Monday, July 10, 2017

Podunk Bluegrass/Music Festival 2017: August 10 - 13, 2017

The Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival will run from August 10 - 13, 2017 at the Hebron Lions Club Fairgrounds in Hebron, CT. Since moving to Hebron three years ago, Podunk seems to have settled in, learned to use the grounds available to it, and re-established itself among New England festivals after a slump of several years. While it still hasn't quite solved the problem (or capitalized on the opportunity) of presenting a bluegrass festival and an associated Americana strand simultaneously on the same grounds, it continue to seek to integrate these reflections of roots music while attracting new fans. This will be Roger Moss's last year as Executive Director of the festival, as his new job in Morganton, WV as the time and travel has become a burden. He will be much  missed for both his organization and vision. 

Shady Hill in Front of Main Stage

Podunk has a reputation for introducing and supporting new, sometimes cutting edge, and almost always interesting bands to New England and beyond. Winner of the 2010 IBMA Event of the Year, the festival continues to provide a proving ground for the new and to give its audience the best of  well-established national bands. Through its band competition, song writing contest, and encouragement of bands not always widely known at their first appearance at Podunk, the festival has been both a proving ground and a showcase for new bands while featuring some of the top touring bands, too. Podunk is known for the variety and quality of its field jamming.

Band Competition - Thursday

The band competition at Podunk has consistently presented bands that have gone on to higher achievement. With the band competition beginning at 5:30 on Thursday afternoon, you should make sure to make your way down to the stage to enjoy bands you might not have seen. If you want to be able to say, "I saw them, and recognized their talent before the hit it big," this is your chance. The Band Competition is sponsored by Telefunken, Judging is by industry professionals who provide a feedback session for each band. 

Mama's Marmelade

Mamma's Marmelade is a progressive bluegrass band from Amherst, MA which uses traditional bluegrass instruments to explore from old time and classic bluegrass through blues, and gypsy grass. Their schedule for this summer has them in band contests, in addition to Podunk, at Thomas Point and performing at Fresh Grass. 
High Strung Reunion

High Strung Reunion is a bluegrass band which claims descent from the origins of bluegrass while dipping into contemporary bluegrass and bluegrassed versions taken from popular music. They'll also be competing at Thomas Point Beach and are regularly on the schedule at the Cantab Lounge in Boston. They're a Massachusetts-based band.

The Korey Brodsky Band

Korey Brodsky is well known in the region as a hot picker at jams. Here, he'll be appearing fronting his own band. He's been working hard on his instrument and accepting the challenges of the jam circle for several years. This should be a good next step for him. 

Beg, Steal, or Borrow

Beg, Steal or Borrow takes on a big challenge when they refer to themselves as "Vermont's Tribute to Old and In the Way." Them's big shoes to fill! A Vermont-based band, they'll be showcasing at IBMA in September.

Main Stage Lineup
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage (Sa)

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage return to Podunk after several years' absence. She brings, as always her very strong show, augmented during the past year or so by her daughter, Sally Berry, on backup vocals and rhythm guitar. Rhonda can be relied, supported with one of the strongest groups of side musicians, each a master of his or her instrument, can be counted on for a varied show, even if you've seen her the week before. Building her sets from the audience response while insuring a range of tones and colors, each show becomes a gem in its own right. 

Josh Williams

Gibson Brothers (SA)

Unsurprisingly, The Gibson Brothers new CD In the Ground sits at the top of the Bluegrass Unlimited album charts, the ninth consecutive album of theirs to reach these heights. This achievement in combination with their stage performances, which showcase the two brothers for their brother harmonies, brilliant song writing, humor, and the overall quality of their band. The band has reached the second round of the nomination process for IBMA awards in almost every category this year. Actual nomination will be announced in late August or early September. Meanwhile, here's a chance to see Upstate New York's contribution to bluegrass music. 

Boxcars (FR)

Adam Steffey has been the most highly recognized mandolin player during the past decade or so, having won the IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year award eleven times since the turn of the century. Every young mandolin player has been deeply influenced by his play. Meanwhile, Ron Stewart may be the only instrumentalist to have been recognized on two instruments, banjo and fiddle. Other members of the band are in demand as session players, always a strong indicator of musicianship. While The Boxcars demeanor is low key, their music is sharp and clear. 

Ron Stewart

Becky Buller (Sa)

After years of toiling in the vineyards as a valuable side musician, Becky Buller stepped up a couple of years ago to front her own band. Last year, at the IBMA awards shows, she walked away with three trophies, Emerging Artist of the Year, Recorded Event of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year. As a triple threat artist, Buller has come into her own. She's asserted her mastery and increasingly comes across as a person who has mastered her fears, learning to lead her band while charming her audience. 

Surly Gentlemen (Fr)

The Surly Gentlemen is a fresh, new band composed of two veteran performers Clay Hess and Tim Shelton, along with Clay's son Brennan. Clay Hess continue to front his own band while undertaking this new and interesting project. Tim Shelton's band, New Found Road, was a sensation in the early 2000's as first a strong gospel band and later moving into the world of progressive bluegrass as personnel and musical priorities changed. Tim can currently be heard on the Tim Shelton Podcast and seen with this band.  

David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition (Sa)

Composed of solid bluegrass veterans and featuring David Parmley singing material from the well-remembered California band The Bluegrass Cardinals, for which he was lead singer. David Parmley & The Cardinal Tradition has been applauded for its renditions of traditional second generation standards. 

Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike (F)

Based in Bell Buckle, TN, Valerie Smith has reconstituted Liberty Pike, building it using a group of Washington/Baltimore musicians who, working together, have put together a solid CD and toured harder than she has in several years. With bass great Tom Gray insuring an advanced rhythm section, Val can showcase the flexibility and quality of her voice and her musical range. I missed  their live show last year at IBMA, so I'm looking forward this one on Friday. 

Barefoot Movement (SA & Su)

The Barefoot Movement is a Nashville-based band whose bare feet suggest some Hillbilly roots, while their music offers a good deal more. Their touring schedule finds them at bluegrass, folk, and Americana festivals, suggesting a broad appeal that must help in today's competitive environment. The band has a lot of fun on the stage, communicating their joy in making music to their audiences. 

Mile Twelve (Sa)

We haven't seen Mile Twelve since they added a much needed mandolin player to their mix, but it never hurts to fill out a bluegrass band's sound. We've been watching Mile Twelve for a while and very much like what's been happening as they develop confidence and a larger catalog to go with their evident instrumental and vocal skills. 

Chasing Blue (Fr)

Chasing Blue is a Boston-based band with its roots at Berklee College of Music. They're lively and first rate musicians.

The Sound Booth - Rosewood Sound

Acoustic Stage

This is the third year of having an Acoustic Stage presenting and showcasing, mostly, Connecticut acoustic bands from what has become known as Americana, including bluegrass. Moving this stage to location with greater visibility helped to increase the audience last year, but I thought too few of the audience from the Main Stage made the effort to wander up to the Acoustic Stage to check out the music. Podunk has always been known as a festival which tries out ideas and takes risk to present new talent. The Acoustic Stage deserves support as a worthy effort to continue and extend this practice. While none of the bands is familiar to me, I've put a picture and a link to each of the bands performing there on Friday and Saturday. Wander up to the Acoustic Stage a few times and take in a couple of sets. You'll be surprised and the breadth and depth of talent found there. 

Open Mic/Jam


Benny Mikula – Kids Show

Heather Fay
Photo by Keavan Christine

Give the Acoustic Stage a look. Click on the links above to see videos they've posted, if you wish to preview their work. You may be surprised and pleased. 


Workshops: Podunk is well known for its workshops, held in the Better Living Building, which often offer a chance to chat with performers or hear a few songs sung more informally. The workshop schedule, as of this writing, has not been posted yet, but it will be here.

Allison Brown Workshop

Del McCoury Band Workshop

Kids Academy: The Podunk Bluegrass Kids Academy will once again be conducted by members of the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance after their very successful effort last year. Young musicians from beginners to more experienced and advanced players spend a few hours a day with experienced bluegrass musicians and teachers working up and rehearsing a program to be delivered as part of Sunday's show.

Kids Academy Practice Session

...and In Performance

Bluegrass University: The Podunk Bluegrass University, directed by Tony Watt, is designed to offer beginner/Intermediate learning in small group settings. There is an additional charge of $35/person for this three hour intensive musical experience with some of New England's most experienced bluegrass performers and teachers. There will be a meet & greet at 1:00 PM in the Workshop Building. Students will then disperse to various locations for their sessions.

Family Fun Activities: A program of supervised art and play oriented activities are held during each day of the festival. The final schedule is not yet posted, but here's a sample of the activities.

Song Writers Competition: By the time the festival roles around, the song writer's competition is, essentially over, since the deadline for submitting songs for consideration is in May. According to Bluegrass Today, "For 2017, the finalists are Kevin T. Hale from Brentwood, TN who has two songs in the final round (Angels from Apple’achia and Are There Hillbilly Bands In Heaven), and Mike Swartzentruber from Centerburg, OH (Angels Would Carry Me Home)" who will compete as finalists on Saturday. Nevertheless, bands in the band competition all work up their own version of the winning song, thus assuring that all competing bands will sing at least one common song. 

The Details


The Podunk Bluegrass Festival is held on the Hebron Lions Fairgrounds in Hebron, CT. Located at 347 Gilead RD, Hebron, CT. Click here to see an expanded view

Camping : The Lion's Club fairgrounds offers over 600 campsites with a number of camping options from water/electric sites to rough camping on a hill behind the rest room/shower complex which provides shaded camping with a delightful view of the grounds. Other sites can be found inside covered sheds providing some shelter from the weather. You can reserve sites here or claim them on a first come first served basis. The grounds are open for camping on Thursday through Sunday, with early arrival available on Wednesday. Here's detailed camping information. The Hilton Garden Inn in Glastonbury offers a special rate during the festival. There are other accommodations nearby. 


Tickets: You can choose from a number of ticketing options here and order tickets online here. You can also pay by mail here by downloading and printing the form. The possibilities range from single day tickets to a four day VIP ticket including meals in the hospitality room and access to artists. You can choose a ticket package that most meets your needs for attending this festival.

Vendors: A number of food and craft vendors have booths and food trucks on Vendors Row. Reasonable food alternatives and interesting arts and crafts are available there. Performing Artist merchandise is available in the Swine Barn to the left of the main stage at the foot of Vendors Row. Musicians will be available to sell CD's. t-shirts, and other souvenirs as well as sign autographs and chat with fans. 

Along Vendor's Row

The T-Shirt Guy

How to Get to Podunk Bluegrass Festival
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See you there!

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