SOUTH HIRAM – Mark Gardner of Plympton, Mass., didn’t seem too worried about the heat this weekend. His recreational vehicle had air conditioning.

Not all of the campers were blessed with the technology in their tents or RVs, but that didn’t stop them from setting up camp for the Ossipee Valley Music Festival at the Ossipee Valley Fairgrounds this weekend.

Back for its 13th year, the event, which used to be called a bluegrass festival, changed its name to reflect the broader range of music now offered. There is still a lot of bluegrass in the lineup, but the music is what founder and director Bill Johnson would call “acoustic-based Americana music.”

Johnson said putting on the festival gives him something interesting to do. “It’s like throwing a party for 5,000 people,” he said.

Many people return year after year, like Tim McLaughlin at the Friendly River Music booth, one of the vendors selling musical instruments.

“It’s fun in the sun but low-key,” said McLaughlin, back for his fourth festival. “Some of the talent here can compare with Bela Fleck and others. This is world-class music.”


This year the main stage boasted a new addition, a set that resembled an old country store with painted signs, worn bicycles, sunflowers and muddy boots.

Responding to popular demand, Johnson decided to add a battle of the bands. After roughly 20 groups from as far away as Pennsylvania submitted applications and samples to the contest, he narrowed the list down to six bands, five of which showed up Friday for the contest.

Each group played three songs, and the judges, including Rounder Records President Ken Irwin, deliberated before choosing two finalists from Boston, Three Tall Pines and Chasing Blue, to play another piece. The tall ones came out on top.

“This is a milestone for the band,” said Dan Bourdeau, one of the founding members. Their second album, “All That’s Left,” is due to be released in August.

As winners of the contest, Three Tall Pines will get eight hours of recording time at The Studio in Portland, and will have a paid place on the stage at next year’s festival.

The winner’s music will mix with the 40 other groups that Johnson brings in from all over the country. Sierra Hull, who has been on Grand Ole Opry radio and television shows and played with Alison Krauss and other top musicians, came from Tennessee.


The festival began Thursday and will run until Sunday evening.

Music will play constantly throughout the weekend, from the two stages at the festival to little “pickin’ ” sessions around the campfire. Johnson said that when he woke up early Friday, the music hadn’t stopped and people were still strumming and singing away.

Gardner, the Plympton resident who came to enjoy the music and spend time with friends, said the gathering really picks up steam around 8 or 9 p.m. when everyone starts playing and dancing.

“It’s a great pickin’ festival,” he said.

Staff Writer Ellie Cole can be contacted at 791-6359 or at:


A photo caption was updated at 5:14 p.m. July 25 to correct the instrument that Chad Graves is playing.

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