Pickin' in the Pasture (part 1)
Pickin' in the Pasture (PIP) celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and it was a real dandy! The music is always good and this year was no exception. All the bands did a great job and I think everyone there felt like they definitely got their money's worth. PIP is a family-run festival with a truly family atmosphere. Most of the folks who greet you at the gate are related to the Alexanders and they're as friendly as any folks I've ever met. As others have mentioned, PIP is held on a working sheep farm and the camping is "rough" camping out in fields that are pastures for grazing sheep the rest of the year.
Part of the fun this year was when Andy Alexander donned his professorial cap one morning, hopped on his tractor with the Bluegrass Express wagon securely attached to the back and spilling over with folks of all ages who were keen to hear more about....SHEEP! Now I stay on a sheep farm in Wales but I learned a few things about shepherding, at least Finger Lake-style, that I hadn't previously known....the audience were attentive and keen to hear the intricacies of raising sheep in the Seneca Lake area of New York. It was a good talk. Some of us walked down to the pasture and enjoyed gazing at a nice flock of about 700 lambs and ewes, Cheviot-Clun Forest crossbred mountain sheep; they're smaller and hardier than some of the other breeds and they pasture out year-round, even lambing in the open. Impressive!
It was good to see and meet many friends from BGRASS-L during the wonderful four days at PIP. We were treated to four sets by the great Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass. Them Lundy boys sure do get with it on those old time tunes like Mountain Sally Ann (you all be watching for their new project being released around January 2008 on Rounder Records) and durn if I didn't get to hear Donny Eldreth pick my favorite, Dusty Miller, not once but twice (those boys pride themselves on not repeating any songs even when they do 4 shows at a festival, but they had many requests to repeat certain songs so they honored those!) Michael Paisley has to be one of the quietest folks in bluegrass but he has a very congenial way about him and seems to smile onstage just about as much as Alan Shelton!!! He holds it all together with a big grin and a solid bass line. And Danny...well enough has been said about him but I'll say that I sure do love the song (I think it's called) "Please Don't Throw Mama's Flowers Away" which is a KILLER song written by our own Chris Stuart and it is (I think most likely) the cut to play off the upcoming Paisley project. That is a classic if ever I heard one. As much as I travel America's backroads I've long thought how there are such stories there in those roadside memorials and Chris Stuart has put it all in words and music. Talk about a story song. Listen and believe!
There can't be a finer young band today than the Steep Canyon Rangers. If you haven't heard them you need to sit up and listen. Their CDs are wonderful but I gotta say that (as is usually the case with the bands I like best) you really need to see their show in person. They remind me a bit of when the Johnson Mountain Boys first charged on the scene so many years ago. They do a whole lot of original material, especially that of the banjo player Graham who despite being handicapped by playing the 5 string manages to write brilliant songs
The Abrams Brothers, their daddy, grandpa, cousin Eli, Brandon and another man on mandolin did two wonderful sets at PIP and were extremely well-received by the audience. There was a big crowd at PIP, mostly folks who were there for the entire weekend (Andy said all the rain in the forecast scared off much of his day crowd, but overall he seemed pleased with the turnout)....surely the pastures were full of motor homes and tents and as I said last night lots and lots of folks were out there jamming well up into the night.
It's always a pleasure to see - and hear - the Lewis Family and they did not disappoint this year at PIP. They arrived just in time for their first show since they got tied up in Ithaca on one way streets and a confusing detour, and they ran up to the stage without even getting to comb their hair! Remember those big hairdos they used to have way back when? And all the matching outfits are a real Lewis Women tradition, one they continue to carry on. Though their numbers are dwindling the three sisters and Little Roy and Lewis and the bass player (I think he was an Easter?) put on two great shows. If you haven't heard them do "Honey in the Rock" you have been missing out. Little Roy isn't a young man but he still has unbridled energy to spare whenever he hits the stage. He had us cracking up with his stories and jokes and of course Polly, Janice and Miggie play the "straight men" with all those, rolling their eyes or whatever. Polly has been battling some very serious health problems recently and her husband Leon is also very ill at the moment, so please do keep them in your prayers. But Polly put on a happy face, professional showwoman that she is, and sang her heart out. I'm looking forward to catching their shows again at Thomas Point Beach this weekend.
David Davis and the Warrior River Boys did two fantastic sets on Thursday and I think they, similarly, arrived right on the edge of showtime without any time to primp and fuss from a crowded and arduosly long ride from Cullman Alabama that started the previous night (that's a long trip, folks!) I love this band and they are one of the bands on the circuit today who are carrying the Traditional Torch. David has had some fine bands down through the years; these boys have been with him for many years now and have a great and cohesive sound. Each member brings a lot to the group and they are able to hold an audience on the edge of their seats. And as I've said before you simply won't meet a finer gentleman than David Davis.