Monday, July 7, 2014

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival 2014 - Saturday, Sunday & Assessment: Review

Saturday dawned warm and dry in Tunbridge, VT, promising a wonderful, though quite hot day. A morning tour of the grounds with friend Andy Flynn, currently working on a book about the Gibson Brothers, revealed people rolling out of their sacks to prepare breakfast and play in small, quiet jams beginning to pick together in various parts of the campground. The Bluegrass University met with its students before disbursing to individual locations where lessons would take place. Between the University, Kids Academy, and the Grass Seeds  stage, Jenny Brook is increasingly emphasizing the learning and beginning elements of bluegrass to complement professional performances and high level (as well as somewhat exclusive) jams. Nurturing interest and skill in music at all levels is a good thing for the bluegrass, the festival, and the individuals involved. Meanwhile, the music kicked off at 10:00 AM under a blazing sun. So much was going on about the grounds, leading many hardly to notice that only a third of Saturdays performing bands could be seen on another day of the festival.  If I've covered a repeating band from an earlier day, I won't be reporting on them again, except with a notable exception.

Audie Blaylock & Redline

Audie Blaylock is a trooper, soldiering on despite recent turnover in his band. His performances feature high energy and the kind of straight ahead bluegrass learned under the tutelage of Jimmy Martin that he has always delivered. Patrick McAvinue continues with his inventive, highly skilled, and evocative fiddle work. Reid Jones on bass drives the band with enthusiasm. Young Mitch Walker has recently joined the band and is beginning to fit. Audie has appeared regularly at Jenny Brook for the last three of four years, bringing his own drive with him, regardless of the lineup in his band.

Audie Blaylock

Patrick McAvinue

Mitch Walker

Audie Blaylock

The Fifty-Fifty Girls
Pat Wing, Pat's Grandaughter, Julie Wing

I encountered these three hard working women way out at the back of the campground as they worked hard to build the pot in the fifty-fifty drawing. Over the first three days of the festival, their efforts garnered over $2500 in payouts to the lucky winners, and thus additional much needed revenue for the festival, too. Their inventive dress and charm work wonders, as do they throughout the event.

Pat Wing

 Julie and Pat Applying the Pressure

The Bluegrass University - Large Group Session

The Grass Seeds Stage at the Gazebo

Throughout the day, the Grass Seeds Stage, coordinated and directed by Michelle Canning, had a full schedule of performers. Bands selected by a fan vote performed again for three judges at the end of the day and a winning band was selected for a Sunday performance on the main stage. Since not all participants were seen by all the fans voting, one must question the validity of this method of choosing a winner. The three bands were given detailed, and public, feedback by the judges after their performances.  The Gazebo provides a marvelous setting for such an event, while the format appears to place a premium on attracting fans to a particular performance.

Children's Activities

Throughout Friday and Saturday a wide variety of children's activities were presented near the Gazebo stage at the back of the festival grounds. Adult supervision and professional direction were both clearly in evidence with a wide variety of activities provided for children. This gave parents an opportunity to either leave their kids in a supervised activity or enjoy sharing it with them, a vast improvement over parents merely allowing kids to run rampant around the performance areas, playing in a totally unsupervised manner. Jenny Brook provides a model of what "Family Friendly" really means at a festival. Here it's brought to reality rather than remaining a euphemism for "don't drink in public."

Workshop - A Trip Down Memory Lane with the Gibson Brothers
Moderated by John Saroyan

The Gibson Brothers by themselves are superb workshoppers, largely because they take their workshops seriously. Often their workshops feature new songs still in the development process while providing insights into how they work and who they are. This event, moderated by their friend and fan John Saroyan, who has recently moved from New York City to rural Vermont, provided another real highlight for the weekend as John carefully culled through the brothers' musical and personal development, hitting high as well as not-so-high points in their career. With their mother, Shannon, sitting front and center, they made clear the importance of family and their development on a hard-scrabble rural farm in northernmost New York state. John asked pointed, probing questions requiring thoughtful answers, which he got while always keeping the focus on "the boys." Jesse Brock provided instrumental backup to this very well-attended workshop.

