Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival 2015 - Wednesday - Friday: Review

We head up the short 81 miles to Tunbridge, VT from home on Monday morning to settle into our slot and help with the range of tasks that need to be accomplished to turn a country fairground into the home for a four day bluegrass festival bringing together the variety of activities, music, food, and fun that combine to make a bluegrass festival one of the most all encompassing and enjoyable music experiences that can be imagined. Where else can you go to hear twenty bands play while children can romp with safety, jam groups can pick all night long if they choose to, and people (pretty generally) behave themselves? Bluegrass festivals suggest an earlier, simpler time while calling people who love the music together to hear it and make it. 

The Tunbridge World's Fair Grounds were damp when we arrived and rain was threatening, but the forecast showed improvement throughout the week, so we looked forward to a dry and sunny weekend. But, as the not-so-old song by Cadillac Sky says, "You can't trust the weatherman." By the successful end of Jenny Brook on Sunday afternoon, we all knew that title to be true, and we didn't really care much.

Tuesday Morning Early Admission
for Campers with Electric Reservations

Candi & Seth Sawyer Confer

Wednesday - Pot Luck Supper

2015 was the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, which started in the small Weston, VT town park in 2001. A look at the lineups of the early festivals shows how far this festival has come while also attesting to the commitment of the Sawyers to booking and showcasing local and regional bands as well as a range of national bands to provide a balanced, though leaning towards the traditional, bluegrass festival. 

Happy 15th Anniversary Jenny Brook!

Bluegrassers Know How to Cook and Eat

Candi Sawyer Welcomes the Crowd

Seth Sawyer

Clem Hawkins Revival Band

The Clem Hawkins Revival band is one of the incarnations of Tom Venne and Julie Hogan who appear as Beartracks and in other configurations. The Clem Hawkins Revival plays classic country, whatever that is (I know it when I hear it.....) with gusto, enthusiasm and respect. They're always lots of fun, particularly because their electric guitar player is a little better known in another musical world that eschews both electric guitars and drums.

Julie Hogan

Tom Venne

Eric Gibson

Harry Ralph


Seth Sawyer & John Saroyan

Toni & Bruce Kendall - In Their Element

"Fan" Means Different Things to Different People

Kim & Scott Vickery

Eric & Kelley Gibson


By noon the fans were ready for music, and sure enough, there was plenty of it. 

Bear Minimum

Bear Minimum is a bluegrass, country duo specializing in brother harmonies and transitional music that contributes to both country and bluegrass music while not be firmly planted in either. Their shows are both melodious and filled with tidbits of traditional music history that counts if you're interested in such things. I find that the more I listen and discover, the more relevant and intriguing I find their song choices. Both Dave Shaw and Dave "Tex" Orlomoski (can't have two Dave's in a band) are gifted instrumentalists and singers.

Tex Orlomoski

Dave Shaw

The Gather Rounders

The Gather Rounders are a new band composed of regional pickers, at least two of whom are pretty well known. Lincoln Meyers toured with Frank Sollivan and Dirty Kitchen and Ron Cody is a student of Tony Trischka's who presented a terrific workshop at a festival I attended a few years ago. They played classic bluegrass covers with enthusiasm and skill. They were the winners of last year's Grass Seeds Stage band competition.

Lincoln Meyers

Ron Cody

Zach Ovington

Wendy Cody

Max Silverstein

Kettle Corn Vendor

The Zolla Boys

Attendees at New England bluegrass festivals this summer will get plenty of opportunities to see the Zolla Boys, who are rapidly improving with hard work and plenty of performing experience. Their band this weekend was augmented by former Johnson Mountain Boys banjoist Richard Underwood, whose presence lifted the band by several levels. Even without Underwood's experience to support them, the brothers Sam on mandolin and Ben on guitar continue to work hard. Their harmonies are strong. 
Sam Zolla

Ben Zolla

Larry Zolla

Richard Underwood

The Zolla Boys

The Jenny Brook General Store

Aaron Foster

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band

While the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band may look and sound like someone's stereotyped idea of what hillbillies look and sound like, Hillbillies they are Not. Leroy Troy, one of the few pseudonyms currently used in country and bluegrass music, is a consummate scholar of the music and history of early string band and country music who has worked hard and long to learn the routines of the great Uncle Dave Macon. Mike Armistead is a professional fireman in the city of Nashville. Ernie Sykes comes from Long Island, and has been in and around bluegrass music for a generation. Dick Bowden, besides playing multiple instruments is something of a bluegrass scholar. Laura Orshaw, filling in this weekend on Fiddle, may have been wearing flour sacks, but she's active and versatile, a fixture in the thriving Boston music scene. While the band may not be hillbillies, they represent the music of the era before bluegrass with enthusiasm, humor, and skill.

