Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival - 2012: Sunday & Assessment

I sat at the table in our trailer working on my Saturday blog as the sound of "I'll Fly Away" wafted its way through the window calling those who could hear and wanted to participate to Mike and Mary Robinson's traveling Bluegrass Gospel Sing and Jam. The Robinson's have been called to a ministry to the bluegrass community which consists of Sunday morning gospel sings and brief preaching at bluegrass festivals as well as a quiet and effective pastoral counseling program to bluegrass musicians and fans. They attend about 40 festivals a year as well as conducting sings and raising money at churches wherever they go. Many people look forward to singing the old hymns and playing their instruments together at these Sunday morning gatherings before the regularly scheduled entertainment begins.

Mike Robinson

Mary Robinson

Jay & Martha Sheperd and Friend

Aaron Foster & Michelle Canning

 As with all festivals choosing to schedule a four day festival with a Sunday component, the Sawyers are confronted with the problem of trying to hold an audience whose many members need to get home to meet other responsibilities and wish to sleep in after a late night of jamming at the end of a festival. By scheduling a top notch touring band as well as the Kid's Academy, the Grass Seeds showcase gazebo winning band, and other regional attractions, Jenny Brook does as well as any. Still, by two or three in the afternoon, most people have left, and it's time to start dismantling the site, cleaning up, and getting on with real life. Nevertheless, for those who stayed on this absolutely beautiful New England summer Sunday, it was a satisfying and enjoyable day. Nothin' Fancy opened the official program with an all gospel set. I'll cover them later in this entry just to try to hold my Sunday audience.

The Boom Chicks
Winner - Grass Seeds Showcase
Michelle Canning

Michelle Canning entered her fourth year of promoting the Grass Seeds Gazebo stage at Jenny Brook, having just graduated from high school and preparing to leave for the traditional music program at Morehead State University in Kentucky in the fall. Her Grass Seeds program enables pick-up bands from the jamming field and established bands who attend the festival to showcase before an audience and be judged by a panel of professional musicians. The winner of the contest is awarded a spot on Sunday's lineup and may be asked to appear the next year as a paid band.

 Boom Chicks

The Boom Chicks first formed at Thomas Point Beach and decided to compete at Jenny Brook. They could develop into a first rate band,  Meanwhile, they're lots of fun and more than a little good.

April Hobart Jubett

Kelly Stockwell

Grace Van't Hof

Laura Orshaw

Elise Laflamme

Jenny Brook Kids Academy
 Through Candi Sawyer's careful nurturing and the hard work of Aaron Foster and Mike Turk, Kids Academy at Jenny Brook has been resurrected.  This year thirteen kids worked hard and appeared on Sunday with a new crop of kids who develop into the next generation of Aaron's and Michelle's. Next year promises still more growth as more young people see the fun and satisfaction of making music together.

Jenny Brook Kids Academy - Momma Don't Allow


 Here's a link to a Google Album of pictures from the Kid's Academy. Feel free to help yourself.


The Seth Sawyer Band

The Seth Sawyer Band consists of a moveable group of Seth's friends who help him serve as host band for this festival. They specialize in playing traditional bluegrass and Seth's very good songs, some of which have been recorded by other artists. 

Seth Sawyer

 Joe Singleton

Chad Darou

Dave Bevins

Dave "Tex" Orlomoski

Dave Shaw

The Seth Sawyer Band - Rough Edges - Video

 The Jenny Brook University Band

The Jenny Brook University seeks to offer serious students of their instrument something more than workshops do. Offering small group instruction at a reasonable price, the teachers are all experienced performers and teachers. The band also performs on Sunday with a combination of traditional and contemporary music, some of it written by members of the band.

Bruce Stockwell

Tony Watt

Mary Maguire

Steve Roy

Laura Orshaw

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy has changed the arrangement of it's stage mics, giving up the single mic format in favor of giving greater visibility to each member of the band without giving up any of its mobility or falling into the trap of the static line of five members favored by so may other and lesser bands.  or stage antics which make it one of the most entertaining bands in bluegrass. The band performed three sets this weekend, each one different and excellent. They opened with an all gospel set on Sunday and stayed to close the festival Sunday afternoon. While relatively few people remained out in the sun, the tents protected a good many folks who stayed until the end.for their fine set. Nothin' Fancy is something funny with excellent instrumentals and lots of production numbers showing off Chris Sexton's virtuosity on the fiddle. Mike Andes writes amusing and serious songs with equal facility. The band, which we haven't seen for a couple of years. has plenty of new material along with favorite bits. It works to keep its material fresh at all times.

 Mike Andes

Chris Sexton

Mitchell Davis

Tony Shorter

Ben Stevens

Nothin' Fancy
Grandpa's Chasing Women at the Local Retirement Home


The Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival has grown each year since its founding twelve years ago. Since its move to Tunbridge it has burgeoned.  It is also the story to the Mathews/Sawyer family's three generation history of promoting traditional bluegrass in New England and the Sawyer family's battle against infirmity and illness. It's the most personal of all bluegrass festivals we attend. People care about the Sawyer family and express their support by supporting the festival in many ways.

The End of a Long Festival


Monday, June 25, 2012

Eric Gibson’s Instrumental, Vocal and Songwriting Genius - Guest Blog

The following blog entry was written by my friend John Saroyan and originally posted in Jim's Roots & Blues Calendar. John Saroyan is a member of The Manhattan Valley Ramblers and a pediatrician living in New York City.

Eric Gibson tunes his new Henderson guitar.
While I hesitate to dedicate a single blog to the exceptional talents of one brother, Eric and Leigh Gibson are artists of such creative depth and musical honesty that I am unable to give them both their due in a single go. As the title pronounces, this one is devoted to Eric.

