Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Jenny Brook BGF - Sunday and Assessment

The Sawyer Family
Mathew, Seth, Candi, Adam

Sunday at Jenny Brook is usually a pretty mellow day. This year, even with the early threat of thunderstorms lurking over our shoulders, was much the same. The day began steamy and hot, but as Mike Robinson came out to survey a good place to locate his gospel bluegrass sing and jam considering the threat, the sun peaked through, and the day continued to improve. Mike’s gospel jam provides an opportunity for those seeking spiritual uplift on Sunday morning to gather to sing the good old gospel songs like “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Take Me in Your Lifeboat” combined with a brief message and prayer to create a non-denominational welcoming worship environment. Mike and Mary also provide spiritual counseling to those in need throughout the festivals they attend. The Old Time Bluegrass Singers followed with a mostly gospel set.

Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam

Acoustic Blue
My pick for the pleasant surprise of the festival is Acoustic Blue, whose set followed. This four man band based in Massachusetts presents a stellar appearance in their matching suits, shirts, and ties, combining this with singing and on-stage patter that’s top shelf stuff. Corey Zinc’s sonorous baritone voice has the ring of country in it, but along with his good mandolin playing fits very well with bluegrass. His rendition of Johnny Cash classic “One Piece at a Time” was a good as I’ve heard. The band was funny and the song very well rendered. Mike Van Alstine on banjo mugs and clowns and sings good. His picking is impeccable. Sean Batho on rhythm guitar and vocals adds depth and quality to the sound of this band. Bear Acker, the senior member of this group on bass, brings maturity and experience as well as humor and grace to the group. Acoustic Blue mixes bluegrass standards, classic country, and newer songs, some contributed by members of the band, into a most entertaining blend. This band deserves wider exposure. If you get a chance to hear them, take advantage of it.

Cory Zinc
Shaun Batho

Bear Acker and Mike Van Alstine

Family and Friends
Family and Friends, composed of the Ralph Family, contributed another set of mostly gospel songs. Linda and Butch Ralph are proprietors of Danby Four Corners Store and frequent vendors at festivals around New England where their instruments and instrument service are much sought after. They’re one of the premier Martin guitar dealers in the country, and they have very attractive prices.

Jenny Brook Kids
The Jenny Brook Kids performed early in the afternoon. While by 1:00 PM there were only about ten kids left to perform, it was my impression when I visited their rehearsal site, that more were involved. Regardless, their performance was a delight, and the fact that nearly a dozen young kids gave up other play to work with Tony Watt for several hours a day bodes well for the future of bluegrass. As long as young people are learning the fundamentals of the music, picking together, and performing, bluegrass music in some form will be in good shape.

The Erin Gibson LaClair Show

Eric, Erin, Leigh
Erin Gibson LaClair needed no introduction to the Jenny Brooke crowd; she’s well known and well-loved there. The younger sister of Eric and Lee Gibson has chosen to stay home, teach school, and raise a family. She can seldom be found on the stage, but when she appears with her brothers, magic is sure to happen. Erin has a clear, pure voice blending perfectly with her brothers for a wonderful sound. Their set consisted largely of gospel and country songs. Eric never picked up his banjo, although he whaled away pretty hard on one of Rick Hayes beautiful mandolins. I’m pretty sure the mandolin will recover. The Gibsons and their offspring created a wonderful picture of the kind of family environment Jenny Brook stands for. Erin’s husband Matthew with two kids sleeping on his chest, Corinna tending kids and selling merchandise, Allie smiling with her youngest on her hip, and Lyn Hayes smiling at the merchandise table fit into Jenny Brook perfectly. Erin’s singing of John Prine or Patsy Cline favorites was wonderfully received, but her joining with her brothers for their rendition of “The Lighthouse” was a triumph.
Erin Gibson LaClair
Bluegrass Spouse
Matthew LaClair

