Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival 2014: Monday thru Thursday - Review

Nestled in the gentle, rolling hills of west-central Vermont, the ironically named Tunbridge World's Fair grounds may be one of the most ideal spots to hold a bluegrass festival anywhere. Along the banks of the first branch of the White River, the small settlement may have a population of three or four hundred, a small convenience grocery, a public library, and a fair grounds heavily used during the short New England summer for all sorts of events. Jenny  Brook arrived there six years ago, having outgrown its original site in Weston, VT. Under the leadership of Candi Sawyer, it has grown into one of the crown jewels of New England bluegrass festivals, featuring a very strong lineup of national and regional bands. We arrived on Monday morning to join the other volunteers in helping change Tunbridge into Jenny Brook for the remainder of the week. The stage was in place, the large shade tents pitched, and folks would be permitted into the fairgrounds on Tuesday at noon. There were already several rigs in line, camping there, waiting to rush to favorite secluded riverside sites or prime jamming locations as soon as the gates opened.

The Line on Tuesday Morning

Taking a Break to Watch the Masses Arrive

Bluegrass Festivals continue rain or shine for a three or four day period. Many sites open for campers on Sunday or Monday, making for nearly a full week of gathering, jamming, visiting, and resting. Music can be heard throughout the grounds as groups of people assemble to make their favorite music as well as listen to it. Jammers are well known to "pick" until all hours of the night as the grounds echo with the sounds of the bass thumping and banjos ringing. Wednesday morning dawned sunny and warm, but with clouds building into the area. By mid-afternoon it had started to rain, and by the time the annual pot luck supper and barn dance began at 6:00, it was pouring. The rain in Tunbridge would accumulate to about four inches before morning, but spirits were un-dampened as we gathered to eat and enjoy the music of The Clem Hawkins Revival Band, featuring Eric Gibson on the Telecaster with brother-sister duo Tom Venne and Julie Hogan. As usual, the food was interesting and varied, the music wonderful, and the dancing fun. The room has poor acoustics, but Jim Warren on the sound board did at least as much as could be expected.

Irene and Julie Hogan

The Pot-Luck Spread

and Hungry Line

No lineup of eaters (tasters, samplers, gorgers, but not many dieters) can beat a group of bluegrass campers waiting for the music to begin.

The Clem Hawking Revival Band

The Clem Hawkins Revival Band brings back the memory and spirit of the classic country band Tom Venne and Julie Venne Hogan grew up in with their parents, Victor and June Venne. Clem Hawkins was Victor's stage name. This version, which appears mostly around the Plattsburgh, NY area, features occaisonal country guitar player Eric Gibson, perhaps better known as a bluegrass banjo player, on the stratocaster. The band is well loved by its fans for its renditions of classic country music from the fifties through the seventies. They also perform, with different personnel as the bluegrass band Beartracks, gaining increasing recognition as a national band. The Clem Hawkins band performances are filled with energy, good music, plenty of encouragement to dance, and just plain fun.

Tom Venne

Julie Hogan

Eric Gibson

Harry Rolfe

Larry Cromie

Michelle Canning & Mom (Donna)

Tony & Bruce Kendall
Work All Day - Dance All Night

Jim Warren - Sound Man

John Saroyan & Candi Sawyer


By Thursday morning, the rain had pretty well passed along, but clouds with a few light sprinkles continued through the morning. The Fairgrounds managed to absorb most of the water, and by early afternoon, people were already cooling off in the high water of the First Branch. The Jenny Brook schedule begins each day at 10:00 AM to permit each band to appear for (mostly) two sets and to close down by around 10:00 PM, facilitating evening jamming for at least several hours after the stage closes down. 

The Church Sisters
Sarah Church

Savannah Church

The Church Sisters, from Virginia, have been on our radar for about five years when we first heard them at Musicians Against Childhood Cancer (The MACC). Since then, they have matured, their harmonies becoming ever closer and more effective. Their music has become as pleasing to the ear as is their wholesomeness. By selecting Josh Pickett on guitar and Spencer Strickland on mandolin, they have provided themselves with needed strong instrumental support. Their interpretations of songs are thoughtful and nuanced, informed by their growing knowledge of both country and bluegrass music. At age eighteen, the Church sisters are approaching a tipping point in finding and exploiting their very obvious talents. 

