Jenny Brook’s New Tunbridge Home

Picture 3The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival has a new home – Tunbridge, Vermont – and a more ambitious focus this year.

The latter, says founder/director Candi Sawyer, is a circumstance born of necessity.  The venue change required the four-day festival to begin a week earlier than usual.  Many performers who’d played Jenny Brook in years past were already committed to another regional event.

“I didn’t have a lot of local bands to choose from, so we just had to jump up to the next level,” says Sawyer.

So while a lot of the performers are new to Sawyer’s festival (which begins with a Wednesday night barn dance and continues through Sunday), they are well known in the bluegrass circuit, says Sawyer.

Relocating the festival’s home since its start nine years ago was simpler, says Sawyer.  “We had to move out of Weston we ran out of room. We had to relocate or cancel.”

“It’s too good a festival to let go.”

Sawyer is particularly looking forward to the Next Best Thing, a new band from Nashville featuring Rhonda Vincent’s daughters Sally and Tensel Sandker.

“They are hot out of the box,” says Sawyer, “I think that’s gonna turn some heads. I’m kind of excited because in years to come I can say I got them when they were brand new.”

The Katahdin Valley Boys from Maine and the Boston-based Reunion Band will perform at Jenny Brook for the first time this year.  Breakin’ Strings, a six-member group from Maine, appeared in a festival showcase last year and finished second to a preteen fiddler.

“I really think they should have come in first,” says Sawyer.  “They had the whole thing, the emcee work, they were dressed well – the whole package.”

So Breakin’ Strings was asked to perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  “I like to give credit where credit’s due,” explains Candi.

Sawyer was able to book a few bands from past festivals, including the Pine Hill Ramblers, Bear Tracks, Plexigrass and perennial headliners the Gibson Brothers.  Though she didn’t ask for the changes, Candi is optimistic.

“I think it happened for a reason, and we’re going to have a bigger variety this year.”

The new location allows for more activities like Wednesday’s barn dance.  Though dismantling the stage in Weston was bittersweet, the move to Tunbridge was, she says, elating:

“There’s a photo essay on our web site, and if you look at the pictures of us pulling in, you can almost feel the excitement.  It’s a very good feeling.  It’s a beautiful facility.”

“Weston’s really kind of a stuck up town in a way.  They really don’t like the music; the locals are not supportive at all.  Moving to Tunbridge, different people are coming down telling me how excited they are that we’re coming to the area, and thanking us for the business.  We never got that in Weston.”

“It’s a good feeling,” she says.  “It feels like we’re wanted.”

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival
June 18, 19, 20 & 21
Tunbridge Fairgrounds

The Gibson Brothers (Saturday)
Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper (Friday)
Leroy Troy & Tennessee Mafia Jug Band (Thursday, Friday, Saturday)
Audie Blaylock & Redline (Sunday)
Karl Shiflett & Big Country (Saturday)
The Next Best Thing (Saturday)
Bear Tracks (Saturday)
Reunion Band (Friday)
Smokey Greene (Thursday)
Katahdin Valley Boys (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Plexigrass (Friday, Saturday)
Breakin’ Strings (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Pine Hill Ramblers (Thursday, Sunday)
Brenda Mathews & Friends (Thursday, Friday)
Bear Minimum (Sunday)

Hosted by the Seth Sawyer Band and the Sawyer Brothers, who perform throughout the festival.

4-day – $85.00
Thursday – $20.00
Friday – $30.00 ($20.00 after 6 PM)
Saturday – $30.00 ($20.00 after 6 PM)
Sunday – $20.00

Children 16 & under free, 17 & 18 half-price (must be accompanied by adult)

Call 802-463-1184 for more information

Two Old Friends @ Claremont Opera House 3/16/07

2_old_5.jpgThere will be songs, laughter and stories aplenty when Mac McHale and Emery “Hutch” Hutchins step on to Claremont Opera House stage Friday night. The “Two Old Friends” blend Irish and traditional American sounds to build a musical bridge between the two continents.

“We’re combining Appalachian music with the music of the British Isles, because in truth, one’s tied to the other,” says Mac McHale, a native Mainer who traces his roots to the city of Sligo in the Irish Midlands. “We do a song called ‘Mrs. McCloud’s Reel,’ which is the Irish name of it. In Appalachia, it’s called ‘Did You Ever Go To Meet Uncle Joe,’ but it’s the exact same song. ‘Dooley’ is about a revenuer in Appalachia; in truth he was a guy who made illegal spirits in Ireland.”

The duo has over 80 years of performing time between them. “My first professional gig was in 1952, at the American Legion Hall in Orono, Maine,” says McHale. “Me and two other guys got a buck fifty a piece. I’ve been at it ever since.”

McHale and Hutchins met 30 years ago. “Emery was doing sound for a festival I was putting on,” says Mac. Hutchins suggested they play together, and along with Taylor Whiteside, they performed as Northeast Winds for over 15 years. “Things change, and we sort of disbanded, but four years ago we got back together as ‘Two Old Friends’.”

Their show is filled with many wonderful anecdotes, like the one Mac tells about the origins of “Orange Blossom Special,” a song that’s been called the best-known fiddle tune of the twentieth century. Two cabdrivers living in a Jacksonville rooming house wrote it one night when they had no fares.

“In the morning,” says McHale, “one of those guys sold his half of the song to the other guy for a pint of whisky. That guy copyrighted the song and lived on the royalties for the rest of his life.”

“You know what his friend told me?” Mac excitedly asks. “I worked on festivals in the south with him. He said, ‘Son, that was the most expensive drink I ever had.’”

Mac and Hutch play “Orange Blossom Special” in their set; Mac also plays it with “Old Time Radio Gang,” a bluegrass band that he calls his alter ego. “It’s traditional, old-time music like the Stanley Brothers,” says McHale. “No new grass.” The band’s name is a throwback to McHale’s boyhood experiences listening to the radio in Bangor, Maine.

“We had three stations that programmed live country music every day – bands in the studio,” he says. On “Noontime Jamboree,” he’d hear groups like Ray Little and the Radio Cowboy Show, Cowboy Gene Cooper and Lone Pine Mountaineer.

“At night we’d get Wheeling, West Virginia – WWVA. One of my mentors down there was Doc Williams, of Doc Williams and the Border Riders,” he says. “That’s when I got infected with the whole thing.”

More than half a century later, he shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m 74, and I can still drive all night,” laughs McHale.