Bluegrass in Berne for last days of the season

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

The Ramblers’ twang: Jim Selkirk plays with a group of acoustic musicians during the Berne Summerfest on Aug. 24. The guitarist of the Hilltown Ramblers traded solos during a jam session that finished the all-day event.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Mango-lime with whipped cream on top, made by Pastor Wendy Cook of the Helderberg Evangelical church in Berne, was the winning pie at the Berne Summerfest. Assistant chiefs Dave Clark of Berne, right, and Jason Smith of East Berne taste the pies, above, as judges on appearance, taste, and crust. For the car show, Holly Clark’s 2000 Chevy won the People’s Choice Award, Dave Clark’s 1951 Chevy won Best Truck, and Ed Hampton’s 1969 Chevy won the Children’s Pick. 

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Hilltown ambler: Abagail Peck, 2, stomps her feet and bounds up and down to the lively bluegrass-style music of the Hilltown Ramblers, led by mandolin player Dick Stock, her grandfather, on Saturday, Aug. 24.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Richard Genett, a lapidary and third-generation rock collector, shows a wrapped slice of labradorite from the Adirondacks.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Around his neck, Richard Genett wears an amethyst stalactite slice wrapped with bronze wire under a piece of opal. On top is smoky quartz point, and beneath is white beryl.

BERNE — In the waning days of summer’s blaze, the town park was filled with acoustic music flowing out from the pavilion to more than 500 Hilltowners on Saturday, Aug. 24.

The day was first planned as a concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Hilltown Ramblers, a bluegrass band heard in nearby churches, parks, bars, and nursing homes since 1993, and benefiting the Berne library that is moving into the former St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church.

The current and original lineup of the Ramblers was scheduled to play, as well as other musicians, with a final jam session to end the night. As ambitions grew, a committee was formed to organize the Berne Summerfest, with vendors and various community groups, a paired event with the Empire Orienteering Club, and contests.

Dick Stock, an original Hilltown Rambler and mandolin player, said he hopes to hold an event like Summerfest every year. Now that more of its members are retiring from work, he said, the band will be performing more, but will “keep it community-based.”

The town park Saturday displayed local brawn and talent with a car show, and a pickup baseball game and homerun derby.

An 86-pound pig was cooked over charcoal all afternoon in a wooden roasting box and served up by the Kiwanis Club of the Helderbergs. Firemen, serving as judges, stacked paper plates as they picked through pieces of strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, apple, and mango-lime pies, listening to the plucking and crooning heard throughout the day.

A telescope from the Dudley Observatory showed the sun’s singular spot that day and a family of three-generations ate a picnic in the shade of the veterans’ memorial.

Donations collected for the fireworks and the library weren’t enough to cover the bright display, Supervisor Kevin Crosier said Tuesday, but the library benefited from a food stand inside the pavilion and a 50-50 raffle. Judy Petrosillo, the library’s director, said around $500 was taken in Saturday, to help pay for staining supplies and bookcases for the new library, which she hopes will open in mid-October.

Twenty years

Dick Stock was a University at Albany student in the early 1970s. The unemployment rate was climbing, oil prices had risen, and a horrible recession was about to greet the graduating Class of 1974. In his teens, Stock had fallen for The Beatles and picked up the guitar, which he played in bands throughout college.

Stock remembers his political science professor gave a lecture on his students’ opportunity, offering advice: “He told people that, if they had any entertaining skills, that they could get you by,” Stock said. The thought encouraged him and he played in a folk and rock duo with Paul Strausman.

“Performing allowed me to do my current job a little better because sometimes I speak to groups,” said Stock, who works as a building construction program manager for the state’s Office of General Services.

The mandolin holds the rhythm in a standard group of bluegrass players, Stock said. He started playing the small, four-stringed instrument with Strausman.

“It plays on the offbeat with the bass, so they’re really working together,” said Stock. “The mandolin takes the part of the snare drum.”

Stock moved to East Berne in 1991 and formed the Hilltown Ramblers with banjo player Moe Safford after the two met at a local jam session and found they were neighbors. Safford’s son, Morrie, played guitar and Chuck Batcher played upright bass.

They have performed with different members, but the elder Safford and Stock remain and played both sets on Saturday with the original and current members — Ed Kryzkowski on bass and Jim Selkrik on guitar.

Stock said their next goal is to record a new CD. Their 2003 recording, It’s About Time, has originals by the group members and their friends, as well as arrangements of folk songs, with guitarist George Geel.

