Friday, June 27, 2008

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival - Thursday

Every year something magical happens to the small Weston Recreation Park just north of the precious hamlet of Weston, VT. On Wednesday morning this field surrounded by the rolling hills of central Vermont is a grassy few acres with a stream-fed swimming hole, two tennis courts, a basketball court, and a ramshackle green trimmed grey stage building labeled Jenny Brook off in a corner. On Wednesday afternoon at three the campers lined along a small dirt road are allowed to enter and set up their rigs. By Thursday noon the vendors are set up, the sound man has arrived and wired the stage, volunteers are ready to assist in all the tasks surrounding a festival, and four days of bluegrass music begin.

It's Not All Work

Gettin' Ready
Yesterday, at Jenny Brook, something truly remarkable happened. A community was created. It coalesced around a young family whose dignity, courage, and strength dominate this event. Candi Sawyer, struggling against the ever encroaching menace of multiple sclerosis, frail and sweet, maintains the vision that moves the event forward, this year for the eighth time. Seth, her amiable and talented husband, moves through the week with power, taking on the tasks of co-promoter, husband and father in an appearance of calm. Adam, age twelve, and Mathew, nine, both need medical attention, and both perform and help as they can. Mathew, who is slight and near-sighted, resembles his mother. He has had numerous spinal surgeries as he grows and has had to deal with pain for most of his life. Adam, favoring Seth, is a sunny and funny youngster on the edge of puberty who may soon need work on his spinal column, too. These four people, along with Candi’s parents form the core of a group dedicated to making this festival happen each year.
Candi Sawyer

Adam Sawyer - Thursday Emcee
Thursday at most festivals is a day set aside for people to arrive. Music usually starts around 6:00 PM, and, except at large festivals, offers just enough entertainment to divert attention as people wait for the “real” musicians to begin on Friday. Candi has different ideas. The day was devoted to showcasing new talent and to present family and friends associated with the Sawyers to perform. Around this, event itself created a sense of fellowship and appreciation that will pervade these grounds until Sunday afternoon when the few remaining people will form the circle one more time and sing together “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as they conclude this year’s festival and begin looking forward to 2009. Altogether it will be a celebration of the healing power of music, family, caring, and love.

Breakin' Strings

Holly, Cliff, and Mandy (Breakin' Strings)

Josh Williams (Showcase Winner)

The day started off with four showcase bands chosen from applications. The bands were all enjoyable, and one was excellent. Breakin’ Strings, a young band from Maine offered strong bluegrass with lively instrumentals and solid vocals, especially from Holly Hughes and Mandy Garnet. Cliff Randall sang lead and emceed the group. Bob Hamilton, a very solid flatpicker, and Ed Howe on fiddle, filled out the band. This is a promising group worth watching for. Twelve year old Josh Williams, attractive and precocious won the vote for best showcase band and a performance slot for Friday. Breakin’ Strings had a full set Thursday afternoon.

Derek Corbett and Mathew Sawyer

The Sawyer Family Band
A rather long break was followed, allowing time for a bingo session to benefit the Shriner’s hospital program, which has provided services for Mathew Sawyer’s many surgeries. Derek Corbett, representing the Shriners gave a short introduction about the Shriners hospital programs before receiving a check from the festival with the receipts from the bingo games from Matt Sawyer. The Sawyer Brothers Band then followed with Mathew and Adam singing accompanied by Seth on guitar and Candi on bass. Seth, who has one of the best unheralded voices in bluegrass sang a little, but the focus was on the boys, who audiences at Jenny Brook have been watching develop since they were quite small. Their improvement and the delightful interplay on stage between them and their parents helped set the tone for the evening and the festival.
Brenda Mathews and Friends
Brenda Mathews
R0b Ravlin

Brenda Mathews and Friends followed with an enjoyable set of classic country music. Brenda is Candi Sawyer’s mother. She performed with grace and humor, accompanied by a strong backup band of local pickers.

Family and Friends

Harry Ralph Sr.

Butch Ralph

Harry Ralph III
Linda Ralph
The closing band was Family and Friends, the band fronted by Linda and Butch Ralph, owners of Danby Four Corners store in Danby, VT. This little country store on the back roads of this rural state is one of the top 100 Martin guitar shops in the world. They were joined by their son, Harry Jr. on fiddle and Butch’s father, Harry Sr. (84) on rhythm guitar. They sing classic country songs with the set featuring young Harry, a very fine professional fiddler, closing the set with a fine Orange Blossom Special. The entire tone of the evening set a tone of family togetherness in a special intimacy between performers and audience. The evening finished on a pleasant note as sound man Harry Grant projected cartoons and then a classic Flatt & Scruggs set on the huge screen erected in front of the stage. Jenny Brook will continue for three more days with national headliners and top notch regional bands. Headliners are the Dan Tyminski Band, the Gibson Brothers, Dan Paisley and Southern Grass, David Parmley & Continental Divide. Regional bands will be lead by Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters, Acoustic Blue, White Mountain Bluegrass, Smokey Greene, Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and the Seth Sawyer Band. Look here for pictures and some text each day for the rest of the weekend.

Faces of Bluegras