For the past nine years, as many as 2,000 bluegrass fans have gathered each summer at a sheep farm in Lodi, just a few miles from the eastern shoreline of Seneca Lake, to enjoy four days of music played by some of the finest performers in the genre. Hosted by genial sheep farmers and avocational bluegrass musicians Andy and Susan Alexander, the festival is called “Pickin’ in the Pasture,” and it draws visitors from across the eastern United States and Canada. Many come for the entire four-day event and set up campers and recreational vehicles on the farm’s festival grounds. With many musicians among those visitors, the campground pasture rings with the music of impromptu jam sessions long into the night.
Asked how a popular bluegrass festival happened to blossom on a Lodi sheep farm, Andy Alexander explained, “Both my wife and I were in bluegrass bands and also attended a lot of festivals, and we thought there was a need in this part of the state to have a festival that had professional-caliber entertainment.” Alexander said he and his wife “got lucky that first year” when bluegrass and country-music legend Ralph Stanley agreed to perform at the new venue. Since then, “It’s become a fairly prestigious festival here in the Northeast,” Alexander said. “For traditional bluegrass, it’s ranked right up there.”
Among the dozen bands performing at last year’s event were David Peterson and 1946, Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass, and the Nashville-based Grascals, who went on to win the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Entertainers of the Year” award. Jimmy Mattingly, the Grascals’ world-class fiddler, was touring in Europe this spring with Dolly Parton; this is what he had to say about his band’s experience at “Pickin’ in the Pasture.” “The Lodi festival is for sure one of the festivals you will always go back to. It’s good people, good music and a beautiful place to attend a festival. One of the best for sure.”
Highlighting this year’s lineup of performers will be Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia River Boys, the Lonesome River Band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Lewis Family, Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass, David Davis and the Warrior River Boys and Smokey Greene. Jesse McReynold’s appearance at the festival is part of this bluegrass legend’s 60th anniversary farewell tour and will probably be his final performance in the Northeast, according to festival organizers.
by Bill Wingell
A freelancer for a number of magazines and newspapers, Bill Wingell first encountered genuine mountain music in the 1960s when he made frequent visits to eastern Kentucky reporting on working and living conditions in that strife-torn coal-mining region. Since then he has continued to enjoy bluegrass as well as jazz and the blues.