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Benner’s Farm

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Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Ginger Gold, no matter which apple catches your fancy, all were available to bite on as the nonprofit group Preservation Long Island, Homestead Arts and Benner’s Farm hosted the 29th annual Long Island Apple Festival Sunday, Sept. 30, at Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket.

Throughout the day, volunteers showcased how apples were used in colonial times for making applesauce, pies or cider, stuff that a man dressed as Johnny Appleseed said was “so good it will make your tongue slap your eyeballs.”

The event also included live folk music, hayrides, pony rides, games for kids, tours of the historical Sherwood-Jayne House and an apple pie baking contest.

Funds from the event went to Preservation Long Island to continue its efforts to maintain historical places like the Sherwood-Jayne property, among others.

Pete Mancini & the Hillside Airmen

By Heidi Sutton

Featuring the best in traditional and contemporary folk music, the seventh annual Fiddle & Folk Festival returns to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket this Sunday, Sept. 16 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

The day-long event will showcase three stages. Emceed by guitarist and singer Bob Westcott, the Main (Back Porch) Stage will feature four acts this year. The Shady Grove Stage, which will be hosted by WUSB’s Charlie Backfish, will allow visitors to meet the performers and attend workshops, and the Jam Hollow Stage will highlight a sing-along and a fiddle workshop. There will also be a roaming fiddler, appropriately named Jack Fyddle, who recently appeared as a reenactor in TBR News Media’s feature film, “One Life to Give.” The evening will end with a family contra dance in the barn. 

Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams

Reached by phone, Amy Tuttle, program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council who’s also on the festival committee, said she’s familiar with the groups and looks forward to their performances, adding that this year’s headliners will have more of “a rock feel, more on the Americana, modern folk spectrum.”

Back by popular demand, The Stony Brook Roots Ensemble will open the festival. Formed in 2015 by Taylor Ackley, the ensemble features grad students from Stony Brook University. Tuttle said the group “takes the mountain music and the western music that [Ackley] grew up with in Montana and Washington State and play it with classical instruments and it’s really cool — everybody loves it.”

The festival will continue with a performance by Brooklyn-based The New Students, who “do a modern twist on traditional folk music,” and will be followed by Pete Mancini & the Hillside Airmen. According to Tuttle, Mancini was the former frontman of Butcher’s Blind. “He just started this band and was recently signed to Diversion Records based in Chicago,” she said.

Larry Campbell and wife Theresa Williams will close out the festival. “They are musicians’ musicians,” explained Tuttle. “Larry was a member of Bob Dylan’s Band, and Theresa is also a songwriter and singer and they have been in Levon Helm’s band and have become the musical director of Levon’s Midnight Ramble. They’re the ones that are carrying on the torch now that Levon has passed.” 

The New Students

She is most excited to introduce the community to this duo, having tried for several years to get them to come. “These folks are known worldwide among people who appreciate great musicianship.”

Tuttle said there will be plenty of activities that children can participate in as well by taking part in the sing-along workshop, enjoying stories and creating artwork in the Kids Corner.

Visitors are also encouraged to stroll around the 15-acre working organic farm, meet the resident farm animals, tour the vegetable gardens, purchase organic produce and feel like a kid again on the Big Swing. For Tuttle, this is one of those special events that she looks forward to every year. “The quality of the music is just top notch, the setting is gorgeous and the vibe of the festival is relaxed and friendly.”

Presented by Benner’s Farm, Homestead Arts, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, TBR News Media and WUSB Radio, the music festival will be held rain or shine. 

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Admission to the festival is $18 for adults, and $13 for children and seniors at the door. Please bring seating. For a full schedule of events, visit www.fiddleandfolk.com. For more info, call 631-689-8172.

All photos courtesy of Amy Tuttle

Above, a battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket last summer.
Film showcased at SBU’s Staller Center for the Arts

By Talia Amorosano

The wait is over. On Sunday, June 24, an integral piece of U.S. and Long Island history will be revisited in the geographic location where much of it actually took place. At 7 p.m., the Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, will host the first major public screening of “One Life to Give,” a film about the friendship and lives of young American heroes Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale, whose actions would lead to the creation of a Revolutionary spy ring based on the North Shore of Long Island.

