Fresh mix of performers for Roots on the River Festival 2015

BELLOWS FALLS — Each year, the Roots on the River Festival brings a mix of musicians, both veterans and newcomers, to our local stages, and the 16th annual event promises a memorable, fresh experience.

Southern Vermont's premiere music festival, produced by Vermont Festivals LLC, will take place June 4 to 7 in a number of venues around town, ranging from a massive tent at a mid-century motel to a 230-year-old meeting house.

This year's artists include Grammy-nominated John Fullbright and festival favorite Mary Gauthier, as well as a wide-ranging lineup of international, national, regional, and local talent rounding out the four-day event.

The last two years have been a whirlwind for Fullbright. At age 24, he received a Grammy nomination for his independently produced album “From the Ground Up,” created in three weeks on a shoestring budget.

In fact, when he learned he had been nominated, he was scrubbing his bathtub, and continued to do so “in denial” as he has described it, because he was home alone at the time, and the tub needed to be scrubbed.

“I never came into this with a whole lot of expectations,” Fullbright said. “I just wanted to write really good songs, and with that outlook, everything else is a perk. The fact that we went to LA and played “Gawd Above” in front of a star-studded audience, never in my life would I have imagined that.”

Since then, whether appearing on “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Letterman,” or playing at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute, he has slowing edged his way in the mainstream music buzz amid a flurry of critical and popular acclaim.

“What's so bad about happy?” John Fullbright sings on the opening track of his new album, 'Songs.' It's a play on the writer's curse, the notion that new material can only come through suffering and depression.

“A normal person, if they find themselves in a position of turmoil or grief, they'll say, 'I need to get out of this as fast as I can,'” Fullbright said. “A writer will say, 'How long can I stay in this until I get something good?'”

But, he said, he does not buy into that line of thinking.

Heartfelt lyrics are also a strong theme in the work of Mary Gauthier. Gauthier plays the final Roots concert each year at the Rockingham Meeting House, an all-acoustic show that is one of the most popular events of the weekend, a winding down and contemplation of all the energies of the previous days.

“I've been playing the Sunday Meetinghouse show at the Roots on the River Festival for a long time now,” Gauthier said. “Lots of years, a whole lot of shows. And I keep coming back every year for one reason – the amazing audience of true music lovers who show up for this event.”

Gauthier said the fans at Roots appreciate the importance of songwriters and songs, and the give and take are an important part of the performance.

“They are my reason, and they've recharged my soul in that old Meetinghouse show every single time,” she said. “It's the best audience I could ever hope for. I love them. They make me want to do my best for them, and I am looking forward to heading back this year with my friend Sam Baker on board.”

Baker is a remarkable songwriter who offers up gentle, compelling lyrics crafted from the heart. In 1986, he was nearly killed in a train bombing in Peru, and emerged from that experience and recuperation more connected with his art, poetry, and music.

“Life is a gift. I went through a lot of bitterness - a lot of anger. But those things are toxic. Gratitude for what remains is more helpful than resentment for what was lost,” he said. “Ultimately, I came to understand that these days are wicked short and terribly beautiful. All I've got – no matter what I hold in my hands, drive around in, or put in the bank, all I've got is this one breath, and if I'm lucky, I get another.”

The lineup this June also includes returning artists The Black Lillies, Caitlin Canty, Heather Maloney, the Meadows Brothers, Haley Reardon, and Roger Marin, who is the only artist to appear at every ROTR festival thus far.

Look for newcomers Domenic Cicala (who attended as a fan for the last four years, and will now appear on the stage), New England's Pesky J. Nixon, The No Fuss and Feathers Roadshow, Buffalo, N.Y.'s Davey O., Ida Mae Specker and the Honest Mistakes, Josh Brooks, and Pretty Girls Sing Soprano, with more artists being added weekly.

“Roots on the River is a magical musical stew created with only the finest ingredients,” Cruz Conteras of The Black Lillies, said. “Good people, great music, and a lush Vermont mountain setting. The festival was one of our great discoveries of the past year...and we can't wait to return in 2015.”

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