Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival - Tunbridge, VT - Preview

The Jenny Brook Stage in its New Location

The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival will begin its tenth season on Wednesday, June 16th with a covered dish supper and barn dance at 6:00 PM.  The formal festival will begin Thursday afternoon at 5:30 PM and run through Sunday the 20th with a full lineup of national, regional, and local bands, including a "surprise" band to close on Sunday afternoon.  Last year the Jenny Brook stage was moved from its previous location in Weston, VT to the more spacious and versatile World's Fair Grounds in Tunbridge, VT.  The larger and more flexible fair grounds are located in a lovely rural valley in central Vermont made easily accessible by its proximity to both I-89 and I-91.  This medium sized event now has room to grow, and has already shown that it can offer the full range of activities expected at a festival along with a few extra bells and whistles.  The setting is one of the most beautiful in New England.  Promoters Candi and Seth Sawyer have worked hard to develop this event and their effort shows in every element of the festival.

Candi and Seth Sawyer

The Lineup

Seldom Scene
Founded in 1971, Seldom Scene established itself as a cutting edge band that used bluegrass instruments and sounds to bring the contemporary sounds of folk and rock music into the genre.  While banjo player Ben Eldridge is the only remaining original player, the addition of Dudley Connell, brings his commitment to traditional music as shown in The Johnson Mountain Boys along with energy and infectious enthusiasm to the band.  Lou Reid, of Lou Reid and Carolina as well as a member of several earlier ground breaking bands, on mandolin and singing tenor is always strong.  Ronnie Simpkins on bass and Fred Travers on Dobro bring forward an exceptional ensemble. 

Dudley Connell

Ben Eldridge

In addition to his performance with Seldom Scene, Dudley Connell will pair with traditional singer/mandolinist Don Rigsby for a single set on Friday evening.  Rigsby has recently returned to full time touring after spending several years as director of the traditional music program at Morehead State University in Kentucky.  Rigsby has been a member of The Bluegrass Cardinals, J.D. Crowe and the New South, The Lonesome River Band, and superband Longview and has been nominated for and won numerous awards including Grammys, SPBGMA, and IBMA recognition.  In combination, this duet is powerful and entertaining. Connell and Rigsby have recorded two projects together.

Don Rigsby

The Gibson Brothers
The Gibson Brothers are a perennial favorite at Jenny Brook who will be back on Saturday for two sets, including their closing one, which can last until they are forced to quit.  With their new CD "Ring the Bell" and its title song both of topping the Bluegrass Unlimited charts for months this year, the Gibson's will bring not only their fine singing and song writing, but the hopes of many that they will be rewarded for their excellence at IBMA this year.  With Clayton Campbell on fiddle, Mike Barber on bass, and Joe Walsh (whose second solo CD is due out soon) on mandolin, this band is strong at every instrument, providing more than support for the famed brother harmonies of Eric and Leigh.  This band is at the very top of its game and will surely please even the most discriminating bluegrass fans with their performance and delightful personalities.

Eric and Leigh Gibson

Grasstowne was formed three years ago as three storied musicians (Alan Bibey, Steve Gulley, and Phil Leadbetter) formed a new band.  Phil has since moved on, but the addition of Adam Haynes on fiddle (James King Band, Larry Stephenson, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver) and Justin Jenkins (Blue Moon Rising) on banjo have more than filled in the holes.  Each is an experienced player and Haynes adds vocal versatility to the band.  Alan Bibey is recognized as one of the world's premier mandolin players.  Steve Gulley, formerly of Mountain Heart, has a soulful, powerful singing voice that provides strong leads and tenor harmonies.  Grasstowne has not had broad exposure in the northeast, but attendees at Jenny Brook should expect a first class performance.

Alan Bibey

Steve Gulley

Adam Haynes

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band
LeRoy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band have become favorites at Jenny Brook and will be performing during the first three days. Troy is an inventive and hilarious performer bringing his admiration for the old time music and routines of Uncle Dave Macon along with a first rate band playing old time, classic country, and bluegrass.  Viewers are captivated by his gyrations with the open back banjo, twirling and swinging it like a pendulum as he plays, as well as the polished quality of the entire band's performance.  In addition to seeing this band on stage, they can frequently be found around the campground in jamming groups. They can also be seen regularly on cable and satellite channel RFD-TV.