Presented in the Main Theater, doors will open at 6:45 p.m. After a message from publisher Leah Dunaief, a short behind-the-scenes documentary will be shown followed by the main film screening. After a message from the creators, the evening will conclude with a Q&A with the cast and crew. Admission to the event is free, courtesy of TBR News Media. No reservations are necessary.

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback last summer.

The film’s co-producer and writer, Michael Tessler, describes the film as an exploration of historical events with a human focus. “After spending several years researching Benjamin Tallmadge and the other heroes featured in our film, I began to look at them not as detached names in a textbook, but more so as real people, with real stories that deserve to be told,” he said.

 Dave Morrissey, the actor who portrays Tallmadge in the film, describes his character as a “22-year-old kid,” who, despite his relative youth, is “focused” and “grounded,” propelled into action by the death of his brother at the hands of the British. “When something like that happens to you, you turn into a machine … into something else,” said Morrissey. “If you channel the energy and do what’s right, the possibilities are endless.”

By focusing a metaphorical macro lens on the multidimensional characters of Tallmadge and Hale, the film traverses consequential moments of American history: the Battle of Long Island, the anointing of America’s first spy and the events that would lead to the creation of the Culper Spy Ring, a group of men and women who risked their lives and status to gather British intelligence for the Revolutionary cause. 

Though Tessler notes that the film is, at its heart, a drama, he and the film’s director and co-producer Benji Dunaief stress the cast and crew’s commitment to accuracy in their interpretation of historical events. 

“The history comes second to the narrative in most [other film adaptations of historical events],” says Dunaief. “Our approach with this film was the exact opposite. We wanted to see where we could find narrative within [pre-existing] history.” 

“Many of the lines from the film were plucked directly from the diaries of the heroes themselves,” stated Tessler. “We worked closely with historians and Revolutionary War experts to achieve a level of accuracy usually unseen in such a local production.”

The fact that many scenes from the film were shot in the locations where the events of the real-life narrative took place helped give the visuals a sense of truthfulness and the actors a sense of purpose.

“The location took production to the next level. It’s really crazy how closely related the sets we used were to the actual history,” said Dunaief, who specifically recalls filming at a house that contained wood from Tallmadge’s actual home. “It helped to inspire people in the cast to get into character.” 

Morrissey recalls spending a particularly inspiring Fourth of July on Benner’s Farm in East Setauket. “We were filming the war scenes with all the reenactors … in the cabin that we built for the set … in the town where the battles and espionage had really happened. There were fireworks going on in the background while we sang shanty songs. It was amazing.”

The Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm.

Though locational and historical accuracy played a large role in making filming a success, ultimately, Dunaief and Tessler credit the resonance of “One Life to Give” to an engaged and participatory community. “This was a community effort on all accounts,” says Dunaief, noting the roles that the Benners, Preservation Long Island, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society and others played to bring “One Life to Give” to fruition. 

The fact that the screening will take place at the Staller Center, in the heart of the community that helped bring the film about, represents a full-circle moment for the cast and crew. “We’re calling it a screening but it is so much more,” said Dunaief. “It is a fantastic example of how the community has stood by this film, from beginning to end.”

“We’re beyond honored and humbled to use a screen that has seen some of the greatest independent films in history,” said Tessler. “Stony Brook University has been a wonderful partner and extremely accommodating as we work to bring our local history to life.” 

Tessler projects confidence that viewers will leave the screening with a similar sense of gratitude. “This story shows a part of our history that I think will make the audience very proud of the place they call home.”

The future of ‘One Life to Give’: 

Michael Tessler and Benji Dunaief plan to show the film at festivals around the country, to conduct a series of screenings on Long Island, and to partner with local historical societies that can use it as an educational tool. Additionally, a sequel to “One Life to Give,” titled “Traitor,” is already in the works. Filming will begin this summer.

All photos by Michael Pawluk Photography

Benner’s Farm shared the sweetness of late spring with its annual Strawberry Fair June 9 and 10. Attendees enjoyed old-fashioned games, live music and strawberry treats, including chocolate-covered ones. Children took turns learning how to make ice cream, visited with Benner’s animals and enjoyed the farm’s big swing.

By David Zeitler
Above, Lila Clark-Clonts holds a baby goat at Benner’s Farm; below, her winning entry. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Above, David Zeitler can’t wait to see the show; below, his winning entry. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Happy Spring!

