Out & About: Festivals mark end-of-summer A&E season

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The roadside ferns are turning brown, sumac bushes are turning red and the shadows at five o’clock are getting quite long. Those are among the telltale signs that mark the end of the summer season.

On the performing arts calendar, a pair of festivals mark the end of the summer. Biggest by far is the four-day Bluegrass Special at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick. Artists and fans flock to this magical venue, coming from all over North America to hear the music on stage and to take part in the informal off-stage “field picking.”

The DaPonte String Quartet is wrapping up its summer season with a two-concert festival that takes place at the Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens in Boothbay – another magical Mid-Coast venue. Appropriately, the works on the program are tied together by a common theme: “Late in the Season.”

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Special

A mellow mental glow characterizes the end of summer. Nothing puts me in the mood for reflection on the quickly ebbing season and the beginning of autumn more than the annual Bluegrass Special at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, slated for Aug. 29-Sept. 1.

It’s Maine’s biggest and best-known gathering of bluegrass music aficionados. Some arrive in motor homes, sporting license plates from all over this country and Canada, while local enthusiasts like myself come for a day or two. The setting is Thomas Point Beach, a lovely park near Cook’s Corner in Brunswick, situated on the New Meadows River estuary.

The founder and artistic director of the Bluegrass Special is Pati Crooker, who owns the park and lives on the property. Over the past three decades, Crooker has become a fixture within the national bluegrass music community. She attends the biggest festivals and the national conventions and checks out the artists. She’s on a first-name basis with all the top names.

The roster of artists appearing at Thomas Point Beach over the decades reads like the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. A booking at Thomas Point Beach is regarded as one of the top accolades in the bluegrass business.

This year’s headliners are Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent. Both men have long careers in bluegrass that began when they were children. Prior to joining as a duo, Dailey was best known as the lead singer with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Vincent grew up with the Sally Mountain Show, a Missouri act (still going strong) that includes sister Rhonda Vincent, a bluegrass superstar.

Dailey and Vincent joined forces as a duo (plus backing band) six years ago and they’ve released five CDs, most recently on Rounder Records. Their style covers the range of bluegrass, from the forceful, traditional presentation of “Steel Drivin’ Man” to the gospel harmonies of “Stroll Over Heaven.”

Their vocal harmonies resemble some of the famed bluegrass brother duos of the past, so much so that their second CD was titled “Brothers From Different Mothers.” Their most recent release, earlier this year, was titled “Brothers of the Highway.”

Although billed as a duo, Dailey and Vincent are in fact the front men of an all-star bluegrass band. Mates include mandolinist Jeff Parker, guitarist Seth Taylor, fiddler B.J. Cherryholmes and banjo picker Jessie Baker.

Dailey and Vincent were honored this past February at the annual convention of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, where they copped three awards: Bluegrass Band of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year and Gospel Group of the Year.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010 Dailey and Vincent won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s top honors for Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year.

About 20 other bluegrass artists and bands are slated for the four-day festival. These include three bands based on biological brothers. Best known are the Gibson Brothers, who hail from upstate New York. In 2012 they were named Entertainer of the Year and Gospel Performance of the Year by the IBMA. The Nashville-based Travelin’ McCoureys are the sons of legendary bluegrass performer Del McCourey. The Spinney Brothers comprise a foursome from New Brunswick.

On the distaff side of this general sibling concept, the Quebe Sisters, who hail from Texas, sport a three-part harmony and cover a variety of traditional styles.

Two New England acts will be featured: Della Mae from Massachusetts and Jerks of Grass from southern Maine.

The main stage runs Thursday evening, and morning, noon and night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Informal “field picking” runs 24 hours a day. Don’t forget your lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray.

DaPonte String Quartet

I’m totally intrigued by the overarching concept of the DaPonte String Quartet’s upcoming pair of concerts, which they’re calling a “festival.” The common element that links the works on the two programs is intimately linked to this time of the year.

The last two weeks of August means “late summer,” and some of the most important pieces by composers who were late in their careers is the central conceit.

“Late in the Season” is the title of the festival, and the program includes celebrated works by famous composers, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak and Franz Schubert. The program also features pieces by composers who deserve better recognition, such as Joseph Bodin de Boismortier and Ingolf Dahl.

The DaPonte String Quartet – comprising violinists Dino Liva and Lydia Forbes plus violist Kirsten Monk and cellist Myles Jordan – will be joined by three guest artists. Joshua Gordon is the cellist of the Naumburg Award-winning Lydian String Quartet and has performed widely across the world and with such groups as the New York Chamber Soloists and the Juilliard and Ying quartets.

Canadian clarinetist Mark Simons has performed as soloist with L’Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec and I Musici de Montreal, plus he teaches at McGill University. Edward Allman has been principal bass for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and holds titled positions with three Connecticut orchestras: New Haven, Bridgeport and Norwalk.

This is the sixth year that the DaPontes will return to the stunning setting of Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, one of Maine’s top tourist attractions. The concerts will take place in the visitor center, featuring a lovely view of the landscaping. The concert ticket includes admission to the Gardens, and concert-goers are encouraged to take advantage of the setting before settling in for an evening of chamber music.

Catch the DaPonte String Quartet’s “Late in the Season” festival at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, 132 Botanical Gardens Drive in Boothbay, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22 and 27. Call 529-4555.

Sidebar Elements

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent are the top headliners at the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Special, slated for Aug. 29-Sept. 1 in Brunswick.