Mike Armistead

Ernie Sykes

Laura Orshaw

Dick Bowden

Leroy Troy

Denise Dances All Weekend

The Lonesome River Band

The fabled Lonesome River Band, so ably led by Sammy Shelor on banjo, appeared again at Jenny Brook to long loud and loud appreciation. New addition Jesse Smathers, on tenor vocals and mandolin, after a year of grooming and maturing with Nothin' Fancy, replaces Randy Jones, who has retired from the road for a career in local politics. The band had to leave in the early evening to make the trip to Grayson, Kentucky, where they are the host band at Rudy Fest. Nevertheless, they seemed in no hurry to leave the stage, giving a strong, even stirring, performance. Their closer, jamming Merle Haggard's "Shelly's Winter Love" was superb. 

Sammy Shelor

Jesse Smathers

Mike Hartgrove

Barry Reed

Brandon Rickman

Sammy Shelor

Jenny Brook at Night

Slow Jam at the Pickin' Place

...And in the Field

The Sugar Shack Stage Jam

Playing on Poison Ivy Hill

Protect Your Kids from Sunshine

The Feinberg Brothers

The Feinberg Brothers come from Long Island, NY, perhaps the home of more rockers than bluegrassers. They play straight ahead traditional bluegrass with skill and enthusiasm I first heard their name in a jam at Podunk, where they were impressive. They're scheduled to play at a number of festivals from New England to New York and Pennsylvania this summer, providing them with additional seasoning. 

 Rourke Feinberg

Patrick Feinberg

Ronnie Feinberg

Terry McGill

Peter Elegent

Pat and Julie - Master 50/50 Girls

 Aaron Foster & Etta Crawford (His Grandmother)

The Larry Stephenson Band

Larry Stephenson is a true road warrior and has been for nearly forty years, over twenty-five with his own band. His pure tenor voice delivers gospel songs and a variety of old and newer bluegrass tunes, with a special relish found in some fine murder ballads. His good nature and strong performances grace any bluegrass stage he appears on. At Jenny Brook, he also did a successful turn at the Sugar Shack after hours stage leading a community jam. It's a real pleasure to see Kevin Richardson reunited with this band, bringing fine harmony and lead singing along with strong flat picking.

Larry Stephenson

Kenny Ingram

Matt Wright

Kevin Richardson

Alysha and Emily Bankester with Niece Vivian Triplett

The Bankesters

The Bankesters, a family band from Southern Illinois, have shown consistent improvement during the four years since I first saw them. Starting as a gospel band, they have consistently broadened their repertoire and increased their skill. Their sister trios are carefully interwoven, while each has reached beyond mere competence on her instrument. Emily won an IBMA Momentum Award a couple of years ago. Sister Melissa weaves sinuously beside her bass while singing high harmonies. Alysha, still a teenager, plays the mandolin and sings. Kyle Triplett, Melissa's husband is a strong multi-instrumentalist, while father Phil has become less obvious and more important to the band as he fades into the background. Mother Doreen has "retired" into the role of caretaker. 

Phil Bankester

Melissa Bankester Triplett

Emily Bankester

Alysha Bankester

Kyle Triplett

Doreen Bankester at Work

The Spinney Brothers

The Spinney Brothers are the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia's gift to bluegrass and country music. They have increased their national visibility in the U.S. over the past few years with ceaseless touring and pleasing personalities. Their show focuses on family values and eternal verities. They are earnest and serious musicians showing deep love for their musical and family roots. 

Rick & Allan Spinney

Gary Dalrymple

Terry Poirier

Rick Spinney

Allan Spinney

John Saroyan Interviews the Bankesters
in the Artist Tent

After the successful interview session conducted by John Saroyan with the Gibson Brothers last year, Candi Sawyer decided to substitute the same interview format for several bands this year. I was only able to get to one session, but John's interview was well prepared, the Bankesters forthcoming and enjoyable, and about twenty or so people attended. If the other sessions were similarly prepared and attended, I'd say this effort was a success. It's not possible for me to assess the success of Tony Watt's Bluegrass University as a substitute for instrument workshops. 

Danny Paisley & Southern Grass

It took a while for me to appreciate the genius that Danny Paisley brings to singing and playing bluegrass music. Coming from southern Chester County in eastern Pennsylvania, his singing is strongly influenced by the sound that roiled out of Baltimore in the fifties and sixties. His singing is raw and, after a while, lovely. His personality is strong and his family tradition is being carried on by his fifteen year old son Ryan, who has become a monster mandolin player as well as an enjoyable representative of the band at the merch table. Fans will remember young Ryan, at six or seven, standing behind the band, chopping on his mandolin. Now he's a serious Monroe style picker. The rest of the band, Mark Delaney on banjo and vocal harmonies Eric Troutman on bass, solo, and harmony singing. It's always good to see Patrick McAvinue, one of the most accomplished and versatile fiddlers around. He subbed on fiddle this weekend.

Danny Paisley

Ryan Paisley

Mark Delaney

Eric Troutman

Patrick McAvinue

Friday at Jenny Brook provided a satisfying day, especially for hard core fans of traditional bluegrass. The weather was fine, and so was the music. 

G and PG Movies for Kids

Jam at the Bluegrass University Compound

More on Thursday!