Spirited pick’n and play’n continues at Eastside Bluegrass shows

Here’s why the Eastside Bluegrass Music Series attracts big family audiences – as well as some of the top Americana-playing musicians around …

During an Eastside Bluegrass Music Series pre-show acoustic jam session, Bruce Peterson thumps out the bass line on his giant String Bass, while Dr. David Day plays guitar, along with award-winning Bluegrass music legend Kathy Boyd.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Now in its sixth season, the Eastside Bluegrass Music Series rolls along, bringing in large audiences to hear top-notch music acts, in a family-friendly atmosphere.

The pre-show acoustic jam session usually starts with a couple of musicians, right when the doors open at 5:30 p.m. But, by show time, as many as twenty will be sharing well-known Bluegrass and Americana songs, with one person taking the lead after another.

During the jam session, playing banjo is Roger Vanderveen – and on the fiddle is Richard Brooks.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is my sixth season of doing these concerts,” reflected promoter, mandolin player, and congenial Master of Ceremonies Mason Smith at the January 10 concert.

Smith recalled how, when Sharon Sandgren tired of producing monthly Bluegrass shows at the Boring Grange, he picked up the idea of putting on shows in outer East Portland, in what is now called the Rosewood Initiative area.

Host and musician Mason Smith grins as he plays along during the jam session.

What started as a trial run turned into the monthly series, Smith said, “with programs running September through May each year, on the second Saturday night of the month.

Asked to characterize “Bluegrass” music, Smith replied, “You can’t really define it. Bluegrass includes ‘folk’ and ‘Americana’ styles of primarily early-American music. Some of may have a ‘country’ flavor; other may lean to more of a ‘rock’ beat.

“It’s mostly lyric-driven acoustic songs with sound reinforcement,” Smith said, taking another stab at a definition. “The nice thing is you can understand the words, and it’s nothing you’d be embarrassed to have your children or your parents hear!”

Some of the members of this act warms up before they go onstage.

“It’s a lot of work but I really enjoy doing this,” Smith told East Portland News. “It’s not a big money-maker for anyone, it’s true.”

However, Smith continued, bands say they enjoy playing the venue. “Unlike banquets or bars, people are coming here specifically to enjoy bluegrass and Americana style music. They’re not here to eat or drink beer; they’re coming here just to hear the concert.

“Every band that has performed here has asked to come back and play again,” said Smith. “They keep bugging me to come back and play here, and our audiences keep coming back to listen.”

Serving customers at the Snack Bar are volunteers Kelly Pauli and Joyce Dodge.

At the upcoming February 14 show, the headline band will be nationally-recognized Nu-Blu, based in Siler City in central North Carolina, Smith pointed out. “Bands come to play here from all over the nation.”

The audience gets professional-quality sound, thanks to the good acoustics of the auditorium, and to a great audio system brought in by Mark Gensman of Ground Zero Sound, Smith smiled.

At the Eastside Bluegrass Music Series January show, Ken Chapel’s String Band musically entertains.

“The best part of it for me is the music and the camaraderie,” remarked Smith. “Another thing that keeps us going is that we have so many regular audience members, and we get to know them over time.”

More than 100 folks come out to their family-oriented shows every month, where folks find a full snack bar open before and during the show. “It’s really a family and ‘Baby Boomer’ crowd we get coming here,” commented Smith. “And, because we start earlier in the evening, we generally are out by about 10:00 p.m.”

Patrons enjoy a full evening of great music, at this Eastside Bluegrass Music Series show.

Mason thanked East Portland News for listing their concerts every month in our COMMUNITY CALENDAR. Or, for more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

The Eastside Bluegrass Music Series continues at the Freedom Foursquare Church auditorium located at 660 SE 160th Avenue (behind the Su Casa store), just south of SE Stark Street.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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