After 21 years and a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival makes its much-anticipated return this year.
From 23rd to 26th June you can see 20 roots music favorites at Tunbridge World’s Fairgrounds led by The Gibson Brothers, Seldom Scene, Dale Ann Bradley and many more.
Event producer Candi Sawyer, who’s been there since the beginning, recently spoke about how the bands are chosen each year and how the festival has grown from her grandfather’s impossible dream into one of the most successful and longest-running festivals in the state.
“I worked with my grandfather from a young age and did concerts at the Weston Playhouse,” Sawyer said via email. “As we prepared for the 20th anniversary, the sponsor asked me why my grandfather never did an outdoor festival.
“I told him he tried years ago but the city wouldn’t let him.” He said, “Why don’t you make one for him?” I explained that I don’t have the funding and he agreed to sponsor us. After we got city approval, we started working on the site, building a stage, etc., and in 2001 the first ever Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival was held.”
Working with David Johnson and his wife Carrie, Sawyer and her husband Seth presented the event at the Weston Recreation Area, the same location their grandfather tried years earlier. The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival stayed there for eight years before running out of space and moving to Tunbridge in 2009.
“I care about what our fans want,” Sawyer said. “Every year we conduct a survey at the festival and we also send out surveys throughout the year. These polls are tallied up so we can see who is getting the most requests, and I’m trying to stop that.”
“Every once in a while I find a band myself to surprise our fans with because I think they’re going to really enjoy it,” she added.
This year, Sawyer did that with Authentic Unlimited.
“I know everyone is going to love this new group,” she said. “Everyone used to love the legendary Doyle Lawson and his Quicksilver Band. He recently retired and three former members have teamed up with two great artists to form a new group called Authentic Unlimited. Jesse Brock is part of this band and is well known to Jenny Brook fans. This will be her first appearance ever in the Northeast!”
Not only did Sawyer grow up listening to music, she plays it. “I have experience both as a fan and as a musician. I think it’s important to give the fans the music they want and I also think it’s important to present a quality event from start to finish and definitely hire a quality recording company because great Sound is just as important as great bands.”
Sawyer also strives to improve each year and offer something for everyone.
“We have the main stage, a barn dance with classic country music, a sugar house stage with a band from the main stage playing along with the fans who love to perform,” she explained.
“We offer workshops for all instruments, a children’s academy, children’s activities and a cinema.”
After two years of being unable to host the festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sawyer says it’s a powerful reminder of what a gift it is to be able to host the festival every year.
“It’s been a long wait for us all to get back together at the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival in June, and this year’s event will be well worth the wait,” she said. “The line-up features some of the finest bluegrass pioneers including progressive bluegrass pioneers Seldom Scene and the Gibson Brothers.
“Although we’re a bluegrass festival, we also offer a night of classic country music, and this year we’ll be featuring The Malpass Brothers – you may have seen them at Larry’s Country Diner, or maybe even at the Grand Ole Opry. They toured with Merle Haggard for six years. They’ll be performing songs you haven’t heard in years at the Barn Dance on Thursday nights and Friday nights on the main stage.”
“I really missed being able to host this June event and we plan to make up for lost time,” Sawyer said. “This will be one of our best years!”