PEA GREEN — Way out in the middle of sweet-corn country, at the intersection of two roads on the way to someplace else, is a destination that regularly revives a lost era of American music.
The doors open at 6 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of every winter month, just as they have every season over the past 16 years. People, who pay 10 bucks to get in and are asked to pony up a covered dish to share, sit back and listen to old pickers give life to tunes more ancient than the historic Pea Green Community House.
Pea Green Saturday Night almost always sells out, long benches filled mostly with folks from Delta, Mesa and Montrose counties, people who know one another, some relationships stretching back for generations.
There is some catching-up to do before the music begins — at 7 p.m sharp: “How’s your family?” “Think we’ll have enough water?” “Did you hear? They planted hemp.”
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The format for Pea Green Saturday Night is always the same: an opening band, followed by refreshments and potluck, a short comedy routine that resembles a skit from the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and then more music.
Founder and emcee Len Willey is a lifelong musician who traces his musical knowledge to the hollows and hills of Appalachia, to the music “before electricity, before bluegrass,” mostly old-timey, ancestral tunes that have been passed down through generations.
“Soldier’s Joy” and “Cherokee Shuffle” are a couple of tunes he brings up to describe the marriage of fiddle, banjo and mandolin used to tell stories of simple living.
Other genres, such as reggae, rock and blues, are not what Pea Green Saturday Night fans want to hear, Willey said.
“People can get that anywhere else. The kind of music we have is homespun,” Willey said. “It’s rural, it’s distinctly American and it’s what they like listening to.”
The town of Pea Green’s first building, the schoolhouse, was built in 1887 with supplies from a local timber mill. Just after the schoolhouse was completed, cans of paint — a “fresh peas” color — arrived from the federal government. The name Pea Green stuck.
The Pea Green Community House followed in 1927, and it was renovated in the 1990s to accommodate indoor plumbing. The building now is on the State Register of Historic Properties.
Outside the community house on the fourth Saturday of last month, temperatures were well-below freezing at showtime. A hundred yards in every direction from the the lone streetlight illuminating the corner, the landscape was dark and the stars were brilliant. In just six months, the snow-covered fields will have fresh sweet corn and onions protruding from the soil, and the intersection of Colorado 348 and Banner Road will buzz again with farm trucks.
Inside the building, Western Slope bluegrass groups Way Down Yonder and The Bluegrass Offenders were entertaining the toe-tapping audience.
Willey said he appreciates the standing-room-only audience that shows up to hear local music in a town no longer recognized by the U.S. Postal Service, particularly given how tough it is the find the place. Google Maps has a hard time finding the community hall, and Willey admits he still sometimes gets lost getting there.
“Why is Pea Green so successful defies the laws of location, being that’s in the middle of nowhere and attendance is what it is,” Willey said. “But that’s the point of that intersection.”
Pea Green Saturday Night has found success by keeping things the same, he said.
Still, the regular gig does change from time to time. This year, the tunes will flow into spring, with bands playing an extra Saturday, in April.
And the event now has its own Facebook page. But most, if not all, of Pea Green Saturday Night’s dedicated fans are older and don’t care much for social media. They just know to drive to Pea Green on the fourth Saturday of the month and look for the dimly lit community house.
“We don’t want to change it. It works. We are careful to keep it the same as much as possible,” Willey said. “It’s about people getting together over that love for music, food, companionship and humor.”