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Out & About: Bluegrass and blues in Brunswick and Portland

Lifestyle

Out & About: Bluegrass and blues in Brunswick and Portland

The hard-driving sounds of banjos, mandolins and other acoustic string instruments will blend with the "high lonesome tenor" voices in Brunswick for three days this weekend and July 23 in Portland.

The traditional sound of bluegrass music returns to the Pine Tree State at the White's Beach Traditional Family Bluegrass Festival, an alfresco gathering that runs Friday through Sunday in Brunswick. Expect about a dozen bands in the lineup, most of them from Maine and New England.

Prefer an indoor venue in Portland? Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys, a top Vermont bluegrass band since the 1970s, will play at One Longfellow Square on Thursday, July 23. The band makes frequent forays into Maine, but seldom visits the Port City.

Prefer old-fashioned acoustic blues to bluegrass? One Longfellow Square also has a night for you. Paul Geremia, a Rhode Islander who's been playing the blues for close to four decades, visits this Saturday.

White's Beach Traditional Family Bluegrass Festival

Down-home and local: That's the core concept behind the White's Beach Traditional Family Bluegrass Festival, which is coming up this weekend, July 17-19, in Brunswick. Bluegrass in the summertime is quite popular in Maine, and the state boasts quite a few outdoor festivals, including a couple of large ones.

But White's Beach is one of the state's smallest gatherings, and it remains true to the genre's roots from those halcyon days of yore: performing on the front porch for family, friends and neighbors. And that's the model of the festival, which books mostly Maine and New England bands. The format seems to be working; the relatively low-key event is now in its 12th year.

The White's Beach stage is a replica of a front porch, complete with lattice-work and screen door, and most of the performers fit that home-grown image. The performance schedule begins late Friday afternoon and ends late Sunday afternoon. The lineup includes Bits ‘n' Pieces, Back to Basics, Katahdin Valley Boys, Pine Hill Ramblers, Phat Grass, Nit Pickers, Borderline Bluegrass and the Muddy Marsh Ramblers.

That's the official roster. There's a lot more music offstage. Informal "field picking" – give-and-take jam sessions away from the main stage – is continuous day and night. Don't forget your low-back lawn chair, bug spray and sunscreen. The swimming beach is only a few yards from the stage, which makes this a popular event for families.

White's Beach campground is located on the Durham Road. Call the campground at 729-0415. It's whitesbeachandcampground.com on the Internet.

Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys

You won't need sunscreen or bug spray – and you won't have to bring your own chairs – to enjoy one of Vermont's top traditional bluegrass bands in Portland next week. Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys have been regaling audiences in New England and far beyond for nearly four decades, and they're coming to One Longfellow Square on July 23.

The band got together in 1972, formed around three principals: the eponymous Dan Lindner, his brother Willy on mandolin and guitarist Al Davis. The core three also write most of the band's original material. Currently the Plowboys number five, including bassist Jon Henry Drake – who also provides the "high lonesome tenor" – and fiddler Phil Bloch.

Dan Lindner tells me that the band's curious name was deliberately chosen as a playful echo of "Midnight Cowboy," the legendary 1969 Dustin Hoffman-Jon Voight film. But don't read too much into the title. "This is real bluegrass music – all acoustic and full of passion," he assures.

The band has carved out a special place in the northern bluegrass scene, focused on a repertoire built around finely crafted original songs, many of which deal with life in New England and the North Country. The ensemble also features a cross-section of lively fiddle and banjo tunes, old and new country songs, gospel quartets and traditional songs.

The performance is slated for 8 p.m. One Longfellow Square is at the corner of State and Congress streets in downtown Portland. Call 761-1757 or visit onelongfellowsquare.com on the Internet.

Paul Geremia

If traditional acoustic blues is more your bag than bluegrass, One Longfellow Square also has your ticket. Paul Geremia, who's been playing and researching the blues since the 1960s folk revival, appears at the popular Portland venue this Saturday, July 18.

For almost more than four decades, this Rhode Island-based bluesman has survived solely by the fruit of his musical labors, having abandoned all other means of support in 1966. Geremia has been traveling far and wide ever since, performing in every capacity from street singing to club and concert bookings, throughout this country, Canada and Europe.

Over the years, Geremia has built a reputation as a first-rate bluesman, songwriter, a scholar of early jazz and blues and one of the best country blues fingerpickers ever with his tools – six and 12-string guitars, harmonica, piano and a husky soulful voice. With an innate sense of the humor and the drama of the music, he keeps traditional blues fresh and alive.

Frank Fotusky, who plays blues in the traditional Piedmont style, will open.

Catch Frank Fotusky and Paul Geremia at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square. Call 761-1757 or visit onelongfellowsquare.com on the Internet.

VentiCordi

Maine boasts a new venture in classical music. VentiCordi, a collaboration between Brunswick violinist Dean Stein and Kennebunk oboist Kathleen McNerney, will debut July 23 with a two-part concert series at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Kennebunk.

VentiCordi? I asked Stein about the curious moniker.

"The name ‘VentiCordi' simply refers in Italian – the language that gives us many of our common musical expressions – to the wind and string instruments we play," he explains. "Kathleen and I had discussed the possibility for exploring repertoire that would combine those forces. It seemed surprising that there was no established chamber music series in such a beautiful part of Maine as the Kennebunks, and we both saw it as serving a new audience – with a freer, more diverse choice of music than other ensembles are able to offer."

The July 23 debut concert will feature the co-directors and several guest artists in a program of traditional small-ensemble works. The Aug. 11 follow-up/finale will involve several additional guest artists in a program that ranges from the Baroque to contemporary.

Catch these two concerts July 23 and Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 114 Main St. in Kennebunk. Call Stein at 725-0219 or visit venticordi.com on the Internet.