Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival offers musical retreat in the mountains
The bonds between artists aren't for show
MANCHESTER — A year into existence, the Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival is like a family retreat for the artists who gather for four days of string music, dancing and fun.
Many of the musicians who performed at last year's inaugural festival were invited back for this year's event, which runs Aug. 15 to 18 at Manchester's Hunter Park at Northshire Civic Center. The artists recall the familial atmosphere that filled the festival grounds and stages and look back fondly on the time spent in Manchester — despite severe thunderstorms that washed away a number of performances.
When weather affected the festival's Friday lineup last year, musicians found themselves with instruments in hand at the home of organizers John and Jill Turpin.
"It was a righteous storm. It was a real bummer. There had been a lot of build-up getting [to the festival]," said Mipso band member Libby Rodenbough. "All the musicians went back to the Turpins' house and had a jam. There was that mood of ridiculousness that comes from everything falling apart. Things weren't really ruined and folks stayed around. It was very soggy."
Mipso, a quartet from North Carolina, returns to the festival this year in hopes that rain is excluded from the forecast. The band joins a lineup loaded with marquee talent in the bluegrass, roots and Americana scene, one that features Sam Bush, Mandolin Orange, Darrell Scott, Town Mountain, Donna the Buffalo, Lonely Heartstring Band, Twisted Pine, Beg, Steal or Borrow and many more.
At other festivals, Rodenbough said, organizers want the acts to pretend they're all friends. There's no need to pretend at Green Mountain Bluegrass, she said.
"That vibe comes across on stage and it doesn't work well when it's manufactured," she said. "There's a real established connection between people and that's clearly a product of the Turpins planning it around their friends who are artists."
"We build the lineup from our heart," Jill Turpin said. "We don't book bands because we think they'll sell. We do it because they're the best musicians in the genre."
That vibe will become clear on Saturday for the Strength in Numbers tribute set featuring Christian Sedelmyer (violin), Domenic Leslie (mandolin), Daniel Kimbro (bass), Wes Corbett (banjo), Mike Witcher (dobro) and Jordan Tice (guitar). The set honors mandolin player Sam Bush, an original member of the supergroup that formed in the late 1980s and included Bela Fleck, Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer.
The group was considered progressive due to its jazz and classical newgrass fusions. Its album, "The Telluride Sessions, " released in 1989, is considered a landmark of progressive bluegrass.
"We want to pay homage to all those supergroup musicians and doing it with all these young musicians," she said. "It's like the next era of Strength in Numbers. We're really excited about that."
It's the second straight year the Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival has taken time to honor the music's legacy. Last year, Peter Rowan was the bluegrass icon on bill, and the musicians on hand assembled for a tribute set honoring the late John Hartford.
Sedelmyer, who will take part in the tribute, also orchestrated the group of musicians and regularly plays with Jerry Douglas, an original member of the supergroup.
"Everyone that's participating has spent plenty of time poring over and appreciating this album in our respective musical 'coming of ages," Sedelmyer said. "As challenging as it is to recreate it — both because of the legendary sound that the original band had together and the intricacies of the compositions — it's incredibly exciting to see what we'll each bring to it."
The idea came about when Sedelmyer was chatting with the Turpins after last year's festival. The Telluride festival came into discussion and how cool it would be to re-enact the Strength in Numbers album from Telluride. "The rest was history," Sedelmyer said.
While Saturday's tribute intends to mesh new and old bluegrass, Sunday's lineup is geared toward new bluegrass. Jill Turpin likes to call it "six degrees of Mandolin Orange."
This year, the North Carolina duo, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, closes out the festival and precedes acts that have some relation to the band — Sedelmyer, Josh Oliver and Bobby Britt. Marlin will play his solo project, which has premiered at about five other shows, Jill Turpin said.
Tice, a solo musician, will participate in various sets, including with his own band, Hawktail.
"It's about seeing friends and collaborating," Tice said. "Festivals seem like the reward of the career. You go and you're around like-minded people and play in a beautiful place. I have a lot of close friends I met at different festivals."
There will also be a pre-festival show at Billsville House Concerts in Manchester with Brothers Brother Aug. 3.
"Part of the beautiful thing about John and Jill's vision for this festival is that they're giving younger musicians a platform to collaborate and create new and unique musical experiences, which fuels us all to keep doing what we do," Sedelmyer said.
While building the festival schedule, the Turpins make sure only one act is playing at a time. Other festivals tend to stagger sets so multiple shows are happening at once. Organizers believe that bands sell more merchandise as a result. After talking to managers last year, Jill Turpin said artists sold more merchandise at the Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival than at any other festival where they performed.
"It made such an impact," she said. "It's something Telluride does, too."
Almost every component of the festival is Vermont-based, including the production team, volunteers, craft and food vendors and the glamping company, Turpin said.
General volunteers are still needed for the festival. There is a required $50 deposit to volunteer, which is refunded upon completing all shifts. Visit greenmountainbluegrass.com/volunteer for more information.
The festival grounds open Aug. 15 at noon. Presale passes for all four days cost $135 or $145 at the gate. A camping pass is an additional $40. Single-day tickets range from $23 to $55, depending on the day. Children ages 15 and younger are free when accompanied by an adult.
Freelance writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney is a frequent Landscapes contributor.