Randy and Heather Kennedy
Our Team North Branch Mascot
The North Branch Story
Many years ago, on a rainy day in Bridgewater, Randy and I decided to go for a drive. The skies cleared as we drove west over Mendon Pass. By the time we headed north on Route 7, the sun was out. It was a beautiful day. As we drove along in Brandon, we came upon a blue sign that said "Bluegrass Festival". We decided to check it out. What a surprise we found. Bluegrass Festivals had done an "about face" from those of our college years. There were no hordes of drunken festival goers stumbling about, no littered grounds, no overflowing porta-potties. There was none of the chaos that overshadowed the true reason for a festival............the music. Instead of a party, what Randy and I found that day was more like an all day outdoor concert....family picnic style. Everyone was polite, patient, courteous, and most of all........genuinely happy. We were hooked. The people we met were wonderful. Randy began saying things like "Wouldn't it be great if we had something like this in Bridgewater?"
So, that's how the seed for North Branch Bluegrass Festival was first planted. The more days we spent relaxing in our camping chairs soaking up picturesque beauty all over New England (while watching phenomenal musicians), the more that seed grew. A few years later, at the Lake Champlain Music Festival, we shyly introduced ourselves to the members of the New England Bluegrass Band who were field picking up by the stage after the show. They were great. I know we're a little old to be groupies but we just couldn't help ourselves. That's what bluegrass festivals do to you. Everyone who behaves like a genuine human being is genuinely welcome. Everyone who acts like a real jerk is calmly escorted off the property. Really bad jerks get escorted into police cruisers....problem solved.
In the summer of 2007, my family lost my oldest sister, Wendy, to cancer at the young age of 49. Nearly the same age as our Wendy, Randy's sister, Jane, had been painfully ill from Multiple Schlerosis for over two decades at that time. Being so humbled watching our sisters' extraordinary courage was what finally prompted us to follow our dream of producing our own bluegrass festival. We had no prior experience and really didn't know anybody in the bluegrass business but figured... if they could be so brave in their struggles then so should we be, too. I guess we look at this as our single item "Bucket List" of sorts. We hope we've made them proud.
We've modeled The North Branch Bluegrass Festival after the Basin Bluegrass Festival we found that day in Brandon and a small one day festival that happens every spring up north in Belvidere, VT. The Rattling Brook Bluegrass Festival is a fundraiser that helps pay the property taxes for a small privately-owned community club. They have a ball field, pavillion,stage, and snack shack. Members of the Big Spike Bluegrass Band were instrumental (no pun intended) in starting Rattling Brook and gave us a lot of good advice. In point of fact, nearly everyone in the northeast bluegrass festival world that we have encountered has welcomed us into the fold. We continue to make new friends every time we go listen to bluegrass music anywhere.
So, many years and countless bluegrass festivals later, here we find ourselves as Festival Directors of our own event. Some days, it's hard to believe that Randy's dream (now mine, too) is coming true. We've tried to shape the North Branch Bluegrass Festival to fit our longtime dreams for a Bridgewater community event. We look forward to spending a happy day with our neighbors doing something just for the true joy of it. Bluegrass Festivals aren't cheap to put on but we feel a real want to keep our festival affordable and simple to understand. If you want to smoke a cigarette or shoot the bull with your neighbor, you can still hear the music from the smoking area without bothering anybody. If you play, there are free workshops hosted by the bands that will welcome you to sit in. If you just want to pay to get in, park your lawn chair, read a book, knit,draw, or even play checkers with a friend...and be left alone........please be our guest. All we ask is that everyone be respectful of one another. The primary rule of our festival is:"If your good time is getting in the way of your neighbor's good time, you're probably being too loud and you need to dial it down".
A final word on alcohol use. The North Branch Bluegrass Festival is not an "alcohol-free" event nor is it a "free-alcohol" event. No alcohol will be sold on the festival grounds. We're allowing folks to brown bag refreshments at their own risk but will not tolerate open displays of alcohol and no excessive drinking. This is a courtesy extended only to adults of legal drinking age. Our policy this year will be: "Absolutely No Underage Drinking, No Drunks, No Drugs, ..........No Exceptions....and No Refunds" If this setup doesn't work, we'll have to ban alcohol completely from our festival.
The bands that we've hired also support themselves by selling Cd's of their music which is alway a good value. They're being very generous to us all with their time and efforts and we hope that folks will show their appreciation.
