A music festival with a twist

Bluegrass Blowout 3 features acoustic styles old and new on a historic old Rockingham farm

BELLOWS FALLS — Where do you go for the hottest bluegrass music in the most picturesque setting?

On May 18 and 19, Barnaby's Presents is sponsoring Bluegrass Blowout 3 at Rockingham Hill Farm. The music festival will showcase 11 bands, along with fire dancers, numerous food vendors, and a variety of camping options.

The gates open on Friday at 2 p.m. The music begins at 6:30 p.m. and runs until early Sunday morning. Tickets can be bought for a single day or the whole weekend.

The artists performing on Friday include Henry's Rifle, Bow Thayer and Holy Plow, JATOBA, Floodwood, and Primate Fiasco.

Saturday will start with a music workshop on the main stage with with Joe Craven. Saturday's music will begin at 1 p.m. with Shady Mountain Folk, followed by The Blind Owl Band, Madison Violet, Gold Town, Hot Day at the Zoo, and the festival's headliner, The Joe Craven Trio.

Josh Hearne, who, with business partner Chris Lincoln, organized the festival, described this weekend's event as “a two-day music festival of non-traditional bluegrass music.”

Bluegrass music may be characterized as a form of American roots music inspired by the music of Appalachia that's traditionally played on acoustic stringed instruments, but that description is just the starting point for many of the bands appearing at Bluegrass Blowout.

“Bluegrass musicians usually play Americana, folk, and singer/songwriter things,” Hearne said.

“However, we mix it up a bit. This is not your grandfather's bluegrass music, although there will be some of that too. We will be exploring different aspects of bluegrass - new, groove, zoo, and honky-tonk bluegrass music.”

The musicians combine unusual instruments, and may even add a non-acoustic element here and there, resulting in an eclectic hybrid.

Bluegrass Blowout originated in 2009 when Hearne's love of live music and his vision for a local music scene managed to attract national acts to his southern Vermont backyard. That first event turned out to be bigger than he ever dreamed, with more than 300 music lovers showing up to see six bands, five fire dancers, a contortionist, and one vendor serving food.

Local music scene

Seeing the great potential, Hearne formed Barnaby's Presents, a promotion and production company dedicated to bringing nationally famous acts to Bellows Falls and expanding the town's burgeoning local music scene.

Barnaby's Presents hosts three festivals a year at its Rockingham Hill Farm location: Bluegrass Blowout, Rockinghill Music Festival, and Out on Bail. It also brings the Halloween show and several shows annually at The Stone Church in Brattleboro.

Hearne is especially proud of the high level of quality of each of his festivals.

“I love to hear when people say they can't believe such a show came out of rural Vermont,” he said.

The professional, creative production of each event that Barnaby's Presents hosts is the result of its collaboration with Grip Lighting and Effects.

Chris Lincoln and Grip have collaborated with Barnaby's since its inception in 2009, becoming a co-owner in 2011.

This year, Hearne is particularly excited about the Bluegrass Blowout 3's headliner act, the Joe Craven Trio.

Craven, a freestyle folk, world, and roots music multi-instrumentalist, singer, and award winning educator is the director of RiverTunes Music Camp and a co-director of the Wintergrass Youth Academy. He plays a variety of string instruments, including fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, tres, cavaquinho, and balaliaka, as well as a percussion instruments, including a “pickle jar, a credit card, or a jawbone,” Hearne said.

Craven has played with many notable musicians, including Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grappelli, Alison Brown, Rob Ickes, and David Lindley. He performs solo, and in different sizes and versions of his own projects.

Serving as a backdrop to the music is the setting.

“Rockingham Hill is a pristine Vermont farm,” Hearne said.

“The current owner is the first non-Divoll to own the property. The Divoll family have farmed it for the past 12 generations and it was a working dairy farm until the last 20 years. It has beautiful buildings, including two remarkable silos. It is about as picturesque Vermont as you can get.”

One of the delights of this festival is camping on the property. Visitors can camp in a quiet family area, in their RVs, or in an area called Crazy Town, where few campers actually get to sleep.

The number of people who have been attending Bluegrass Blowout has been growing each year.

“The ticket pre-sale is our biggest ever,” he says. “We have all kinds of people who come, from intense music fanatics to families out for a good time. This all makes for a very diverse and interesting crowd.”

Attendees can bring their own beer and identification will be checked at the door.

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