Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival begins its fourteenth season on July 30th and runs until August 2nd at Martin Park in East Hartford, CT with a great lineup in a fine location. Let’s deal with the gorilla in the living room right at the start. Podunk is a great festival that people seem to avoid because they’re concerned about the urban location. Irene and I attended the festival last year and also, in January, went to one of the Community concerts that Promoter Roger Moss also offers. In both winter and summer we found East Hartford to be a pleasant, lower middle class urban community filled with enticing ethnic restaurants and giving off a throbbing vibe. We in no way felt intimidated by the location. Within Martin Park itself, we found the sense of the city had disappeared and the bluegrass community had established itself in both the camping and performance areas. Those not attending because of the location are depriving themselves of an opportunity to attend a superbly run event in an enjoyable and comfortable setting. And you don’t have to drive ten miles to pick up the piece of gear you forgot or go out for a fine Chinese or Peruvian dinner. East Hartford is within a three hour drive of perhaps 40 million people. Boston is 98.9 miles away, New York City-118, Albany, NY-115, and Manchester, NH – 132. That’s a pretty short drive for a lineup of this quality
When four of the most successful touring bands in bluegrass are featured at a single event, it’s really quite something. This year Podunk will headline (in alphabetical order) Dailey & Vincent, The Del McCoury Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. This year’s schedule, including times and workshop appearances can be found here. Main stage performances are:
Thursday, July 30:
Alison Brown and Joe Craven
Friday, July 31:
The Wells Family
Wells Family Band
Saturday, August 1:
James King Band
Gold Heart – 2008 Band Competition Winner
Sunday, August 2:
Gold Heart – 2008 Band Competition Winner
2009 Band Competition
Liberty Bluegrass - Wisconsin
Hoe - Connecticut
Packway Handle Band – Alabama
Mason Porter – Pennsylvania
Broken Blossom - Massachusetts
James King Band – Gospel Set
Band Competition Awards
Joe Craven (Alison Brown Quartet)
The Podunk band competition deserves attention and attendance on Sunday. A look at the band web sites suggests that bands entered in the band competition are serious bands coming from a pretty wide geographical area. While I’m not familiar with any of these bands, they look (and their clips sound) like they represent a wide variety of approaches within the genre. Band competitions encourage pre-emerging bands to travel to perform and expose audiences to genuine surprises and quality music.
In addition to this stellar lineup characterized by a full range of bluegrass and contemporary acoustic music, Podunk features a very full workshop schedule. Workshops by festival participants and others will be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Pavilion, a very pleasant venue located near the large camping area above the performance stage. Members of many of the bands performing at Podunk will be discussing their music and answering questions there. In a more unusual move, an Advanced Band Workshop will be held in the Garage Building on Saturday. Designed for members of bands hoping to move up into the higher levels of performance, these professionally oriented workshops focus on band issues as well as individual instrument improvement. A particular feature will be a series of three bass workshops conducted by Pete Kelly. The Podunk Bluegrass Kids Academy program will run from Friday afternoon through Sunday, when the Academy performs for the festival. It will be run by Tim St. Jean and Vickie Baker, who also run the very effective kids program at Strawberry Park.
Martin Park is a spacious facility that has plenty of space for a large audience on a baseball field with the stage in deep center field. Behind the first base line and down the third base line is plenty of room for a good range of food vendors as well as craft and special interest vendors. Up a slight rise behind the ball field is a spacious swimming pool, which is open to campers, including their children. There are also hot showers in the pool dressing room. The camping area provides space for about 300 camper rigs and tents, so be sure to get camping reservations. There’s also a driving range on the premises. Bluegrass folks do play golf, don’t they? In short, although located in the heart of the city, Martin Park provides a nearly ideal venue for a full-service bluegrass festival. Put that together with the very high quality of the bands, and you have a most desirable event.
Steve Dilling (IIIrd Tyme Out)
Information about tickets can be found here. Tickets purchased before July 30th will receive a discount. Martin Park is located at 307 Burnside Avenue, E. Hartford, CT and can be found below:
Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival should be on your list of “must attend” festivals in the northeast. If you’re not from the region, the combination of several events in succeeding weeks with the beautiful history and usually warm, pleasant weather should be enough incentive to draw you here. Give it a try.