Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart at the 2022 Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival
It was clear at the 2022 Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick, ME that strict COVID protocols have been mostly lifted. Attendance was great and they sold out of both day and camping tickets on Saturday and Sunday. If this is any indication of why the IBMA nominated this festival for Event of the Year, along with high attendance, excellent line ups, stellar camping, and lively campfire picking, Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival is a shoe in for the award.
The festival began on Thursday with the 2019 Showcase Winners, the Ruta Beggars. They won that competition for good reason, as they entertained the crowd from the get-go. Their energy, instrumental expertise, powerful vocals, and remarkable creativity set a great tone for the rest of the festival. The competition continued with this year’s bands including The Hosmer Mountain Boys, Bad Oats, Poor Monroe, Stoneface Mountain, On the Trail, and Hall Pass Bluegrass.
After the stage break, Thomas Point’s 2021 competition winners, Eugene Tyler Band, played, giving the judges time to tally their scores. In the end On the Trail won the competition and the Eugene Tyler Band presented the band with a trophy, one that they commissioned themselves. They loved being winners themselves and thought it would be fun to have a trophy passed on to future winners. Right after the announcement of the showcase winners, Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass took to the stage to finish off main stage entertainment.New this year, The Henhouse Prowlers then led a dance party in the Late Night Tent.
At night, the campsite jams filled the air. While there were a few super jams that played tunes at a faster pace, there were plenty of other jams for all levels to join. Lots of banjos were in attendance this year as were fiddles and basses.
Friday started off with Eugene Tyler Band, followed by the Ruta Beggars, Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass, and The Henhouse Prowlers. Later that night, The Appalachian Road Show came to the stage playing old timey music and giving a history lesson that shined light on the culture, lifestyle, and hardship of growing up in the Appalachian Mountains, the roots of bluegrass.
Dan Tyminski then fired up the crowd with his six-piece band which includes Gaven Largent on dobro, Maddie Denton on fiddle, Jason Davis on banjo, Grace Davis on bass, and Harry Clark on mandolin. It was clear that Tyminski chose a talented and young crew for his band that lent vibrancy to the music and the whole Tyminski show. He started with Man of Constant Sorrow, and finished with a collection of new songs that left many in the crowd choked up and amazed at the emotional depth and complexity of his lyrics. After 30 plus years of playing bluegrass, he has no intention of resting on his fame and laurels.
Saturday began with a set of waltzes from The Dale and Darcy Band, another new twist to this already fantastic festival. It was a welcome and gentle beginning to the day. Friday’s line up was tough to follow, but Mike and Jen Mulligan along Shari Elder had set up a full day of impressive bands on Saturday as well, including Erica Brown and The Bluegrass Connection, The Rock Hearts, who surprised everyone when Johnathan Edwards joined them for two tunes, Bluegrass Cardinals Tribute Show, Mile Twelve with new member Ella Jordon on fiddle, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart, which included a line up of the best of the new generation of players, including Jacob Jolliff who has been touring with the band over the summer. Rock Hearts then led a lively jam at the Caboose to finish off the night.
Given that Labor Day is a long weekend, Sunday included another full line up. It began with a beachfront Sunday Service led by Mike and Mary Robinson. Sister Sadie was a welcome addition to the gospel tunes. On the main stage, The Burnett Sisters with Colin Ray began the morning followed by Sister Sadie, who have two new full-time musicians, Jaelee Roberts on vocals and guitar and Mary Meyer on mandolin. This all-women’s band offers a dynamic and lively show, and we loved it. The day also included performances from Breakin’ Strings, Rock Hearts, The Thomas Point Young Pickers and Singers, and a Thomas Point main stay, Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band.
While some campers did pack up and leave on Sunday afternoon, most stayed for the big finale, the Travelin’ McCourys, followed by Sister Sade, and to everyone’s delight, The Del McCoury Band. The audience clearly loved hearing Del both sing and talk between tunes. Audience members called out requests which Del took even as he joked that he might not remember the words. This is Del’s 18th performance at Thomas Point, having played in 1981 for the first time. No more needs to be said about the crowd’s reaction to the set. OK… just a little bit more. Del’s bluegrass fans, and those hearing him and his band for the first time, simply loved the show. Standing ovation.
Next year? Shari Elder, along with Mike and Jen Mulligan, are already at work on their 2023 line up. Always wanting to keep the festival fresh, they added a few new wrinkles to the festival this year that may become annual events. One was when MC Cecil Abels drove a local duo, Green Heron, around the campground in a golf cart as they played tunes from the back seat. Another was having a dance tent on Friday night. For the first time they also had what Abels called a “tweener” band play between the Appalachian Roadshow and the Dan Tyminski Band. Elder says that they were trying to avoid the long set changes that can interrupt the flow of the music. The band Old Hat played this set, and Elder says that they will try to expand on these “tweener” sets next year. Finally, having a set of waltzes to start the morning, performed by the Dale and Darcy Band, filled a musical void for the folks who are early risers and ready for music by 9:00. Some folks even enjoyed a morning waltz!
Elder says that there were all kinds of magic moments during the festival, one being a gospel song sung by Jaelee Roberts for a multi-generational Thomas Point family who had unexpectedly lost their father, Tom Bellows, just two weeks before the festival. The family asked if she could sing one of his favorite gospel tunes, How Great Thou Art. With his wife Maggie, his 8 children, 28 grandchildren, and several great grandchildren in attendance, this was a beautiful tribute.
With a full array of Master and Instructional workshops, a young pickers program, family activities, and a jam tent schedule that included a Wernick Method bluegrass jam class led by Austin Scelzo from Rock Hearts, this festival had something for everybody.
There is no doubt that Mike, Jen, and Shari love of all varieties of music, and they are also eager to keep their bluegrass community happy. By slowly introducing these other aspects into their festival they are ensuring the festival’s survival as time marches on and times and audiences change.