LeRoy Troy

After Hours Jam with Tennessee Mafia Jug Band

Audie Blaylock & Redline
Audie Blaylock will be returning for his second year at Jenny Brook.  Last year he appeared on Sunday afternoon, so many people who might have enjoyed his energetic set  weren't there.  This year he'll be in strong spots in Saturday's lineup and should provide a pleasing show.

Summertown Road
A new band from Kentucky, Summertown Road has recently released their first CD on Rounder Records.  A year ago a review gave them a mixed notice, especially touting their instrumental quality, but they were fresh out of the box.  A year later, a video on their web site suggests they have a good deal to offer in their mixed show of classic bluegrass covers and original material.

Zach Rambo, Randy Thomas, Jack Hicks, Bo Isaac
Photo from Summertown Road MySpace Page

Smokey Greene retired several years ago and then kept right on touring.  He'll be at Jenny Brook all four days with his combination of witty novelty songs and classic country often featuring Ernest Tubb songs.  His solo act with his battered old guitar "Ben A. Martin" is a favorite of many people. Acoustic Blue is a first rate regional band featuring good singing and a variety of newer covers along with material written within the band.  They're entertaining and musically interesting.  I haven't heard The Hemingway Brothers  yet, but they advertise themselves as a hard driving traditional cover band playing bluegrass classics. All told, Jenny Brook this year has a strong lineup.  It'll be worth staying through Sunday to see what Candi has in mind for her closing surprise.

Smokey Greene

Acoustic Blue

The Gazebo Stage and Kids Academy
 Regular attendees at Jenny Brook have watched young banjo picker Michelle Canning grow up as a member of the Kids Academy.  Last year she distinguished herself with a solo performance at the newly incorporated Gazebo Stage, located near the rear of the fair grounds.  This year Michelle will host band and individual showcases at the Grass Seeds Gazebo Stage.  While it's not necessary, it would be helpful if those wishing to perform there would notify Michelle at the the link above.

 Once again, guitarist and teacher Tony Watt, with the assistance of Sam Stambler will be directing the Jenny Brook kids academy.  This free program will include two days of teaching and rehearsals along with a performance from the Jenny Brook stage on Sunday around noon.  While pre-registration is not require, it would help Tony prepare to know what kids will be attending.  Get in touch with him here

Tony Watt at Kids Academy Rehearsal

Kids Academy Performance
 From the Jenny Brook store to several comprehensive vendors through to the Sugar Shack, staffed by the local maple producers and serving wonderful breakfasts as well as a range of maple products, the Jenny Brook vendors offer good fair  food and more wholesome meals at generally reasonable prices.

EA variety of interesting workshops will be held on both Friday and Saturday.  Located in an animal show area toward the back of the fairgrounds, the workshop "stage" is a cozy and comfortable place for interested people to interact with and learn from skilled professionals who have much to teach.  Please try to remember that workshops are designed to help you learn from a professional rather than for you to try to impress them with your skills.

The Gibson Brothers Present Song Writing Workshop

10:00 AM Running the Sound Board with Harry Grant
12:00 PM Old Time Dobro with Jim Warren
3:00 PM Clawhammer or Frailing Banjo with Leroy Troy
4:00 PM Jug History and Stories with Lester & Mike Armistead

1:00 PM Banjo with Jack Hicks
2:00 PM Mandolin with Alan Bibey
3:00 PM Songwriting with Steve Gulley
4:00 PM Guitar with Audie Blaylock

How to Get to Jenny Brook

View Larger Map 

2010 is the tenth anniversary of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival.  Candi and Seth Sawyer have persevered in presenting and building this festival despite family challenges that would have crippled most people.  Attendees this year can expect some surprises along with the usual mixture of fine music, a welcoming environment, friendly people, and great jamming.  See you there!
Seth Sawyer

Candi Sawyer