PLATTSBURGH - Ted Lehmann placed his black backpack in a front-row seat of the Giltz Auditorium at SUNY Plattsburgh and walked to the balcony to set up his video camera to tape the Gibson Brothers bluegrass band.
It was 6:30 Saturday night, Nov. 16. Eric and Leigh Gibson were playing in an hour. It was their second of three concerts this past weekend, and Ted didn't miss any of them.
"We saw that they were in three venues, and we just said, 'Let's do it,'" Ted said by cell phone while on the road Sunday morning as his wife Irene drove them through AuSable Forks to their lunchtime destination in the town of Keene, where they spend their summers.
Ted and Irene Lehmann
Lehmann and Irene racked up hundreds of miles on their vehicle this past weekend: first to a Gibson Brothers show in Rochester, N.H. on Friday, then to Plattsburgh on Saturday and finally to Saratoga Springs on Sunday. It was the latest chapter of Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure.
The Lehmanns have a home in Keene, N.H., but they spend summers at their cottage in Keene Valley, N.Y. Ted's grandfather, Julius Goldman, built the cottage in 1890. Now Ted and Irene own it. Ted's been vacationing in Keene Valley since the 1950s.
"In the years since then, I think I've only missed one summer up here," Ted said. "Incidentally, Keene, New York was named after Keene, New Hampshire, and that's a strange coincidence in our lives."
The Lehmanns are both retired teachers. Ted taught English at the high school and college levels, even spending a few years at the Saranac Lake High School in the early 1980s. He had replaced someone on pregnancy leave and then applied for a full-time position.
"For a number of reasons I don't quite understand, I didn't get it, or I would have spent the next 20 years teaching in the North Country," Ted said.
Ted was also an adjunct teacher at SUNY Plattsburgh, North Country Community College and Clinton Community College. In 1986, they moved to Pennsylvania, where Ted landed an English teaching job at a large high school. He retired in 1997 for health reasons and soon traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to have gastric bypass surgery.
After the surgery, Ted's life changed for the better. He and Irene discovered bluegrass about a dozen years ago in South Carolina while staying in Myrtle Beach. They saw a show by Alan Bibey and his band Blueridge, sponsored by the Rivertown Bluegrass Society in Conway, S.C., and they were hooked.
"Irene fell in love with the mandolin, and Alan has become a great friend of ours," Ted said. "That was the beginning of bluegrass for us. And then we attended MerleFest (in Wilkesboro, N.C). Nobody should attend MerleFest if they don't expect to get seduced into great music."
Now the Lehmanns travel to a dozen festivals and 15 to 30 other events a year, including jam sessions and concerts.
"We spend about 200 nights a year on the road following bluegrass," Ted said. "It's not just the Gibson Brothers with us. Sometimes my readers think that."
Ted is referring to the readers of his popular blog, Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms, which is online at tedlehmann.blogspot.com. Ted posts stories, photos and YouTube videos of the many bluegrass shows they see. His reports are honest, colorful and thorough, and they have attracted the attention of many bluegrass fans and professionals.
"We've been invited into musicians' homes to watch rehearsals of new material and all kinds of interesting things," Ted said. "The more I write and the more people read my work, the more opportunities pop up for things like that.
Ted has made an impact in the world of bluegrass, and he's a proud member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, the trade organization for bluegrass music. The IBMA holds a week-long conference and awards show for all the movers and shakers in the bluegrass world every September, and Ted was there in Raleigh, N.C. this year hoping to finally win an award. He's been nominated twice for IBMA Bluegrass Print/Media Person of the Year and lost this year to Fred Bartenstein, editor of the book "Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir by Uncle Josh Graves."
"I was very excited to be nominated," Ted said. "It's an application process, so I applied, and I was encouraged to apply. I was very pleased to make the cut and be included at the level of the other people that were there."
In addition to his blog, Ted is a regular contributor to Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
Ted and Irene both take photographs at the bluegrass events while Ted writes the stories and runs the video camera. Irene often works at artists' merchandise tables and volunteers for festivals. They move around the country in a Ford truck pulling their 26-foot travel trailer. As for hobbies, Ted reads a lot and dabbles in banjo picking. Irene plays mandolin and guitar and is a "skilled knitter and a master puzzler."
You can see them on the road at one of many bluegrass festivals in the region or in Keene Valley next summer. If you simply can't wait, visit them online at Ted's blog or send friend requests to both on Facebook. They'll be happy to hear from you, especially if you like bluegrass.