Although the fresh, locally grown bluegrass show is scheduled for 7 p.m., for many fans who know the venue, it’s better to get here early and claim a chair, with either a spare coat or blanket.
The gathering usually begins after 5 p.m., when the doors of the Pea Green Community House, located just off of Colorado State Hwy. 348, first open.
Audience members from Delta, Mesa and Montrose counties who are gathered on this Saturday evening, know each other and their families, many going back generations. By this time of the year (Dec. 22), the pace of life in the area has slowed, the corn crop ripped from the ground months ago.
Before the music begins, there is much catching up to do.
“How’s your family?” “When is your son home from Afghanistan?” “Got all your Christmas shopping done?” “Whatcha plans for next summer?” are all topics of discussion.
They come, just as they have in past winters, to Pea Green, to hear local music at a place no longer recognized by the U.S. Postal Service that sits just inside the Delta County border, northwest of Olathe. There was a Pea Green store at one time, but it closed years ago.
The show, performed on the fourth Saturday of each month, is organized by Len Willey, a Delta County resident and lifelong musician.
To understand this place, one must imagine its beginnings more than 100 years ago, and recognize what is gone from that time, and what has been preserved.
The town’s first building, the Pea Green schoolhouse, was built in 1887, sitting among the patchwork of homesteads built using supplies from a local timber mill. It was a new life for many farm families. Just after the school was completed, cans of paint arrived from the U.S. Government, in a “fresh peas” color. The name Pea Green stuck.
The Pea Green Community House was built in 1927; it was renovated in the 1990s, to accommodate indoor plumbing, and sits now on the state’s register of historic properties.
Willey is a self-proclaimed “punctual man.” The show will begin at 7 p.m., with three groups on the bill: The McCoys, from Delta; and Way Down Yonder and Stay Grass, from Grand Junction.
“I had to use Google maps just to find this place,” said one ticket buyer, handing over his $5 for a ticket. “There should be a sign for Pea Green,” he added.
Holly Burton, the woman working the register sheepishly replied, “Awww. There can’t be a sign for Pea Green!”
The venue feels like a living room in a picturesque area that exemplifies rural country living.
Outside, on this December evening, the temperature is below freezing. Coats and blankets are recommended – for comfort – during the performances. To spot the veteran fans, just look for folks with the pillows and thermoses.
“It just keeps getting better every time,” Willey said.
The show’s popularity has grown over the past nine seasons, so much so that patrons are now turned away if they arrive too late, and more groups and bands want to play the venue because of the “respect” the crowd exerts, Willey said. These days, “So many musicians love playing here,” Willey said.
Willey, who plays in a group called the Claim Jumpers String Band, said the audience is so attentive, you can “hear a pin drop.
“I’m constantly asked to run more shows” outside of Pea Green’s once-a-month time slot, he said, or to run it in a larger venue, “to accommodate the crowd.” Meanwhile, those who are turned away learn their lesson.
“By gosh, they’re going to make it right and this time get a seat,” Willey joked.
Each show follows the same format: Three bands play, for two-and-a-half hours, with two between-sets intermissions that allows fan to pick through a smorgasbord of food collected for a traditional Pea Green potluck.
And so, on this cold December Saturday, in a venue where weddings, funerals and other social gatherings showcase the strong sense of community at the heart of being a Pea Greener, feet tap to the music that fills the hall, the only modern signs, perhaps, iPhones popping up to snap the occasion photo, or record something on video.
At 7:04, Willey takes the stage in front of an old maroon curtain to warm up the crowd with a few jokes and announcements.
The reward of music soon follows, breaking the chill in the air.
For more information contact Willey at 970/874-8879.