Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival - June 21-24: Preview

The Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival opens for its seventh year at the Weston Recreation area on Lawrence Hill Road, just north of Weston, VT on June 21 and runs through June 24th. This small festival has many features to recommend it. The small town park makes it a good place to hold a family friendly festival. The grounds contain an unguarded swimming pond, which is well-used on warm early summer days. There’s a playground set and an enclosed basketball court area where kids shoot baskets and run around. Furthermore, the crowd is such that many parents allow their children pretty broad leeway to have freedom of the grounds. The park is largely turned over to free, rough camping. There are no hook-ups of any kind, but rigs are carefully parked to assure maximum use of the available space. The staff (fair disclosure: Irene and I are volunteers at this festival) is friendly and helpful. Porta-Johns are plentiful and cleaned often enough to keep them from becoming obnoxious. All told, this festival, owned and run by Candi Sawyer, is well-organized and enjoyable. Vendors provide a pretty food variety of fair fare, and a local instrument dealer is present with Martin guitars and the usual small things pickers sometimes need. Field pickers abound and play pretty late into the night.

This year’s lineup is headed by two days with two performances each day by the Gibson Brothers. This band, which has had increasing national visibility over the past couple of years as well as three number one CDs, has been a loyal feature at Jenny Brook. Last year they lit up the crowd on two evenings. The excitement this band generates among those familiar with them or only just getting to know them is infectious. Long time friends of the Sawyers, The Gibson Brothers will be greeted by old friends and make new ones during their four sets.

Lynn Morris has one of the great voices in bluegrass music. David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, from Alabama, are making up an appearance they could not keep three years ago because of illness. We had the pleasure of seeing them later in the summer at another festival and found them to be an engaging traditional band. Leroy Troy returns to Jenny Brook after a highly successful appearance last year. Troy does a one man show on the old-time banjo in the style of Uncle Dave Macon. His humor and skill combine to make his appearances very enjoyable for all.

The remaining bands on the schedule come from either New England or New York. For folks used to looking south for their bluegrass music, these appearances reassure people that bluegrass is alive and well in the northeast. Buddy Merriam & Backroads comes from that well known center of bluegrass music – Long Island. Don’t let their origins fool you. This is a real bluegrass band fronted by Buddy Merriam, who plays Bill Monroe mandolin as only one who knew the Big Mon himself can. Smokey Greene does a solo show accompanied by his old Martin guitar, Ben, combining country and bluegrass standards and his own often amusing songs.

Seth Sawyer, Candi’s husband, is a noted singer/songwriter who comes from Maine, but don’t let that fool you. His songs are wonderfully written and he performs them more than ably with his own band. Junior Barber, who is a first rate Dobro player and used to play with the Gibson Brothers, plays on Friday with Beartracks. I’m not familiar with the remaining bands, but know that Candi offers a strong program.

Sunday at Jenny Brook is strongly tinged with Gospel music. Mike and Mary Robinson, whose itinerant bluegrass ministry is familiar to many, lead a bluegrass gospel sing on Sunday morning and the Right Path Gospel Band will also play. Mike will also ably double as emcee. Last year, when the piper played “Amazing Grace” and then those remaining formed a circle and sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was a sad and inspiring moment leavened by the knowledge we would all return in a year and do it over again.

Nowhere is more lovely than New England in early summer and the Jenny Brook At Jenny Brook, old friends meet again year after year and new ones are welcome. Bluegrass Festival can provide a delightful weekend for those who want to give it a try. Within an easy drive of anywhere between Boston and New York, this festival deserves the attention of those who enjoy traditional bluegrass music served up in traditional style by wonderful people.

The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival will be held at the town park just north of Weston, VT from June 21 – 24. Camping is free with a four day ticket. Tickets cost 55.00 for the weekend. Day tickets for Friday or Saturday are $25.00 with a discount after 5:00 PM. You can find a map to the location here.