Friday, June 30, 2017

Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival - August 2 - 5, 2017 - Preview

That Bluegrass Music by the Gibson Brothers - Video Thanks to Michael Mulligan

The Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival will run from August 2 - 5, 2017 at the Benton Sugar Shack in Thornton, NH. Pemi Valley, set in one of the most scenic river valleys in New England, is trying out an innovative approach to scheduling this year, opening on Wednesday evening with what is planned as a band contest featuring local and regional professional bands. Currently, three bands are scheduled, with one more being sought. The festival will close with a bang on Saturday night with a long set by The Del McCoury Band, preceded by The Gibson Brothers and the Lonely Heartstring Band. This is a real powerhouse evening preceded by lots more. Let's look at the lineup first, before considering other opportunities featured by this fine festival that will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a Bang!

Band Contest (Wednesday)

This year Pemi Valley is opening on Wednesday afternoon with a judged band contest. At this writing, a week before the opening day, three bands have entered, and there's room for one more. Here they are.

Brock Hill

Based in Bridgewater, NH, this Brock Hill was founded in 2015. It has played in local events around the Portsmouth area. 

Long Journey

Long Journey is a duo playing old time and gospel music. They are based in Maine. 


Borderline, a bluegrass band which plays mostly in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas. 

Be sure to stay for the performance by Skip Gorman & the Waddie Pals after the contest. Help make this Wednesday opener beginning at 5:00 PM a success. 

The Lineup
Del McCoury (Sat)

At age 78, Del McCoury keeps entertaining and charming audiences with his catalog of great bluegrass songs connecting him directly with his early days in the cheap bars of Baltimore and as a Blue Grass Boy with Bill Monroe. He may be the last great practitioner of the traditional high lonesome tenor in the genre. The undeniably unique element of McCoury's attraction lies in his ability to appeal to music lovers across a the widest spectrum of any contemporary bluegrass performer. His band is always one of the strongest in the business.

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage (Th & Fri)

Rhonda Vincent comes to Pemi Valley for four sets over two days, and I bet she doesn't repeat a single song. Rhonda has assembled a band whose side musicians are noted on their instruments and for their voices. Josh Williams remains one of the top bluegrass flat-pickers. His strong baritone voice resonates as a solo and harmony instrument. Mickey Harris, long-time bass player, provides a strong solid beat while contributing first rate vocal skills. Aaron McDaris is one of the most reliable banjo players around. Hunter Berry has never received the fiddle recognition he deserves while also bringing his puckish naughty-boy humor. 

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (Fri)

Bluegrass Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson brings his great show band to Pemi Valley for one long set to close Friday evening. The current iteration of Doyle's band maintains a strong tenor(Jamie Dailey, Barry Scott, Mike Rogers, Dustin Pyrtle), long part of Quicksilver's tradition. The band has always been noted for its strong combination of gospel bluegrass and rousing secular bluegrass songs, with plenty of good humor, much of it at Doyle's expense.  You'll enjoy this show which completes a bang-up evening. 

The Gibson Brothers (Sat)

While coming from upstate New York, the Gibson Brothers have put the entire Northeast onto the bluegrass map as a source of first rate traditional and contemporary bluegrass. Master of songwriting the touches the heart and stimulates thinking, too, the brother duo have assembled a highly skilled ensemble to provide support for their evocative song writing, which ennobles farming and rural life, mourns the loss of their values, and recognizes the inevitability of change. People who hear them across the country and across various demographics come away from their performances knowing they've had transcendent experiences. 

The Boxcars (Fri)

The clean, precise, very fast mandolin picking of Adam Steffey has influenced a generation of young, creative players who happily give credit to him for developing a mandolin style that changed the way bluegrass mandolin is played and heard. While always giving credit to Bill Monroe, Steffey's mandolin style has helped create a generation of young players. The other Boxcars, echo the precision. With Ron Stewart on both banjo and fiddle, Keith Garrett's singing, and Gary Hultman on Dobro all backed by Harold Nixon's strong bass, this band sounds traditional, until you listen to them.

