Once a year, for a few magical moments Jenny Brook, like that mythical Scottish village Brigadoon, emerges out of the mists to create four days of music. For me, two iconic symbols have emerged and come to represent this small miracle. To the South stands the village church, with it old and lovely cemetary beside it. To the north of the Tunbridge World's Fair grounds stands, almost hidden in the trees, a red barn. The three elements symbolize much of the core of bluegrass music - church, rural life, death and dying. For four days, this magical, joyous world exists, people experience its delights, and then it disappears again, not to be seen until the following June. But to make that happen takes a whole lot of work.
Beginning on Monday, Candi and Seth Sawyer, their two sons Adam and Mathew, and a corps of volunteer staffers assemble to put together the event. The staged, moved here from Weston, where the festival originated sixteen years ago, is brought out and reassembled.
The Jenny Brook Stage
The tent riggers come to do their magic.....
The Gate Staff Prepares
The Line Awaits the Gate's Opening
Seth Confers with Sound Genius Mark Fitzgerald
Laying Out the Shade Tents
The Rush for "Good" Seats
WCAX Intervies Candi
Each year the three days of setup and arrival culminates with a gala pot luck supper and barn dance featuring the Clem Hawkins Revival Band presenting old country to the enthusiastic crowd, many of whom have been working since Monday while others have been arriving and preparing for the days to come.
Waiting for the Food
Candi & Seth Sawyer Greet the Crowd
Emcee Mike Robinson
The Clem Hawkins Revival Band
Brother/Sister duo Julie Venne Hogan and Tom Venne are the center of this fine country band, which provided familiar "old country" along with humor and fun.
Thursday's at most festivals start slowly, allowing time for working people to get to the site and set up. Even this early, some small jam groups begin to assemble, others play games or visit. The music begins in mid-afternoon. Excitement about the coming weekend has been building ever since last night's barn dance.
The Coffee Vender is the Up and Serving
Cornhole - The National Sport of Bluegrass
Steve Abdu & Craig Engel
Promoters of the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival
A Covered Spot to Camp
Colleen & George Bottcher from Tennessee
with Joe, a Fellow Photographer
Tony Holt & the Wildwood Valley Boys
Opening a festival is pretty much a thankless task, which Tony Holt and the Wildwood Valley Boys carried off well. Their music continues the tradition of the Boys from Indiana. It's well crafted and mostly low key as the audience begins to assemble for the fun to come.
George & Etta Crawford
Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing
Hidden away in northern Vermont, and area called The Northeast Kingdom lies St. Johnsbury, where Bob Amos lives on an old family farm and is restoring the reputation he created when he toured with his band Front Range during the eighties and nineties. The music is pure and clean as that area of Vermont. His daughter, Sarah, home from college in Florida adds youth and vocal talent, and the band plays with verve and enthusiasm. A band that should be booked beyond New England.
Dewey & Ginny
The Lonesome River Band
LRB is an historic band created in the eighties which added a rock and roll sensibility to the sounds and forms of traditional bluegrass. Sammy Shelor, long recognized as one of the very top banjo players in the world, joined the band soon after it was founded, and the list of former members reads like a who's who of bluegrass stars. Today's band, populated with seasoned pros and young tyros, produces new material, particularly that written by singer/songwriter Brandon Rickman, as well as reproducing the deep and excellent catalog of more than three decades of excellent material. Shelor's leadership and excellence provides both continuity and innovation. A great band with a long and worthy tradition.
The Bluegrass University Band at the Sugar Shack
Wiley is a Strong Picker - You'll See Him
in the Kids Academy on Sunday
Most bluegrass festivals, even those running for four days, concentrate their strongest bands and expect their largest audiences on Friday and Saturday. Friday's lineup was no exception, featuring strong bands and attracting an appreciative audience. Meanwhile, there was plenty going on all over the fairgrounds.
