Pickin' in the Pasture (Part 2)
Jesse McReynolds and his fine band did two good shows on Saturday. His grandson Luke McKnight has come a long way both vocally and instrumentally and Jesse just glows with pride whenever Luke takes a break. The way Jesse was talking onstage it sounds like maybe he's passing the torch over to Luke before too long. Heck, I heard Jesse say that he's not too far off 80. But when he snaps into El Comanchero (sp?) you'd think he was a little short of 40. The man still has the vitality I've seen him display these many years. After his afternoon show a lot of folks clustered around him for photos, autographs, and to buy CDs. Then he had to run over and do a mandolin workshop. I actually had a chance to listen to the evening show and I really enjoyed their musical offerings; Johnny B Goode, Paradise and some of the songs Jesse usually does during his shows. He played to a very appreciative crowd. I have to think the Alexanders were pretty happy while looking out over the crowd...I think there were five good-sized tents erected for shelter from the sun (and, as it happened, RAIN) - they were all full each day and evening. During the cooler hours the large, open area in front of the stage was also full of folks in lawn chairs. A few vendors supplied plenty of good food, pizza, homemade ice cream, popcorn and the like...even breakfast!
The times I looked over at the record tables it seemed like all the bands did a pretty brisk business after their shows; I hope so!
One of my favorite moments during the Abrams' shows came when James stepped up to sing a song that I think was called "Can I Get An Amen?" WOW. What a VOICE. I've always appreciated his voice singing the tenor parts, but it's the first time I remember hearing him sing lead. It's a high voice to be sure and that 14-year-old has great pitch! This is not to slight brother John whom I already know has a wonderful voice. And I'm not sure if cousin Eli sings or not, but I had fun photographing him as his nice curly hair blew this way and that in the wind. I'd be happier if he played acoustic bass but I think I'm fighting a losing battle there. Every time I see the Abrams Brothers though I am even more impressed than the last time. They sing and play so well -- and so many instruments! They are intelligent and polite and well I have to think they must have mobs of girls running after them wherever they go -- though John tells me he stays so busy with music and school that he doesn't have a whole lot of time for that. James admitted with a twinkle that he finds time for girls!
Now I want to talk about Jesse Alexander, Susan and Andy's 9-year-old son. He is taking the mandolin and fiddle by storm. I was bragging on him last year but he must have spent the winter woodshedding because he's that much better this year. Pretty amazing to hear a 9-year-old do a 45-minute set onstage in front of a large crowd of people....Jesse did just that on Saturday and you should have heard that crowd cheer. Off stage Jesse is polite and personable. Call me privileged - I got a tour of the house where Jesse, a cowboy and Indian, Civil War and WWII buff, has various "displays" of battles and wars and so forth set up around the house. He also proudly showed me some items passed down from ancestors to him. And talking with Susan I learned that SHE is actually Welsh. This came about when I stopped in the kitchen for a cookie that looked familiar. I was told it was a Welsh cookie...I took a bite and grinned. It was DELICIOUS - and it was what we call a "Welsh cake" over in Wales. And I must say that Susan's was right up there in the top ranks for flavor and moistness. Then I found out she has Jones, Morgan and Davies in her background and the rest is history. Come to think of it she even looks Welsh!
Andy tells me that the Amish are set to return for the 11th Pickin' in the Pasture. I don't think he's announced who will be performing there next year but I'm pretty sure it will include several of the most traditional bands on the BG circuit. We talked some about maybe having an old time band as well. I hope that happens. The best festivals mix the two.
While some of the days were REALLY hot and some of the rainstorms were really WET, all in all the weather for Pickin' in the Pasture was fine. There were plenty of jams around the grounds. On Saturday morning there was a Vintage Tractor Parade and I followed the 5 red tractors (Farmalls) around the grounds. Quite a lot of folks lined the route to watch them pass by and wave. As I left Sunday morning there was a gospel hour over at the workshop tent. There were several dozen folks over there singing one gospel song after another and I found myself wishing that I didn't have to leave because I sure would have loved to be a part of that.
Now the road to Pickin' in the Pasture - whichever way you go - guarantees you some good fresh air and nice pastoral scenes. My way took me through the mountains to Ithaca and then across to Lodi. Along the way were many farm stands selling fresh sweet corn and juicy tomatoes. Perennial beds spilled over with coneflowers and black-eyed susies, farmers were busy baling hay and hauling the bales to the barn. I passed a couple of bearded Amish men in little wagons. Getting close to Lodi I spied many Amish farms (notable for the absence of electric lines and motorized vehicles) with pastures of fine horses close to the barn. I find it joyful to drive the roads that wind through the countryside and get a peek into the lives of country folk.
This year's Pickin' in the Pasture festival was really fun; the staff and the Alexanders are so hospitable and helpful. The stage is nice and the crowd enthusiastic. Most folks got to the stage area early and seemed to stay for all of the performances. The bands all knocked themselves out to do their best. And it was just really, really good. Pickin' in the Pasture is still I suppose a small-to-medium-sized festival. One of the really good things I like about PIP is that they don't have TOO many hours of music onstage. I think the show started around 11 or 12 most days; and the last band finished right around 10:00. Plenty of time for picking and socializing. Most folks I know are quite happy to not have too many bands performing allowing them time to hear all the bands, pick some, and get a reasonable amount of sleep. Another thing I really liked about PIP is that each band still does two shows enabling you to maybe catch just one of them. The trend these days toward one long show I think makes people have to make too many difficult choices and ultimately hurts the bands' CD sales....maybe you just HAVE to go to a banjo workshop and it's at the same time as the only show being done by your favorite band. You have to choose. While in some cases maybe having just one shows helps bands in the summertime get to their next gig in a more timely fashion, that really depends...what time will your one show be? If you get the dinnertime slot or first in the morning you are NOT going to be heard and you won't sell many CDs. So bands and promoters, rethink this!
Anyway, next year when you're planning your schedule, if you like traditional bluegrass music and enjoy jamming and want to try a nice, friendly festival that isn't as big as Bean Blossom or Grey Fox, do think about coming out to Lodi NY. You'll be glad you did.