White Mountain Bluegrass
White Mountain Bluegrass, a family band that’s been playing in New England for over thirty years, brought their traditional bluegrass music and classic country to what remained of the crowd as the closing act. Mac and Hazel McGee, with roots in the Deep South and a life spent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, also stand as a testimony to the strength of family and tradition at Jenny Brook. As they played “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” the audience rose, formed a circle and joined in the singing. Seth Sawyer sang the last verse, and Jenny Brook was over for another year.
Mac McGee (White Mountain Bluegrass)

Hazel McGee

Final Assessment: There’s a pretty high level of concern involved in Jenny Brook as family and friends watch anxiously to see how Candi Sawyer, fighting against multiple sclerosis, is doing as she directs the festival, for indeed she’s the one in charge. There are lots of volunteers and a strong family behind her, but it’s Candi’s deal. Son Mathew seems much stronger this year, and the Shriners were very much in evidence as a recipient of the festival’s ability to give back. Seth Sawyer is always a tower of strength. In the end though, even though it’s Candi’s festival, it’s all about the music and the festival scene, and that’s where Jenny Brook excels.
Adam Steffey and Dan Tyminski

Barry Bales
Justin Moses

Ron Stewart
The Dan Tyminski Band showed me they were at least as good as people on the forums have been saying they are, and that’s very, very good. There isn’t an ensemble in bluegrass music bringing together the individual talents that Dan Band has. That Tyminski can do this with no visible suggestion of any prima donna behavior is testimony to his leadership and their quality. Every member of the band is a great soloist as well as a seamless member of this great band.

Eric and Leigh Gibson


The Gibson Brothers showed once again they needn’t take a back seat to any band in bluegrass. Eric and Leigh’s harmonies and songwriting skills are better than anything else out there today and vie with the great duos of bluegrass music history. Their band more than ably supports them, never seeking to draw attention to themselves and always serving the Gibson sound. In doing so, they inevitably highlight their own quality. The Gibson Brothers belong on anyone’s “must see” list of bluegrass bands.
Dan Paisley Band

Dan Paisley
Dan Paisley and Southern Grass, sporting a new recording contract with Rounder Records to distribute their new CD The Room over Mine, came into Jenny Brook, where they have been a pretty regular feature for years, and presented four sets over two days. Their sound is rough and raw hard core bluegrass. Paisley’s high lonesome bluegrass sound can burn the hair off a billiard ball. Each member of his band contributes strength to the hard driving bluegrass sound that he preserves from an earlier year. Very fine stuff. With a new record label, and, one hopes, new management, the Paisley band will now be getting the attention it has long deserved.

David Parmley

David Parmley & Continental Divide stopped at Jenny Brook on their way between West Virginia and Nova Scotia, a long and tiring trip. They spent less time charming the audience and were well received, although not creating the stir of the other three national bands. Parmley has a wonderful voice, as good as any individual voice at Jenny Brook, but the band seemed to lack high energy. Perhaps their rugged touring schedule or Parmley’s recent illness contributed to this. I look forward to hearing them again at MACC and to having a chance for re-assessment.

Amy Gallatin

Roger Williams
Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters deserves recognition among the regional bands, too. Gallatin has a sweet voice and pleasing personality. With Roger Williams by her side at Dobro, the band sound has become really enjoyable with their mostly country leaning songs. This band offered solid value on Saturday in less than the most desirable slots.

In a post to Bluegrass-L, an important bluegrass mailing list, on Sunday, Andy Alexander, promoter of Pickin’ in the Pasture in Lodi, NY commented, “With the passing of Thomas Point Beach, Jenny Brook seems to be positioned to become the premier bluegrass event of northern New England.” Andy is an astute member of the bluegrass community. Jenny Brook, limited in attendance by the size of its venue, has, nevertheless, managed to create an incredibly exciting four day festival. Largely staffed by a crew of enthusiastic volunteers and led by Candi Sawyer and her husband Seth, the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival creates a unique but familiar environment for those who love the sound and feel of traditional bluegrass. Rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those in attendance, and their cheer and good will drove away Saturday’s threatening weather to permit this wonderful festival to end in a blaze on sunshine and good will.

Faces of Bluegrass

Smokey Greene - A Voice of Bluegrass History

Guitar Raffle Winner

Seth Sawyer

The Gibsons