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Eden Hall campus to host Chatham's 1st Bluegrass Festival

| Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, 5:21 p.m.
Early Mays members, left to right, Emily Pinkerton and Ellen Gozion.
Early Mays members, left to right, Emily Pinkerton and Ellen Gozion.
The Chiodi Trio: Father Jt and sons Nico and Enzo.
The Chiodi Trio: Father Jt and sons Nico and Enzo.

Jeff Scheller is looking forward to Chatham University's first Bluegrass Festival at its Eden Hall Campus in Richland.

The event will be from 3 to 10 p.m. Aug. 13, with nine local bands performing free concerts for the public.

Scheller, 51, of Mars, isn't sure what excites him more — the variety of acoustic music offered or the unique concert venue.

He's a member of the progressive bluegrass band Well Strung, and a North Allegheny middle school science teacher. His band will perform at the festival's Hilda M. Willis Amphitheater, a 250-seat venue carved into the landscape at Eden Hall. The 388-acre campus was built for the study of sustainable living and development.

“As a musician, I love to play at bluegrass festivals. As a science teacher, I love (Eden Hall's) mission for ecology, sustainability and the environment,” he said.

The Bluegrass Festival will feature musical groups performing in three unique spaces around the campus — the Esther Barazzone Center Steps, the Large Barn Stage and the Willis amphitheater.

“We have a beautiful campus in the North Hills, and we wanted to invite the community,” said Angie Jasper, director of cultural and community events at Chatham University. She is coordinating the event.

“We really wanted to give a wide variety of bluegrass music, and provide a nice overview of the different genres. We wanted to include as many local bands as possible,” she said.

Scheller's band topped Jasper's list. “They're a really fun, upbeat band,” she said.

Scheller said the festival “has a wide variety of acoustic music, not just hardcore bluegrass. People may be totally surprised to discover how happy and fun and joyful the music is, even if it's a really sad song.”

The Chiodi Trio also will perform. The group consists of a father, who plays the upright bass, and his two teenage sons, ages 15 and 17, who each play a four-string banjo in a style that straddles 1920s jazz and traditional tunes with a bluegrass flair.

“We perform about 100 gigs a year throughout the region,” said the group's patriarch, Jt Chiodi, 51, of Thornburg.

“What we love most is watching the audience's reaction. People walk by, hear the music, then stop dead in their tracks and start dancing. It's fun to see,” he said.

Throughout the festival, attendees can purchase snacks and other food items from the Eden Hall Farm fresh menu in the Esther Barazzone Center or in the Dairy Café. Most of the vegetables and other ingredients are grown on the campus grounds.

Attendees also may bring their own picnic foods and are encouraged to bring blankets and folding chairs.

An Artisan's Marketplace will feature 13 local artists selling photography, watercolors, oil paintings, jewelry and pottery.

Campus sustainability tours lasting 45 minutes will be offered and will showcase the school's 400-panel solar array, 40 geothermal heating wells, a storm water management infrastructure, an on-lot sanitary system for treating waste water, an aquaculture center and a solar-thermal high tunnel for growing food year around.

Most of the technology is concealed underground, beneath the sprawling landscape, Jasper said.

Emily Pinkerton, a musician in the trio Early Mays, is eager to perform her group's Appalachian-inspired songs at the festival.

“I know it's going to be a great program in a great setting. It's a place that inspires you,” she said. “The setting, coupled with incredible music, can't be beat.”

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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