PEA GREEN — It is frigid under the glow of dusk on Jan. 8, when a pair of country gentlemen decked in fresh thrift store threads unpack their instruments in the stillness of a dark, empty grange hall.
Dean Rickman and Len Willey, musicians and sophisticated hillbillies, have returned — for just one rehearsal — to one of the most remote venues on Colorado's Western Slope: Pea Green. If you don't know Pea Green you've probably tasted it, as each July the world famous Olathe brands of sweet corn are harvested here.
Nearly three years has passed since vintage folk and bluegrass music from the Pea Green Saturday Night music series warmed those packed inside the Pea Green Community House, located on the Montrose and Delta county line. This crossroads in rural Colorado represents a slice of the lost world of old-time entertainment, with local string bands, clean barnyard humor and a community potluck.
Rickman and Willey, the show's emcees known as the Pea Green Brothers, for years have kept whimsical tales from the Western Slope alive. Now they must remember how to do it all over again. The show's last performance was Feb. 22, 2020, just days before the world went into pandemic lockdown.
"For 15 straight years it was like riding a bike, now we don't know what cords go to what equipment," Willey said.
But it all came back to them this past Saturday, Jan. 28, as the fictional radio waves of KPEA, the call letters of Pea Green Saturday Night radio came alive.
The Pea Green brothers had a curious crowd last weekend. The Brothers report that during the pandemic, "Dean used his free time wisely to work on his wire fencing book and Len went ahead and finished and then graduated (cum laude) from welding school."
Farm humor is an integral part of the Pea Green Brothers' identity, used along with "the redneck book of manners," notes from the "the very brave man contest" and the "male advice column" for on-stage skits composed of, as they call it, "useless information."
The show's format will remain the same as in years past: an opening band, followed by refreshments and potluck, a short comedy routine and more music. The shows, held on the fourth Saturday of January, February, March and April, always sell out. Doors open at the Pea Green Community House an hour before the 7 p.m. showtime.
To open the 2023 season the Brothers invited Stone Kitchen and The Great Western Heritage Show to perform. The headliners for the other shows will be announced on the newly created Pea Green Saturday Night Facebook page,
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.
During the pandemic the inside of the Pea Green Community House has had some work done to it. New paint, including a fresh coat of green paint has been applied to the building's interior along with new carpet on stage. Rickman built a new 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 that the Brothers will wear that were recently purchased from a Delta thrift store. Nothing new was purchased for this season, and that's the point.
Over the course of the pandemic, during the winters of 2021 and 2022 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 to come delivering rarely-heard music passed down through the generations.
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, adding that during the pandemic he learned to cut his own hair. "I got bored one day in the dark days of the pandemic and wanted to try something different. So, I found a horse clipper and plugged it in. It works great and only takes me about 20 minutes to get a trim."
Willey, the show's original founder 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.
"Sure, we are elderly and yet we yearn for the older times of simple music and humor. And the food was better back then. We purposely and carefully chose an era and a style to perform within that we believed 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 was not a large or difficult undertaking,” he said.
“It does take considerable effort to remain the same with this chosen time era of the past. But this effort is necessary to preserve and present a unique and memorable experience that is outside the common, standard, average of today's everyday," Willey said. "We believe that we are true to the times and to the grange hall building itself. We wouldn't have it any other way."
There are many notable changes to the upcoming 2023 season, too many to mention, really. But if you find yourself driving along Colorado 348 near the intersection of Banner Road, you might want to stop by and see for yourself. Cost of admission is $15.