Dear HVBA members, member bands, concertgoers, friends, and all bluegrass lovers across the Hudson Valley,
On behalf of myself and the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association’s board, we wish you a happy and healthy 2023 holiday season. And what a year 2023 has been! As the year comes to a close and we prepare for a week of holiday celebrations—no doubt filled with jubilant bluegrass cheer—let’s reflect on what the HVBA accomplished this year, and how we plan on making 2024 even better.
This year’s concert schedule was truly one of my all-time favorites. Things got off to a cracking start with local favorite and HVBA member band Bees in the Barn in February, followed with incredible performances by nationally acclaimed bands Special Consensus in March and the Gibson Brothers in April (featuring Frank Solivan, no less). The outsize impact that the HVBA has in bringing these truly legendary bluegrass artists to the Hudson Valley—and the wonderful diversity of folks who come to listen to them—continues to amaze me, and is a testament to our audience’s great taste in bluegrass.
After our summer concert hiatus, things really got cooking in September with Tony Trischka and Michael Daves and Bruce Molsky—a show that was probably one of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen. In October, Chris Brashear led the Deep River Ramblers in a touching tribute to John Prine, one of the first musical legends we lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ramblers were followed by Nashville veterans Rock Hearts in November, and just last week, Mando Madness returned—featuring Hot Tuna alumnus Barry Mitterhoff. That show was an incredible thrill, but every show we were lucky enough to host in 2023 had so many special and unforgettable moments.
On the note of HVBA concerts, I’d especially like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to the people who make these concerts possible: our sound technicians (read: sound magicians) Peter Conklin and Mike Fowler, and videographer supreme Fred Robbins. These guys make our concerts run smoothly month after month, and preserve them for future eyes and ears. Peter, Mike, and Fred—we salute you!
The HVBA continued its mission of promoting bluegrass music in the Hudson Valley by reaching many new ears in 2023 on the in print, on the radio, at public concerts, and through continuing education programs. In the springtime, the HVBA returned to Vassar College’s Lifelong Learning Institute to lead a six-course module on the history of bluegrass and its instruments. That effort was helmed by the truly incomparable Andy Bing—as was the course Andy and the Blue Mask Boys taught for the first time at Marist College’s Center for Lifelong Study at the Locust Grove Estate. And I was so happy to talk with Conor Walsh on WRRV about the HVBA’s mission and programming this fall on his program “In Touch.”
One of the educational programs I was the most proud of this year was the Blue Mask Boys’ visit with Stringendo’s Strawberry Hill Fiddlers youth fiddling program. As an alumnus of the organization, it was an incredibly powerful experience to return to teach a new generation of Strawberries about bluegrass’s history, its instruments, and its repertoire. In just an hour with those talented young musicians, they were singing and fiddling Bill Monroe’s classic “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight” like pros—you’ve gotta check out the video.
The Blue Mask Boys really earned their keep in 2023, with several other performances—including a performance at Plattekill’s Music in the Park series, the HVBA’s 13th performance at the Arlington Street Fair, educational performances for students at Poughkeepsie Day School and the Randolph School, two shows at Reed Memorial Library in Carmel, and more. The band’s rotating cast of extraordinarily talented characters have made them an HVBA staple for good reason. Jon Ahmadjian, Bruno Bruzzese, Andy Bing, Peter Conklin, Eric Marshall, Frank Kara, Joan Harrison, Steve Margulis, Dick Bowden, Dave Gandin, August Eriksmoen—I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple—you guys are the greatest!
Jams also held strong this year, with better attendance than ever at our regular biweekly jams at the Manor at Woodside in Poughkeepsie as well as at outdoor jams in the warmer months hosted in Highland. We’re looking to expand and have even more public facing jams next year as well.
We’ve also got even more great bluegrass concerts and educational events planned for 2024. We have a jam-packed concert schedule for the winter and spring, with County Line Bluegrass and the Ruta Beggars making their debut HVBA performances in February and March, respectively. In April, we’re thrilled to have the Gibson Brothers back for their tenth (!!) visit to the Association—more than any other ensemble in HVBA history! Finally, HVBA favorites Redwood Hill and Bees in the Barn will bookend the season, gracing the stage at the Unitarian Fellowship of Poughkeepsie in January and May. And you better believe we’re cooking up a great schedule for fall 2024 as well.
Another exciting HVBA offering that’s just arrived in time for 2023 is our new forum. Spearheaded by Lynn Lipton and Jeff Zelevansky, the HVBA forum will serve as an online community for Association members to publicize gigs and jams, post “in search of” ads, discuss bluegrass picking tips, and more. Be sure to register for the forum—I really like forward to the opportunities for new connections in our community and beyond that the forum will present!
Finally, I’d also like to thank the HVBA’s executive board for their tireless work this year. Our board is instrumental in everything our organization does—from collecting tickets and providing refreshments at our shows to keeping our social media and website presences running like a top. They also keep the organization running by keeping our finances in order, conducting outreach, and so much more. Our board members consistently and selflessly offer their valuable time to sustaining and growing the HVBA, and I couldn’t be more thankful for everything they do.
I’m so proud to be a small part of an organization with such enthusiastic members, listeners, and stewards—and one that plays such an outsize role in bringing top-tier bluegrass talent to our own backyard. There’s nothing I cherish more than getting to share in listening to incredible bluegrass music with the HVBA’s members, and it’s what I’m looking forward to the most in 2024.
Thank you so much for your continued support of the HVBA, and happy holidays to you and your family. We will see you next year!