by Mark Panfil

Hey, the days are getting longer! This month brings more optimism about putting much of COVID behind us. Love songs for Feb. 14 and groundhog songs for Feb. 2 have a special place in Bluegrass music, believe it or not. Some great local and national artists are coming through town, and this spring and summer promise many opportunities to live the joys of bluegrass at festivals and a great music camp.

“I’m continually amazed in wonder, at all the things you do. There’s no escape from this spell I’m under, that’s all in my love for you.” The song, “All in My Love For You,” is by John Hartford and is sung here by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. The entire album is love songs by this bluegrass great!

Groundhogs were not weather forecasters in the hills where bluegrass grew up. More often, they were dinner. “Well, yonder comes Sally with a snicker and a grin, Yonder comes Sally with a snicker and a grin, Groundhog grease all over her chin, Groundhog, groundhog”  … As played and sung by the Dillards (or the Darling family for “Andy Griffith Show” fans).

Mark your calendars, friends!

The Way Down Ramblers

On Sunday, Feb. 20, at the Sportsmens Tavern, the Way Down Wanderers will be playing from 4 to 7 p.m. The five-piece band from Peoria, Ill., has emerged not just as quirky bluegrass kids with a habit of experimentation, but as confident purveyors of some of the most sophisticated roots-pop anywhere. Young guys playing bluegrass with drums and an edge that will light up this Sunday afternoon show.

Bela Fleck’s Bluegrass Heart band

On Wednesday, April 6, 8-11 p.m., Béla Fleck brings his CD band for “My Bluegrass Heart,” featuring Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz and Bryan Sutton, to the State Theatre in Ithaca. Over the last four decades, Fleck has made a point of boldly going where no banjo player has gone before, a musical journey that has earned him 15 Grammys in nine different fields, including Country, Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, Classical and World Music. But his roots are in bluegrass, and that’s where he returns with his first bluegrass tour in 24 years, “My Bluegrass Heart.”

On Wednesday, April 20, at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, the Slocan Ramblers return, 7-10 p.m. The Slocan Ramblers are Canada’s bluegrass band to watch. Rooted in tradition, fearlessly creative and possessing a bold, dynamic sound, the Slocans have become a leading light of today’s acoustic music scene.

John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band

On Sunday, April 24, at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, 4-7 p.m., the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band  will feature four legendary musicians: John Jorgenson on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Herb Pedersen on banjo, guitar and vocals; Jon Randall on guitar and vocals; and Mark Fain on bass. Jorgenson and Pedersen are founders (with Chris Hillman, formerly of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers) of the formative country rock band, the Desert Rose Band. This description just scratches the surface. Last time I saw Jorgensen in Buffalo, he was the all-around “plays everything” guy in the Elton John Band. Pederson was a member of the Dillards and the super group Old And In The Way! Randall played with Emmy Lou Harris’s super group, The Nash Rambler and co-wrote “Whiskey Lullaby.” and Mark Fain played bass for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder for 13 years! This is going to be an amazing show!

The Buffalo Bluegrass All Stars take the stage for a bluegrass lunch show again on Thursday, Feb. 3 and 17, starting at noon at the Sportsmen’s Tavern. Don’t forget that Bennington Lanes has an open bluegrass jam and open stage from 2 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 13 in Bennington N.Y. (this is every second Sunday of the month).

Bluegrass festivals and a Bluegrass camp with classes, ranging from 30 minutes to 6 hours from the Panfil homestead in Hamburg,N.Y. (all driving times are from Hamburg NY). That’s 16 festivals and the oldest folk music camp in the US.

May 12-15 and August 18-21, Gettysburg Bluegrass Festivals, (campgrounds and it’s big!). Gettysburg, Pa., is a 6 hour drive.

May 27-29 , Wrench Wranch Bluegrass Festival, (camping and smaller)
Bainbridge N.Y., 4.75 hours away,

June 3-5, Adironkack Bluegrass League Annual bluegrass Roundup,
Galway N.Y., 4.25 hours away

June 9-12, Wind Gap Bluegrass Festivals, (camping, smaller, great jamming and a BG kids program),
Wind Gap, Pa., 5 hours away

June 29-July3, Remmington Ryde Bluegrass Festival,
Centre Hall, Pa., 3.75 hours

Jul 7-9, Busy Bird Bluegrass Festivals,
Berkshire N.Y., 3.5 hours away

July 14-17, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, (camping, several stages, BG kids program, it’s big!)
Oak Hill, N.Y., 4.75 hours

