Summer in Vermont: swimming, kayaking, veggie gardens, strawberries — and bluegrass music. It’s that time again, for hot banjo, mandolin and guitar picking, music with as much drive as a Maserati and lots of impromptu dancing as the summer bluegrass season gets under way.
The 19th annual Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, held at the Tunbridge World’s Fairgrounds, has been a real fan favorite since the turn of the 21st-century and this year is no different. The festival organizers seem to have gathered some of the most popular bluegrass acts for this five-day festival that begins Wednesday and goes through June 30.
Twenty acts will perform during the long weekend including such bands as the Gibson Brothers, The Earls of Leicester, the Seth Sawyer Band and locals Carol Hausner and Mark Struhsacker. All in all, there is a band booked with every bluegrass taste and sensibility in mind.
A bluegrass festival isn’t just stages and performances. Jenny Brook hosts lots of vendors, impromptu parking lot picking sessions and a great opportunity to meet other bluegrass aficionados. Some festival-goers spend as much time picking with others at these sessions as they do listening to the bands on stage.
Festivals are a great place to join up with Bluegrass Nation for a weekend’s fun.
Jenny Brook features three stages with continual music throughout much of the weekend, so an in-hand schedule is really needed. The music starts at 10 a.m. Thursday at the various stages and continues through Sunday with the final act of the night Saturday ending by 10 p.m.
This many acts are far too many to cover here, but a few stand out. The Larry Stephenson Band is in its 30th year and has performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and many festivals. Stephenson has won several awards for his singing.
The Po Ramblin’ Boys Band hails from East Tennessee. One record reviewer said of their recent album, “Next Train South,” “It is what bluegrass dreams are made of … it shows off their instrumental chops.”
The Gibson Brothers are headliners on Friday night on the Main Stage. This band, from nearby New York State, are no strangers to Vermonters. They’ve performed a number of times in Barre. They are one of the top bluegrass bands now recording and performing.
Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band features this husband and wife duo from North Carolina. They are highly acclaimed vocalists and have a band of excellent pickers to back them up.
A band that is getting lots of attention in bluegrass circles is The Earls of Leicester. This band of all-star players that formed to preserve and promote the legacy of bluegrass greats Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album with their first release. You can’t get any better than Jerry Douglas on dobro, Shawn Camp on guitar and lead vocals, Charlie Cushman on banjo, Johnny Warren, fiddle, Jeff White, mandolin, and Barry Bales, bass. They are playing just one set at 8 p.m. Saturday on the main stage. We want to give a shout-out to Carol Hausner and Mark Struhsacker, locals from the Montpelier and Waterbury areas who perform on the main and Weston stages at the festival. Hausner is a great singer and rhythm guitarist. Struhsacker is a fine guitarist and singer. Together this duo is an excellent addition to any bluegrass festival.
Sailor Street, a new band, features Heidi and Ryan Greer, Tim Shelton and Tim Stafford. Stafford is a member of Blue Highway; Shelton co-founded NewFound Road and toured with that unit for 17 years. The Greers are from Kentucky and have great voices. The band is influenced by Emmylou Harris and Tony Rice. They have two performances scheduled at the festival.
Another featured band is The Feinberg Brothers from that hotbed of bluegrass music, Long Island, New York. The band features brothers Rourke (fiddle) and Patrick (mandolin) singing lead and tenor, along with their father and longtime bluegrass musician Ronnie Feinberg on guitar and vocals. In 2015, the Feinberg Brothers released their first, self-titled recording, which received a highlight review in Bluegrass Unlimited and has received airplay throughout the United States and Canada.
Don’t miss the Sugar House Stage, which is the gathering place for the artists and festival-goers who want to hear impromptu performances and join in sessions with the artists. It begins when the main stage show ends. There are also several workshop performances by some of the performers at the Artist’s Stage, which is open Thursday through Saturday.
While not the complete line-up of acts for Jenny Brook, it’s obvious that this is a serious festival with a lot to offer.