Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival Has Room to Grow in Tunbridge
From left, Benzy Flynn of Upton, Mass, Cherrie Westcott of South Portland, Maine, Paul Flynn of Norwood, Mass, and Pete Flynn of Upton, Mass, play The Squirrell Hunters at their campsite on the Tunbridge Fairgrounds during the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival Saturday, June 28, 2014. The friendship between Westcott and the Flynns goes back fifteen years to their meeting at a bluegrass festival.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Victor Tremblay of Granby, Vt. sings the Tennessee Waltz at the Grass Seeds Gazebo during the four day Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival at the Tunbridge, Vt. Fairgrounds Saturday, June 28, 2014. Musicians at the gazebo go through a round of public voting to choose the top three that will play in front of Bluegrass industry professionals. The winner of the second round will play on the festival's main stage on Sunday.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Shelby Adams of Tunbridge reads a book with the music of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival's main stage in the background at the Tunbridge, Vt. Fairgrounds Saturday, June 28, 2014. Even though Adams lives in town, she and her husband camp at the festival in the same spot every year.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Tunbridge — Bluegrass fans Mike Bourquin and Chantal Bastiat, who tour music festivals selling books, records and other music under the name Flop-Eared Muse, had long wanted to set up shop at the Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival, a multi-day event for campers and day visitors to get their fill of mandolins, stand-up basses, banjo pickin’ and vocal harmonies.
But in Weston, Vt., where Jenny Brook had been held from its inception in 2001 through the summer of 2008, there simply wasn’t enough room.
“We knew about the festival and talked to them for a long time, and they hadn’t been able to accommodate us,” Bourquin said Saturday, standing under a tent alongside tables of records at the Tunbridge fairgrounds.
In 2009, though, when the festival moved to Tunbridge, the husband-and-wife team was finally able to sign on as vendors. They’ve been coming every year since, walking around barefoot on the fairgrounds’ soft grass, listening to what they called a “top-notch” lineup, and soaking in the view of a sweetly constructed stage flanked by cascading hills of green, crisp blue skies and wispy white clouds.
They were surrounded by hundreds of parked cars, including scores of RV campers and folks in tents. Music fans, including many families, gladly strolled around the area, many wearing large floppy hats or cowboy hats to block out the hot sun.
“It’s really a nice event,” Bourquin said. “When we talk to other people about festivals, we talk about the fact that it’s pretty.”
As the festival has settled into the rhythm of an annual return to Tunbridge, those sentiments about the venue — more space, an idyllic backdrop, more space and, oh yes, more space — were echoed by many throughout the event, including by its founder, Candi Sawyer.
“Here we have room to grow,” said Sawyer, of Westminster, Vt., adding there are “no worries” about outgrowing the Tunbridge space, as they did in Weston.
Sawyer said attendance dipped in 2009, the first year the festival changed locations, but generally moved in an upward trend every year since then, with a few plateaus.
There were more than 1,200 people two years ago — up from 500 the first year — and Sawyer said this year felt “overwhelming,” guessing it could be on the high-end of the record attendance after events wrap up today. Organizers opened up an additional area for camping in addition to those that were available last year, according to the event’s Facebook page.
The extra foot traffic doesn’t go unnoticed at the Tunbridge Store, a stone’s throw from the fairgrounds’ edge. Owner Scott Terami said it’s his second-biggest week of the year, right behind the Tunbridge World’s Fair, and he spends three weeks ahead of time hastily trying to stock up the store’s shelves.
“They’ll pretty much clear out the store,” he said.
In addition to good business, Terami and his wife, Kathi, who also works at the store, said the festival-goers are also great customers who are happy to be there, carry on good conversations and are generally a “really fun group,” Kathi Terami said.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said, “but we both agree this is so worth it. … Most of the people who live around here say they love to sit on the porch and listen to the music,” she added, noting that there is virtually no downside to the festival being in town, save for a slightly longer line at the cash register.
Sawyer spoke to the beauty and charm of Tunbridge’s main drag, as well, saying bluegrass fans are often the kind of people who appreciate an old-timey town with character and history.
Looking out over the fairgrounds, Brenda Vitek, of Granville, N.Y., agreed.
“It’s just a beautiful location,” Vitek said, a short time after she rolled a stand-up bass across the venue to help out with the Kids Academy, a Friday-through-Sunday set of classes for children of all musical abilities to sing and play. “To sit and enjoy the music I love so much and to be able to look up and see the mountains and the cows in the field … old buildings …”
Tunbridge’s Bill Danforth, whose maple sugaring operation provided the syrup for maple ice cream, was on the fairgrounds’ facilities committee when it brought the festival to town. Walking around the festival Saturday with his 5-year-old grandson, Wyatt Chambers, he said the setup has worked out well for both the festival and the town.
“I don’t know where you can get a better setting,” he said.
Wyatt was more focused on the ice cream, as well as what he said was the best part of the event: face- and arm-painting, showing off an orange tiger that had been painted onto his arm.
In addition to allowing for more campers and vendors, the extra space in Tunbridge has also made room for additional programs, such as an open mic event at the fairgrounds’ small gazebo, giving a chance for lesser-known acts to earn performance time on the main stage today.
Michelle Canning, who was overseeing the open mic event, had also played on the main stage with her band, Michelle Canning & Rough Edges, in which she plays banjo and guitar and sings. Canning, 19, said she had been coming to Jenny Brook with her grandfather since she was a little girl, and “grew up” musically at the festival in the Kids Academy program.
She now studies music in college in Kentucky and attends a wide range of festivals, but Jenny Brook will always be her favorite, she said — and it’s only improved since moving to Tunbridge.
“You come here and you see older buildings and beautiful mountains and all this nature,” she said, noting that the festival brings folks back to a “simple life” in a positive way.
“This is just a really great spot,” she said, “and it’s helped the festival grow so much.”
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.