July 17-22, Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Camp, (hotels and campgrounds near by, best jamming and        classes offered in many folk arts)
Elkin, W.Va., 5.5 hours

July 27-31, Brantling Bluegrass Festivals,
Sodus, N.Y., 2 hours

July 27-30, Musicians Against Childhood Cancer,
Marengo, Ohio, 4.25 hours

July 31 ,Springville Fiddlers Festivals, (one day only, no camping, local groups, free!)
Springville, N.Y., 30 minutes

Aug. 7, Bluegrass Ramble Picnic (one day, no camping, local groups, great jamming)
Preble, N.Y., 2.75 hours away

August 20, Mayville Bluegrass Festival, (one day, no camping, local groups, brewery location)
Mayville, N.Y., 1 hour away

August 25-28, Pickin in the Pasture, (camping, great jamming, national and regional bands)
Lodi, N.Y., 2.5 hours,

Sept 23-24, Thousand Islands Bluegrass Festival, (camping, great jamming, local and regional bands)
Clayton, N.Y., 3.75 hours

Sept 24, Appleumpkin Festival, (one day, several local bands and big craft show, free!)
Wyoming, N.Y., 1 hour drive,

Early October (exact dates coming soon), FolkFaces Festival,
Darien Center, N.Y., 49 minutes from Hamburg


I will leave you with three more of my answers to What is Bluegrass Music?

Fred Bartenstein

Fred Bartenstein broadcaster, musician, festival MC and talent director, composer and record producer. Fred teaches country and bluegrass music history at the University of Dayton and is the chair/president of the IBMA Foundation.

Bluegrass music is a souped-up stringband style that took the form of a genre in the 1940s, thanks to a score of Southern musicians. They put its pieces together from earlier banjo tunes, fiddle tunes, ballads, the blues, jazz, old-time stringbands, Victorian parlor music/Tin Pan Alley, black and white gospel music, brother duets, and commercially popular country music. Since then, thousands of bands and millions of people have come to enjoy the form and its roots and branches — from which the genre continues to evolve as a living art form.

I heard it on the radio while living with relatives in Virginia in the mid-1950s, before the term “bluegrass” came into widespread use. I fell in love with what was then called “mountain music,” continued to follow it, and eventually — as a young teenager — began to play it. Eventually my involvement expanded to radio broadcasting, emceeing and talent direction at early festivals and concerts, journalism and scholarship.

Two things stand out to me. 1) The amazing musicianship with which virtuoso instrumentalists and vocalists blend their efforts to create a rhythmic and emotionally compelling sound. 2) Bluegrass uniquely carries into the present earlier song material and performance techniques that would otherwise have been forgotten. I compare it to prehistoric insects in amber jewelry or the changing shades of a chameleon. It began with the ten original influences, but the process continues, incorporating sounds from rockabilly, folk music, modern commercial country music, pop, rock, hip-hop . . . and beyond.

Ira Gitlin

Ira Gitlin, instrumentalist, music teacher and writer from the Washington, D.C., area and a National Bluegrass Banjo Champion. Bluegrass Week co-coordinator, Augusta Heritage Center

Bluegrass is a genre of American country music that initially developed in the 1940s, using acoustic stringed instruments.

I got “hooked on it” after seeing the movie “Deliverance,” with the famous “Dueling Banjos” scene. In retrospect, that scene illustrates the vast chasm between urban, middle-class people and the culture that gave rise to the music, but also shows music’s potential to bridge that chasm. Plus, I really liked the sound of the banjo.

In my opinion, there are a couple of special things about bluegrass. Musically, the variegated instrumental and vocal textures are especially appealing to me. Culturally, it’s an expression of the “agrarian myth” — the idealization of rural life — and a sort of impressionistic portrait of a segment of America in the mid-20th century.

Aldo D’Orrico

Aldo D’Orrico Bluegrass guitar player and songwriter from and living in Cosenza, Italy. Plays in the Muleskinner Boys and the Flying D’Oricco’s

Bluegrass was born in a land far away from me, but I felt it so close since the first time. Irish and Scottish music mixed with jazz and blues, it’s a young musical genre claiming to be old that changed my life as a musician.

How did you get hooked on Bluegrass? 

I was studying some country guitar licks with my telecaster when I accidentally heard about Tony Rice. Then I saw the light.

In your opinion what makes bluegrass music special? The sound. There’s tons of great songs, stories and musical ideas in bluegrass, but the sound is something that astonishes me every time. That crispy natural woody sound seems to be there from forever.

Have a great month and as always, Keep on pickin’

The Editor

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