


Monadnock is also an entertaining and lively local band which will perform a single set on Thursday, Here they perform bluegrass classic "Come Back to Me Little Darling."


Rock Hearts (Thu, Fri)


Rock Hearts is a new band that showcased at Joe Val last winter. You can see samples of their music from the showcase on their FB Page.

A band contest featuring four bands as well as last year's band contest winner Cane Mill Pond will be Wednesday evening's feature. Band contests represent a way for new, often young and ambitious bands to get experience performing before a live audience while providing entertainment for people as they settle in for the weekend. Pemi Valley has decided to rotate its weekend by placing the band contest at the opening, rather than trying to hold customers on Sunday who are ready to get home to prepare for the upcoming work.

The lineup for Pemi Valley is strong and varied. The inclusion of a strong West Coast flavor not only shows imagination, it signals that the festival has been successful at moving from a regional to a strongly national perspective, which can only contribute to its further growth.

The Details

Located on a spacious, varied site offering wide open expanses and private woodsy getaway campsites, Pemi Valley is held at the Benton's Sugar Shack Campground, just north of Thornton, NH and only a few miles from New Hampshire's  I-93. A visitor can camp overlooking the Pemigewasset River or on an open  plateau above the main stage where scarcely a building can be seen in the surrounding foothills of the White Mountains.

Because the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival web site is so comprehensive, I'll only point to the highlights from this preview, providing links to the festival site where you can fill in the details.


Tickets: You can purchase tickets for campground reservations and for the festival itself online through Vendini. This is convenient and easy. Arrival at the festival has been constantly improved, making it easy to turn your downloaded tickets into wrist bands. A range of prices for powered or primitive campsites is available. Remember that each campsite reservation includes one ticket to the festival. For   information, you can contact the festival at (603) 239-2238 or by email at info@pemivalleybluegrass.com.

Camping: The campground is extensive and varied. Here's an overall picture of the site:


Scroll down through this page to get overall perspectives and details about specific sites. Here are some pictures to give you a sense of the variety and versatility of this location. Off-site accomodations are listed at the bottom of this page, too.





The festival provides bus transportation from behind the main stage to various locations in the remote area, while it's a short walk to the performance area from the plateau sites. Remember, the remote sites are both beautiful and primitive. Electric sites are available. Water can be obtained from a standpipe. There's also a single shower available for a small fee.

Additional Activities: A variety of activities for all kinds of interests associated with bluegrass are available at this busy festival. Whether you've just picked up a bluegrass instrument or are an experienced picker, you can get your fill of picking during the day and long into the night.

If you want to learn to play an instrument or improve your skills, the Pemi Valley University (added fee) will hold classes on Saturday with a preview meeting on Friday afternoon.


Kids Academies have long been offered at festivals during the summer. They represent an opportunity for your kids to make music with others while getting to know them, give you a little relief from supervision, and give the kids some recognition through their performance on Saturday. The Pemi Valley Academy will be divided in two groups by age and experience, all directed by Ellen Carlson and a strong staff of assistants. Pre-registration and full information is available here.

Kids Academy Performance


Many pickers are hesitant to  join a jam, feeling that they aren't "good enough," whatever that means. If you wish to jam but feel uncomfortable, the slow jam tent is the place for you. There's a jam there on Thursday through Saturday. Other activities on site or nearby are listed here

Plenty of Vendors Surround the Performance Area



Pemi Valley is an Outdoor Event - Be Prepared!

Meet & Greets: Throughout the weekend, bands are available at the Meet & Greet tent, where they sit down and talk with fans about their lives and music. Sometimes, they also bring their instruments to showcase new songs or talk about and demonstrate their music and careers. 



A page of Frequently Asked Questions may answer any unanswered issues you have. If you can't find a good response to your concerns, here's a Contact Us page. 

How to Get to Pemi Valley
On the map below, place your location in the O
then click for a personalized map


The Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival has continually worked at improving its lineups as well as its organizational structure. Management has continued to create the kind of environment for volunteers that makes them feel wanted and useful. This is an exceptionally friendly and helpful festival. Come prepared to have a good time. We'll see you there!