Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jenny Brook Festival 2011 - Sunday & Wrap Up

I like Sundays at bluegrass festivals. They're pretty much laid back days after the excitement that has built to Saturday night's climax with a killer band closing and crowds cheering.  Promoters customarily provide a couple of gospel sets, Mike and Mary Robinson may be there with their Gospel Jam and Sing, Kids' programs get to strut their stuff, contest winners get a set from the main stage, and often a very good band or two closes the event by mid-afternoon.  Then tired and happy, people may stay into Monday if they don't have work obligations, or pack up and leave for home.  Too many people leave early to do chores, prepare for the work week, and get a little rest.  They miss the tone and feel of a bluegrass Sunday.

 Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam

"Preacher" Mike and Mary Robinson bring their Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam to festivals up and down the east coast, leading worship on Sunday mornings and providing pastoral counseling to the bluegrass community.  They lead the singing and playing of good old gospel songs and Mike delivers a brief evangelical message.

Mike and Mary Robinson

Michelle Canning
Aaron Foster

Jenny Brook Kids

During the past few years attendance at the Jenny Brook Kids program has fallen to a bare minimum of one kid.  This is really a shame as Tony Watt each year has assembled a solid staff to teach and prepare young people for the Sunday performance from the stage.  Kids programs at other festivals in New England seem to be thriving, but, sadly, most of those who showed up for the first meeting decided they would prefer not to participate.  Since there appeared to be plenty of young people in the target demographic in attendance, it remains a mystery why more don't attend. Meanwhile, fourteen year old Mac Litishin from Great Barrington, MA had the opportunity to perform with a strong back-up band of very capable Boston-based musicians.  Mac has been playing the fiddle since the age of four and has participated in various children's programs for the past six years.  He performed well in what must have been a pressure packed time for him with no other young people playing.  
Mac Litishin

Steve Roy
Jiro Kokubu
Sam Stambler

Grace Van't Hof
Tony Watt

Washington County Line Bluegrass Band
JB Choice Award Winners

Washington County Line, a New York-based bluegrass band featuring a range of material from music by the founders to more contemporary bluegrass was chosen by fans to become a finalist and then judged by a panel of bluegrass professionals to be selected to present a set from the main stage.  For the second straight year, an interesting and accomplished bluegrass band participated at the Grass Seeds Gazebo competition and presented an entertaining Sunday set from the main stage. Next year, I'd expect more established bands to continue to attend the festival in order to compete in this increasingly prestigious competition.

 Ken Myer
Daryl Smith

Steve Wood

Andy Bing
Sean Quinn

White Mountain Bluegrass

White Mountain Bluegrass has been playing conventional bluegrass music throughout New England for over forty years.  Mack and Hazel Magee are part of the southern diaspora who arrived in the midwest and northeast seeking better jobs than they could get at home and bringing the music with them.  They met, married, and, naturally, formed a band. Their music has helped to pioneer the bluegrass scene  in New England.

Hazel Magee

 Mac Magee

Herman Magee
Gary Pomerleau
John Roc

Jackie Greenwood

Harry Grant - Sound

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band played three excellent sets over two days at Jenny Brook, bringing cheers from their audiences as well both entertaining and inspiring them.  This was the second of three New England appearances this year. They appeared at Strawberry Park in June and will be at Podunk in August.  This North Carolina-based bluegrass band can be counted on to sing and play wonderful contemporary bluegrass ballads, traditional bluegrass and country songs, and both older and more familiar gospel as well as gospel material written for them.  Their new CD will be released in late July at a party in Shelby, NC and will soon be available.  Meanwhile, the band is traveling widely, strengthening an already strong fan base, and growing tighter by the week. 

Darin Aldridge

Brooke Aldridge

Brooke Aldridge & Rachel Renee Johnson

Chris Bryant

Dwayne Anderson

Dwayne, Brooke & Rachel

Clyde Proch - Emcee
Wrap - Up

Since moving to Tunbridge three years ago, the Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival has continued to grow and improve. Promoters Candi & Seth Sawyer, while experiencing some growing pains, have adapted to the new setting and learned to use the fairgrounds environment with increasing skill, taking advantage of the multiple buildings to increase the offerings of the event.  Meanwhile, the fairgrounds board and staff have continued to improve the venue, increasing the number of hookups available each year.  Next year plans are afoot to increase the amount of rough camping space by crossing the river.  Sound by Harry Grant is reliable. Musicians express, even privately, appreciation for Harry's knowledge of how bluegrass should sound and his ability to deliver it.  The emceeing by Mike Robinson and Clyde Proch keeps the emphasis where it should be, on the festival and the musicians, a lesson some other emcees could learn.  Vendors this year offered a broader than usual choice of more wholesome foods, and I didn't miss the everpresent smell of dough frying in hot oil a bit.  Smoking at this festival has been reduced so as to be rare, not only in the performance areas, but around the campground. The increased number of volunteers, including some new, younger ones, did their jobs effeciently and unobtrusively, while the fairgrounds full-time staff was invaluable at collecting trash, keeping the rest rooms clean, helping with set-up and break-down, and more.  Jenny Brook has risen to become one of the top four bluegrass festivals in New England and should continue to improve next year. If you haven't been to the Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival yet, you should mark it on your calendar for next year.

