Pickin’ in the Pasture will open its gates at noon on Wednesday, August 22 for campers getting ready for this really enjoyable rural festival above the shores of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of central New York. Lodi, New York is a tiny farm town. There are few services and almost no accommodations nearby, so this festival is largely a resident experience for campers who come from throughout the region for four days of great bluegrass performance and high quality, enthusiastic field picking. In the case of this festival, the word “field” should be taken literally. Day trippers come from nearby Rochester, Ithaca, and Syracuse. Promoters Andy and Susan Alexander, along with their son Jesse, operate a sheep farm. Until several days before the festival begins, its grounds are several large sheep pastures. For the festival, the grass is cut and the sweet aroma of mown hay permeates the area. Much of the camping space, particularly closer to the main stage, is not quite level, so first time attendees should bring plenty of material for leveling their rigs. Perched on the side of a hill, the view reaches out across the beautiful Seneca Lake and rural New York. People thinking of New York as paved over have quite a surprise in store for them.
While we won’t be at Pickin’ in the Pasture this year because of a conflict, this is a very well run festival with a strong lineup and plenty more to recommend it. The vendors offer good food as well as fair food. An unusual vendor for a bluegrass festival is a booth selling lamb in several different forms. The Alexanders always offer a strong range of workshops and vendors as well. Local Amish farmers sell fresh produce and baked goods on Thursday through Saturday. Fresh water and ice are available. The chicken barbecue benefits the local fire department. Another interesting event usually held on Saturday morning, features Andy and his Border collie moving 600 sheep from one paddock to another. The skill of the dog and the interplay between master and his canine assistant are fascinating to watch.
All other attractions aside, this festival stands out because it has a good lineup and lots of Pickin. The Lonesome River Band headlines this year’s festival with their appearance on Thursday, offering as strong a kick-off as any festival could wish for. Despite recent changes in personnel, the current band, which we saw twice in Florida last winter, is as strong as anyone could ask for. The return of Brandon Rickman singing lead and playing a hot guitar and the addition of Matt Leadbetter on Dobro gives this band real depth to complement Sammy Shelor’s magnificent banjo work. Andy Ball on mandolin and tenor vocals adds still more depth.David Davis and the Warrior River Band come to Lodi from Alabama. Their music is very finely honed traditional bluegrass. Davis is a fine Monroe style mandolin player and is ably supported by a very good band. They are only rarely seen at northern bluegrass festivals, so it’s a treat to be able to hear them here. The Steep Canyon Rangers return to Pickin’ in the Pasture after a year highlighted by their being selected as IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year for 2006. This band, which came together as students at the University of North Carolina, presents a selection of their own work in traditional style. Graham Sharpe’s “Just Like Dale” is a talkin’ song that will please any NASCAR fan. Their song “Lovin’ Pretty Women” is the title song of their new CD. Their high energy presentation and first rate musicianship make them a hit at many festivals.
Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys offer an opportunity to see one of the great first generation players whose contributions to mandolin style have complemented the early work of Bill Monroe and added greatly to bluegrass mandolin style. For many years he toured with his late Brother Jim, and well into his seventies, Jesse is still creative on the mandolin and retains a strong voice. Smokey Greene, also well into his seventies, is a fixture at bluegrass festivals in the northeast and in Florida. It would be uncharitable to call his a solo act as his guitar “Ben A. Martin” is very much in evidence. Smokey has written hundred of songs and offers from his own work as well as classic country, folk, and bluegrass selections. The Lewis Family Band has been touring for over fifty years offering their unique form of gospel bluegrass and broad comedy. Little Roy Lewis does not receive sufficient recognition as a great banjo player because of his commitment to gospel and his clowning despite the fact that he’s one of the banjo greats. He performs with his three sisters and nephew Lewis. Sister Polly has been quite ill recently.
Rounding out the touring bands appearing at Pickin’ in the Pasture are Goldwing Express and The Abrams Brothers. These are both family bands, but quite different. Goldwing Express appears regularly in Branson, MO and tours relatively infrequently. The three sons bill themselves as the Indian (Cherokee) sons of a full blooded mother and their blonde, white father. Their act contains a good deal of humor based their ancestry and the supposed dumbness of their dad. Many audiences enjoy both their comedy and their music. The Abrams Brothers, John (16) and James (14) are primarily a gospel band from Ontario, Canada, supported by their father, grandfather, and a cousin as well as a non-family banjo player. They are a developing band who have made an appearance at the Grand Ol’ Opry and whose schedule shows ambitions to become an international band.
Local bands are also an important feature of this festival. The host band is Seneca County Bluegrass, which is led by hosts Andy and Susan Alexander and will perform on the first three days. Their son Jesse will appear on Saturday. The Cabin Fever Band, based in Norwich, NY plays traditional bluegrass and their mandolin player and lead singer was also a member of Smokey Greene’s band for many years. Mike Tirella leads this quality band with humor and energy. James Reams and the Barnstormers appear on Sunday. They’re a traditional bluegrass band. Finally, Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass is a regional band on their way to attaining the national reputation they deserve. Several years ago, on the death of his father Bob, Danny Paisley stepped to the front of this excellent band. They play traditional, hard driving bluegrass with skill, speed, and respect for the traditions of the music. This is another first rate band.Pickin’ in the Pasture runs from August 23-26 in Lodi, NY. Tickets may be ordered from their web site or obtained at the gate.