RANGELEY – Set against a drop dead gorgeous hillside with a bird’s eye view of Rangeley’s lakes, the 2nd Annual Saddleback Mountain Bluegrass Festival hit its first twangy note Friday afternoon.
The start of the two-day event featuring Maine’s considerable stringed talent played from 3 to 8 p.m. as a considerable lineup of cars, campers and RVs continued to parade through the gate. Teen fiddlers with 317 Maine Street Student Ensemble of Yarmouth and Ellen Gawler’s Pineland Fiddlers from central Maine took to the big stage under a bright red canopy set up in front of the base lodge to play for an audience stretched out before them on blankets and beach chairs.
Meanwhile, up slope, tents were springing up like dandelions in May. Some campers sat at their tents to listen while most wandered down the green slope with a view that stretched across the lakes to a bluish-purple horizon of mountains and New Hampshire. Grayish clouds hovered then began to clear as The Toughcats finished their rousing set of unique high energy pizazz that drew hoots and vigorous hand clapping. Lewiston’s Erica Brown and The Bluegrass Connection brought home the true blue bluegrass and got the growing crowd only hungry for more. The crowd had much more to look forward to tonight with a big bluegrassy jam session scheduled in the lodge’s pub.
No one will be disappointed tomorrow (77 degrees and sunny) when the music starts at 11 a.m. and will feature nearly a dozen of the top blue grass performers playing today. Headliner Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Mr. Bluegrass himself, will provide the day’s big finish.
Standing inside the door to the stage, Nicolaus Bloom, the man who managed to wrangle a very impressive lineup for the festival said his goal “was to provide an eclectic collection of the best bluegrass.” The performers styles vary from contemporary like Crooked Still and Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings to the traditional styles of Michael Cleveland & FlameKeeper and the granddaddy of them all, Ricky Skaggs.
Bloom said organizers also wanted to feature Maine’s considerable talent, especially the up-and-coming teen set. “I wanted to get women involved, too, because it has been male dominated,” Bloom said.
The festival’s manager, Mark Robie said he is pleased with how ticket sales are going. Last year, the first festival drew 2,000 people. This year, Bloom said a target is 3,000. But he added, they’re not looking to create another Woodstock, instead the aim is to keep it an intimate experience for all the bluegrass lovers who attend.
“It’s a stunning setting with an interesting lineup,” Bloom said. “A great destination with an overall great experience. That’s what we’re shooting for.”