One Tired Blogger

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jenny Brook - Saturday

Despite persistent rain and a big thunderstorm with strikes all around the fairgrounds and one hit at the Sugar Shack, the crowd who came to the Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival this weekend stayed in good humor, came out to see the bands, participated in workshops, continued to jam all over the camping area, and came to the stage to see some of the best bluegrass available anywhere, from the regional bands and great national groups.

Hot Mustard

Hot Mustard won last year's band contest at the Grass Seed Gazebo Stage at Jenny Brook, earning a Sunday slot in the lineup.  A year later, they have appeared in a variety of venues around New England, including opening for Tony Trischka on his New England tour a month or so ago.  They had a regular slot Jenny Brook this year and performed their satisfying blend of conventional bluegrass songs blended with some jazz and some excellent double banjo work.  Check out their schedule to see where else they'll be appearing this summer.
Kelly Stockwell
April Hobart
Bill Jubett
Bruce Stockwell

Coping with the Rain 

The Boxcars

The Boxcars were a busy band at Jenny Brook. Over their two days at the festival, they performed four sets of their own while Adam Steffey and Ron Stewart filled out The Seth Sawyer Band with enthusiasm while providing Seth and Candi with huge support.  We've seen The Boxcars several times throughout the winter and spring and have been impressed with their growing confidence, power, and enjoyment of performing in each other's company.  The band has gelled into one of the best touring groups around.  Keith Garret's singing and song writing add considerable weight to Adam Steffey's justly awarded mndolin play and Ron Stewart's work on both banjo and fiddle.  John Bowman, primarily plays fiddle while exchanging instruments with Stewart for some wonderful banjo/fiddle work and accompanying himself on guitar for a couple of songs, too. Harold Nixon's work and pure joy in playing his bass is always strong and never overpowering.

Adam Steffey
Keith Garrett
John Bowman
Harold Nixon
Ron Stewart

The Grass Seeds Gazebo Stage

A year ago, Seth and Candi Sawyer asked sixteen year old Michelle Canning, an emerging banjo player who has been a steady presence at Jenny Brook for some years, to develop an open mic stage on the gazebo located near the back of the fairgrounds.  At that time, the program was fairly light. Hot Mustard emerged as the winner and has used that win and the performances it has generated along with lots of practice and promotion, to propel themselves into a growing regional reputation as a hot band.  This year, Michelle returned with strengthened commitment to building the program. The result was a full schedule of bands for two days, with the winner judged best by a panel of professional musicians to play a main stage set on Sunday.  While a paid gig the next season is not guaranteed, the competition was lively, attendance strong, and enthusiasm high.

 Michelle Canning

The Gazebo Stage
Leroy Troy Conducts Banjo Workshop

During the afternoon the clouds lifted as blue showed through and even a few glimpses of sunshine and real shadows cast by it were seen.  Some people were even seen swimming in the river.

Saturday afternoon at the main stage featured performances by bands that have been covered earlier or will be tomorrow.  The Seth Sawyer Band, Hot Mustard, and White Mountain Bluegrass all presented top notch performances.  Darin & Brooke Aldridge excelled in two sets from the main stage, bringing the audience to its feet.  More about them tomorrow, too.  

The Gibson Brothers
Eric Gibson
Leigh Gibson
The Gibson Brothers are the home team at the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival. They've appeared at all eleven editions of Jenny Brook and are well-loved by both the promoters and the audience there.  If they would allow it, the crowd would keep them singing past midnight every time they close an evening. Fortunately, Eric and Leigh know that leaving the audience wanting more is in everyone's best interest. This year, their appearance was punctuated by a special guest.  Katy Daly is the morning drive time voice of WAMU's Bluegrass Country in Washington, D.C.  She came to Jenny Brook to introduce The Gibson Brothers and to announce that their newest CD, Help My Brother as well as the title song have risen to #1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited June charts. She presented plaques commemorating the event to the band's members.  Katy has also produced a three hour Bluegrass Master Class detailing the twenty year career and ten albums of The Gibson Brothers.  This program will next be broadcast on Bluegrass Country on July 3 from 3 - 6 PM EST.  Bluegrass Country can be heard live in the Washington, D.C. area and is streamed world wide on the Internet.
Katy Daly Introducing the Gibson Brothers
Katy with Regular Emcee Mike Robinson

Mike Barber

Joe Walsh

Clayton Campbell

During the second Tennessee Mafia Jug Band set, just as it was getting dark, a large black cloud came in from the west and soon we were in the midst of a pretty strong thunderstorm, which stopped everything for about 45 minutes.  Simultaneous lightning and thunder hit all around us, and we later learned that the Sugar Shack had been close enough for a staff member to get a "tingle" and sparks to arc between the metal appliances inside it.  Pretty scary.

The evening closed out with fine performances from both the Boxcars and the Gibson Brothers. It was a most satisfying day and jamming continued long into the night.