Missy Raines & Allegheny at the 2021 Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival – photo by Dale Cahill
We are just back from 2021 Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival, and although they celebrated their 40th year in 2019, this year felt like a celebration year as well. In the face of fewer volunteers, shifting COVID restrictions in parts of the country and more attendees than ever before, Mike Mulligan, his wife Jen, Shari Elder, and their hard-working crew pulled off a well-run, well-organized event. Mike rolled his eyes at me when I commented to this affect, but no one in attendance ever thought any different. Although the main stage music began on Thursday per usual, the jamming started days before that and kept going right into the wee hours of Monday morning. But for many it is the all-star lineup and beautiful late summer weather that they will remember the most.
The showcase band competition was scheduled to kick things off on Thursday with the 2019 band contest winners, The Ruta Beggars. Unfortunately, due to a possible COVID exposure they were unable to attend. So, in stepped longtime emcee Cecil Abels with his two friends and veteran players Rich Stillman on banjo and Kelly Stockwell on bass. The trio split the set with Country Man Dan and the festival was off to the races.
First up in the showcase was The Splinters from Massachusetts, followed by Stoneface Mountain String Band, a young band of teenagers who stuck to a traditional bluegrass repertoire. Miners Creek played next with a more progressive and cross-genre mix. The Eugene Tyler Band, who ended up winning the competition, describe themselves as “three mama’s boys with anxiety problems trying to find catharsis in high-energy irreverent songs.” They were a crowd pleaser to say the least. The Chicken Shack Bluegrass Band took the stage last with their five lead singers and impressive harmonies. After announcing the winners that night, it was a treat to hear Twisted Pine, the Thomas Point band showcase winners in 2014. The rest of the night was devoted to jamming under the pines.
Friday highlights included Chris Jones and The Night Drivers. This was their first time at Thomas Point and they couldn’t say enough about Maine’s unique beauty, and the stunning ocean views from the stage. They played all their radio favorites and, if you listen to Bluegrass Junction on SiriusXM, Chris Jones’ familiar voice made it feel like he was broadcasting his True Grass show right there from the stage. Next up was Missy Raines & Allegheny, followed by The Steep Canyon Rangers who closed out the night. Like Jones’ band, The Steep Canyon Raiders played tunes from their deep collection of Billboard chart-toppers. This is their third time playing at Thomas Point and we hope it isn’t their last.
Where do we start with our Saturday round-up? The day included eight bands, and began at 10:00 a.m. with High Fidelity, a fine start to what turned into a sunny late summer day. If you have never attended this festival, there is a good reason it is known as “Where the Music Meets the Sea,” as it has a sweet sandy beach for swimming and launching kayaks, paddle boards, and anything else that floats, just steps from the concert area. I had the pleasure then of listening to Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper from my paddleboard that morning while others lounged on the beach.
Saturday also included Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, The Gibson Brothers, and finally Sam Bush. As if that wasn’t enough, Del McCoury joined Sam on stage for a cameo. When introducing his surprise guest, Sam admitted that when he first met Del he thought his full name was Delma Coury. That got quite a few laughs and may have earned Del a new nickname.
One of the wonderful things about Thomas Point Beach is that it doesn’t end on Sunday. Given that it takes place over Labor Day weekend, the music continues. So instead of packing up and having to tell friends, “See you next year,’ on Sunday morning, everyone can relax and enjoy another day and night of live music and all day picking.
Sunday began with a beachfront Sunday service with Williamson Branch, followed by a Gospel sing along hosted by Mike and Mary Robinson. After that Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers took the stage followed by The Becky Buller Band, Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band with Leroy Troy, and the Thomas Point “Kids That Pick.” The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys followed by The ‘Delma Coury’ Band finished out the night.
Amazing bands and lively picking aside, this is a festival with heart. Mike Mulligan’s moving dedication to Shari Elder in the festival program set a tone of thankfulness. That same spirit was present for all three 50/50 raffles which go to benefit three charities – 317 Music Community Music Center in Yarmouth, The American Cancer Society, and Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention Program. This year, far more people bought tickets than expected, and both Friday and Saturday winners gave their winnings right back to benefit the charity. A general sense of goodwill permeated the festival. Can’t wait to see what is in store for us next year!