Ryan Paisley is the third generation of the Paisley family to come to prominence bringing the sound of southeastern Pennsylvania, born in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, transported to the industrial Middle Atlantic States, nourished in the bars of Baltimore and the music parks just north of there, and brought to the world as hard driving remembrances of a world now mostly gone. For me, Danny was an acquired taste, but I'm glad I stayed to listen and understand where the joy and the poignance of his songs originates and their strength resides.

Danny Paisley

Special Consensus (Th)
Greg Cahill

Seldom a closer, always an A-lister, ever a creative innovator, Greg Cahill's band Special Consensus by its very name indicates the agreement his audiences share about his importance and his reluctance to place himself above his band. Unassuming quality characterizes this band that's been campaigning for nearly forty-five years, while Cahill himself has been a pioneer in bringing bluegrass to the schools and leadership to IBMA, the bluegrass professional organization.

Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show (Th)

Carl Shiflett & Big Country Show's symbol is the fifties era microphone he uses on-stage for his single mic show. Shiflett, with his hound dog face and old-fasioned stage mannerisms creates the atmosphere of the barnstorming radio programs presented by the great first generation bands like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers as they traveled from one low power radio station to another to publicize the evening's live performance in an old country school's auditorium. Helps preserve a now disappeared way of presenting music.

The Lonely Heartstring Band (Sat)
Charles & George Clements

Perhaps the hottest young band on the bluegrass circuit, The Lonely Heartstring Band emerges in this year's IBMA second round with enough mentions to suggest that they will be a significant presence in the upcoming nominations list. Tight harmonies, crystal clear lead singing, marvelous musicianship, fine internal songwriting, and brilliant covers of rock & roll standards characterizes this band's performances. Begun while most of the members were still students at Berklee College of Music five years ago, their rise has been fast and their quality control standards very high. Get on board with this band before you miss the train!

Skip Gorman & the Waddie Pals (Wed & Fri)

Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx wrote, "The lonesome ache that is in the core of Skip Gorman’s voice and fiddling fits close to the bones of the slope country, the rough breaks, the bunchgrass high plains. These traditional cowboy songs, unadorned, openly sad, sometimes lively or gritty, carry the distance and solitude of the West in them." on Skip Gorman's web site. That's enough to bring me drooling to my seat eager to see and hear this group I've never heard before.

Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters (Fri)

Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters has long been a go-to regional band at bluegrass festivals in New England for years. With partner Roger Williams, recognized as one of the top Dobro players anywhere, and his son J.D. Williams, a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music, the band keeps improving while extending its range. Gallatin brings her experience in the west, her southern birthplace, and her long-time association with New England together to present an always interesting use of source materials for songs they choose and songs she writes. Eric Levinson adds to the fun on bass. This is a very good band.

Southern Rail (Sat)

Southern Rail performs almost entirely in New England presenting a range of musical influences with fine singing and playing. This low key, attractive sounding band doesn't get heard often enough or widely enough.

Michelle Canning Band (Fri)

The Michelle Canning Band, once Michelle Canning and Rough Edges, has been completely reconstituted, filled with younger musicians whom she came to know while a student at Morehead State University in Kentucky. New Englanders have watched her grow up from being a pre-teen playing banjo at regional festivals to growing recognition. It will be interesting to see how her music and stage presence continue to develop.

Merrimack Valley (Fri & Sat)

Merrimack Valley Bluegrass, named after the Merrimack River which is formed by the confluence of the Pemigewasset  and the Winnipesaukee rivers and  flowing through New Hampshire and Massachusetts to the Atlantic Ocean. Their music can mostly be heard pretty close to their namesake. They play contemporary and traditional bluegrass music.

Monadnock (Fri)

A monadnock is "a mountain or rocky mass that has resisted erosion and stands isolated in an essentially level area." In New Hampshire, Monadnock Mountain and State Park are located just south of Keene, where it dominates the skyline. Monadnock the band made its first appearance a little more than a decade ago at Blistered Fingers Bluegrass Festival and continues to appear in the region playing traditional, contemporary and original bluegrass.

