By Diana Bowley of the BDN Staff: DEXTER — There's a whole lot of picking and grinning going on in a back room at Dexter Middle School.
The Abbott Hill Ramblers are rehearsing, and the spirited bluegrass music their fingers make is invigorating to the soul. Heads bob, feet tap and bodies sway to the rhythm as the group of Dexter Middle and High School students keep perfect time on their stringed instruments under the direction of instructor Chris Prickett and his banjo picking.
Standing around some desks Thursday, the students tilted their heads and smiled at their partners while harmonizing on new selections and a variety of fast-paced songs they've performed at coffeehouses, fairs, old home days and school assemblies.
"It's epic and it's amazing," freshman Jake Stutzman said Thursday of the band. "We're like a big musical family."
Prickett, who also is an eighth-grade language arts teacher, agreed. "They really enjoy themselves, they love to play and they love to sing," he said.
Other than performing with the Kruger Brothers and recently releasing their first compact disc, their biggest performance is yet to come.
Fred Lunt of the Maine Department of Agriculture hired the group to perform two concerts on Maine Day, Sept. 27, in front of the Maine pavilion at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass.
"'They appear to be a rather unique group and I'm very pleased we can bring them down," Lunt said Friday. "It was the kind of music that I knew would be something the crowd down at Eastern States would enjoy."
Lunt isn't the only fan of the group of fiddlers, guitarists, banjo pickers and mandolin players. The group also is scheduled to perform at 1:30 p.m. today at Charleston Days.
"It's a young group and they've come along musically in a short time," Prickett said. "Onstage they project this positive attitude, the shows are really fun."
The Abbott Hill Ramblers got its start in 2000 when Prickett organized his first group of students into a bluegrass band. As students graduated and left the band, younger ones filled their places. "It can't be stopped," he said of the band.
The compact disc "Stages," which features 17 songs, is actually the fourth recording project since the band was organized.
Prickett said the group energizes him. "When you're doing something you love a lot, it kind of gives you energy in all walks of life, so I think it sort of recharges my teaching overall," he said. He also directs a beginning group called the Abbott Hill Wanderers and a multiage group called the Meanders.
The popular teacher said he probably gets more enjoyment than the students, but that's doubtful considering the happiness the students conveyed this week.
"I love it," sophomore Moriah Day said. Although she was terrified of her first public performance, she now embraces the shows. "It's really exciting to go out onstage and get up in front of a huge crowd of people."
Catherine Staugh agreed. "It's opened up a lot of opportunities, we've gotten to play with a lot of good musicians," she said.
And some of those good musicians were standing among her Thursday as the band played on.
The Abbott Hill Ramblers compact disc is available at the Dexter Middle and High Schools or can be purchased for $15 at the group's concerts.
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