For the fifth year in a row, Plattsburgh State’s Bluegrass for the Next Generation Program is inviting students to attend the 34th-annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival tomorrow and Sunday in Framingham, Massachusetts, at no cost to them for two whole days of pure bluegrass.
Sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union, the Joe Val Festival will feature some of the best bluegrass bands in the country, including the North Country’s own Gibson Brothers, PSUC alumni and award-winning bluegrass duo who got their start in Plattsburgh in 1987.
Program coordinator Stephen Light said the BGNG program was launched after an anonymous donor donated upward of $100,000 to the college in 2011. The donated money allows BGNG to fully fund the trip to the festival.
“[The program] keeps with the mission that [the donor] wanted us to do, and that is to expose new people to bluegrass music,” Light said.
In addition to coordinating past trips for BGNG, Light performed as a semi-professional banjo player at the Joe Val Festival in past years with his own bluegrass band Beartracks.
“It’s really just a passion, and it’s almost developed into a second career,” Light said.
The students will gather at the Angell College Center tomorrow morning and leave for the Sheraton Framingham outside of Boston. There, over 30 professional bluegrass bands will perform in and around the hotel, turning the ballrooms into concert halls, the walkways into CD-signing tables and the hallways into open jam sessions.
Light said bluegrass music follows the tradition of a close relationship between musicians and fans. Students who attend are encouraged to bring their instruments to participate in the festival’s open jam sessions.
“The tradition is you don’t need to know the people,” Light said. “If I hear a banjo player I like, I can go up to that banjo player and talk to them after the show.”
Any PSUC student could attend the trip, but some members of the college’s Bluegrass Club have signed up and look forward to going every year. Current president of the Bluegrass Club Jake Schaechinger is unable to attend this year’s trip but said that past events had music everywhere you go.
“It’s like one big community,” Schaechinger said. “You walk in, and there’s people jamming out in the hallways. It feels like one big family get-together because everyone knows what they’re there for, and everyone’s able to play with each other.”
Schaechinger said he enjoys bluegrass music for its openness and easy adaptability.
“Even if you’re not familiar with a certain song, it’s really easy to pick up,” Schaechinger said. “It’s very easy to jump in, and it’s fun to play with a big group of people like that.”
Like Schaechinger, sophomore psychology major Christina Dunn is also a member of The Cardinal Pickers, the college’s student-run bluegrass band.
Dunn first discovered bluegrass when she took the music department’s intro to bluegrass class at PSUC. At last year’s Joe Val Festival, Dunn entered a raffle and won a new acoustic guitar.
“That was pretty cool,” she said. “After seeing all the bands and then winning a guitar, it kind of really made me want to pursue bluegrass music more.”
When it comes to bluegrass, Dunn enjoys the comfort of a free-form type of music genre.
“It’s a lot [about] having fun,” Dunn said. “You can kinda do whatever you feel comfortable doing.”
In an article from The Press Republican, PSUC student and current vice president of the Bluegrass Club Sam Gibney said he fell in love with bluegrass music at a similar outdoor festival, joining the Cardinal Pickers in the fall of 2017.
“I first heard about the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival when I was a student in [Light’s] intro to bluegrass class,” Gibney told The Press Republican. “My initial reaction was that it was an insane opportunity not to be missed and if anything, it was a shame more students were not aware of it. The music never stops.”