NewFound Grass (Sat)

NewFound Grass serves as the house band for the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival. Promoters Steve Abdu and Craig Engel along with Ron Swisher and old reliable Dave Shaw on mandolin as well as anythin else they want to play cross eras and genres with their lively music, while also welcoming others to the stage. With the change in format this year, they may have to run a tighter ship, but they're always fun. 

Band Contest on Wednesday: Plans for a band contest scheduled for Wednesday beginning at 5:00 PM are currently in flux. In order to keep up with the schedule for that evening, the bands to be performing, and other details, keep your eye on this page and on the Pemi Valley web site here.  Bands seeking to perform should contact Craig Engel as soon as possible

Robinson Gospel Jam (Sat)

The Robinson Gospel Sing and Jam will be held Saturday morning before the formal music begins.

Making Music

Pemi Valley is known as a picking festival. Jams spring up all over the campground day and night. Most of these are open jams. There's also a Pickin' Tent where there's a daily guided slow jam. People unsure of their jamming skills and eager for a jam at the novice level are welcome there.

Kids Academyopen to young people ages 8 - 17, will be divided this year, giving older children who have a degree of familiarity with their instruments greater opportunity to work at their own level, while younger ones, both singers and beginner instrumentalists, will also be able to participate. 

A two day Wernick Method Jam Camp will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday before the fesival opens. To learn more about this opportunity led by Dave Kiphhuth click here.  Both Irene and I have attended several jam camps, finding them instrumental in our development as people who can participate in small groups making bluegrass music.

Bluegrass University

Meet and Greet

Meet and Greet opportunities are available under a tent a short walk from the main stage. Bands are scheduled to chat with fans about themselves, their music, and their world. Sometimes they showcase new songs or demonstrate techniques.

The Gibson Brothers Often Workshop New Songs

The Details

Tickets: Information about purchasing tickets and camping can be found here. Tickets purchased online receive a small discount from the gate price as well as increasing the chances of getting your desired camping spot, if you wish one of the reservable spaces. Otherwise, sites are available on a first come, first served basis. 

Camping: Meadows, Fields and Woods, Riverside, and  Brookside are all features of the Pemi Valley site at the Benson Sugar Shack, located along the Pemigewassett River between Thornton and Woodstock, NH on the southern edge of the White Mountain National Forest. The video above focuses on the main upper campus of the site, but doesn't capture the marvelous hidden areas along the river and in the woods. Here are some pics. There are some water and electric sites, but all the woodsy sites are rough camping, which many attendees prefer for the privacy and proximity to swimming in the river on hot August days.

The Pemi Valley Web Site provides unusually good guidance concerning where to camp. You can use the map below to identify available areas and the live link below will take you to a detailed look at the available sites. A stand pipe is available to get additional water, but no water is available at campsites. Here are the various costs of camping at Pemi Valley:
• Rough field camping is included with your festival ticket.
• Reserved Primitive Campsites $25/night
• Powered Campsites (20 amp) $40/night
   • Includes 2 adults and 2 children (16 and under)
   • $10/night each additional adult (17 and older)
• Paid hot shower available ($2.00)
• RV Dumpstation onsite
Go here for camping details by section and site. You can order your tickets and arrange your camping with your order here.

Food Vendors: Pemi Valley has consistently upgraded the quality of food vendors, providing for greater variety and more healthy food. From burgers through oven baked fresh pizza to Japanese soups and home made ice cream, you can always find something interesting.

How to Get to Pemi Valley
Open this Map, Place Your Location in the O and Click

The Stage at Dusk

Monday, June 19, 2017

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival 2017 - Saturday & Sunday - Review

We had lots of pleasant weather on Saturday and Sunday after Friday night's chilly rain drove us under cover. Perhaps the best weather for enjoying outdoor music is warm, slightly overcast, and dry. The overcast holds the warmth in long into the evening, whereas clear days allow for the warm air close to the ground to escape, making for pretty skies and chilly fans. There was no rain on Saturday and Sunday until the skies opened up as the last people were leaving the campground. Rain fell most of Sunday night. As usual, when bands appeared on two days, I'll continue to only write about them once. 