Banjo and Guitar: Eric’s banjo touch is sometimes fleet and other times punchy, closer to Earl Scruggs on breakdowns but J.D. Crowe on fills. His chucks come closer to Crowe’s than anyone I have heard because of their fine percussive click. He can also rock the five-string. The earliest rumblings were in R&B covers found on Red Letter Day (“It’s All Over Now” and “I Got A Woman”) and on the subsequent album, Iron and Diamonds, with its the masterful arrangement and pulsing banjo riffs for Tom Petty’s “Cabin Down Below.” For bluegrass or songwriter fare, he delivers harmonically rich solos with confidence and invention while always avoiding too much clutter. His banjo introductions and hooks on songs such as “Sam Smith and “Callie’s Reel“ can make the songs go viral in your head with their catchy repetition. Eric’s finest banjo solo may be his bluesy jaunt for “Walkin’ West to Memphis“ which he kicks off with cascading arpeggios that lead into single-note string bending and pull-ups on repeating double stops. His guitar solos are markedly complementary to Leigh’s bluegrass flatpicking and highlight a more country inflected approach with vibrato, slides and bends. Soon after he switched his recording and touring banjo from a pre-war Gibson conversion to a Deering Tenbrooks Legacy, he also changed from his Gallagher G70 to a Henderson Brazilian D28 (pictured).

Vocals:  The spine-tingling magic of the Gibsons’ duets is already writing them in the annals of bluegrass. Eric’s unvaryingly keen tenor meshes the duo’s harmonies when Leigh is singing melody. The influence of the Bakersfield sound on the band’s acoustic backing extends to the influence of musical heroes Haggard and Owens‘ on Eric’s singing. “Farm of Yesterday“ conveys introspection so unabashedly that at times he almost speaks the lyrics rather than sings them.

Songwriting: Eric achieved the status of a regionally known bard early in life. Songs such as “Hesseltine Hill,” ”We’ll Stay Here” and “She Paints a Picture” would be a source of pride and accomplishment for a songwriter at any age but particularly one in their teens or twenties. Eric’s “Farm of Yesterday” rightfully continues to draw national attention because of its majestic descriptions of the brothers’ love for their mother and father. When I think of another touring bluegrass artist who continues to consistently write melody and lyrics with an emotional pull as strong as Eric’s, I think of Leigh.

Genius: The underpinnings of Eric’s craft and the depth of his technique are apparent on stage and recordings. But like a pitcher whose form and effect are awe-inspiring, the fans just sit back and enjoy the drama. The countless hours of practice don’t come to mind. Only the fact that this one was born to play.

Eric & Leigh Gibson 
with their
New  Henderson Guitars

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jenny Brook 2012 - Saturday

Saturday at Jenny Brook was a celebration of old favorites and friends of the festival along with the introduction of a new show band, good fellowship and lots of fun. The weather offered all it could - sunshine, clouds, enough rain to let you know you're at a festival, a little mist and welcome chill in the evening, and jamming late into the night. I know there's no model for a bluegrass festival, but Jenny Brook comes pretty close and Tunbridge World's Fairground is a nearly ideal place to have it.  

Smokey Greene

Smokey Greene has been an institution in New York, New England, and Florida country music for sixty-five years now. For years he has performed as a single act with his vintage Martin guitar singing old country standards laced with amusing songs that his fans know and love. At age 82 he's still trooping. He missed a year to illness and has come back as a reliable fixture on the festival scene. Professional to the core, it's always good to see him. He might not look good naked any more, but he sure looks good.

Smokey Greene

White Mountain Bluegrass

Mac and Hazel McGee are examples of how the post WW II southern migration seeded New England with a rich heritage of country and bluegrass music. Emigrating from Georgia and Tennessee respectively, Mac and Hazel met and married in New England and for over 40 years have shared their musical heritage with their band, introducing scores of local and regional musicians to a music which, though not a part of their heritage became a part of them.

Mac McGee

 Hazel McGee

Herman McGee

John Roc

Gary Pomerleau

 Rob Ravlin

Continental Divide

With David Parmley unable to be at Jenny Brook this section and their fiddler injured, Continental Divide arrived with Darrell Webb in tow to provide singing and musicianship at the highest level. The result, although not filled with old Bluegrass Cardinals material, provided a feast for lovers of classic bluegrass covers done right. Randy Graham, a veteran from Cardinal days is filled with good humor and ability. Matt Wallace on bass and Josh Hymer on banjo are both masters of their instruments. Darrell Webb has matured into a fine band emcee and vocal caricaturist doing Lester Flatt, Willy Nelson, and Del McCoury to a tee. Combined with his already recognized singing and flat picking, he helped bring the band to a level which, while still missing Parmley, offered fine entertainment.

Randy Graham

 Darrell Webb

 Josh Hymer

 Matt Wallace

The Gibson Brothers
The Gibson Brothers own upstate New York and New England when it comes to bluegrass music, and if they have a home festival it's Jenny Brook. They've appeared at every Jenny Brook festival and their fans come out in droves, they know their music and love them as people. If there's even one small flaw it's that the fans love the music so much they want to sing along. We came to hear the boys, as may Jenny Brookers refer to them.  Each year the band becomes tighter, the songs more heart rending, inspirational, and meaningful, and Eric and Leigh funnier and more real in their relationship. The band proves with each performance that entertainment lies most clearly in a band's ability to establish and maintain its relationship with its audience.

Candi, Wendy & Nicole

Shari and Betty Attend About 20 GB Shows a Year

The Gibson Family
Mother Shannon between Eric's Sons
Kelley and Kieran 

Andrea Norcross

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Joe Walsh

 Eric Gibson 

Leigh Gibson

 Leigh Gibson

The Gibson Brothers - Bottomland

 Two Brothers - Two New Henderson Guitars
Great Day!