The music started at , with Smokey Greene leading off. Now well into his late seventies, this singer/songwriter has been on the bluegrass and country music scene for about fifty years, recently with a solo act featuring classic country and his own combination of comic songs mixed with tributes to the greats of country music and his own views of a world no longer as simple and uncomplicated as the one he thinks he remembers. Popular in the northeast as well as in
Junior Barber and Beartracks were up next. Barber, a fine resophonic guitar player eight times nominated for Dobro player of the year at IBMA, provides his marvelous melodic playing to support Julie Hogan’s solid electric bass, sprightly movement, and strong voice. Tom Venne, Julie’s older brother, plays rhythm guitar and sings, exchanging harmony and lead with his sister, each often moving back and forth in the same song. As pleasing to the eye as to the ear, Junior Barber and Beartracks is one of those groups that never fails to remind me how deep the musical roots are in all parts of the country. Coming from near
The clouds continue to scud across the sky, dark and menacing, interspersed with brief periods of sunshine. During a short stint at the gate, where Irene and I are assigned but I get a regular break to go take pictures with each one extended until I hardly show at the gate at all, we tell a woman who’s checking in that there is a shortage of programs, so we’re limiting distribution to one per carload. “At these prices, the least you can do is give each person a program,” she grumps. It never ceases to amaze me that bluegrass fans complain about the cost of festivals when they get camping and three or four days of great music for around sixty dollars a head. Some large festivals have admission tickets exceeding a hundred dollars per person, but these feature large numbers of headline bands. Compare the cost of an entire bluegrass festival to paying $80.00 to $100.00 for a seat at a rock concert held in a football stadium where binoculars are essential if you wish to even see the performers. Furthermore, bands must buy gasoline to get to festivals, often a thousand or more miles from their home base. Promoters are, therefore, squeezed between attendees yammering to keep costs to rock bottom and bands needing to make a living.
Lynn Morris had a stroke several years ago and has only recently been able to return to performing despite finding it difficult to find the words and to play. The Lynn Morris Band took the stage next. Husband Marshall Wilborn, one of the great bass players in the history of bluegrass, provides vocal and emotional support to his wife while always maintaining his incredible beat and intricate bass play. David McLaughlin on mandolin, who also plays with Seneca Rocks and Springfield Exit, contributed his fine playing and voice as well as continuously supportive presence. Ned Luberecki on banjo contributed his wonderful radio voice, humor, and fine leads and backup. Lynn Morris, struggling and inspiring, stands as a tribute to fighting against adversity and working to overcome physical and emotional trauma to perform the music they love. It is impossible not to see the connection between Lynn Morris and
The Lynn Morris Band is followed by Linda and Butch Ralph’s band Family and Friends. Their classic country sound and familiarity to the crowd here always evoke a strong response. Linda and Ralph are also vendors, representing Martin Guitars at their Danby Four Corners Music booth.
The Gibson Brothers now take the stage in the spotlight next to last position for the afternoon. They will also close the evening show. Each of their last three CDs has hit the top of the bluegrass charts, and they have now had a music video playing regularly on CMT as well. With their roots in the northernmost reaches of
In the evening program, Leroy Troy is added to the lineup with one performance on Friday and one on Saturday.
Saturday dawns chilly but promising. During the night temperatures have dropped into the low forties, but the front that’s been forcing its way through may take its leave today. The campground appears full, but campers continue to arrive and are shoe-horned into place by Curt Barnes, who is busily leading them to their camping sites, covering the grounds in his four wheel ATV. His daughter Becky, a delightful nearly seventeen year old has replaced me completely at the ticket booth, freeing me to take pictures and visit with the bands. It would impossible to run this festival, or any other for that matter, without the enthusiastic support of the volunteers. Jenny Brook is special, however, for the hard work and devotion to
The Gibson Brothers are the second act in the lineup this morning, despite having closed the night before. The come on with energy and enthusiasm and get the crowd moving again. Buddy Merriam and Back Roads follow. We had seen Buddy Merriam’s band about eighteen months ago opening for the Gibson Brothers in
Each time I hear the Seth Sawyer Band I’m more impressed. The band is solid with Dave Olomoski on mandolin and Darryl Smith on banjo both contribute solid instrumentals and vocal flourish. Candi Sawyer on bass provides a steady bass. The gem, of course, is Seth, whose voice ranks up there with the likes of Junior Sisk. He leans out over his guitar and fixes the audience with his piercing blue eyes as his interpretations of other people’s songs and his own song writing cut right to the heart. His song “Green Mountain Girl” dedicated to Candi and sung to her on the stage can’t be resisted.
David Davis and the Warrior River Boys arrived from a gig in
A highlight of Saturday afternoon was the appearance of Erin Gibson LeClair accompanied by her brothers and Mike Barber.
Saturday evening vamped into a rising crescendo as Leroy Troy kicked off another set followed by a rousing performance by David Davis and the Warrior River Boys and leading to a resounding climax by the Gibson Brothers. Even as the temperature dropped into the forties, the stars came out and the excitement reached wonderful levels. As the Gibsons finished their two encore songs, everyone went home happy.
Candi Sawyer solves the Sunday problem by returning to a family format. The morning opened with Mike Robinson and his wife Mary leading a particularly satisfying bluegrass gospel sing with high attendance, enthusiastic singing, and a brief but poignant message emphasizing the lack of certainty in a life without faith. The Right Path Gospel Band followed with a gospel set and then Buddy Merriam returned for another set. The Jenny Brook Kids, who had been practicing all weekend, then took the stage. These youngsters show that bluegrass music appeals to the younger set and that the future of the music is assured.
They were followed by the Seth Sawyer Band again. During this set, Candi, who had been working hard all weekend finally gave in and had to leave the stage. With the support of her family and friends backstage, she rallied and by the end of the festival was able to walk out to where the forty of fifty people remaining were arrayed in a large circle for the traditional Jenny Brook ending, the singing of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” As Candi came out and joined the circle, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Her courage and positive view of life triumphed over her physical weakness, inspiring all who were there. With the final refrain of “in the sky Lord, in the sky” we all hugged or shook hands and Jenny Brook was over for another year.