Lily the dog listens Tuesday as Renee Child, left, Becky Betts and Ed Betts play a song at the Litchfield Fairgrounds. Child, who spends summers in Maine, and the Betts, of New Brunswick, met at the Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Music Festival in 2014 and have regularly kept in touch, visiting each other and playing music together. The 57th festival begins Friday at the fairgrounds. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

LITCHFIELD — Renee Child got up at 5 a.m. earlier this week to head out of Bangor to get a good spot at the Litchfield Fairgrounds for her and her friends Ed and Becky Betts.

Since 2014, when they met at Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Music Festival — a staple of summer fun in southwest Kennebec County for more than a decade — they have made plans to meet up there to connect with old friends, play music and hear a roster of bluegrass artists the event draws.

On Tuesday, they stood under the canopy of the Betts’ camper and played — Ed Betts and Child on guitar and Becky Betts on the upright bass — while preparations for the 57th festival put on by Greg and Sandy Cormier buzzed on around them.

While the stage shows kick off Thursday, campers have been arriving at the Litchfield Fairgrounds at 44 Plains Road since Sunday, and people have been settling in and reconnecting with friends and meeting new people.

All the while, the Cormiers are overseeing the tasks that fall to them as the promoters of one of New England’s largest family bluegrass festivals, zipping around the fairgrounds in golf carts, checking in on the food vendors and crafters setting up shop, organizing maintenance, and making sure the sound system is set up and ready to go.

More than three decades ago, the Cormiers had attended a number of festivals and wanted to start their own festival based in central Maine, where there weren’t really similar events. Sandy Cormier had been in a country band and Greg Cormier played with his family band. They formed Blistered Fingers, which performs across New England and Canada.


“When I met Greg, he introduced me to bluegrass, and we found out this is a pretty neat thing, and we found out what we liked and what we didn’t like,” Sandy Cormier said.

They started organizing their own event, built on the foundation of being family friendly and safe.

In the early years, it was an annual festival, held in Sidney. Early on, a second festival was added, with shows in June and August. That format continued when the festival moved to the Litchfield Fairgrounds in 201o.

The import of the festival is not lost on the Cormiers. They have seen generations of family come through the festival over the last three decades, and some hold family reunions at the festival.

“There’s a gentleman who has been to every single festival, except in June this year and that was because of his health,” Sandy Cormier said.

“There’s some — they have every wristband,” Greg Cormier said.


Days before the music starts at the Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Music Festival on Thursday, chairs are already lined up in front of the stage Tuesday at the Litchfield Fairgrounds. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The event has also served as the launching pad for a number of artists, including the Gibson Brothers, who are performing Saturday.

And it might be the launching pad for the next generation coming up. During the festival, the Blistered Fingers Kids Academy will offer children from ages 6 to 18 a three-day music program that teaches them the basics of playing, singing and performing bluegrass music, and hooking them up with instruments if they need them. The program concludes with their performance on the main stage as a group.

Among the bands and artists performing this year are Nothin’ Fancy, Deeper Shade of Blue, The Atkinsons, Beartracks and the Cormiers’ own band, Blistered Fingers.

Founders Sandy Cormier, left, and Greg Cormier stand in front of a backstage wall covered with photos of bands that performed at Blistered Fingers festivals during an interview Tuesday at the Litchfield Fairgrounds. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

While the stage performances will wrap up Saturday, the Bluegrass Gospel Sing & Jam on Sunday continues the music as Mike and Mary Robinson hold an ecumenical service and organized jam with traditional hymns bluegrass-style and a message, a tradition since 2000.

Like many of the people who come to Blistered Fingers, the Robinsons travel from festival to festival, seeing many of the same people over and over and finding themselves in the fabric of the lives of the festivalgoers. Mike Robinson has performed funerals, weddings and baptisms over the years.

“A lot of the people we’ll see up here we’ll also see in Florida,” Mary Robinson said.


Friendships that develop, like that of Child and the Bettses, are fairly common. Child, who lives in Florida but spends her summers in Maine, has traveled to New Brunswick, where the Bettses live, to visit and play music between festivals.

A poster from the first Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Music Festival is seen backstage Tuesday at the Litchfield Fairgrounds. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the international border between Maine and New Brunswick, they found a creative solution that was captured on video.

Child traveled to the border crossing in Orient, and the Bettses came through at Fosterville, New Brunswick, to meet in the middle of the bridge that links the two countries, to play their music and visit for a few hours three times that year.

“They can’t stop you, as long as you don’t cross the line,” Ed Betts said. “We did what we did, and we were able to play a few tunes.”

They’ll continue to play tunes over the course of the week, and it’s likely that others will ask to sit in and play with them, when they are not watching the stage show.

While many of those people are likely to be camping at the festival, daily tickets are also available for those who just want to drop in for a day.

“If you like music at all and you hear this music, you’re gonna get hooked,” Ed Betts said. “You come for the day, you’re going to get hooked and come back again.”

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