Bluegrass festival coming to Manchester

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MANCHESTER — The Northshire has a new music festival scheduled for this summer, thanks to a couple with a passion for bluegrass and traditional roots music, and do-it-yourself experience in putting that music on stage.

The Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Music Festival is scheduled for Aug. 16 through Aug. 19, at Hunter Park. It's being put on by John and Jill Turpin, who got into promoting bluegrass concerts as a way to see and hear the music they love.

Unlike past concerts at Hunter Park, the bluegrass festival will not use Northshire Civic Center's Riley Rink as a music venue. But the Turpins and rink general manager Jon Larson are considering the possibility of using the rink's locker rooms for guest showers, and its snack bar as a place to offer breakfast.

Guests will be welcome to camp on the 30-acre site and take in the sounds of acoustic guitars, mandolins, fiddles, upright double bass and close vocal harmonies on a single main stage. The lineup includes Peter Rowan, who played with Bill Monroe; Molly Tuttle, the first woman to be nominated for and win the International Bluegrass Music Association's Guitar Player of the Year award; and the association's Mandolin Player of the Year Sierra Hull.

"You don't have to know these musicians and love them to have an amazing time," Jill Turpin said.

What the Turpins are counting on is the communal music-making tradition of bluegrass music, and its capacity to create one-of-a-kind musical moments and collaborations that audience members of all ages will enjoy.

"We realized these musicians all know each other, and they all play music together when they can," Jill Turpin said. "We're going to put them in a field together with an audience, and who knows what we're going to see? We're just setting the stage and letting them do whatever they want to do."

As Turpin described it, she and her husband didn't set out to be bluegrass concert promoters or festival organizers; the family business is an independent real estate firm in Somerset County, N.J. (He's the firm president; she's a buyer's agent.) But the couple share a deep passion for bluegrass, folk and roots music, having played in bands together and spent their vacations attending bluegrass festivals.

When their corner of New Jersey proved off the beaten path for bluegrass concerts, the Turpins booked the shows themselves, and put the musicians up in their home. That experience, in turn, led to the couple's desire to share the music they heard in their living room with a wider audience. "It's our passion in life for people to see how incredible it is," Jill Turpin said.

For example: "I'll be making breakfast and hearing members of the Lonely Heartstring Band practicing in our living room, and I hear just the songs they warm up on," she said. "These musicians are so incredible; I'm in awe of them every time i see them. And they're not stopping, they're not resting on their laurels. They're continually pushing themselves."

When the family moved to Landgrove, they started thinking about how they might share that passion for roots music in their new home. They started scouting Google Earth for suitable sites in southern Vermont, and on several occasions they put her kids in the car and "drove and drove and drove," to look at locations.

But those missions kept coming back to one place.

"Where do we always end back up? What was the carrot at the end for the kids and I? Manchester. 'If you spend an hour in the car, I'll bring you to Spiral Press.' It was always Manchester," Turpin said.

And it finally clicked when she and her husband saw Hunter Park, its fields and its panoramic mountain views.

"[Larson] was like, 'Yes, this is a great idea,' and from that moment, it was all arrows pointing to yes. It was almost like we couldn't not do it," Turpin said. And everyone we met said, "We will do anything we can for you; what do you need?' And that's just so amazing."

So far, Turpin said the reception has been positive, in meetings with Town Manager John O'Keefe, Economic Development Director Pauline Moore, Police Chief Michael Hall, and business leaders including Lana Hauben of Manchester Designer Outlets and Paul W. Carroccio of TPW Real Estate and the Manchester Business Association.

"The Green Mountain Bluegrass Festival is exactly the type of event that draws new visitors to Manchester and provides local businesses with new opportunities, customers and sales," Carriccuio said. "Because of this, the MBA can help promote the message through its marketing program and digital assets.'"

Larson said the festival is a perfect fit for Hunter Park, with its acres of open space and panoramic views of the Taconic and Green mountains, and he's looking forward to working with the Turpins to make it happen.

"A big part of this is camping, and I've always wanted to use our back field in that capacity," he said.

Turpin wants to use as many local and in-state vendors as possible, and she said she's had productive discussions with local food truck vendors and hotels. The Casablanca Hotel, for example, has already agreed to house festival performers in its cabins.

"Jill has told me on more than one occasion her goal is to use small businesses and locally owned businesses," said Casablanca co-owner Linda Benway. "As a locally owned small business, we were thrilled to be chosen as the lodging partners for this event."

For more information about the festival, visit greenmountainbluegrass.com.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com.

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