Zink & Company
Cory Zinc has been playing country and bluegrass music in the region for a number of years. His pleasant baritone voice works well for him. This weekend, his band was truly a bluegrass band and played mostly bluegrass songs, including lots of gospel music as well as some "old-country" classics. His very young son, Mason, stood in on the mandolin, attracting extravagant appreciation. The remainder of the band brought solid experience and strong bluegrass chops to the mix. Dan Menzone and Gary Parmelue bring strength to the band as does John Roc.
Father & Son
Around the Grounds
The Larry Stephenson Band
Larry Stephenson brings his pure, effortless tenor voice and a high level of musicianship as well as melody to the performances of his band. He sticks to the music, which relies on strong gospel performances and well-loved murder ballads as well as Patches, which he delivers as well as anyone. The four man band develops a strong sound of well-beloved music. Kenny Ingram on banjo has been in the business going on half a century with his classic banjo performances.
Stephenson, Ingram & Richardson
The Claire Lynch Band
Claire Lynch says she's cutting back on her schedule, but each time we've seen her in the past year or so, she simply has become increasingly better: a better singer, a better performer, a stronger leader, and a more delightful entertainer. Mark Schatz helps provide steadiness and continuity within the band. Both Bryan McDowell and Jarrod Walker are young, brilliant musicians with long careers ahead of them in music, whether it's bluegrass, roots, or something else. The audience saw it, too, and rewarded Claire, making her Jenny Brook debut with standing ovations and lines at her merchandise table. She helped make Friday a great day.
Mark & Jarrod
Bryan & Claire
Claire Interviewed by John Saroyan
The Seth Sawyer Band
The Seth Sawyer Band is the host band of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival as Seth and Candi, both of whom play in the band are the festival's promoters. They work hard all year long on putting the festival together, but their lives are also filled with playing music, mostly in New England. Seth has written several songs that have been recorded by others, especially the young Gibson Brothers. The Daves, Shaw and Orlomoski support his efforts strongly and contribute their own not inconsiderable skills, and Candi remains an enthusiastic and happy bass player. They played one set this weekend. Herman McGee, on banjo, is an old friend and a fine banjo player.
The White River NOT Jenny Brook
New Camping Across the River
David Parmley & the Cardinal Tradition
David Parmley has returned to touring after some years of hiatus, first overcoming some health issues, then driving a bus for country rock band Rascal Flatts, which has allowed him to return to touring. Parmley hit the stage filled with energy and a memorable baritone voice. His sets feature spreading the singing and playing among his band to showcase them and provide his voice some rest. During the his sets, he sang many memorable songs from the catalog of his father's band The Bluegrass Cardinals.
Ron Spears & Parmley
A Seventies Party
Kelly Stockwell - Mixologist
Kelly wanted to study the clawhammer banjo and the Maple Leaf Music Shop sent her to banjo veteran Bruce Stockwell, an institution in New England, winner of the Merlefest Banjo contest, one-time stand-in with Seldom Scene, and member of the Stockwell Brothers, a fine regional band. Soon Kelly must have decided the banjo wasn't for her, but Bruce was. She now plays the bass in the Stockwell Brothers as she and Bruce have been married for about ten years. Recently, she bought a classic 1978 GMC motor home for attending bluegrass festivals, and decided its maiden voyage would be to Jenny Brook, where there would be Harvey Walbanger party to baptize the vehicle. Here's some pics.
Marcia Goodman & Phil Zimmerman
Lucy, Joe and Marla
Long underestimated by the bluegrass community, Nothin' Fancy is a serious band, and seriously good. As a friend of ours likes to say, "Nobody loves them but the fans." A hard working band that mixes well-crafted humor with first rate musicianship and singing, added to a long catalog of fine songs written by Mike Andes, mandolin player and band spokesman, this band has been popular for over twenty years with major changes only at guitar. When you see them, be sure to mix your enjoyment with serious consideration of their excellence.
What is This Thing Anyway?
Cox, Shorter and Andes
Jenny Brook at Tunbridge World's Fair Grounds