Pickin’ and grinnin’

So many high-profile music events these days seem to be little more than the festival equivalent of a billboard.

The purported goal of these celebrations — bringing people together in the spirit of music — is obscured behind omnipresent advertising techniques. At the 1999 Woodstock reunion, for example, even drinking water was sold under the watchful eye of the Coca-Cola corporation. What’s worse, festival organizers were so intent on making a profit that they skimped on providing essential sanitation for concert-goers. Likewise, at this year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans, all of the big-name performers appeared onstage under an even bigger name — namely, Acura automobiles, an inescapable presence at the event.

Thankfully, locally produced festivals — where the goal remains exposing the talent of regional artists, not the products of national companies — still exist.

Deerfest 2000, also known as Pickin’ on the Mountain, is a bluegrass festival produced by Deerfields Retreat and Abbeymoon Entertainment. The festival features 12 hours of nonstop bluegrass heaven, focusing primarily on local musicians. Artisans and crafters from around WNC will also be featured.

This “homegrown” aspect does not mean, however, that festival-goers can expect anything less than world-class talent. Headlining act Claire Lynch and The Front Porch String Band will be joined by Tut Taylor, Curtis Burch, Sons of Ralph (featuring Ralph Lewis), David Via and Corn Tornado, The Greasy Beans, Second String, The Wiseman, Kings Creek Bluegrass, Good Gravy, Blue Rooster and Old Soul.

Lynch, based in Hazel Green, Ala., has been singing and writing for 22 years. Widespread success came in the wake of her Grammy nominations for Moonlighter (Rounder, 1995) and Silver and Gold (Rounder, 1997). Her most recent work, Love Light (Rounder, 2000), is a collection of songs loosely linked by the themes of intimacy and other human instincts. From youthful infatuation (in “Missionary Ridge”) to a dying endearment, Lynch explores love in all its avenues, blending traditional bluegrass with hints of jazzy swing. Although many bluegrass artists rely on the talents of tried-and-true studio musicians to enhance their recording projects, Lynch collaborates only with her own band. Her husband, Larry Lynch, is the group’s founder and mandolin player. The band also includes Missy Raines — a two-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association award (that genre’s equivalent of a Grammy) for Bass Player of the Year — and Jim Hurst on guitar.

Pickin’ on the Mountain also showcases “newgrass” veteran Curtis Burch, on guitar and dobro. A Nashville resident, Burch helped found the seminal band New Grass Revival. In 1993, he was featured on The Great Dobro Sessions, produced by Tut Taylor (who’s also appearing at Deerfest 2000) and Jerry Douglas. This unique recording won a Grammy as Best Bluegrass Instrumental Recording of 1994, as well as the IBMA awards for Instrumental Recording of the Year and Event of the Year (in 1995). Taylor creates many of his own instruments, including the Tutbro, a resophonic guitar with a surprisingly sweet sound.

Besides the scheduled individual acts, Deerfest 2000 will feature a Saturday-night all-star jam, complete with surprise guests. And a Friday-night open stage will give festival attendees a chance to shine (and even compete for the Best Camp Jam award).

Event organizer Deb Ryder notes: “It’s really a musician’s festival, all about the music. We are focusing on uniting a community of musicians and artists.” She doles out a huge portion of the credit for creating the festival to the musicians themselves, explaining, “Here, the musicians have a big part in saying what they want, and it would never have been possible without their help.” Ultimately, Ryder sees the festival as a celebration, and she hopes attendees will “reunite with old friends as well as meet new people — and, of course, have fun pickin’ with folks.

“Come on down and spend the weekend with us!” she exclaims.

Deerfest 2000 (Pickin’ on the Mountain) happens at the Deerfields Retreat on Saturday, June 10, running 11 a.m. until the wee hours. Tickets are $15 for an all-day pass, $25 including camping. Tuxedo Cafe & Bar-B-Que will provide award-winning ribs; beer sales will benefit the Mountain Area Hospice Foundation.

The retreat, located 30 minutes south of Asheville in the Mills River Community, is a 940-acre, family-owned piece of unspoiled wilderness with access to swimming, hiking and horseback riding. The main stage is part of a large natural amphitheater, providing both hillside seating and a flat area that’s ideal for dancing, not to mention a stunning natural setting. For questions and additional info, call Deerfields at (828) 890-0008, or Abbeymoon Entertainment at 252-2264. Festival Info can be found on the Web at www.deerfields.com.

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