Bluegrass sentiment spread through Pickin’ in the Pines
by Maddie Friend
The sounds of dobros and mandolins echoed through Flagstaff this past weekend, as bluegrass fans and bands from around the country convened in Flagstaff for the seventh annual Pickin’ in the Pines Bluegrass and Acoustic Music Festival.
Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music (FFOTM) organized and hosted Pickin’, as it is affectionately called. This year, the festival brought more than bluegrass stereotypes of Deliverance-like hillbillies and banjos to Flagstaff’s mountain air.
Held at the Pepsi Mountain Amphitheater at Fort Tuthill, Pickin’ has become a favorite on the bluegrass festival circuit.
“One of the best parts of the festival is interacting with other musicians,” said Jen Sandoval, mandolin player for participating band Run Boy Run.
The lineup for Pickin’ this year was full of bluegrass and acoustic music powerhouse
s, including fan favorites and Arizona natives Run Boy Run, venerable talents Blue Highway and headliner Hot Rize.
Mutual respect and appreciation could be found between the different bands, with stand-up bass player for Blue Highway, Wayne Taylor, drawing inspiration from Hot Rize.
“Listening to [Hot Rize's] music made me want to play bluegrass,” Taylor said.
Run Boy Run stand-up bass player Jesse Allen also commented on the importance of the community of musical influences and backstage camaraderie.
“I love being able to go backstage and be with people I admire and actually listen to,” Allen said.
The common thread of music appreciation permeated from the stage to the crowd, festival workers and over 180 FFOTM volunteers, including Jody Montgomery, former stage manager for the festival.
“It’s nice to be able to sit out here and enjoy and not have to worry about anything,” Montgomery said. “I worked for the festival for its first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth years.”
Montgomery could not resist returning to the festival as a spectator for its seventh year in existence.
“Everybody gets along. It’s such a mellow place,” Montgomery said. “It’s a beautiful venue and everyone has a good time.”
Many musicians commented on the warm weather and idyllic scenery perfectly suited for bluegrass music.
“There’s not [a] more beautiful place you’re ever going to find and listen to in,” Taylor said.
Despite this year’s lack of an awning over much of the established seating, even the hot mid-day sun could not dampen the familial atmosphere.
When Tammy Rogers, fiddle player and vocalist for The Steel Drivers, commented on the sun shining in her eyes, a FFOTM worker quickly brought her a classic cowgirl hat to shade her face with, much to the delight of the audience and band.
“That’s full-service festival management, right there,” Rogers said.
Convivial relations extended through the crowd, with the audience rising for rousing standing ovations at the end of nearly every set.
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, performing at the festival for the second time, roused audience participation and played a two-song encore.
A focus on community fueled much of this year’s festival operations.
Bonnie Dumdei, FFOTM board member and co-owner of Flagstaff School of Music, volunteered for her first time at the event.
“This is a good way for me to know more about the events that FFOTM puts on and more community awareness. I love just talking to people,” Dumdei said.
Although she does not play an instrument, Dumdei views her role as being a conduit to the community and purveyor of knowledge.
“My fun is talking to people and making people more aware about what’s out there. That’s why I’m here. I take everything as knowledge and can help talk about it,” Dumdei said.
FFOTM worked diligently to involve many facets of the Flagstaff community in the festival. Events kicked off with a free Run Boy Run concert at Diablo Burger on Sept. 14.
“We love Flagstaffians,” said Run Boy Run fiddler Bekah Sandoval.
Although perhaps best known for its three days of concerts at the amphitheater, the entirety of Pickin’ in the Pines is so much more than music solely shows.
Other events that showed the festival’s dedication to the community included a children’s area — replete with crafts, hula hoops and balloon animals — at the amphitheater, contra dance festivities on the Northern Arizona University (NAU) campus, numerous musical workshops and radio broadcasting of the event live on 91.9 FM.
While the festival encouraged new bluegrass fans, traditional roots and song topics of the genre — those that helped shape it and embody its very essence — were prevalent through the many bands’ sets, acting as a conduit for the crowd.
“We really like murder ballads,” Bekah Sandoval said. “Deceptively enough, this murder ballad is in major key, so it seems kind of happy and upbeat.”
Run Boy Run was not the only band to tap into songs from the heartland, with Blue Highway performing their songs “Through the Windows of a Train” and “Sounds of Home.”
Continuing in classic bluegrass convention, headliner Hot Rize played their instrumental “Empty Pocket Blues,” which guitarist and vocalist Nick Forster sardonically described as being about “a fiddle player working all his life to do this and dying broke and alone.”
Despite a few somewhat-macabre undertones, Pickin’ in the Pines provided an excellent experience for bluegrass aficionados, newbies to the genre, families and their dancing children and all other revelers to rejoice in a true community event.
Mark your calendar for the eighth annual festival on Sept. 13-15, 2013.