Candi Sawyer found her passion for bluegrass music at an early age. “I grew up with it,” says the promoter of the four-day Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, which begins June 22 in Weston, Vermont. “My mom and my grandfather used to have a band together.”
Her grandfather, Fernan Parker, is a long-time presenter of bluegrass shows at the Weston Playhouse, and Candi Sawyer says, “It’s been in my heart to produce a bluegrass festival ever since I was a little girl.”
Sawyer met her husband, a guitarist and songwriter, on the bluegrass circuit. From an early age, she says, “I went all around to the festivals, everywhere,” traveling with the White Mountain Bluegrass Band to festivals in South Carolina.
“I went with them on the bus, but I traveled around here on my own,” she says. “No wonder my father has grey hair. Can you imagine a young girl driving off to all those festivals?”
These days, Candi plays bass in her husband’s band, joined occasionally by their two young sons. At this year’s Jenny Brook Festival, her mother also shares the stage with the Seth Sawyer Band. “She hasn’t played in a long time, but she’s gonna get up this year – I talked her into it,” Sawyer says.
“The kids steal the show anyway,” she laughs. “They’re only little, 10 and 7. They don’t play their own instruments, but the can really sing. They do this song, ‘If I Were Your Brother,’ you can see the look on their faces, when they hit that harmony note, they can feel it.”
Also on hand this year are headliners and regional stars the Gibson Brothers, Grand Ole Opry and “Hee Haw” featured performer Leroy Troy, the long-running Massachusetts band Southern Rail, Smokey Greene and 10 other acts.
Sawyer is especially excited about Springfield Exit, joined by members of the long-disbanded Johnson Mountain Band. Dave Goslin, Tom Adams and Marshall Wilborn join singer Linda Lay. “It’s my kind of music – polished,” she says. “I can just imagine what she’s gonna sound like with them backing her.
The festival closes on a familiar note, with Nick Anderson and the Gospel Friends performing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” and the Sawyers wishing everyone safe travels. But it will be a happier farewell than last year, when Candi wasn’t sure if she’d be able to see another Jenny Brook Festival.
“I was in pretty bad shape,” she says. Sawyer suffers from Multiple Sclerosis; since being diagnosed in 2002, her condition had weakened her to the point that doctors recommended she stay in a wheelchair. Fans in the audience could sense her pain, and when her farewell did not include an assurance of “we’ll see you next year,” bluegrass fans sprang into action.
A series of benefit concerts, dubbed “Pickin’ for Candi,” raised over $26,000 for holistic treatments. “I didn’t even know they had started doing that,” Sawyer says, “and I was kind of uncomfortable knowing they had raised that much money.”
She also wasn’t sure about the holistic approach, which involved a diet and vitamin regimen, and electrode scans coupled with blood samples used to locate the brain lesions. Once located, cold laser therapy is used to help dissolve the lesions. Vitamin detoxification therapy, coupled with footbaths to draw out toxins, completes the process.
“I didn’t want to be let down again,” says Sawyer, apprehensive of “trying something new and having it not work. But within a month, I was out of that wheelchair. So it was meant to be.”
“It was thanks to all the bluegrass people,” she says. “There was a benefit in every single state in the Northeast, and we had friends down in Alabama who gathered money, and Florida.”
“We’ve got friends all over, it’s amazing,” she continues. “They’re all like your family. I fact, they were actually more supportive than some of my family members.”
Sawyer’s part of the bargain is to try and stay well, in spite of there being no known cure for MS, and to keep her girlhood dream alive as well – for her musical family, and her extended bluegrass family. For now, anyway, the circle remains unbroken.