It's the busy season for bluegrass musicians and fans, traveling the festival circuit, making music and memories.
In stark contrast to the rock-star atmosphere of a country music concert, bluegrass, like folk, is the people's music. The festivals remind me of home in the Adirondack Mountains, where everyone is friendly and says "hello." Their common bond is a deep appreciation for the music.
I'd love to see a bluegrass festival in Lake Placid. For now, local bluegrass fans have to travel long distances to see their favorite bands every year. Many decide to camp, as bluegrass festivals are really just temporary campgrounds with music. Others, like me, go for the day.
Ted Lehmann, of Keene Valley, takes photos of the Gibson Brothers June 28 at the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival in Tunbridge, Vermont. The Gibson Brothers — Eric and Leigh — grew up in Ellenburg Depot and were named the International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Lehmann was at the festival with his wife, Irene.
(Photo courtesy of Andy Flynn)
I recently attended the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival in Tunbridge, Vermont, which is about 2.5 hours from Lake Placid. It's the closest place I can see the Gibson Brothers perform this summer.
The last time the Gibsons played here was in July 2012 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Since that time, they've been named the International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year for two years in a row. These Ellenburg Depot natives have really hit the big time and will be playing the Grand Ole Opry once again later this month. After seeing them in Lake Placid, I decided to write their biography, working with Eric and Leigh on the story of two farm boys from the Adirondack foothills making it big in the bluegrass world. That's why I've been following them around for the past year.
At Jenny Brook, I watched the Gibson Brothers give a workshop called "A Walk Down Memory Lane," plus an afternoon performance. It was good to catch up with them. Like me, Leigh has been on a diet and has lost about 35 pounds. He looks much different than he did a year ago. Eric works out with his son and sometimes does curls with his banjo.
While in Vermont I was able to hang out with Ted and Irene Lehmann, seasonal residents of Keene Valley who call Keene, New Hampshire, home. They travel most of the year in their motor home, from one bluegrass festival to the next, recording their musical memories on the blog, Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms (tedlehmann.blogspot.com). I particularly liked his photos from Jenny Brook, as some of them were taken while he was giving me a tour of the festival grounds in a golf cart.
Ted videotaped the Gibson Brothers' workshop, which is typical. He's always walking around with a camera and videotaping workshops and performances and posting some of them on his YouTube page. After Eric and Leigh shared "A Walk Down Memory Lane," Ted asked jokingly if he was recording it for Jenny Brook organizer Candi Sawyer or for me, alluding to the fact that the material discussed in the workshop is perfect background for my biography on the boys.
Ted and Irene won't be headed to my next Gibson Brothers adventure, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in the Catskills. It's the grandaddy of all bluegrass festivals in New York state, dubbed "A Who's Who of Bluegrass Music, Its Roots and Branches." Located in Oak Hill, about 30 miles south of Albany, Grey Fox has several stages and will feature musical acts July 17-20 such as Nickel Creek, Del McCoury, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Travelin' McCourys, the Gibson Brothers, Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, the Steep Canyon Rangers, Della Mae, Balsam Range, Claire Lynch, Dry Branch Fire Squad and Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen.
I'm just going down for one day, Friday, July 18, when the Gibson Brothers are playing. I look forward to seeing their mandolin player, Jesse Brock, give a mandolin workshop at 2 p.m.; Eric and Leigh present "Classic Brother Duets" at 4 p.m.; and the entire band play the main stage at 7:45 p.m. While this is a working trip for the book, it's no secret that I thoroughly enjoy my time at the festivals, especially with the full media access I get at places like Grey Fox. I love my work, and I'm not ashamed to say it.
In that vein, I'm also looking forward to seeing some of the other bands at Grey Fox. At 5 p.m., I want to finally get a chance to watch Del McCoury perform. He will be giving a workshop with his boys called "Family Stories & Songs," moderated by musician John Rossbach.
Full festival tickets for Grey Fox include camping and all festival concerts, workshops and dances. Kids 12 and under are free with ticketed adult. Day tickets are available for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (camping not included). For more information, call 888-946-8495 or visit www.greyfoxbluegras.com.