4th annual Green Mountain Bluegrass & Roots Festival report

Mighty Poplar at the 2023 Green Mountain festival – photo © Dale Cahill

In just four years, Jill and John Turpin have worked hard to create in the Green Mountain Bluegrass & Roots festival an event which matches their vision of an inclusive and welcoming family gathering. This year they hosted a lineup that included a wide range of roots musicians, many of whom consider the festival not only a place to perform, but also a gathering that brings them together and gives them an opportunity to pick together, share stories, and catch up with one another. The result was a weekend of bands, singer/song writers, and music that folks in the campground didn’t want to miss.

The festival got off the ground with two good friends and long-time collaborators, Michael Daves and Jacob Jolliff. Three singer/songwriters followed, Maya de Vitry, Jordan Tice, and Caitlin Canty. All three were unknown to Dale and I and we were happily surprised by what we heard. They will all be part of our Spotify line up in the future.

Tim O’Brien was booked to perform next on the main stage, also on the Lamp Lighters stage, and to be a roving musician who could turn up anywhere and anytime. Unfortunately, O’Brien caught covid, and he and Jan Fabricius were unable to attend the festival. Mr. Sun, called by some Daryl Anger’s Gang of Four, took his place in the lineup on the main stage, and at the Lamp Lighter stage on Saturday. 

The final three main stage bands on Friday included the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, The Green Mountain All Stars playing and singing their favorite Dolly Parton songs, and the Sam Grisman Project. The late-night Lamp Lighter stage, located down a magical woodland path, showcased two bands, Daves and Jolliff, and the other the Foghorn Stringband. For many, the music did not end there as the real night crowd returned to the campground to pick and jam well into the early morning.

On Saturday, Peter Rowan unexpectedly started the day, followed by more singer/songwriters, Jake Blount, Rachel Baiman, and Taylor Ashton. Foghorn Stringband ended the morning set. What followed was a lineup of bands that included singer/songwriter Aoife O’Donovan, who many remember from her days with Crooked Still. Mighty Poplar was next. This hugely popular band included Andrew Marlin, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge, Greg Garrison, and Alex Hargreaves, who played to a large and enthusiastic audience. Town Mountain followed and then along came Sam Bush. His bright, energized, and joyful performance featured songs from Radio John, his tribute to the beloved John Hartford. 

That night, The Lamp Lighter stage featured Mr. Sun followed by one of our favorite bands, Twisted Pine. More jams and picking could be heard all night. The jams spanned bluegrass, folk, jazz, and everything in between.

While at most festivals, campers start to pack up and head home on Sunday, GMBR offered a whole new collection of bands that kept fans into the evening, and those with long drives home overnight. Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, Christian Sedelmyer, Mr. Sun, The Milk Carton Kids, and Mipso kept us there until 6:30, as did the final band Watchhouse who invited John Turpin to the stage to join them on guitar. Exhausted and happy, Dale and I returned to our campsite and watched people break down their campsites to head home.

There is no doubt that GMBR is a unique festival, both in its line up and in its festival culture. We heard and played in far more jams this year than last, and the crowd of campers and day visitors increased in number. Jill and John were ever present, pitching in when necessary, supporting their volunteers, and setting a standard of calm and joyfulness that let everyone there know that they too were enjoying the music and the people in attendance. 

They added two step dance lessons this year, as well as a pop-up stage where musicians played between main stage sets. Seeing Twisted Pine play there, just a few feet away from the crowd, captured everyone’s attention, as did the band Hub Hollow, Jill and John’s own bluegrass band who played on the pop-up stage Saturday. Jill sang harmonies with her twin brother Jason while John skillfully picked out notes on his guitar. 

Although the Turpins are always looking for ways to fine tune the festival, their primary goal is to maintain an event that feels intimate and lively. Joey Ryan from the Milk Carton Kids said it best when he looked out at the crowd and exclaimed that after playing around the world for over a dozen years, the GMBR stage has the most beautiful view he and bandmate Kenneth Pattengale have ever seen. A big shout out for Vermont’s Green Mountains!

In the final moments of the festival, Andrew Marlin of both Mighty Poplar and Watchhouse summed up what most musicians thought about how this festival felt like coming home, a place where he could connect with his friends, with Jill and John, and simply be able to relax and enjoy himself. 

Yup, we will be returning next year.