So, that's what we're up to. We hope you're looking forward to this as much as we are. Our festival site is upstream from Route 4 along the beautiful North Branch section of the Ottaquechee River in Bridgewater Center,VT. Bring your lawn chairs, instruments, sunscreen, rain ponchos, a dependable flashlight, warm layers, pocket money, etc...and join us next Labor Day Weekend. The gate opens daily at 9:00 AM.
Heather and Randy Kennedy
North Branch Bluegrass Festival
Our Story Continues: In 2011, on the evening before Early Bird Camping was to begin at our 4th festival, Hurricane Irene came to town and changed our lives forever. After working tirelessly for days , we had nearly completed set up of our mobile festival and the time was somewhere around 5:30 pm. We needed only to erect our big shade tents in order to be finished with set up when our friends Gordie & Ginny Bettis arrived. We thought they we there to help us with the tents as they had done a few times before. Our hearts sank as they delivered the news that our valley would soon see 6 inches of rain....this news was completed unexpected by us. Hurricane Irene had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm the day before. We had prepared for wind but were unaware of the massive flooding and destruction in Bridgewater that was headed straight for us. Final rainfall totals of Irene's downpour were more than 12 iches of rain in less than 18 hours. Far surpassing the 1927 Flood, State Geologists have now classified Irene's flooding as a 500 year flood. This epic storm laid waste to most of the lowlands in Bridgewater, including our festival's field and our home property upstream. The flood took with it our private bridge, our barn, over twenty years of our life's work and posessions as well as many of our future hopes and dreams. Moving our festival buildings on wheels up to the height of the land miraculously saved much of our festival equipment which was marooned down in the extensive debrisfield for over a month. The once picturesque hayfield was now home to literally thousand of twisted trees, building wreckage,rubbish,rocks,removed literally tons of soil, and eroded huge craters larger than schoolbuses. It looked like a Hollywood war zone after a bombing to us. Most of our life's work and dreams were swept away that day. Most certainly, our festival dreams were finished. Or so we thought. Weeks later, when communications to the outside world were restablished, many of the bands we had booked for 2011 offered to return free of charge in 2012 for a small benefit festival...... if we could somehow rebuild enough of the field in time.
Hiking out through the brook, working before daylight until long after dark, sevens days a week, as Bridgewater's Road Foreman, Randy spent the next 3 months at his job repairing/replacing our towns destroyed infrastructure. Heavy equipment, materials and manpower were in short supply throughout New England. Most of the able-bodied men in town hopped onto whatever equipment was available, most risked their lives at one time or another to put Bridgewater back together before winter as best as they could. Thankfully,they managed to stabilize all but one road by Dec. 7th, an incredible feat that garnered them national recognition. Armed with our chainsaw, shovel, pickup truck & tow chain, I hand dug and cut my way through mountains of debris, recovered what I could, made snse of our nightmare, and set to work replacing our lost winter firewood. Knowing we were unable to afford replacement our bridge, our uphill neighbor kindly offered us access through his land for a new road home. Eventually, we reluctantly accepted. Renting and borrowing equipment, Randy & I built ourselves a new driveway in early December and finally hauled our festival trailer buildings home on the day before Christmas. This was followed by a never-before-seen, freakish, "open" winter with hardly a significant snowstorm. This allowed us to set to work nonstop on the epic job of rebuilding the lower half of our field. By July 7th, we had enough room clean and flat. We broadcast 1950 pounds of seed and waited for rain......and then Vermont had a drought. For months, our field was literally a dustbowl. Wild Turkeys gorged themselves daily on our expensive seed. It was heartbreaking. But time passed and life began anew. Eventually, the grass began to grow and the field began to heal....as did we. Today, Randy and I walk and work together on our field of dreams, so very proud of what has now become our own personal legacy of human perserverence.
Although the grass is still sparse in a couple of small spots, we are now able to harvest new hay from the lower half of our field. After harvest, we begin grooming with our finish mower so festival campers are treated to a new green turf instead of hay stubble. We've hand raked and handpicked the field over and over again and are quite certain folks are safe going barefoot.While there are still years of work left ahead for us fixing the upstream section, we feel blessed by the beauty that we as a couple working alone side by side have recreated. This is our field. It is an integral part of our legacy....and we have earned it. Our work renews us spiritually and reassures us that, like the land, we too are becoming whole again. It has indeed been a priviledge and an honor to live as stewards of this magically beautiful place . We are forever humbled by the second chance to fill our up our mountain valley with sounds of the music that we love and share it with folks who appreciate it for one short special time each year. Peace and harmony-It's quite a combination. So...that's "Our Story" so far.
Hug your family while you can. -HK