The 22nd Annual Podunk Bluegrass Festival is underway in Hebron, Connecticut. This is the fifth year Podunk has been held at the Hebron Lions Fairgrounds and the organizers and their team of over one hundred volunteers clearly know what they are doing. While many campers have attended before and know where they want to camp, all newcomers are given a personalized golf cart tour of their options. Shawn Szirbik, one of Podunk’s loyal volunteers, calls this the “consierge” treatment. We liked it!
Between the friendly and well organized folks who met us at the gate, the fairground’s flat terrain, an abundance of electric and water hook ups and easy access to bathrooms and free showers made pulling into this festival stress free, always a plus! It also didn’t hurt to get a wave from our good friend, mando picker and festival volunteer, Richard Heepe. It is hard to imagine attending a bluegrass festival in New England without seeing him hard at work.
In response to the feedback they received from their 2017 festival, Podunk’s Festival Committee have added a Showcase Stage which will feature local and regional bluegrass bands. Bend in the River opens the festival at 4:45 today. Both members of the band, sister and brother Clara and Evan Guilmette, participated in Podunk’s Kid’s Academy and live just down the road in Portland, CT. About the same time, the Telefunken Band Competition will take place on the Main Stage. We are happy to report that last year’s band competition winners, Beg, Steal or Borrow, from the state we call home, Vermont, are returning this year to play a few sets on the Main Stage. Looking forward to that !
Another popular addition to the festival is a Thursday night open mic. Musicians started signing up for the open on Thursday in the early afternoon.
The headliners on the main stage this year are Flatt Lonesome, Balsam Rang, Dale Ann Bradley and Tim O’Brien. Not too shabby!
The Hebron Fairgrounds is Podunk’s third, best, and hopefully permanent location. The festival started in 1996 thanks to a few bluegrass music lovers and an enthusiastic mayor who fully supported holding the festival at East Hartford’s Martin Park and offered the park, the park’s department staff, and police force at no cost to the festival promoters. The festival stayed there for sixteen years and then, after outgrowing the Park relocated to Norwich, CT ball park. The following year in 2013 the festival was canceled but the one hundred plus volunteers rallied together and moved Podunk to Hebron. Now a non-profit, Podunk has no paid staff and relies solely on their volunteers like Rich James and his wife Julia who find enormous satisfaction in looking around the festival, seeing the crowds and knowing that they were part of making it all happen.
Stay tuned for more photos and news from Podunk. If you are on the fence about attending this festival, come check it out for yourselves. It is just off of I-84 in Hartford and you don’t need a GPS to find it as the way is clearly marked with signs. It is time for us to grab a cold beer and go watch the morning music.