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Out & About: Brunswick bluegrass festival marks end of summer

Lifestyle

Out & About: Brunswick bluegrass festival marks end of summer

The mums are blooming, pine spills are spilling and ferns are turning brown. Those are Mother Nature’s certain signs that summer’s end is nigh.

Maine’s arts and entertainment calendar has similar signs, with the most prominent being the annual Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick, which has been a fixture of Labor Day weekends for decades.

This year’s edition is headlined by frequent visitors from Missouri: Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. Plus there are about two dozen other artists and bands who hail from all over the U.S. and all over Maine.

Bluegrass singer-songwriter Dolly Parton wrote the score to “9 to 5,” the Broadway musical that just opened at Ogunquit Playhouse. Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, Ogunquit has scored the Maine premiere. Go see it; “9 to 5” is really a hoot, and a very tuneful one.

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival

A national reputation, major-label recording contract and oodles of talent aren’t enough to score a spot on the stage at the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival. Artists must score high on the people factor too.

That’s according to the producer, Pati Crooker. As the driving force behind one of the Northeast’s biggest, most prominent and longest-established bluegrass festivals, Crooker has a vast choice of artists who vie for a spot on the Thomas Point Beach stage.

Video clips, demo tapes, flash drives, CDs and media kits start piling up in her office more than a year in advance, and Crooker herself often travels to the big national conventions and showcases.

Crooker demands more than basic talent. She wants bands that can do more than pick and sing with the best. She wants artists with outgoing personalities who relate to audiences both on and off the stage. “I love it when the audience can connect with bands,” she said.

Topnotch performance is essential, but Crooker said a positive people factor is equally a must-have: “Their talent has to be right up there – they have to be one of the best – but for me the bottom line is how they act offstage among the people. It’s the people performance that’s more important.”

No bluegrass artist personifies this paradigm better than Rhonda Vincent, this Saturday’s headliner. I’ve seen her often in the past, both at Thomas Point Beach and elsewhere, and recall that Vincent’s off-stage personality – and seemingly endless willingness to sign autographs, chat and pose for photos with her legions of fans – perfectly jibes with Crooker’s ideal artist.

An accomplished mandolinist, guitarist, fiddler and vocalist who hails from Missouri, Vincent grew up with bluegrass in her blood; she made her first national appearances with her family’s Sally Mountain Show as a five-year-old and she still appears with this group occasionally.

Vincent turned 50 last month, just about the same time that she released her latest CD, a traditional collection of gospel tunes called “Sunday Mornin’ Singin’.” Among her scores of honors, Vincent is a seven-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year honor, and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America handed her its Entertainer of the Year award from 2001-2006.

And she travels with a case of road rage. Her road band, impishly titled The Rage, also boasts a trophy case of SPBMA honors, including three instrumental awards in 2006.

Vincent and The Rage travel around the country in the iconic blue-and-white motorcoach owned by the Martha White Flour Company. Vincent was chosen as spokeswoman by the company because she’s an exemplar of a modern woman who epitomizes traditional American values.

Vincent is tops among the two dozen artists and bands who are slated to perform. Friday’s headliner includes brother Darrin Vincent, who’s half of Dailey & Vincent, a Nashville-based duo that has charted five albums on Billboard and took home six awards at the most recent convention of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America.

Other top national acts include the Gibson Brothers, Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band and the Lonesome River Band. Della Mae, an all-female fivesome from Massachusetts has been making big waves in recent years. Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players have come the farthest – from California. Acoustic Heartstrings hails from Canada.

The Pine Tree State is represented by Back to Basics, Evergreen and the Katahdin Valley Boys.

As with all alfresco music festivals, bring low-backed lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray. Thomas Point Beach’s choice of food vendors is always outstanding.

The festival runs day and night Friday through Sunday evening at the 85-acre Thomas Point Beach campground, a mile off Route 24 near Cook’s Corner in Brunswick. Tickets options include one-evening, all-day and all-festival passes with camping options. Call 877-TPB-4321 or go to thomaspointbeach.com on the Web.

‘9 to 5’

It’s not often that bluegrass and country music artists reach Broadway, but Dolly Parton is a notable exception.

Although best known for her long career in records – more than 60 albums since the mid-1960s – and live concerts, Parton wrote the score for “9 to 5,” the 2009 Broadway musical that’s based on the 1980 movie of the same name. The “9 to 5” film was a phenomenal hit and still ranks among Hollywood’s top-grossing comedies.

A wonderful production of the stage musical version of “9 to 5” opened last week at Ogunquit Playhouse. Go see “9 to 5”; it’s a hoot. The book, by Patricia Resnick, fairly closely parallels the movie script, plus Parton wrote a slew of additional songs, several of which have become hits outside their stage contexts.

Starring Becky Gulsvig in the Dolly Parton role, Ogunquit Playhouse’s “9 to 5” is a tuneful and raucously funny show – an absolute archetype of American musical comedy.

The story line revolves around three women in an office who plot revenge on their boss, a sleazy, self-centered, lecherous, lying misogynist-malefactor. Gulsvig is joined by two co-workers, Carrie McNulty playing an office veteran, and Erica Aubrey portraying the newbie in the secretarial pool. Sally Struthers has a wonderful role as the bad guy’s right-hand woman, a sex-starved gossip and eavesdropper who earns more than her share of laughs.

Parton’s new songs are outstanding, and include “Backwoods Barbie,” for Gulsvig, “One of the Boys,” for McNulty and “Get Out and Stay Out,” for Aubrey. Struthers’ big song is “Heart to Hart,” which also includes an exceptionally funny comedy scene.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Rt. 1, presents “9 to 5” through Sept. 15. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.