Blackstone Valley Boys

The Blackstone Valley Boys come from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, once the home of industrialzing America. Their music combines hard driving bluegrass, folk, and rock in bluegrass style combined with a winning personal style that makes their show entertaining and lively. Their performances can be seen around the region.
Dave Nowlan

Dave Dick

Ken Taylor

Bob Dick

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Dry Branch Fire Squad, coming from southern Ohio and Colorado, features old-time bluegrass and mountain music combined with Ron Thomason's dry, self-effacing humor which always carries an edge of satire while exposing fans to his own slightly off-center view of the world. He's a folk humorist of rare insight combined with traditional music to create a band persona appreciated and treasured throughout the country. The band appeared on Saturday and, with its unique Sunday gospel program, opened the Sunday show, an event many stay to hear before beginning the trek home. 

Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd

Adam McIntosh

Jeff Byrd

Great Pizza & Good Wine
Fresh by the Stage

The Gail Wade Trio

The Gail Wade Trio, features the talented and versatile singer/song-writer Gail Wade, along with two band mates well known in New England bluegrass circles, Joe DiLillo and Tim St. Jean.The band's repertoire ranges from classic bluegrass through Peter Rowan Newgrass to Gail's coffee-shop folk sound that works well in almost any setting. Gail also appears with The Hot Flashes. 

Gail Wade

Joe DiLillo

Tim St. Jean

The Lonely Heartstring Band

The Lonely Heartstring Band brings together five talented and attractive musicians from Boston who have captivated the bluegrass world with their fine singing and instrumental prowess as well as versatility. Their music ranges from wonderful songs written from within the band to ingenious covers of the Beatles, Paul Simon, Credence Clearwater Revival and more. They tickle and intrigue audiences with their ability to reconfigure iconic rock music into believable bluegrass. The band and its members have reached the second round in the IBMA awards nomination process in seven band award categories plus individual instrumental awards. Don't miss them near you.

George Clements

Matt Witler

Patrick M'Gonigle

Gabe Hirshfeld

Charles Clements

Mike from Ace Audio

Ace Audio provided superb sound in both the amphitheater and the backup stage at the recreation center. They deserve recognition for their flexibility and the strength of their presentation of acoustic sound.

Steve from Ace Audio

 Carl Landi - Festival Manager

Twisted Pine

Twisted Pine is another band coming from the Boston area and composed mostly of Berklee College of Music graduates that's hard to capture with a simple genre label. Coming from a variety of backgrounds and strongly influenced by bluegrass music, this band presents songs fitting within the conventional song-based performance and moving into the territory of jam band presentation, too. As they move away from conventional generic limits, they become increasingly interesting to those with adventuresome musical tastes. Their cover of Blondie's Heart of Glass was greeted with a delighted gasp by the audience. 

Dan Bui

Rachel Sumner

Chris Sartori

Kathleen Parks

Sundays at most festivals are quiet days which are attended largely by people with no urgent reason to head home who want to get still more music in a relaxed and, often, surprising way. A relatively large group of people usually stay for the gospel hour presented by Dry Branch Fire Squad,  for the music, the message, and the humor. The only band which had not already performed during the festival was the Stockwell Brothers, a band well worth staying for. 

The Stockwell Brothers

Three brothers from rural Putney, VT, have been around the bluegrass, folk, rock, and Americana scene in New England for a generation. Barry Stockwell, whose sings lead and plays guitar, has an engaging voice and personality. He also is the promoter at The Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, a non-profit which presents a variety of regular musical events. Brother Al owns Black Mountain Sound in Brattleboro. Bruce is well known in the banjo world, having won the Merlefest banjo contest some years ago and being a frequent staff member at banjo camps around the country. Kelly Stockwell, on bass, has been a driving force in increasing the band's visibility over the past few years.

Barry Stockwell

Bruce Stockwell

Al Stockwell

Kelly Stockwell

Soon after the Stockwells finished and Ace Studio struck the sound, it began to rain. The next morning, despite the number of gypsy moths who had descended on our trailer, we headed home, tired and happy after hearing first class music in a familiar and welcoming setting.