Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bluegrass on the Bogs 2016

Bluegrass on the Bogs takes place  in May and for many of us, it is the first outdoor camping / music festival of the season in New England.   Now in its 11th year, 2016 was my 3rd time attending this regional festival  that features bluegrass and other acoustic/ string bands from  all over New England and New York.   Because so many of us know each other from going to other festivals and jams in the area, it feels a lot like a family reunion, especially since it is early in the season and some people may not have seen each other in a while.   For the past few years it has been held at Camp Kiwanee, originally a summer home for a wealthy Boston lawyer, then a camp used by the Campfire Girls, and is currently owned by the town of Hanson MA.   The piney wooded setting is peaceful and rustic, with very simple cabins to sleep in (no heat or electricity , just cots)  and some space for tents and RV's.  There are also actual bathrooms  and free hot showers, which is a bonus for anyone who is used to camping at other festivals that only have port-a-potties and makeshift showers.

Needles Lodge, photo by John Phelan,,_Camp_Kiwanee,_Hanson_MA.jpg 

On the grounds is big lodge with a wrap-around veranda and gazebo in the back.  The back porch has steps that lead down to the pristine Lake Maquan.  The building used to be the summer home, and is now often rented out for weddings and other functions but is not open for the festival, although we can sit on the porch and enjoy the view.  There are some trails through the woods, where some people set up tents to camp in more secluded areas, unlike our camp neighbors who had set up  tents all over the place in between the cabins in order to be close to the music, vendors, bathrooms, etc.  They sacrificed privacy for convenience.

Friday night's lineup was solid, starting out with a couple of  traditional sounding bluegrass bands,  then ending up with 3 Berklee based string bands that play a combination of bluegrass and other roots style music.

 6:30 PM Local Freight                                    
  7:30 PM Bill Thibodeau Band
  8:30 PM Damn Tall Buildings
  9:30 PM Chasing Blue
10:30 PM Lonely Heartstring Band
We really are lucky to have so many  talented,  up-and-coming bands in the area. Most of them were familiar to me, but Damn Tall Buildings was a new one, lots of energy. Can't wait to see them again at Podunk!

After the show it was a little cold, so we went to sit by the fire with our neighbors Mike and Natalee, under the full moon.  Just because it's called a bluegrass festival doesn't mean that is the only kind of music you hear.  There are usually a few good real bluegrass jams then a mix of other styles.  The people camping on the other side of us  were in a band called Wheelhouse Rodeo with a ukelele, some drums, electric bass, banjo, guitar and were doing  a lot of the same fun original songs over and over, obviously practicing their set for the next day so I didn't want to jump in with them.   I brought my accordion out to some other jams. When I have my accordion with me I seek out the less traditional jams. There was one with a few guitars, where they were playing some blues and jazzy instrumentals, then later on I went down the hill for a sing along type jam of classic rock and other stuff.   At those kind of jams there's always some inebriated folks who think the musicians are a karaoke machine and can play whatever pops into their head. So you might end up trying to play some songs you never tried before, and had no idea you could play! But it's still fun.

Saturday morning,  they offered  2-hour classes for a fee, with musicians from some of the bands that would be playing that day.  I decided to take the fiddle class with Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, from the band Mile Twelve.  She is only in her early twenties, but has been playing fiddle since she was about 3 and teaches professionally through Berklee college, from which she graduated in 2013 with a degree in violin performance.   There were five of us in the class, which was held on the porch overlooking the pond - a beautiful setting for learning!  We worked through a bluegrass song called On and On, learning the melody, fills, chords, etc. and half-way through she went around to each of the  5 students and gave us some individual tips on technique.  Then we went back to the song, trying out the different parts. It was a good class, but after that I was kind of tired so went to rest and listen to Sinner's Pie on the main stage.

Now here was the best part (for me).  The other 2  times I've been to this festival, most of my friends have been  in bands that are playing there.  I am not in a band but love to jam with people after hours.  This year, I had the honor and privilege of playing in a group assembled for the occasion by my friend Ellen,  a vocalist who had played the festival the previous two years with Acousticana ( no longer together).  So "Ellen Breen and Friends" included Matt on guitar, Joe on fiddle/ guitar, Sal from Bill Thibodeau band on mandolin, Carol and Nelson from Sinner's Pie on vocal and bass, and myself on accordion.  We played a 30 minute set on the Pavilion stage.  It was fun because we have all played together in jam settings,  some have played together in bands, and the audience was mostly people we knew so it was a relaxed and uplifting experience.

After the show I went to watch Cold Chocolate, a trio of  guitar, upright bass, percussion - with a kind of jazzy / funky sound,  not  bluegrass, just really good acoustic music.  They describe themselves as "Bluegrass Funk",  Kirsten Lamb, the bass player is as much of a vocalist as bass player.  She is front and center not in the background like some bass players.

Highlight of the evening for me was seeing  Mile Twelve, the fiddle teacher's band. They are a young, hard-driving bluegrass band, another product of the thriving Berklee acoustic music scene.  I found it kind of funny the fiddle player is from Virginia but came to Boston to learn bluegrass.  The banjo player is also female and is from New Zealand and the two guys (guitar and bass) are from MA and NY.  They played some traditional as well as some originals, all done very well.  Watch for them at Grey Fox!

Went back to camp and after a while we got a jam going at our neighbor's site, where they had another nice fire. The threat of rain never really materialized except for a few sprinkles around 2:30 am, and that was my cue to pack it in for the night, but some of the others stayed up playing a bit later. I don't think it rained much at all.

Seems like most of the bluegrass festivals around here have some version of a Kids' Academy which I think was started at Grey Fox.  It's an important component to the festivals, a way to get kids involved and keep the tradition going.   Children register and spend time over the weekend learning some songs together, and on the last day they perform on the stage.  They take turns singing, soloing, and playing rhythm.    The Kids Academy at BOTB is run by the RI Bluegrass association.  They had a bigger turn out this year than last (as more people find out about it and plan for it).  Hats off to the Bog Squad and the RIBA teachers who coached them!

The weather Sunday turned out much nicer than expected  -  a washout was predicted but it ended up being sunny and pleasant... go figure!  Just goes to show you can't let the weather predictions rule your life.  So I was able to hang out and watch Monadnok before making the 45-mile  drive home.  I hope the rest of the festival season turns out as nicely as last weekend at Bluegrass on the Bogs!

I did not take any pictures (except for the one of the kids with my cheesy phone.) But there are lots of excellent photos on the BOTB Facebook page.

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