Acoustic bands Shine Hill Road, The Bluestones, and Flood Road played on Saturday as well, with some members joining in a jam session following the fireworks display.

“We do a lot of improvisation for a bluegrass band,” Stock said. “Some people call bluegrass ‘hillbilly jazz.’”

 “This is a blast,” said guitarist Frederick Swedberg, who was visiting a friend in Berne from Orange, Mass. when he heard of an acoustic jam session in the town park.

“A big part of it is just people getting together and playing ad-hoc,” Stock said Wednesday of bluegrass concerts and jams. “It might not be perfect, but that’s just part of the whole scene; enjoy each other and the social nature of it.”

Cutting boards and stones

Richard Genett stooped his lanky frame over a small table crowded with jagged rocks of dark purple and milky white as he explained their names and where he found them. His display was set along the path through the park into the pavilion.

The bearded 34-year-old acknowledges he isn’t a geologist, but a knowledgeable and life-time collector. He points out calcites and amethyst on the table.

“And, of course, fool’s gold,” he said, pointing to the bins of shimmering pyrite, separated by size, with paper price tags. “Everything’s negotiable, too.”

Genett grew up in Terre Hill, in Lancaster County, Pa., scrabbling in nearby mines with his mother, who was raised by her mother in Texas to love rocks. As he grew bigger, so did the rocks he collected.

“If you like it, keep it. There’s no bad stone if you like the way it looks,” said Genett of the lesson learned from his maternal mentors.

He first came to the Capital Region on a meandering bus trip, found friends, and decided to stay. Genett now lives in East Berne, near the fossil-bearing Helderberg escarpment and Thacher Park, for which he said he participated in protests when Gov. David Paterson wanted to shut state parks to close the state’s budget gap. 

The self-described “rock hoarder” cuts, sands, and carves stones with diamond bits, sometimes wrapping the stones together in brass or copper wire. “Stoned Crystals” lapidary, the art of cutting stones, has refocused his energies, he said, since he broke his back pulling overloaded carts of stock from trucks while working for a supermarket in 2010. He now walks with a cane.

“I love working with opals, but I love working with the New York minerals, too,” said Genett in his deep voice. “It’s almost like the seasons.”

Behind Genett was a table among the many vendors where a 16-year-old from Feura Bush was displaying his own craft, carpentry, likewise passed down through generations.

Daniel DeMaria, a Bethlehem High School student, sat in the shade of a tent flanked by his mother, Terri DeMaria, and grandmother, Joyce Keenan of East Berne.

DeMaria used leftover scraps from his father and grandfather’s woodmaking, to create cutting boards and cheese platters, of mahogany, cherry, maple, walnut, and birch. DeMaria is refurbishing an old boat of his grandfather, Joseph DeMaria, which he said sat damaged at their camp after 40 years of not being used. Their Schroon Lake camp can only be accessed by boat, his mother said.

The boat’s wooden ribs, DeMaria said softly, were the only original part, and he has installed wooden trim and fiberglass casing.

To complete his summer project, DeMaria needed a motor. Keenan thought the cutting boards could pair well with the Cheese Traveler shop in a building she owns on Delaware Avenue in Albany.

DeMaria first displayed his boards at the Delaware Avenue Street Fair and won fourth place for creativity. Rectangular boards with handles were popular there, his mother said.

“Now, here, they’re all selling and not the handle so much,” she said.

DeMaria searched for images of cheese boards on the Internet, where he found inspiration for a board shaped as a wedge of cheese. On top sat a wooden knife holder in a semi-circular shape resembling a mouse.

 “They’ve been showing you stuff since you were an infant,” his mother said to DeMaria when he was asked of his family craft.

“It can’t have a lot of grain,” DeMaria said of the woods he uses. Mrs. DeMaria said her son experimented with different finishes, first trying beeswax, then nut oil, which some people are allergic to, then mineral oil.

The following day, DeMaria bought his 35-horsepower motor.

More Hilltowns News

  • The Sheriff’s office is warning that heroin is in the Hilltowns and other rural areas of Albany County, and will be hosting a town-hall style event at Voorheesville’s high school next week on how to face the heroin epidemic.

  • Following the closure of Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office has had to offer an ambulance with an emergency medical provider as well as a paramedic in a fly car. This has led to an increase in the costs for the three Hilltowns served: Berne, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville.

  • The Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education is putting up for a Nov. 2 vote two propositions for capital projects — for $15 million and $5 million. After a lengthy debate over whether the capital project was a “blank check” or a means of improving student education, three board members voted yes, one voted no, and one abstained.