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At Purple Hill’s Bluegrass Opry Reunion, some of the best picking isn’t even on the program. That’s because those jams take place after the official show is over.
“Tailgate picking, they call it,” explained George Taylor, whose 140-hectare beef operation is home to the reunion, the third annual version of which takes place this weekend.
“They love to go around and jam,” Susan Nelson said of the players in the six bands who will descend on the farm near Thorndale from Friday to Sunday.
Once their sets are done, and the audience has settled down to camp for the night, it’s not unusual for breakdowns to last until 2 a.m.
The Nelson Family is made up of Susan, her sons Sam and Charlie, and family friend Pete Atkins.
“We’re not a hard-hitting bluegrass band, we’re more of a soft touch,” she said.
Asked to explain why she loves bluegrass, the brand of country music made famous by the likes of Bill Monroe and celebrated in the 2000 feature film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Nelson cites the sense of familiarity with other bluegrass devotees.
“I love it mostly because of the community of people we’ve met,” she said. Her family is scheduled to play Friday night and Saturday, but that doesn’t take those impromptu jam sessions into account.
The band’s sets last about 45 minutes and include such traditional tunes as Keep on the Sunny Side, as well as the George Jones number White Lightning and Alison Krauss’s Steel Rails. They also offer original compositions, which were featured on a 2016 CD called The Little Boy With the Mandolin.
Taylor says the weekend has drawn about 500 campers in the past two years, and he expects this year’s crowd to be at least that big.
Also on the bill are Rescue Junction, the Stompin’ Flyers, Winterline, the Nissouri Boys with Doug Moerschfelder and the Allen Family Reunion Band.
“The top bluegrass bands are here. If you’re interested in bluegrass, it’s a great weekend,” Taylor said. “We don’t bring in American bands. We stick to the Canadian bands. They need a place to play.”
Nelson says being related to the other players in her band is a boon, not a drawback. “With family, you’re usually together, you can practice easier,” she said. “I think it’s more of a natural fit, you know?”
She also likes the fact that the instruments used in bluegrass don’t need to be plugged in to work and the acoustic instruments can be taken outside and passed around. She gave her son Charlie a mandolin for his eighth birthday, which jump-started his love for playing.
Atkins always was a family friend. “We noticed him playing banjo out and about,” she said.
Her family will have to travel from Princeton, which is between Woodstock and Paris, to Purple Hill to meet up with her fellow players at Taylor’s cattle farm. It’s obvious, talking with Taylor, that it’s a treat for him to host the annual show.
“We love the music, we love the people,” Taylor said.
If you go
What: Purple Hill’s Bluegrass Opry Reunion
Who: The Nelson Family, Rescue Junction, the Stompin’ Flyers, Winterline, the Nissouri Boys with Doug Moerschfelder and the Allen Family Reunion Band.
Where: 20903 Purple Hill Road, Thorndale
When: Friday 6:30 p.m., Saturday noon and Sunday 11 a.m.
Tickets: $60 a person for a weekend pass, which includes camping; Friday only, $15; Saturday only, $30; Sunday only, $15. Email email@example.com or phone Anna Taylor at 519-461-0538
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