Festival Review - Arizona's PICKIN' IN THE PINES!


Flagstaff, Arizona sure has changed since August 5th, 1979! That was the day I met my wife, Mary Ann, at THE MUSEUM CLUB on Route 66. That was 35 plus years ago, and we’re still together…… Thank YOU Flagstaff!!!   So, to say the least, there were two very excited people in the car as we hit the city limits for a three day, two night getaway to attend the Pickin’ In The Pines Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival at the Fort Tuthill Fairgrounds.

2014 is the ninth year for this ever growing event, and I wish we had had the chance to be there before now! My buddy, Prescription Bluegrass Radio and Blog host, Brian McNeal, and the effervescent Miss Terri Holloway, were on hand for Brian to continue his yearly duties as Main Stage Emcee. He has been a mainstay in this capacity since it’s inception in 2006, and he handled the crowd like the professional he is. And what a crowd it was! Lots of every age group accounted for and plenty of audience participation as the day and evening wore on.

The headliners for the Saturday performance were a who’s who of bluegrass veterans, royalty and newcomers to the acoustic genre.

TOWN MOUNTAIN, PICKIN' IN THE PINES, FLAGSTAFF, AZ  2014Town Mountain, from Ashville, North Carolina tore it up on their set with standards and plenty of original material, most of which was written by mandolin man Phil Barker. He also proved his lead singing abilities with his original song “Lawdog,” which has become my wife’s new favorite song. Phil’s high tenor is perfect for bluegrass music and his three part harmony with Robert Greer, on guitar, and Jesse Langlois on banjo, is right on the money. The band is rounded out with Bobby Britt on fiddle and new member, and Berklee School Of Music graduate, Nick DiSebastian on bass. I just received their newest CD, LIVE At The Isis, recorded in March of 2014 in Ashville, NC. for review, so stand by for that one!

The Claire Lynch Band have been on my “must see” concert bucket list ever since I reviewed her last CD, “Dear Sister.” As the reigning “Female Vocalist” from last year’s IBMA convention, her talents were not to be missed. Accompanied by Matt Wingate, Bryan McDowell and Todd Phillips, her show was as powerful as her last recording. In talking to Matt after the show, he confirmed for me that Mark Schatz, Claire’s usual bass player, was returning to the line up within days of the Flagstaff show. Todd Phillips was an exceptional player to hear, and for him to step in so ably was a hint as to just how good all the musicians in Claire’s band are. What a solid, multi-faceted and expressive band they are. Gotta see ‘em again!

PETER ROWANPeter Rowan hit the stage after Claire like a runaway freight train! He had the Arizona folks jumpin’ for joy from the get go, and I don’t know how his guitar survived his set. It came boomin’ through the speakers with a jolt of acoustic magic like I’ve never heard before, and it survived the beating Peter put on it! Keith Little was on banjo, and it was my first time to see him play live. What a player! Paul Knight, Chris Henry and Blaine Sprouse filled out the band, and I’m going to have to hear them all again just to get a full dose of their Karmagrass. The spirit’s of Bill Monroe and Jerry Garcia had to be hanging out just above the Pine trees when Peter graced the stage.

TRAVELIN' McCOURY'S WITH BRYAN SUTTON & PETER ROWANI could hardly wait to hear The Travelin’ McCoury’s, with guest guitarist Bryan Sutton. I have been a Del McCoury fan for years now, and I had been lucky enough to meet him last year in Nashville. What a gentleman, and what a bluegrass icon…. and his sons are part of the reason he is so cross-genre successful. Ronnie, Rob, Jason Carter, Bryan and Alan Bartram closed the night’s entertainment, and everyone was thrilled with their set.

Brian commented to me that it was amazing to hear this hip, ultra talented and ground breaking group fill their show with so many old, but, still revered, songs from way back when…..I have to agree with him, they have the ability to take off and soar in front of any kind of crowd, and pollinate new fans whenever they play. And to top it all off, they were, to a man, just as friendly and personable as Mr. Del McCoury is. It’s obvious that they have learned more than just music from gentleman Del.

It was also a pleasant surprise for me personally to see so many old friends from my Arizona musical past. Tom Poley, banjo, mandolin and guitar pickin’ song writer extraordinaire from Tucson was there, with his guitar playin’ wife, Emmy, and we didn’t even get to jam or hit a lick! That’s reason enough to make sure we’re there next year, but for a longer stay!

Multi-string striker Peter McLaughlin, also from Tucson, was there with his band, The Sonoran Dogs, which also includes champion mandolin man Mark Miracle. It about broke my heart that I got there too late to catch them….. Peter also did a pickin’ seminar with Europe’s hottest acoustic player, Beppe Gambetta, on Sunday that I had to miss because we had to be back in Durango that evening.

Pickin’ In The Pines has become a festival that Arizona is lucky to have. The venue is beautiful, the show is well run, the music is top notch and there are seminars and workshops for all ages and musical abilities. It also has a charm that welcomes older people, like Mary Ann and me, the college crowd, families with kids and anyone who is a music lover. I haven’t even touched the surface of the talent we were lucky enough to see and hear, but…. I’ll try to make that up with better and more in depth coverage of next year’s festival. Special thanks again to Brian, Terri and show manager Julie Sullivan for the royal treatment we received. It sure was good to be back in Flagstaff, Arizona!!

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