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
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.
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.
Eric and Leigh Gibson
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.
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.
Smokey Greene - A Voice of Bluegrass History