A noisy night at Mabee Farm led to a eureka moment.
The historic site in Rotterdam Junction often holds concerts, but this night was different. Two groups were performing instead of the standard one, and it was hard to hear either.
So, Mabee Farm officials decided to close the doors on the big barn where one band was playing. It was the first time anyone could remember the doors being closed while a band was inside.
We said, ‘Holy cow,’ said Dale Wade-Keszey, a Mabee Farm committee member. `We realized what a room we really had there. You can’t produce those kinds of acoustics.`
Recognizing new potential for the farm as a music venue, Mabee officials decided to start a concert series. Wade-Keszey is the coordinator of the Howling at the Moon series, which kicks off this year on Thursday, May 27. He’s also performing on opening night, singing and playing harmonica with the Riverview Ramblers. The concert starts at 7 p.m.
Outside, there will be a full moon, the inspiration for the concert series’ name. Wade-Keszey said holding the concerts when there is a full moon allows people several chances to attend rather than pinning the concerts to a certain day of the week.
`It spreads it out a little bit,` he said.
In addition to opening night, this year’s concerts are set for Saturday, June 26; Monday, July 26; and Friday, Aug. 27. Wade-Keszey said each show has two distinct parts. There are two or three local singer-songwriters who perform for the first hour, largely to gain exposure. The second hour showcases more established groups, with Fairview Avenue Bluegrass playing in June and Three Quarter North performing in July.
Performers get a chance not only to take advantage of the barn’s acoustics, but to play for an appreciative audience.
`The crowds are very attentive,` Wade-Keszey said. `They sit there and they listen.`
Bill Flanagan, the Riverview Ramblers’ banjo player, went so far as to say last year’s Howling at the Moon concert made for one of his band’s `most pleasing performances.`
That’s saying something, considering the long list of venues where the Riverview Ramblers have played: yacht clubs, golf resorts, Niska-Day, the Van Dyck in Schenectady, a cruise on the Hudson River, Freedom Park in Scotia and Farm Fest in Saratoga County.
In addition to Wade-Keszey and Flanagan, the band features Trevor Wood on guitar and vocals, Pete Gernert-Dott on bass and vocals, Mike Mariotti on mandolin and vocals and Mindy Whisenhunt on vocals and fiddle.
The group started out as `more of a neighborhood band` with an `old-time string band` feel, according to Flanagan. Members hail from Rexford, Niskayuna and Alplaus, inspiring the `Riverview` part of the band’s name. They play traditional bluegrass instruments, but both Flanagan and Wade-Keszey described their sound as `newgrass` -` a fusion of bluegrass, rock and folk.
`We like to play around with those types of things, mix up the genres,` Wade-Keszey said. `We’re doing a little bit of everything. We take covers and play them in ways you’ve never heard.`
The group plays three Beatles songs, for example, `with bluegrass heat,` he said.
The band doesn’t have a drummer, Flanagan said. Instead, the mandolin keeps the rhythm. Bluegrass also has `the whole banjo flavor,` he said.
Perhaps the most distinctive trait of bluegrass music is the way everyone takes turns improvising solos.
`We never play the same song twice,` Flanagan said.
That’s not to say audiences won’t recognize their catalog. The Riverview Ramblers, along with the other performers at the Howling at the Moon series, will offer plenty of well-known tunes mixed in with the occasional original number.
`This is about fun music ` music people can enjoy and tap their toes to,` Wade-Keszey said. `We’re friendly, familiar and free.`
That’s right, there’s no cover charge for the Howling at the Moon shows, although Wade-Keszey noted that donations are appreciated.
For information, visit sites.google.com/site/howlingatthemoonsite/music.“