Interview with Candi Sawyer: Jenny Brook Mini-Festival


Did you miss the June Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival in Tunbridge, Vermont this June and last year? I was so sad each time COVID caused the cancellation of those festivals. If you haven’t heard yet (or even if you have), there will be an October (Columbus Day weekend) Jenny Brook Bluegrass “Mini-Festival” in Tunbridge, VT – at the height of leaf-peeping time! I caught up with Candi Sawyer, the long-time producer of Jenny Brook, to find out more. Here is a condensed version of our conversation.

What are the Festival dates, and why call it a mini-Fest?
There are performers (stage show) on Friday 10/8, Saturday 10/9 and Sunday 10/10/21. Like our usual June Festival, people can arrive as early as Tuesday (10/5) and leave as late as Monday (10/11). We will be ready for them and we expect that there will be lots of jamming every day! “The only reason I chose the name mini is because it’s a miniature version of the regular Jenny Brook. The main difference is there will not be any side stages like the Artist’s Stage, Kids Academy, Barn Dance and Weston Stage. The Sugar House Stage might be too chilly [at night] so I’m planning to have it take place in the Pavilion after the stage show.”

You have some terrific bands and individuals scheduled to play. What was your thought process in deciding which bands to book?
I always rely on the input from the Jenny Brook fans. For the most part, they seem to love the same bands that I do . . . I tally up the requests and start seeing who’s available and how their fee fits with the budget . . . My job is to make sure they [the bands] flow and they don’t all sound exactly alike. I also make sure the lineup includes bands that like to jam with the fans, that’s important!” “When I hear or see a band I just know if it’s a fit for Jenny Brook. Of course, there are some exceptions but for the most part I like them to be traditional. I like bands that connect with the audience. I like to mix it up, not all bands need to be well known if it’s a quality show.

Other than the number of days, how will this festival be different from your usual June festival?
We expect it to be somewhat smaller. We are not putting in the bridge and opening the Sherlock Field, so that does limit the utility sites more than usual. The hours of entertainment will be shorter than what we normally had pre-COVID. The Main Stage will go from noon to 5pm and then “after the dinner break there will be two bands in the pavilion followed by jamming” (like the Sugar House). The inside stage will be ready in case the weather requires it. “My goal for the Mini-Fest is to have it more like it was when we first started in Weston, VT. It was a simpler time, there was even time for Seth and I to get out and jam.”

Will you have food vendors? How about the Sugar House? Will the Fair ground toilets and shower facilities be open and available?
We have a few food vendors. The Sugar House will be open with their maple products. Yes, toilet and shower facilities will be open and we will also have portable toilets.

Are there any special COVID-type protections and restrictions in place for this festival?
The big advantage we have is that this is an outdoor festival. We are not requiring proof of vaccination and not mandating masks. We expect people to act responsibly. “As everyone knows, COVID-19 has a mind of its own and things are changing daily. It’s too soon for us to announce any [specific] protections/restrictions until we are closer. We plan to follow the State of Vermont guidelines and the procedures that the fairgrounds have in place for this.” To keep up to date on this, you should consult their website, or email Jenny Brook directly.

Have you found planning the Mini-Fest more challenging (in terms of expenses; getting enough volunteers; anticipating weather and COVID concerns; securing enough attendance to make this doable) than your regular June festivals?
It “feels like you’ve been sitting here in the office with me each time I receive another price for something.” Tents, portable toilets, golf carts etc. have all gone up. As for volunteers, some of our regulars are unable to commit to this event. “If you know anyone interested in volunteering, please send them our way!” Like all festivals I worry about the weather “but I think having the Pavilion ready will make it more comfortable if it gets cold after the sun goes down.”

Tickets and Camping Cost:
Friday-Saturday-Sunday Festival Pass: $100. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Daily Entry Fees: $10 each day. Friday, Saturday and Sunday Daily Entry Fees: $40 each day. Prepaid Utility Sites, including a bundled Tuesday Entry Pass: $250. You may purchase tickets at the gate, but reserving in advance (especially for utility sites) is your safest bet!

There is a terrific lineup for Friday, Saturday and Sunday which includes The Kody NOrris Show, Danny Paisley & Southern Grass, Po’ Ramblin’ Boys (two days – Saturday and Sunday!), Rock Hearts, the Feinberg Brothers, Zink & Co, Dreamcatcher Reunion and, of course, the Seth Sawyer Band. See the Jenny Brook website for a complete listing of bands and further details.

Candi’s musical background and festival “philosophy”:
I used our Jenny Brook discussion as an opportunity to find out more about Candi personally and professionally. Candi met her husband Seth 30 years ago at the Maine Blistered Fingers Festival. She sold him a raffle ticket and asked if he was Seth Sawyer. He was. After a first date at “Dick and Becky Pelletier’s 4th of July Picking Party”, they became an item, traveling between Standish, ME (Seth) and Westminster, VT (Candi) each weekend until they married the following June.

Smokey Greene was Candi’s first musical hero. He told Candi “if you can learn to play that guitar, you’ll be able to play anything.” Candi loved Smokey’s festivals “so of course I wanted to be a promoter too. I talked with him about it when I was ready to start putting Jenny Brook together for the first time and he said “Don’t do it!” I understand why he said that because it does take a lot of work and devotion, but I’m so glad I didn’t listen.” Other early influences included Pati Crooker (Thomas Point Beach) and Candi’s grandfather, who put on the “Weston Playhouse Concert Series and his small festival that he held at his Keep It Country Campground each year.”

Candi’s musical instruction came from a variety of sources including her grandfather, a school teacher and Jim Warren. In Candi’s words, “I was very shy in the beginning. We were at Smokey’s festival in Porters Corners, NY and I was playing my guitar in the back of my Dad’s truck with the cap on. Eddie Greenwood, Sr. saw me in there and opened the cap and asked me why I didn’t come out and play outside. My Dad didn’t know Eddie and came right over to make sure everything was OK. Dad could see Eddie was a great guy. He ended up getting me to jam with him a lot that weekend and it really helped to give me confidence and get me over being afraid of playing with others.” Candi mostly plays the bass at this point and there’s a story behind that as well. She played in a country band called Green Mountain Express, and one of the bands cancelled for a show in Weston that Bill Harrell always played. “Grandpa asked us if we would do it. I ended up having to learn to play bass for that show because the regular bass player couldn’t do it. Doug Green helped me with that in the beginning and the rest I would have to say was self-taught. Luckily for that show he did all of his songs in G and D!”

I wondered whether, in the 20 years Candi has been producing the Jenny Brook festival, she has ever felt like she wanted to stop organizing an annual festival. I learned that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2002, “just one year after the {Vermont] festival started. Our kids were only 4 and 6 and we had our hands full. I didn’t want to give up but many times I have almost been forced to. Seth and the boys have always encouraged me to keep going because the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival has been the best medicine in the world for me.”

Let’s reward ourselves with some outdoor Vermont October jamming and bluegrass performances, and encourage Candi and Seth at the same time. Please try to attend the Columbus Day Weekend, 10/8 through 10/10 Jenny Brook Festival in Tunbridge, VT! If you have the time, come early and stay late.

Gayle Yeomans

Gayle Yeomans is a retired lawyer and financial services lobbyist. She now lives at her turn-of-the-century home and farm in western Ulster County. There she and her husband Dick Bowden take care of and spoil two quarter horses. She listened almost exclusively to classical music until her mid-thirties when her sister MaryE introduced her to bluegrass music. Gayle took up playing the fiddle in her sixties (too late?) and enjoys jamming with Dick and some of his more patient bluegrass pals.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *