The Birth of a World-Class Festival, A Brief History
Like all great ideas, synchronicity was at play and the seeds for Pickin’ in the Pines grew in the minds of several people at the same time. As the stars aligned, the conditions ripened for this idea to take root and blossom into what is FFOTM’s premier flagship program.
Brian Burnett of the Burnett Family Bluegrass Band wanted to start a festival in Flagstaff, as did other members of FFOTM, who included Julie Sullivan Brace, Roger Brace, Mike Falk, Jessica Pope, and Bill Vernieu. Additionally, two other key players, Todd Graeff, Director of Coconino County Parks & Recreations, and County Supervisor Bruce Mason, were envisioning the completion of a brand new, beautiful amphitheater at Ft. Tuthill as an ideal place for this same idea. When all the parties came together for that first meeting in the home of Julie & Roger Brace, including Ginger Buckendahl, a business consultant who also loved the idea, a spark ignited, and the festival was born.
This small but motivated group of musicians, friends and local government officials never dreamed that the festival would grow to such proportions and become the beloved event it is today, heralded by music lovers near and far, and celebrated as Flagstaff’s best event! Its vision then, as it is today, highlights great acoustic music, and provides an opportunity for camping, learning through educational workshops, and sharing music played on acoustic instruments with future generations. Bill Vernieu named the festival Pickin’ in the Pines, which turned out to be an apt name as “pickin’” is what many of our campers enjoy most about the campground!
The location became a reality and Pepsi Amphitheater (originally known as Pine Mountain Amphitheater), located in Ft. Tuthill County Park was completed in 2005. The amphitheater is arguably Arizona’s finest outdoor music venue, hosting world-class events, surrounded by ponderosa pines, with beautiful lawn seating in the sun, a separate shaded seating area can accommodate over 3000 people. The amphitheater has been the home of Pickin’ in the Pines since the first festival in 2006. The facilities of Ft. Tuthill County Park offer separate workshop stage areas, a wooded campground and plenty of paved parking for day festival goers, which makes this location perfect for a multi-day event.
In the early the years, Pickin’ in the Pines was primarily volunteer fueled by key members of the community managing programs, writing grants, preparing backstage meals for our musicians, and lending professional financial, marketing and facility management skills. Although too many to name, we thank them all, including the City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, and the Arizona Commission on the Arts for their contributions to the success of Pickin’ in the Pines.
First-year headliners featured Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands and The John Reischman Band along with other local and regional bands. Much to the surprise of the organizers, the event brought in over 800 attendees, and it was in the black, and off to the races. With David Grisman headlining in year 2, the festival gained even more traction and credibility and we have been building on that legacy of the best in bluegrass, both traditional and progressive ever since!
City, county, and state organizations realized the community value and have regularly gifted Pickin’ in the Pines/FFOTM, through the granting application process, the funds needed to seed and sustain the festival bringing in bigger name acts and continuing to support the vision.
Currently, PIP has a small staff made up of Executive Directors, Linda Mack and Teresa Wayne, and Marketing Director Lara Gomora. With the hard work and devotion of a core group of Coordinators and Directors and over 200 volunteers affectionately known as “Team Bluegrass,” the festival has become a well-oiled machine offering up a 3-day music experience in the beautiful cool pines of Flagstaff, AZ.