Pea Green Saturday Night series is back on the Western Slope

PEA GREEN — Way out yonder among the cold, dried corn fields at the intersection of two roads that lead someplace else, the fictional radio station KPEA is about to broadcast its monthly variety show, a combination of bluegrass and barnyard humor known as Pea Green Saturday Night.

The venue, about 50 miles southeast of Grand Junction, is a small grange hall located where Colorado Highway 348 and Banner Road meet on the Western Slope, and it has become one of the state’s most random and remote destinations for old-time Americana music.

Before that pandemic shut it down, audiences came from hundreds of miles away to attend the vintage folk and bluegrass music show. Now, three years after the last performance, Pea Green Saturday Night has returned this winter on the last Saturday of each month.

Attendees show up early as the Pea Green Community House fills up quickly, and everyone knows to bring a potluck dish. Onstage before the show is a microphone bearing the letters KPEA, call letters are for a fictional radio station that emcees Dean Rickman and Len Willey — musicians and “sophisticated hillbillies” known as the Pea Green Brothers — have created as part of their act.

Think “A Prairie Home Companion,” but instead of stories from Lake Wobegon, Willey and Rickman tell tall tales from Delta County and the greater Western Slope.

For now, the show’s format will remain the same as it has been for the past 16 years: an opening band, followed by refreshments and a potluck, a short comedy routine and more music. The shows, held January through April, usually sell out. Doors open at the Pea Green Community House an hour before the 7 p.m. showtime. Cost of admission is $15.

Farm humor is an integral part of the Pea Green Brothers’ identity, along with “the redneck book of manners,” notes from “the very brave man contest” and the “male advice column” for on-stage skits composed of, as they call it, “useless information.”

Even if you haven’t heard of Pea Green (which is really just a rural crossroads), you’ve probably tasted the food that is grown nearby, as each July, the famous Olathe brands of sweet corn are harvested here. 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 was renovated in the 1990s to provide indoor plumbing. The building now is on the State Register of Historic Properties. During the pandemic, the inside of the community house has had some work done. A  fresh coat of green paint has been applied to the building’s interior, and there’s new carpet on stage. Rickman built a stage extension using recycled wood from his farm and said the stage will also have new lighting.

But one of the show’s biggest investments came in the form of green sport coats for the Brothers that were recently purchased from a Delta thrift store.

During the winters of 2021 and 2022, in the thick of the pandemic, the Brothers had to make the difficult decision to postpone the series due to public safety.

“We are told that winters have been especially bleak and long without a PGSN show to look forward to,” Willey said. “We sense that folks are delighted for the return of PGSN. The bands are especially happy for the return of the show season and quickly add that PGSN is their favorite venue to play at.”

Both men are thrilled to have the show finally return and look forward to many more years of delivering rarely-heard music. For Rickman, the show’s growth and authenticity is comparable with fixing farm equipment. For example, an engine can’t run for very long with cheap parts.

“Len and I are the real deal. We perform for the fans because we don’t know how not to. To us, this is not an act … this is authentic Pea Green,” Rickman said.

Willey, the show’s original founder, is a lifelong musician who traces his musical knowledge to the hollows and hills of Appalachia, to  music “before electricity, before bluegrass,” mostly old-timey, ancestral tunes that have been passed down through generations.

“Sure, we are elderly and yet we yearn for the older times of simple music and humor. And the food was better back then,” Willey said. “We purposely and carefully chose an era and a style to perform within that we believe complemented PGSN as well as our own lifestyle. We both own and operate small farms and play old-time music ourselves, so the presentation of a 1930s-era event” made sense.

“It does take considerable effort to remain the same with this era of the past,” Willey said. “But this effort is necessary to preserve and present a unique and memorable experience that is outside the standard of today.

“We believe that we are true to the times and to the grange hall building itself. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

But the group did make one concession to modernity: Pea Green Saturday Night now has a Facebook page where attendees can get news on future headliners and musicians.

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