Rick Spinney says he and his bandmates travel to Maine so often they’re on a first-name basis with the guys who work the border crossing at Houlton.
“I think the first U.S. bluegrass festival we ever played was in Maine, about 20 years ago,” said Spinney, whose Spinney Brothers band is based in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. “Maine has been one of the best states for us, with so many festivals. The Thomas Point Beach festival, for one, has had everyone in bluegrass and it’s been going for so long.”
As Spinney spoke, he and his bandmates were driving through Maine on their way to festivals in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Then they will head back to Maine to do two bluegrass festivals in about a week’s time: The Blistered Fingers Bluegrass Festival Thursday through Sunday, the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Special in Brunswick on Labor Day weekend.
With two bluegrass festivals so close together, both geographically and time-wise, it makes sense that some would be double-booked. In fact, the New York-based Gibson Brothers are also playing both Blistered Fingers and Thomas Point.
Neither festival has a big name act that would be recognizable to mainstream music fans — like a Vince Gill, say. Instead, both festivals have a wide range of veteran and up-and-coming bluegrass acts.
Patty Crooker, who has run the Thomas Point festival since 1979 and has even had bluegrass legend Bill Monroe at her venue, says that this year she booked her festival based on audience requests. Last year she surveyed the festival audience and asked them who they’d like to see, then she booked this year’s festival accordingly.
“There are so many new bands around, that it’s hard to choose, so we asked the audience,” said Crooker. “There are so few of the legends left, and we’ve had them all here at some point.”
The Spinney Brothers fit the bill of an up-and-coming band. Even though they’ve been playing together for more than 20 years, they only became a full-time touring band about four years ago. The growing number of bluegrass festivals around the country helped convince the band members to pursue their dreams, Spinney said.
“When you get the opportunity to do something that is a passion and that is in your blood, you sort of have to,” said Spinney, 47. “We just figured if we didn’t take a stab at this now, we’d always look back and wonder.”
Besides talent and passion, the Spinney Brothers are armed with something few bluegrass bands have — songs written by their mother. Spinney says that growing up, he watched his mother play guitar around the house and write songs. Once he and his brother Allan had their own band and were recording, they decided to ask mom for some of her songs.
“She knocked on the door one day with this big box of songs she’d written and said we could have them. Some of them are now among are more popular songs,” Spinney said. “Then we got another knock on the door, and it was mom asking for her royalty check. So we encourage people to buy the albums by telling them it’s our mother’s retirement package.”
The Spinney Brothers have an authentic, bluegrass sound, using banjo, mandolin, and that bluegrass staple of brothers singing harmony. But they are also steeped in old country music, and grew up listening to Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and others of that era.
“We didn’t really listen to bluegrass until we were working as loggers with our dad, and the only tapes he had in the truck to listen to were bluegrass,” said Spinney said.
Blistered Fingers has been run for 22 years by the Cormier family, husband and wife Greg and Sandy, and son Chad. The couple started going to bluegrass festivals when they were first married, more than 30 years ago, and decided around the time they started a family that they should also start a family-oriented bluegrass festival.
Not only do they run the festival, they also play in the Blistered Fingers band. And Sandy will do some soundboard work and emcee during the festival as well. Like most bluegrass festivals, campers arrive at Blistered Fingers to camp days before the festival begins, and many bring their own instruments to jam with fellow campers.
The Thomas Point festival began in 1979, and has hosted such legendary bluegrass musicians as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart.
Crooker, who owns Thomas Point Beach and Campground, decided to retire from the festival business around 2008, to spend time with her family. But after her mother died in 2010, she realized how much she missed the festival and the impact it had on her life, not to mention the bluegrass community.
“Even in the years we didn’t have the festival, people would show up with their campers and their instruments and just play,” said Crooker.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: