Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (part 4)

You're already thinking I'm going to go on for days about this great festival at TPB and I could (but I won't). It's just that TPB combines a whole lot of the things I love - sand and sun, sea and woods, incredibly fresh air, great music, wonderful folks, memories and new experiences and it's all to the tune of high tide and low tide. We all probably have a favorite festival. I have a LOT of favorite festivals and I talk about about most of them on here. But for me the best of the best is found at TPB, maybe just because it's such comfortable camping in such a gorgeous place. Surely lots of other festivals I attend have lineups (for my taste) that are as good or probably even better. And the staff at TPB are just wonderful folks. I love the Maine humor that pervades the very air and stuff like Security head George "Whistlin'" Whitney - I swear he's taught most of the birds up there how to sing.

I love to watch the bands backstage as they prepare set lists, tune, and exchange greetings with their friends who have just finished a good set. I love the chance to photograph folks when they're a bit more relaxed and the sun isn't beating down on them. Love to catch up on news of their families and the things that are important to them. Love to hear a new song someone's just written or see the latest photo of their youngest child. It's a privilege, too, to be backstage with a camera and able to step up and take photos of the great field of faces, especially when they're laughing or clapping, from above and behind the band....a nice way to show both the band and the reason they're there. Don't know why I first picked up a camera 25 years ago but it has put me in a lot of (good) places I'd never have been without it.

So the four days of the festival proper drew to a close on Sunday night with the Gibson Brothers closing out delivering a great double set of music and, despite pretty chilly temperatures (remember that's the night I had gloves and four layers on!) there was a LARGE and appreciative audience there listening to every last word. Pati and Shari and her staff took the stage then and went through the usual thanks and goodbyes...there was a band jam onstage after that and folks all stood for the final number, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," joining hands with friends and strangers alike and forming a big link, dancing all around the concert area hand-in-hand. I haven't seen such a thing at any other festival and that is really special. I'll confess I didn't join the circle guessed it...I was videotaping the moment instead of living in it.

The music died down and folks drifted off to their campsites. Ours had a big fire and a bunch of folks already around it, talking and laughing gently, huddled in toward the warmth. I look forward to this festival each year because it brings together the largest concentration of my friends and we all camp near each other and visit a lot, eat together, laugh over old times, play and sing together and just, well, live together for a few days. One friend brought his granddaughter and she was the big hit of the campsite - what a grin - what a happy child - and she's learning to mash on the ukelele. I expect she'll be a hoss of a musician just like her granddaddy (who happens to be one of the MCs). Since I don't have kids I always love being around other people's kids and this weekend I especially enjoyed the company of Daniel, Gracie and Dixon. I've watched these kids grow. A really fun thing we did was go on a couple of photo shoots. They're naturals in front of the camera and we had a good time using the sea as a backdrop. Chloe and Clementine camped next to me and we had a lot of fun taking pictures by the sea as well. Two of the MCs were camped in our gang and they both livened things up considerably. Country Man Dan cooked up a mess of haddock he'd caught up in Newfoundland; he brings along a truckload of food and beverage and makes sure everyone has the best time. He and some of our gang led the final - very late Sunday night - official jam session down under the big yellow and white tent.

So a bunch of us chose to huddle around the fire and talk quietly amongst ourselves and laugh at the antics of some of the others. We had a darned good time. Like I said the last night of a festival after some folks have already packed up and left tends to be one of the memorable times...people are tired and sometimes emotional and just tend to loosen up more than, say, earlier in the week when folks are full-throttle bluegrass and keen to do all they possibly can. It's a nice gentle way to share some more and gear down to return to "normal" life, leave behind the bluegrass-old time utopia that is a festival such as TPB. In this case it's a time to kiss summer goodbye and notice the leaves that are already turning red and gold and yellow on the sugar maples here in the northeast. It's a time to start planning to learn all those songs for next summer's jams and to reflect on all the good times enjoyed this summer and other summers. I tried to go around the circle of friendly faces and get folks to share what their favorite thing about this year's festival was but we didn't get very far....too hard to keep people focused and maybe too hard to choose a favorite, too. Soon Pati Crooker, festival put to rest, and her right arm Shari, rode up in a golf cart and joined our merry circle. We all expressed our gratitude for the great 29th TPB festival and the way we were already planning to be there for the 30th anniversary next year. I had such a good time I plan to go earlier and stay later next's that good, and after a week of solid fun, food, friends and great music it is just TOO hard to drive 365 miles home in heavy Labor Day traffic! Like the sign said so many times, "Heavy Traffic Ahead."

A while later Pati and Shari and some of us walked down to the Greenwoods where they and the Gibsons were holding forth on some great old Stanley material, and Jimmy Martin songs and music of that ilk. Boy was it good! But next year we need to be sure the Greenwoods have a campfire, too, because it was flat out COLD over there where they played till 4:30 Monday morning. And dark, too.

Next morning my sister and I rose early and did all those things you gotta do to pack up camp and get on the homeward trail. We hugged all our friends and made plans for a big pickin' party in October then pointed our vehicles down all those interstates toward the Catskill Mountains. Usually I enjoy long drives by myself but not this time. After two accidents in the last couple of weeks and being so tired and sometimes bumper-to-bumper traffic for the eight hours it took me to get back here I just wanted to get home already. Only Hunter Berry (WOW, Baby!) and Nat King Cole's velvety voice and some of that French Way of Red Knuckles and a little bit of Eva Cassidy's Songbird helped me ease through the miles to home.

Reflecting on the wonderful times among friends and meeting so many folks from the L like my buddy Randy Getz, hearing all that great music, having a nice boat ride and eating two lobsters, singing a few tunes with Eddie Greenwood one early morning, surviving three Hi T's and all those other things I find myself, once again, feeling so blessed to have discovered bluegrass music and the wonderful people that, like me, love it, over 25 years ago. The music and its people have enriched my life in so many ways that I'll never be able to write about them all. Maybe one day my photos and videos will speak for me. I hope. Thanks to all of you for making life just a little bit brighter!

And hope to see you all next year at Thomas Point Beach - as Pati and Shari said from the stage on Sunday night - they're going to be there again hosting the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival next Labor Day weekend for the 30th anniversary - "just one more time." And what a great time it is sure to be.

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (Part 3)

My sister and I walked all around the grounds one afternoon and made some pictures of the various areas....what a lovely place! Besides the beach area where our friends camped and the little grove of trees where we set up our own camp there were wooded areas where hundreds of campers set up (with water and electrical hookups I think). There are several nice bathrooms with plenty of sinks and the nicest showers I've ever seen at a campground. I guess the area at TPB is a kind of bay or cove or inlet off the "main" ocean and there are little kind of "backwater" tidal areas where waterfowl abound along the edge of the "main" woods there....great blue herons, cormorants and any number of birds started up as we approached the waters' edge....every now and then we'd see someone in a kayak or other small watercraft pass by. All around us folks were picking traditional country music, brother duets, old-time music, traditional bluegrass songs (none of that slick Sportcoat Mtn. Boys junk I heard ad nauseum at Galax)....other folks were cooking food that always tastes better when cooked outside (isn't that an amazing thing about camping?) and kids were busy at play among the trees. Groups of two and three and more sat around picking or in quiet conversation. Here and there someone lazed in a hammock reading a book. Some folks knocked themselves out decorating their campsites with multi-colored parachutes, mailboxes, pink flamingoes, strings of lights, flying pigs and any number of eye-catching things. People were camped in everything from Prevost tour buses to shiny silver Airstreams to maxiumum-size motor home to tiny retro tear-shaped campers to pop-up Colemans to three-roomed dome tents to pup backseats of cars. Some folks did the old wagon-circle approach to camping together while others formed massive tent cities. Near to us a bunch of (apparent) hippies camped under tarps in tents with sun barriers made of batik and tie dye. Incense wafted through the air day and night and they were having just as much fun as anyone cooking and hanging out with their friends.

One of my favorite things about TPB is that it's tidal so there was always the contrast between low and high tides and the joy of watching the transformation, the sunset over the water. We even had a full moon to light our way the first couple of nights there. Sunsets and moonrises over the water add another touch that you don't find at many festivals. In the old days I saw a few sunrises too but I'll confess I never got up - or stayed up - early enough to see one this year. I was told there were massive amounts of monarch butterflies over behind the bathroom on the point.

Like so many festivals there were a variety of offerings at TPB - plenty of workshops covering vocal and instrumental interests, the great bands on stage, a "Children of Bluegrass"program for kids where they get up and pick and sing on the main stage on Sunday afternoon (always a heartwarming moment), and this full-service campground has a really nice play area for kids; there were also many kids fun activities such as movies, sand castle building, singalongs, crafts and bingo. As far as I know it's the only festival that has things like totem poles and 3 miniature lighthouses (decorated with replicas of old tourism postcards from Maine locations), and to top it all is a collection of chainsaw art - figures maybe 12 feet tall cut from logs - "Maine Woods Band" - various animals each playing bluegrass instruments! Pretty spectacular. Folks who have been going to TPB for years will remember watching Tim Picket at his craft as he created these from natural products...quite a sight. There's even a moose amongst them.

On the way back to our campsite we passed a cute little wagon loaded down with produce and baked goods from the fine folks at Want Not Farm. I was trying to figure out what they were - not Amish, not Mennonite, but sort of old fashioned. The girls and woman had tidy white kind of scarves holding their hair back; the man had an Amish-like hat on and they were all dressed sort of "plain" - someone said they were old order Brethren (?) like a real traditional German Baptist. Don't know but their produce was lovely and fresh and very welcome - they sold us the best corn I've had all season for just 50 cents an ear! I watched them pull off - the man towing the goody wagon with a riding lawnmower!!!! all the women walking alongside. As I left the festival grounds on Monday morning they were there at the exit selling their goods and waving with a friendly smile to all who passed by.

As I said I missed many of the bands who played onstage but some of the highlights for me were the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band featuring Leroy Troy, always a crowd-pleaser. They really got the folks going with their vintage music and good humor. Since they're all friends of ours we enjoyed many good laughs around our campsite as they prepared for their show, shared jokes and stories with our big gang. The Abrams Brothers and cousin Eli continue to impress me with their sweet good manners, talent and showmanship. I expect those guys to go far. And a big thrill for me was getting to hear James sing "Can I Get An Amen?" as the encore number on their evening show. They got an amen all right - and not just from me, either. Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper minus Audie Blaylock sure took the folks to another level with their rocketfire approach to music. I think music just comes out Michael's pores. Once again I was back at the campsite hanging with my friends and missed Michael's show but I got out to the Field Pickin' jam near the Caboose (an all night hot dog stand in the concert area) and climbed onto a picnic table to film Michael and his fine band holding court in the middle of a huge and appreciative crowd. I love those after-hours jams Pati schedules....folks like the spontaneity of it all and enjoy rubbing elbows with the stars, even if they can see their breath . Friday also featured Rhonda Vincent and her great band - that woman has talent and energy to spare. How she pulls it off in those stilletto heels I do not know but she manages to greet her adoring fans with warmth and enthusiasm and put on one heckuva show. 'Course her band sure boost her there a finer fiddler than young Hunter Berry? I think not! I enjoyed his new CD, "WOW BABY" in its entirety about five times on the 365 mile drive back to the Catskill Mountains. Wow baby!!! is right. As John Rice Irwin said in his liner notes, "Now, there's a fiddler."

My sister who isn't new to bluegrass but hasn't been to many festivals and hasn't seen many bands LIVE said her overall favorite bands were Rhonda Vincent and Marty Raybon; not surprising. I've been a huge fan of Marty's voice since I first heard it a few weeks ago. Even though he forgot to play my request for "Beulah Land" he delivered one of the best performances I've heard him do despite losing his long-time tenor singer, Edgar Loudermilk, to IIIrd Tyme Out. My sister was just gob-smacked by his singing. As I mentioned before The Peter Rowan Trio, despite the absence of Tony Rice's fabulous guitar playing, delivered two incredible sets of music and I don't believe anyone left disappointed....Peter pulled a lot of traditional music out of the hat and a lot of his most-requested numbers, too...and even from the distance of the beach area the sound came through the night air full and clear and rich. Sunday's show featured one of my favorite regional bands, White Mountain Bluegrass and though Mac and Hazel have had more than their share of health problems recently, they delivered several fine performances at the weekend; I always love best their Sunday morning gospel set which I'll admit I enjoyed while lying in my tent after a late Saturday night! Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass continue to gain new fans and no wonder! They delivered power-packed sets and hearing Donny play Dusty Miller (my favorite) and those Lundy boys tearing up the banjo and fiddle playing their "old-timey bluegrass" as Paisley calls it just made the weekend complete. The Lewis Family have been a favorite of mine for 25 years and it always fills my heart to see and hear them onstage. And finally the Gibson Brothers...I already talked about this but those guys were a great band to close out the festival. They come across as humble and sincere, honest...and gifted. Their singing and songwriting are right up there with the best and their late night jamming over at the Greenwood's just put another feather in their caps for me!

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (Part 2)

Sometimes I think being a photographer and documentarian is a curse. I keep making all these pictures and videos and doing all this writing and it keeps me sort of "once removed" from what is actually going on - there's a big lens or a big pad of paper between me and reality so I never quite see things directly. Maybe some day some of this stuff will get somewhere to show folks who aren't as lucky as we are what these days were like, how special festivals are, how folks step out of their "ordinary" lives and come together in a community of kindred spirits, how we let down those stony faces and iron curtains and let someone peek inside our hearts every now and then at a festival. I've said this before -- my favorite times at festivals are not when all those great bands are onstage pickin' and singin'. They're not when an audience rises as one to shout and applaud a great performance by (you fill in the blank). My favorite times are always before the proper festival starts and, maybe most especially, after the official closing of the festival; this is when you really get to know folks somehow, when people are not in overdrive, when they're content to have a quiet walk and talk or sit around a fire and share. So this year wasn't any different, despite the efforts of many, many fine bands. I'll make a confession: I didn't even get to the stage for very many sets.

The place where my gang camp is not all that far from the stage - straight out from it, in fact, behind the audience area, behind the gigantic yellow-and-white-striped tent, behind the handicapped parking area....almost to the beach. You can hear the show very well there, almost like you're in the middle of the audience. So while the "visual" is absent, the sound rings! This is the way my friends and I sat around a big ole blazing campfire on Saturday night talking quietly amongst ourselves, laughing at some little joke, and listening to our pal Ole Bubby as he played bass with Peter Rowan and one of the Simpkins boys on the big stage. Tony Rice was scheduled to be there but at the last minute he had some health issue that caused him to miss the trip....never mind. No doubt some folks were disappointed and that sort of thing causes a promoter a ton of anguish (Pati Crooker was telling earlier -before Tony cancelled - how she'd had loads of calls from folks who wanted to confirm that Tony would indeed be appearing because they were coming all the way to the festival just to hear him on Saturday) -- but I think (hope!) it all worked out. I can tell you that my friends and I all agreed that Rowan's show from where we sat around the old campfire was one of the best we've ever heard him do. Rowan is nothing if he is not a 100% professional showman; he's got the pipes and the chops to carry off not just a wonderful trio show -- but even a solo spot. While Tony Rice would have been icing on the cake, this Rowan show was surely a 5 star gourmet concoction nonetheless.

Now Thomas Point Beach has to be one of the very finest bluegrass campgrounds in the country; I haven't been to them all, but I've been to a lot of them. It is pretty well flat (being on the seaside) and well laid out. There are groves of trees nearly everywhere providing that much needed shade and shelter to those of us who don't have sense enough to do the "early to bed, early to rise" thing. Most of us stay up well on into the night and try to catch some sleep on the other end when the sun comes up. That can be hard to do in a tent or the back of your truck like you're obliged to do at so many festivals held in pastures and city parks where there is NOOOOOO shade. So let me call TPB luxurious. Now I've been to bunches of festivals but TPB is the only one that offers a clean, sandy beach on the ocean, inlets for your kayaking pleasure, flush toilets that are kept meticulously clean, soap and paper towel dispensers that never seem to run out, clean and roomy CEDAR shower houses with ample hot water where you have hooks to actually keep your clothing dry and a bench to sit on while you dress....a gigantic campground store where you can buy food, clothing, any number of souvenirs of both the festival and Maine, good real ice cream and thousands of other items. There's a clock that resembles Big Ben in the concert area. You can be sure that anyone in a "STAFF" t-shirt is going to be friendly, professional, and helpful and whatever they say will no doubt come with a smile, and if you're lucky, a bit of that droll down-east humor (hum-ah). Can you tell I love this place? Well, I can't help myself! With easy-to-navigate grounds, a beach, great food vendors (this year I really liked the Mexican food stand where I enjoyed a great chicken burrito made to order) a very polite and enthusiastic audience in their multi-colored lawn chairs, and loads of wonderful music how could anyone help but have a great time? I saw NO instances of anyone being rude or out of line.

Maybe the worst thing I personally witnessed was some folks in these massively large motor homes (kind of tour bus size) with all those bits that crank out to form even larger motor homes....these people were already taking up massive space but then they had to park about 20 feet from the next one, had 2 or 3 cars with them, and an awning on one side which I honestly NEVER saw them use AT ALL....and then they threw a fit when a friend of ours parked a small car a few feet from the edge of all their real estate - they deemed the car too close. Some of those folks I never even saw come out of their motor home...they just stayed inside with the generator running all kinds of why did they even bother to come to a bluegrass festival and get so territorial? We don't blame TPB beach for this because I suspect these folks are the same kind of jerks wherever they go. But what's up with that? My friends just moved their vehicle because what they wanted to do was have a good time and get along with everyone.
At a festival as big as the one at TPB, even though they have many flush toilets, you need portable toilets as well. The program claimed there were 38 of those stationed around the grounds. I don't know; seems to me there might have been more than that but at any rate without exception they were kept clean and I never found one that had run out of paper. Hand sanitizers were available in each one as well. Now maybe that stuff doesn't matter to some folks but I sure appreciate when someone pays that extra to be sure folks can keep their hands clean.

These are just a few of the things that make Thomas Point Beach my #1 overall favorite bluegrass festival.

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (part 1)

My friends and I had an incomparably wonderful time last week at the 29th Thomas Point Beach (TPB) Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick, Maine. That festival just keeps getting better and better. Don't know what the 30th TPB holds in store, but it'll be a dandy! Okay, if I'm going to talk about a pet peeve it would simply be that it's a darned shame that such a great time has to come to an end! Visit

It was a week of picture-perfect days with very fresh and pleasant daytime temperatures and plenty of sunshine. One day was overcast and a little cooler and we had a teensy bit of rain but no problem. The nights were mostly kind of cool (in the 50s I think) but I only had to wear gloves one night, and that's because I'm a weeny. You can be sure no proper DownEaster donned anything resembling gloves. Matter of fact they were probably down at their beach in bikinis when I was wearing 4 layers of clothing and gloves on Sunday night!

My buddy Darwin Davidson was there and graciously invited my sister and I to accompany him and some friends (among them Myron of Myron's Yakitori - remember him? He's now selling his great sauces in Hannafords and other supermarkets) on a little cruise on the "Beagle" a few miles over to Cundy's Harbor where we partook of an excellent lobster dinner for a mere $13.95....this fresh off the boat! YUMMMMY. The eatery there (I think it's called Moore's) is picturesque and they've taken the time to make it Maine-y while adding lots of pretty flowers...but most of all the lobster!!! I ate there twice, though the first time I "merely" went by car with some pals. The dining area is right up there on a deck overlooking the harbor and you get to see the lobster boats come in; one even had a mascot golden retriever aboard (or did that dog pull the pots for them?) We had a leisurely cruise while passing through the "no wake" zone (I think I live there sometimes) but went directly to warp speed when we were safely out on the more open channel....I think I'm about 2 years younger now. Anyway we passed a very happy 2 or 3 hours motoring to Cundy's Harbor, eating a big fresh lobster then motoring back in time to hear some great bluegrass music.

All my gang from (mostly) New England were there camping out in the center of the grassy area out on the point near the sandy beach, not far from the osprey nest. They always camp there in a series of tents, tarps, pop-ups and so forth. This gang included the Bowdens, the Mavians, the Elegants, the Cartouns, the Hendersons, Casey Henry, Dave Gandin and probably a few others I've forgotten to mention (the Frakers were camped just across an inlet from me). Each night the fire ring was ablaze and kids of all ages were making s'mores with marshmallows alight on the end of sticks and big ole crunchy graham crackers and bits of Hershey bars. Brings back all them Girl Scout memories....These days the gang includes not only us "first generation" folk but kids, grandkids...pretty soon it will be great-grandkids, though Casey and I are hanging tough in that regard . 'Course I'm old enough to be her momma.

Just down the road a few vehicles was the Greenwood compound where Eddie and Jackie, Poppy, June and Buzzy and various other family and friends held court all week long under their 30 year old striped canvas...the picking there was mighty MIGHTY fine, day and night, and the "Hi T" as they call it was held three consecutive afternoons to great amusement....I learned (again) that drinking in the daytime does NOT pay... The first afternoon I learned with a headache that I need to pace myself and I was wanting to go to bed around 6 pm; luckily I got my second wind at midnight and put in a respectably late night after all. Those blender drinks full of fruit and rum were....well, irresistable, and it is flat uplifting to sing the chorus to the Sunny Side of Life every time someone new joins the circle (somehow we managed to sing that song a bunch of times over the 3 days). In the old days of the Hi T bunch the "anthem" was sung every time a blender-ful of adult beverage was whipped to perfection. Now it's a two-blender operation. Judge John from California was solemn but kind and I was only fined twice (you pay a buck every time you curse or say something even vaguely negative about anything). I think a guy named Keith may have been most heavily fined; Carl Pagter might have been just behind him.

At the Greenwood compound on Sunday night, long after the Gibson Brothers had finished their LONG set and charmed each and every person on the grounds with their wonderful music and friendly ways, long after Pati and her staff had said their goodbyes till next year, long after "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" was sung as all the audience joined hands and frolicked around the stage area, hands clasped all in a gigantic circle, long after many of my friends had drifted off to their sleeping quarters, I was headed back to my own tent around 2 am to get some sleep when I heard this great jam going on down guessed it...the Greenwoods. I wandered down there to find a large crowd gathered around Eddie and Jackie Greenwood and Eric and Leigh Gibson and their friends and band members...yikes! What a jam! With a nearly 400 mile drive coming up in just a few short hours I couldn't stay around as long as I would have liked to, but I listened to a few and then went over and laid in my tent listening to the jam for....hours (at least my eyes were resting). I was told they jammed until 4:30 \na.m. That's the kind of folks they are. I just know I floated off to sleep with the most beautiful sounds drifting on the cool night air among the pine trees.....

Pet Peeve #1: The great TPB festival drew to a close on Sunday night and Monday morning everyone was packing up and leaving. Durn. What if we all just decided to stay for another week???

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