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Joe Val Festival Celebrating 27 Years of Bluegrass Past, Present, and Future

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27th Joe Val FestivalBoston, MA -- In 1962, New England musicians Jim Rooney (then a graduate student at Harvard University) and Bill Keith (stationed at the Boston Army Base) began performing regularly at Club 47 – now Passim. Rooney was the congenial frontman and vocalist, while Keith was a dedicated student of Earl Scruggs's banjo style. Their live performances, coupled with the release of their classic 1963 album Livin' on the Mountain, not only galvanized the nascent New England bluegrass scene – it also revolutionized bluegrass on an international scale, as word spread rapidly of Keith's remarkable new melodic banjo technique. Keith demonstrated this breakthrough – which enabled banjo players to play fiddle tunes note-fornote and subsequently inspired such groundbreaking pioneers as Tony Trischka and Béla Fleck – more widely the following year, when he hit the road as banjoist with Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music.

Now, fifty years after their initial partnership was forged, Bill Keith and Jim Rooney are poised to give a special reunion performance as part of the 27th annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, presented by the Boston Bluegrass Union (BBU) on Presidents Day Weekend, February 17 – 19, 2012, at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel, Framingham, MA. The presence of Keith and Rooney is testament to the BBU's dedication to keeping the legacies of key bluegrass figures alive, while the presence of such rising talents as Boston's own all-female stringband Della Mae and mandolin prodigy Sierra Hull (fresh from a command performance at the White House) affirms the organization's equal commitment to nurturing young talent. In between the rising and the legendary, 2012's edition of the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival offers a rich and rewarding sampler of the very best in contemporary bluegrass, including Blue Highway – among the genre's most influential contemporary outfits; powerhouse fiddler Michael Cleveland and his band Flamekeeper; folk hero Jonathan Edwards backed by former Chesapeake members Moondi Klein and Jimmy Gaudreau; venerable family trio The Whites; award-winning vocalist and bandleader Claire Lynch; and many more (see below).

The Northeast's preeminent bluegrass event, the Joe Val Festival features an impeccable roster of artists, performing in a comfortable and family-friendly environment for an audience of dedicated fans and listeners. In addition to performances across two stages, the festival hosts over fifty master classes and workshops, the inspiring Academy for Kids, directed slow jams for beginners, a bustling vendor floor featuring bluegrass-related merchandise (including instruments, artwork, memorabilia, CDs, and more), and innumerable opportunities for musicians of all levels to get together in informal jam settings. It all takes place shielded from the winter elements, in the cozy, castle-like confines of the Sheraton Framingham.

Established in 1985, the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival celebrates the legacy of the late Joe Val, a pioneering Massachusetts-based vocalist, musician, and bandleader, whose riveting performances, recordings (such as his presence on Keith and Rooney's Livin' on the Mountain LP), and generous nature did so much to spread the popularity of bluegrass in the Northeast. From its humble beginnings as a local tribute to Joe and the regional bluegrass scene, the festival has grown to become one of the celebrated bluegrass events in the country. In 2006, the 21st Joe Val Bluegrass Festival won the prestigious Event of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

This year's Main Stage performers encompass a range of styles, from the eclectic bluegrass/swing/folk hybrid of the beloved Claire Lynch to youthful, high-energy sounds of the Steep Canyon Rangers – fresh from a stint as Steve Martin's Grammy winning backing band. Texas family harmony trio The Whites are back again. The influential and innovative banjoist Greg Cahill will be on hand with the latest lineup of his top-notch Special Consensus ensemble, while BBU favorites the Spinney Brothers of Nova Scotia, Canada, return to deliver their driving take on classic traditional bluegrass. In addition to Della Mae, the festivals commitment to rising talent is born out by the presence of the buzz worthy new band Flatt Lonesome and a special set by the Berklee Bluegrass All-Stars – doubtlessly providing a glimpse into the future of bluegrass.

Just added to the bill is Blue Highway. A self-contained supergroup consisting of Jason Burleson (banjo), Rob Ickes (dobro), Shawn Lane (mandolin, fiddle), Tim Stafford (guitar), and Wayne Taylor (bass), have become the living embodiment of a modern bluegrass band. While they boast a traditional lineup and are well-versed in the music's timeless nuances, their instrumental arrangements are marked by peerless sophistication and inventiveness. Most crucially, the band is a prolific source of original vocal and instrumental material that extends the tradition and redefines it for the modern era.

Also featured is a healthy selection of local New England bluegrass talent, including the Reunion Band, Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters, the Maine-based Evergreen, the Joe Val tribute band Joe Sings Joe, the Bluegrass Gospel Project, and more. Visit www.bbu.org for a full schedule and list of performers.

Dedicated to preserving the past and nurturing the future, the Boston Bluegrass Union will continue their commitment to education with daylong Master Classes kicking off the festival on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, there will be over forty Workshops for festival patrons of all ages that examine the instrumental and vocal techniques unique to bluegrass, as well as the music's history and culture. The BBU's Joe Val Academy for Kids enters its ninth year, presenting a free, intensive three-day program that teaches children (ages 5 - 17) how to play, sing, and perform bluegrass music. Visit the festival website for further details on the extensive education offerings, schedules and registration details.

The Sheraton Framingham is located just 18 miles west of Boston, directly adjacent to the Mass Pike (Rt. 90, Exit 12) and Rt. 9. At this time, all hotel rooms are sold out at the Sheraton, but rooms are available nearby at the Marriott Residence Inn (508-370-0001) and the Natick Courtyard Marriott (508-655-6100). We strongly encourage early ticket purchases, as the festival has sold out in past years.

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