Shannon Gibson

John Saroyan & Leigh Gibson

Shari Colvin-Daigenault, Shannon Gibson, Candi Sawyer

Eric Gibson

The Boxcars
Adam Steffey

The Boxcars have not only survived what looked like a major loss with John Bowman's moving on to a full time music and preaching ministry, they've thrived on it. The addition of the very young and very talented  resophonic guitar player Gary Hultman is and should continue to be a huge addition to the band. He brings a new sound, a feeling of youth, and additional humor along with a touch and feel for his instrument way beyond his nineteen years. Only in his first full weekend with the band, he's already making mature contributions, and will only get better. The fact that Ron Stewart, usually found on banjo, is one of the best fiddle players around adds even more versatility to this band. Meanwhile, the great Adam Steffey appears increasingly comfortable as emcee of the band, allowing his wit and sense of fun to emerge along with his always great mandolin work and singing. This band, fine musically from the beginning, appears to be burnishing its entertainment value, too, the one element that has been missing from placing it at the very top of touring bands. Keith Garrett continues his fine contributions as both a singer, song writer and (mostly) rhythm guitar player, while Harold Nixon maintains his drive and solo dexterity. Watch for this band and appreciate the changes coming over them.

Gary Hultman

Ron Stewart

Harold Nixon

Keith Garrett

Adam Steffey

The Gibson Brothers - Celebration of the Moth

A year ago the Gibson Brothers closing performance was interrupted, no...joined, by an intrusive moth fluttering around the stage. Somehow, in a reactive moment, the moth ended up squashed on the the floor while the audience convulsed and the astonished brothers lost their equanimity. The incident has become a celebrated part of Gibson Brothers lore, with moths appearing in various forms when they appear at a festival. On Saturday night, this event may have been laid to rest, or enhanced for the future. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the two brothers, accompanied by their peerless band showed why New England first, now the rest of the country, and perhaps the world, have come to love and respect their always fine work. And the staff and fans had a marvelous time celebrating the moth, and through it their beloved Gibson Brothers, who have put New England on the international bluegrass map.

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Leigh Gibson & Mike Barber

Eric Gibson

Jesse Brock

Sugar House Jam

Mike Andes shone as emcee while Nothin' Fancy led the after hours Sugar House jam, with lots of people joining in. What a great way to end the evening!

Staff Photo

Gospel Sing & Jam

At a number of bluegrass festivals up and down the east coast, "Preacher" Mike Robinson and his wife Mary conduct an evangelical ministry to the bluegrass community. Mike also serves very capably as emcee for a number of these events, although his major effort remains to minister to those in need through prayer, music, and counseling. A regular feature of this ministry is the Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam conducted early on Sunday mornings before the beginning of festivities on the stage. This popular musical and worship event serves the needs of people in a variety of ways. The message is usually brief and non-denominational.

The Zolla Boys
Jenny Brook 2014 Choice Award Band

The Zolla Boys, father Larry with sons Sam and Ben won the Jenny Brook Choice competition and a Sunday gig on the main stage. The boys, unlike some others their age, took on singing as well as instrumental work, performing well. 

Ben Zolla

Sam Zolla

Larry Zolla

Jenny Brook Kids Academy

Aaron Foster has  worked hard and performed wonders at resurrecting the Jenny Brook Kids Academy, bringing the group along to the point where they can play several songs recognizably and with enthusiasm. It's really nice to see the range of experience with instruments. Since both Aaron and Michelle Canning are graduates of the JB Academy, they show what results such an experience can generate.

Aaron Foster

The Kids Academy On Stage

Link to Google Album of Kids Academy
Click on the Picture Below
Jenny Brook Kids Academy 2014

Michelle Canning - Sunday Emcee

Cedar Ridge

Cedar Ridge, a local band from Clifton Park, earned their way onto the Jenny Brook stage with a winning performance at one of Jenny Brook's winter open mic contests. They've been together for a number of years and enjoy performing the classic bluegrass they love. 

Jim Bevins Sr.

Jean Jenkins

Ken Meyer

Al Queen

Lynda Lynn

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy is a highly entertaining national band with a large repertoire of songs written within the band as well as from a variety of sources. Their music is sprightly, their comedy amusing and catchy. Chris Sexton on fiddle is both a fine musician and a first rate comic. Mitchell Davis is humorously understated, the hurt child on the end of the line playing banjo. Mike Andes contributes a number of songs from humorous novelty items to serious, socially conscious works. They deserve slots at Jenny Brook that are more likely to attract a larger audience. It was hot and they may not have been able to see the goodly crowd beneath the shade tents that stayed to see them. Jesse Smathers, new on the guitar, is fitting in beautifully, and we hope he'll stay a long while.

Mitchell Davis

Chris Sexton

Jesse Smathers, Tony Shorter, Mike Andes

Mike Andes

Jesse Smathers

Tony Shorter

It's extremely difficult to hold an audience at a bluegrass festival on Sunday. People are ready to get home, to return to the reality of life. Many festivals have reduced themselves to a three day format to reduce costs. Here in New England, there are still several festivals that remain four day events, and we're grateful for that. The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival is a fine event in a lovely setting with all the bells and whistles that make a good festival work. I'm already looking forward to next year.