Thursday, February 3, 2011

Joe Val Bluegrass Festival - Preview

The Grascals

Al Hawkes Receives 2010 Heritage Award 
with Sandi Marola
 Photo by Darwin Davidson

The 26th annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union,  begins on Friday, February 18th and runs through Sunday the 20th at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham, MA. Winner of the 2006 IBMA Event of the Year, Joe Val is the premier Northeastern winter bluegrass event, and well-known as one of the best produced and strongest indoor events in the country.  The show is so popular that this year, when tickets sales opened, the Sheraton sold out in four minutes.  While the hotel is fully booked, tickets remain on sale, and there are many convenient rooms available nearby.  Joe Val is eagerly awaited by those who attend, giving everyone a break from the long New England winters. Noted for its strong lineup, enthusiastic jamming, and family reunion vibe, Joe Val is a pleasure for all who attend.  After last year's show, Eric Gibson wrote in his excellent online journal, "This year's Joe Val contained the same kind of energy that is always present at the event." He particularly noted the feeling of attending a joyous family reunion of bluegrass people.

J.D. Crowe & The New South

Unlike many large festival which have found it necessary to book all-star national acts to bring in audiences, Joe Val has maintained its commitment to booking a balanced program of first-rate regional bands as well as traditional and cutting edge national attractions.  This festival emphasizes its New England roots while bringing in new and well-established bands.  The Boxcars and Frank Sollivan & Dirty Kitchen are fresh out of the box, while J.D. Crowe and The New South, and The Grascals are well established groups.  Tony Trischka can be counted on to be on the cutting edge, while Larry Stephenson maintains a deeply traditional format.  Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers are making a splash on the national scene while Grand Old Opry members The Whites, members of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame,  have returned to touring.  Local bands like Della Mae, Chasing Blue, and the Bluegrass Gospel Project are well known to the New England audience, while Hot Mustard will be new to many.  The Berklee Bluegrass All-Stars can be counted on to be new and surprising.  

Debut Bands
The Boxcars
Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

 Frank Sollivan & Dirty Kitchen

J.D. Crowe and the New South (Sat)
The Grascals (Sun)
The Boxcars with Adam Steffy and Ron Stewart (Sat)
Tony Trischka and Territory (Fri)
The Whites (Sat)
Robin and Linda Williams (Sat, Sun)
The Larry Stephenson Band (Sat, Sun - gospel show)
Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein (Sat)
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers (Sat)
Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice (Sun)
Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen (Fri)
Northern Lights 1995 Reunion (Fri)
Hot Mustard (Fri)
Della Mae (Sun)
Chasing Blue (Sat)
Berklee Bluegrass All-Stars (Fri)
Mac McHale and the Radio Gang (Sat)
Bluegrass Gospel Project (Sun)
Pine Hill Ramblers (Sat)
Sam Tidwell Family and Friends (Sat)

The Larry Stephenson Band
Kenny Ingram (Larry Stephenson)

Junior Sisk

Tony Trischka

Writing about Joe Val in his excellent journal after last year's event, Eric Gibson said, " This year's Joe Val contained the same kind of energy that is always present at the event."  His enthusiasm about the festival, when we talked last year leaped through the phone. One regular wrote, "I won't ever claim to be an "expert" on Joe Val, but overall, I would have to say that year after year, it seems like one of the best-run festivals around."  The festival is held on two floors of the Framingham Sheraton Hotel.  The lower floor houses a secondary Showcase Stage where up-and-coming regional bands perform on Saturday and Sunday. This year there will be sixteen bands performing there.  There's a Vendor's Expo featuring instruments, music gear, and a luthier for minor repairs and set-up work.  The Joe Val Kids Academy , directed by Ira Gitlin, meets downstairs, too. The burgeoning movement to offer instruction in jamming and a performance on the main stage to kids attending is a very important element of well-run bluegrass festivals, and the Joe Val one looks to do a first rate job.

Kids Academy
Kids Preparing to Enter Main Stage
 Photo by Marla Singleton

Kids on Stage
 Photo by Darwin Davidson

Photo by Darwin Davidson

Festival Director Gerry Katz tells me there are over fifty Master classes, workshops, and directed slow jams.  These all take place in the meeting rooms downstairs,  The Master classes and , held on Friday afternoon, require an extra payment.  Other workshops and jams are part of the regular ticket.  This year, Master classes will be offered by Phil Leadbetter on Dobro, Tony Trischka on banjo, Stacy Phillips on fiddle, and Skip Gorman on mandolin.  Fast Track Beginner classes are held for the same price. You can find further information about these here
 Marshall Wilborn Workshop
 Photo by Marla Singleton

Ken Irwin, Gerry Katz & Stan Zdonik
Dan Hays' Workshop
 Photo by Jennie Scott

Banjo Workshop by Greg Cahill
 Photo by Marla Singleton

BBU Table - Ballroom
 Photo by Marla Singleton

 Photo by Marla Singleton

Joe Val is well known for the quality and quantity of its jamming.  Jams can be found almost anywhere.  Floors 1 - 3 are designated as jamming floors in the hotel, while 4 - 8 are quiet floors.  I'm told there's jamming almost everywhere in the hallways and in designated jam rooms as well as organized slow jams. Lisa Husted says, "At Joe Val the jamming is limited to certain floors - but is abundant on those floors - every alcove, hallway, foyer and open door - plus dedicated after hours picking rooms on lower levels"  Some jams can even be found in pretty surprising places:

Pool Jam
 Photo by Marla Singleton

And In The Green Room

The Main Stage is in the hotel's Ballroom.  Seating is first come/first served, and I would gather that when seats are empty, they're fair game.  One source said the ballroom had never been completely filled when s/he was there. A reader wrote to say that the room seats 1000.  Another said that Harry Grant does an admirable job with sound in a difficult room, although Eric Gibson, as a performer, said his band could hear very well on the stage.  The entire hotel is a non-smoking facility - Hallelujah! (Wish outdoor festivals could manage that.)  The staff is said to be cooperative and welcoming.  I hear that parking is scarce.  Get there early and stay in place.

Finding the Sheraton

Robin & Linda Williams
 Publicity Photo

Hot Mustard
April Hobart (Hot Mustard

The Whites (with Phil Leadbetter)

Keep an eye on our Facebook Fan Page for regular video previews of bands appearding at Joe Val.


  1. I look forward to the Joe Val for about 11 months plus 3 weeks.

    Two comments--your pic of the "vendor expo" is actually a pic of the BBU table at the back of the ballroom, selling only BBU/Joe Val T shirts/other BBU merch, and dispensing info. The vendor expo is in a separate large room in the lower floor of the hotel, with its own performance stage and lineup of some great performers too. Also, ballroom seating capacity is roughly 1000; I've set it up for Joe Val sevaral times. Max. limit is 1200 (that's SRO), but actual chairs set up is kept to between 900-1000, and I've never seen it with every single chair filled.

    Regarding holding seats, the Joe Val's policy is stated as: If your seat is in a seat, it's your seat. Otherwise, it's open.

  2. Thanks, Michael. I've made a couple of changes reflecting your input.