Eastside Bluegrass Music shows gain new audiences

Find out the secret of success behind these monthly pickin’ and singin’ sessions that are attracting top regional Americana musical talent …

For a full 90 minutes before the monthly Eastside Bluegrass Music Series show starts, musicians join in a “jam session”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Folks from around the region who enjoy Bluegrass and Americana style music are heading to outer East Portland these days, as the Eastside Bluegrass Music Series continues to grow in popularity.

> To read our article about their first shows last year, CLICK HERE.

With his mandolin in hand, Mason Smith – coordinator of the Eastside Bluegrass Music Series – says he loves how these shows bring families together.

“We’re halfway through our second season,” smiled Mason Smith, the coordinator of the Eastside Bluegrass Music Series. “Attendance is really picking up. We always like to see more people coming out; we’ve got lots of great seating.”

When we visited their show on January 15, Smith reminded us that these shows are run as a musical collective instead of as a show promotion. “The donations go to pay the bands who come to play; what ever is left over, we give to the church that lets us use their facility.”

Kathy Beech and Harriet Nelson welcome folks to the Eastside Bluegrass Concert, along with organizer Mason Smith.

Not only have audiences learned they can get an entire evening of musical entertainment for ten bucks, musical acts say that they appreciate the warm, welcoming audience.

“We have very good musical acts,” Smith pointed out. “Many of the bands are well-known in the region. Others are great musicians that I’ve heard at other concerts or festivals. Everyone who’s been here says they want to come back, and play our venue again.”

As we talked, the monthly “jam session” was in full swing. As many as 20 great musicians – playing guitars, mandolins, banjos, basses, and sometimes fiddles – join in performing “American roots music”, from the time the doors open about 5:30 p.m. until the first act takes the stage at 7:00 p.m. “We all look forward to it – they’re lined up at the doors right when we open,” Smith said.

The originator of the Bluegrass Music Series, Sharon Sandgren, plays and leads a song in the jam session circle.

One of the musicians playing and singing in the pre-show jam session was Sharon Sandgren – the woman credited with starting the music series out in Gresham.

Before the show, Sandgren told us how the series got started. “I was involved with the Gresham Little Theater. They had such a cute venue there, the old Multnomah County Grange,” Sandgren began.

“I thought it would be a good showcase for beginning bands, musicians who had had little performing experience. That’s why it started with the jam session. It evolved until more and more people came to watch, and more musicians wanted to play there.  After five years we ended up with packed crowds, and high-level regional bands from around the area.”

The duo PatchRoad leads off the January show. It’s Athena Patterson – well-known from her stint with Athena and the River City Boys – and her new musical partner, Ira Schroeder.

With the crowds outgrowing the grange hall, and with the coordinating of the event beccoming burdensome, Sandgren was pleased when Mason Smith stepped up to take over coordinating the series. He moved it to its current location in outer East Portland.

This “season” runs through month of May.  “We take June, July, and August off, so we can attend festivals and concerts around the region,” Smith explained. “We’ll be starting back up in September, 2011 – and I’ve already got a great band coming in from Coos Bay already booked for that show.”

With that, Smith changed roles – from promoter to Master of Ceremonies – as the evening’s show got underway.

Next show: February 19
The Eastside Bluegrass Music Series features three sets of great music: two full 50 minute sets, and one 20-minute short set in between the major acts.

At 7:00 p.m. the show starts with The Stumptowne Stars, featuring the 2008 National Yodeling Champion Larry Wilder and Andy Emert, winner of the 38-58 age category of the National Fiddling Championships, Wieser, ID in June, 2010. The Stumptowne Stars are well known for their hot bluegrass, Americana, cowboy and folk music.

Then follows a short “tweener” set by The Martin Brothers.

After intermission, at about 8:45 p.m., it’s the Fern Hill Bluegrass Band. They’re an acoustic five-piece band based in Rainer, Oregon, playing traditional bluegrass music, strongly influenced by classic bluegrass bands of the 50’s and 60’s.

Another great Eastside Bluegrass Music Series show gets underway.

Remember, doors open at 5:30; come early and hear as many as 20 musicians play in an acoustic jam session before the show starts.

Suggested donation is $10 per person (children are free). Their full snack bar (no booze, you won’t need it!) will be open before and during the show. It’s all at the Freedom Foursquare Church auditorium, 660 SE 160th Avenue (behind the Su Casa store), just south of SE Stark Street. There’s lots of free parking. For more information, see their official website: CLICK HERE to open that page.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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