Bluegrass festival draws crowds to Manchester

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MANCHESTER — This time, the rain only managed to pause the Green Mountain Bluegrass & Roots Festival.

A short rain break Friday, and a two-hour thunderstorm delay on Saturday, could not keep an all-star lineup of bluegrass musicians from performing electrifying sets for adoring crowds over the weekend.

The four-day event at Hunter Park, on the campus of Northshire Civic Center, closed Sunday afternoon under sunny skies with a warmly received set by Mandolin Orange. Fans stood six deep around the retaining fence in front of the stage to see and hear the duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, and would not let them leave without an encore.

"This crew has worked very hard for the last four days and they probably hate us right now, but you guys are awesome, so we're gonna play one more," Frantz said to cheers and applause.

Co-organizers John and Jill Turpin both expressed gratitude for the volunteers and local sponsors who helped make the second annual festival happen.

"This has been more amazing than we ever could have imagined," John Turpin told the crowd before Mandolin Orange took the stage on Sunday afternoon. The number of volunteers and others who offered to help without expecting anything in return was "nothing short of shocking," and for that the couple was very grateful, he said.

Turpin made his remarks before announcing the results of a musical instrument raffle, which raised money for The Dream Program, a non-profit which provides mentoring and support to close the opportunity gap for children living in low-income housing. Will Mosheim of Dorset custom-built a banjo from Vermont hardwoods for the raffle.

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On Saturday night, the Strength in Numbers tribute band, with fiddler Christian Sedelmyer, dobro player Mike Wichtell, mandolin player Dominick Leslie and banjo player Wes Corbett among its members, took the stage when the skies cleared after a two-hour delay. They played Strength in Numbers' 1989 album "Telluride Sessions," front to back, and the performance received a standing ovation and a curtain call.

Last year, when a violent line of thunderstorms blew into Manchester and washed away most of Friday night's lineup, Mipso was among the bands that lost the chance to play. The Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Americana band had its second chance on Saturday, and its members were happy to finally take their turn on stage.

"I can't believe it, we're playing!" fiddler Libby Rodenbaugh said. "This is so much better than the alternative."

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But Mipso's final note was still hanging in the air when Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Matt Harrington, who helped handle stage announcement duties, asked the audience to clear the field and calmly make its way to the safety of their cars, campers, or nearby Riley Rink. A line of thunderstorms was approaching from the west, and the National Weather Service had issued warnings.

The evacuation went off without incident, though some campers could be seen struggling with their pop-up tents as a strong wind led the rain and thunder into Manchester.

The word went out shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday that the show would resume.

A short storm Friday wasn't nearly as eventful and didn't cause an evacuation at all. It lasted about 30 minutes with five minutes of hard rain before the sun came back out and everyone returned to the sounds of Chatham County Line, which never quit playing through the storm.

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Co-organizer Jill Turpin said its physical set-up at Hunter Park was slightly reconfigured from last year "because now we know where the water goes."

It also featured a larger dance tent as a second stage and venue for family programming, as well as emergency shelter..

Friday's rain cleared just in time for the musical storm that hit as the Sam Bush Band brought the proverbial lightning from the main stage followed by thunder in the dance tent with Town Mountain and Donna the Buffalo.

It was the first Manchester appearance for Bush, who pushed the edges of bluegrass toward what would be known as newgrass in the early 1970s and fronted the enormously successful New Grass Revival that produced 20 albums. His band was just recently nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association for entertainer of the year and instrumental group of the year among others.

There was no denying the band's popularity in Manchester as a good portion of the crowd came to its feet and surged toward the stage where they danced and begged for more when the set was over.

Journal Editor Darren Marcy contributed to this story.


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