Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival - Preview

Main Stage from Rear

Dale Ann Bradley
on stage at
Strawberry Park

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival will open its 32nd season on Thursday, May 28th and run through Sunday, May 31st at Strawberry Park Campground in Preston, CT. Strawberry Park annually offers one of the strongest lineups in New England at one of the very best venues anywhere. Strawberry Park is a large, all-purpose campground that annually hosts at least two music festivals and one of the most comprehensive campground activity schedules I’ve ever seen. The lineup for the bluegrass festival is stellar this year, filled with leading lights in bluegrass whose music ranges from traditional to progressive. Beginning with Thursday evening’s appetizer and ending with a rich dessert on Sunday, Strawberry Park provides enough music to sate anyone’s appetite, and this great festival serves as the first course in a summer season of wonderful New England bluegrass music.

Amy Gallatin & Roger Williams
Amy Gallatin
Ron Thomason (Dry Branch Fire Squad)
Brian Aldridge, Dan Russell, & Ron Thomason

Tom Boyd (Dry Branch Fire Squad)

Josh Williams (IBMA Guitar Player of the Year)

The lineup for Strawberry Park is, again, exceptional. Old favorites like the Gibson Brothers and Dry Branch Fire Squad will be returning. Hot national bands like Rhonda Vincent & the Rage and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper are here. Bands I don’t remember seeing at Strawberry Park like Kenny & Amanda Smith and the Josh Williams Band will be there, too. There are too many good bands to write about them all. Many of them have very good new CDs out in time for the festival season. The tough economic times have affected the music industry for some time. Please give serious consideration to supporting these bands by purchasing their work directly from them at the festival. They earn a larger percentage when they sell directly to you, and you get the chance to interact with them. Many of these bands appear over two days, but often don’t have multiple sets on a single day. Check out the schedule carefully. There are too many good bands appearing at Strawberry Park for me to highlight each one separately. The schedule is designed to keep you entertained and engaged from Amy Gallatin’s opening set on Thursday evening to the Lonesome River Band’s powerful closing on Sunday. Enjoy all four days! Many of the featured bands have had major personnel changes during the past year. Keep an eye and ear out for how these new players affect the bands’ sounds. Look at Joe Walsh with the Gibson Brothers, Ben Helson with Rhonda Vincent, and Darrell Web with Mike Cleveland. Also, keep an eye out for two relatively new bands you probably haven't seen: The Farewell Drifters from Nashville and The Boston Boys from nearby.

Danny Paisley & Southern Grass

Danny Paisley

The Farewell Drifters

Carol Young (The Greencards)

Kym Warner (The Greencards)

Eamon McLaughlin (The Greencards)

Amanda Smith (Kenny & Amanda Smith Band)

Kenny Smith
Strawberry Park - Main Stage

Audience from Stage

This year, Strawberry Park has added a new stage to its program. A Folk Music and Dance Venue will run throughout the day on Saturday featuring dance instruction, a demonstration of clogging, and four different groups to provide live music for dancing. Bluegrass music itself was not designed as a music which emphasized audience participation, either in terms of singing or dancing. That’s more in the realm of folk and other forms of music. Many venues place dance platforms off to the side to allow dancers to express themselves, but free form dancing often interferes with those who wish to watch and listen to the intricate interplay that bluegrass music features. The addition of this venue will provide dancers with great opportunities and present an alternative for those tired of sitting. The Kids Academy is an annual feature of Strawberry Park's program. Staffed by highly professional volunteers, the program provides a solid introduction to playing bluegrass as well as an opportunity to appear on stage on Sunday. Further information about the Academy and the Connecticut Bluegrass Music Association can be found here.

Kids Academy Rehearsing

Kids Academy Performing

The Kruger Brothers
Jens Kruger

Uwe Kruger

Mike Cleveland (Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper)

Jesse Brock (Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper)

Marshall Willborn (Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper)

Rhonda Vincent

Hunter Berry (Rhonda Vincent & the Rage)
Strawberry Park makes excellent use of its resort campground facilities to support this fine festival. The full-service portions of the campground are expansive, yet convenient to the main stage, located in a lovely, shaded natural amphitheater. A large area is set aside for rough camping, free with a four day ticket, where there’s lots of enthusiastic jamming late into the night. Well, very long into the morning, too. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to swim in the two pools, jump on the inflated (and safe) bouncing thingy, and romp on a variety of playgrounds. A fully staffed snack bar, The Strawberry Grill & Creamery, offers food from hamburgers and hot dogs to full plates as well as excellent breakfast choices as well as hand-dipped and soft serve ice cream. These offerings are supplemented by several good food vendors near enough to the performance area to be convenient while far enough away so the alluring smells don’t reach the audience. If inclement weather dominates, there’s an indoor hall where the festival can continue, although management is properly reluctant to make this move.

Strawberry Park Pools

Jumping Area

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Joe Walsh (The Gibson Brothers)

Dale Ann Bradley
I’ll be blogging daily from Strawberry Park during the festival with lots of pictures and some text. Consider this preview to be an appetizer and look for more on each of the bands during the festival.
Lonesome River Band
Sammy Shelor

Brandon Rickman changing strings on the fly

Mike Anglin

Andy Ball

Mike Hartgrove