Spencer Strickland

Josh Pickett

Jay Duncan

Sarah & Savannah Church

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing

Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing is my choice for surprise band of the weekend. This band is thoroughly enjoyable, mixing strong bluegrass covers with Bob Amos's wonderful songs - evocative,  thought provoking, fresh, and tuneful. His singing, containing elements of folk singing along with years of touring nationally with the popular bluegrass band Front Range, combine to make a very effective vocal tool. Singing together with his daughter Sarah, whose clean, clear voice is dead-on strong and completely charming, and harmony singer Steve Wright, the band sings as well as any we see. Adding the strong bass voice of Gary Darling helps create an effective a capella quartet. Freeman Cory on fiddle and Bob Dick on bass add to the high quality of this band. We haven't had time to listen to their new CD "Sunrise Blues" yet, but songs from it, including especially Mr. Beford's Barn, which brought tears to my eyes, were wonderful. Bob Amos & Catamount crossing are well-deserving of national attention.

Bob Amos

Sarah Amos

Bob Dick

Freeman Cory

Steve Wright

Garry Darling

Bob Amos

Michelle Canning & Rough Edges

We've watched Michelle Canning grow up at Jenny Brook, playing the banjo, singing, being an active member of the Kids Academy. Now a rising junior at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where she's majoring in Traditional Music, she makes frequent trips back to New England to perform. She's seems to have chosen Rhonda Vincent as a performer to model herself after. By changing her band to have a younger profile, she's fit them more to her needs. Shaun Batho has joined the band as rhythm guitar player, but, more important, brings an unanticipated talent for playing the clown, a comic sparring mate for Michelle. Canning herself has grown, particularly in her role as a song writer where her greatest talent may lie.

Michelle Canning

Dan Bui

Conner Smith

Cosmo Cavichio

T. Shaun Batho

Meanwhile: Back in the Campground

Feller & Hill and the Bluegrass Buckaroos

We last saw Feller & Hill at the Big Lick Bluegrass Festival in North Carolina in April. Since then they've come a long way toward finding their groove. Their music represents a synthesis of old country and bluegrass strongly influenced by the midwestern sounds of The Boys from Indiana. It's fresh and enticing while beginning to feature their own unique sound. Both men are seasoned performers and excellent sound men, strongly aware of their sound from within the band to focused on the audience. Their humor is both outgoing and inner focused. They're having a good time entertaining, and entertaining they've become. 

Tom Feller

Chris Hill

Mark Poe

Danny Bureau

The Seth Sawyer Band

Seth Sawyer and Candi Mathews fittingly met at a bluegrass festival many years ago. She became his bluegrass girl (watch for video of his song in a week or so on my You Tube channel) and they married. They formed a band and started promoting a bluegrass festival. Out of all this grew a legend, which could be a song in itself. Meanwhile, the band plays their favorite traditional tunes and many songs Seth has written through the years. 

Seth Sawyer

Candi Sawyer

Dave "Tex" Orlomoski

Dave Shaw

Candi Sawyer

Brenda Mathews & Gary Hutchins

Mary & Mike Robinson
Bluegrass Ministry

Lonesome River Band

The Lonesome River Band always delivers: hard driving bluegrass, fine instrumental and vocal work, Sammy Shelor's great banjo, loads of personality. They've been doing it for three decades and busloads of fine musicians have been through the band over time. None of the original musicians remain, but they keep finding able replacements. For us, who've only been in bluegrass a little over a decade, they're "our" LRB, regardless of the greats who've gone on to other bands and developed different directions. We, along with tens of thousands of others, look forward to seeing and hearing this band: they're joy and the the excitement when they close the evening. They keep it fresh while maintaining a strong foothold in their own (and bluegrass's) example of growth within change.

Sammy Shelor

Brandon Rickman

Randy Jones 

Mike Hartgrove

Sammy Shelor

Mark Hartgrove Teaching in the Campground

The Campground

Bluegrass Green Mountain Style