Summer means many opportunities to play bluegrass music in jam sessions. My brother and I have been doing this for the better part of sixty-some years.

by Mark Panfil

I can hear most chord changes in songs that I have never heard before. For the chords that I’m unsure of, I watch the hands of a guitar player in the jam I’m in. There are some times, not too often lately, when I just have to ask. Bluegrass music is mostly folk songs. Three or four, very predictable chords. Sometimes a few more and other times less than three. Out of these simple songs, amazing performances have morphed. When I get to a jam and the song is new to me, I will spend the first minute or two listening and lightly humming the melody to myself. Next, I find the starting note, then the first phrase on my instrument. Singing along with the choruses, which are easy to catch, sets me up to take a solo on this new song. I know the major scale for a handful of keys. Bluegrass music is often only in a handful of keys: D, E, A and, mostly, in G.

You can find jam sessions all over in the summer. The Bennington Lanes bluegrass jam happens on Sunday, June 12; Sunday July 10; and Sunday, Aug. 14. Each day, the jam runs from 2 to 7 p.m. in Bennington, N.Y.

Jam sessions happen at casual gatherings around a campfire at most bluegrass festivals every night. Wander around these festivals at night to try some new songs or just to listen. You will have the best seat in the house!

Creek Bend

Creek Bend Bluegrass is playing for the Springville Art Crawl in downtown Springville on Saturday, June 4, 5:30-8:30 p.m. They are playing again on Wednesday, June 8, at Memorial Park in the Village of Hamburg from 7 to 9 p.m. Creek Bend is also playing on Tuesday, June 28, behind the Orchard Park Middle School at the Pavilion from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and for the Holland Town Concert at the Holland Community Center on Thursday, June 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. These are all free events.

The Buffalo Bluegrass All Stars are playing the Thursday lunch show at the Sportsman’s Tavern on June 2 and 16 from noon to 2:15 p.m. On Saturday, June 25, they are playing the South Buffalo Porch Fest from 3 to 5 p.m. at 236 McKinley Parkway in Buffalo.

The Panfil Brothers trio with Mark Gannon on bass are playing at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26. Both days they play from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The monthly top 30 songs reported in Bluegrass Unlimited magazine have a new song on the charts. The Lonesome River Band has had its share of songs on the top 30 lists through the years and this time it’s their song, “Mary Ann Was a Pistol.”

The Lonesome River Band

Sung by mandolinist Adam Miller, “Mary Ann Is A Pistol” was first recorded over a quarter of a century ago and has been reclaimed from the record collection of bandleader and award-winning banjo player Sammy Shelor. It was written by long-time Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Dennis Linde, who penned the Chicks hit, “Goodbye Earl.” The Lonesome River Band is coming to the West Falls Center for the Arts on Friday, Aug. 12 . The Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble will play the warm-up starting at 6:30 p.m.

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley are coming to the Sportsman’s Tavern on Wednesday, July 13, 7-10 p.m. This duo has taken the blues and bluegrass world by the tail and swung them around since they started their collaboration just a few years back now. I offer up their version of the Stevie Ray Vaughan classic, “Pride and Joy.”

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley

Take a 15-time IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Dobro Player of the Year and a Tennessee-born guitar prodigy who made his Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of 11, and you have Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, a powerhouse acoustic duo that has electrified the acoustic music scene. Thanks again to Kenny and the Hall family for bringing the best in the current live music scene to Buffalo!

I’ll end my monthly blog with another reply from a bluegrass mandolinist and singer who brings his talents to our Bluegrass lunch shows and has played with the Higher Mountain Bluegrass Band: Bob Gnann.

“Definition of Bluegrass music: that’s hard to say. At its core, I’ll say it’s music that is rooted in the vocal and instrumental traditions of the settlers of the Appalachian South. Bill Monroe refined that music when his classic bands, the Bluegrass Boys, were guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass and mandolin. And, of course, vocals rooted in the old time traditions.

Bob Gnann

“How I got involved: I first heard bluegrass music when I was a student at SUNY Albany in the mid ’70s. I had always leaned to acoustic music, playing finger-style guitar at the time. One concert changed my musical direction: the Earl Scruggs Revue. Vassar Clements, Josh Graves, and, of course, Earl Scruggs, who was still on top of his pickin’ game. Warm-up was David Bromberg, lots of flat picking and fiddle playing. Also saw Bill Keith with Jonathan Edwards twice. I knew that’s what I wanted to play.

“What makes Bluegrass special? A couple of thoughts. First, I have always loved the idea that anyone who takes up the music can play along in jam sessions. A beginner can just strum along, and, of course, as you get better, become more involved. As you advance, it becomes even more infectious. Throw in learning vocals (and lyrics) and the challenges never end. (I found early on learning the lyrics to songs was a great way to become welcomed into a jam session.)

“Lastly, what I have recently found to be special is the idea that us of a certain age have been blessed to carry on a music style that is now being so enriched by today’s great young artists. Too many to name.

“Keeping the tradition alive.”

Thanks Bob!

Well, the opportunities to see live music in our neck of the woods, especially Bluegrass, really increase as we get into late spring and summer. Remember you can find easy-to-drive-to bluegrass festivals and a current calendar of live bluegrass at

Hope to see you out and about, and, as always, keep on picking and supporting live music!

The Editor

Author The Editor

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