Thanks to all the children who entered our Spring Coloring Contest! We had so many wonderful submissions making for some stiff competition. Congratulations to Lila Clark-Clonts, age 8, of Setauket and David Zeitler, age 5, of Port Jefferson! Both children received a family four pack to Theatre Three’s adorable children’s show, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.”

Special thanks to Theatre Three for sponsoring our contest. Be sure to look for our next contest for Mother’s Day in Arts & Lifestyles and check out the other wonderful entries in next week’s issue.

By Lila Clark-Clonts
By David Zeitler

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The Easter bunny left behind thousands of eggs in Setauket this weekend to the delight of North Shore children.

Benner’s Farm held its annual Easter egg hunts March 31 and April 1. The farm hosted three hunts each day, and the Easter Bunny was on hand to greet children. After the hunts, families explored the farm and visited its animals including bunnies, chicks and baby goats.

On April 1, St. James R.C. Church in Setauket held its annual egg hunt after the 9:30 a.m. Mass. Dressed in their Sunday best, children ran around the church’s lawn hoping to fill their baskets to the brim with colorful plastic eggs filled with goodies.

Winners of last year’s Long Island Apple Festival’s apple pie contest, from left, Erin Lovett (Second Place); Liana and Gabrielle Lofaso (Best Looking Pie); Christopher McAndrews (Third Place); and Sabrina Sloan and Chris Muscarella (First Place). Photo by Tara La Ware

Time to bake a pie! The humble apple will be the focus of the largest Apple Pie Baking Contest on Long Island to be held in conjunction with the 28th annual Long Island Apple Festival on Sunday, Sept. 24 at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, 55 Old Post Road, Setauket from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Contestants will have the chance to show off their favorite family recipes and participate in an old-fashioned blue ribbon competition. The event is sponsored by Homestead Arts, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council. Entries must be traditional apple pies only. The pie, including crust, must be homemade by amateur bakers.

Early registration is preferred, before Sept. 21, but registrations will also be accepted on the day of the festival. Pies must be on the contest table at the Sherwood-Jayne House before 11 a.m. on the day of the festival. A written recipe must be submitted with each entry including the name and address of the baker. Each contestant will receive one free Apple Festival entry. Judging will begin at 2 p.m. with prizes awarded between 3 and 4 p.m. First, second and third place winners will be announced for Best Tasting Pie. A fourth winner will be chosen for Best Looking Pie.

All winners will receive a prize. Past prizes have included a brunch or dinner for two at fine restaurants, theater tickets, gift baskets and gift certificates. The first-place winner will be invited to be a judge at next’s year’s Apple Pie Baking Contest. All pies, including their dishes, will be auctioned off after the winners have been announced.

For contest entry forms, visit www.splia.org. For more information, call 631-692-4664.

He-Bird, She-Bird (from left, Terri Hall, Todd Evans and Christine Kellar) will be one of the headliners at the festival this year. Photo by Erin Pelkey
Music tradition continues at Benner’s Farm

By Rita J. Egan

The air will be filled with the sounds of bluegrass, blues and folk music in Setauket on Sept. 10 when Benner’s Farm hosts its sixth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival.

The farm’s owner Bob Benner said last year nearly 300 music lovers attended the festival where they explored the organic, solar-powered working farm and visited the animals while listening to music. “It’s an old-fashioned festival,” Benner said. “It’s pretty much held all over the farm.”

Miles to Dayton performs for a large crowd at Benner’s Farm during a previous Fiddle & Folk Festival. Photo by Bob Benner

Charlie Backfish, host of the long-running, weekly WUSB radio program “Sunday Street,” said the festival’s location sets it apart from others. “There aren’t too many [festivals] that actually take place on a working farm,” Backfish said. “The locale is terrific, and the performers we have are top-notch performers; so it’s a nice combination.”

Emceed by Long Island guitarist and singer Bob Westcott, the festival will feature headliners Daisycutter, The End of America and He-Bird, She-Bird.

Backfish said he’s familiar with the groups and looks forward to their performances. He said the group Daisycutter, from upstate New York, features fiddler Sara Milonovich. The End of America comes from Philadelphia and consists of three singers with incredible harmonies, and they’ve been compared to the early days of Crosby, Stills and Nash, according to the radio disc jockey. He-Bird, She-Bird, a trio from Long Island who sing both originals and covers, Backfish said, perform a roots music type of sound.

“I think we have three interesting acts there,” Backfish said. “They’ll all be on the main stage, and then there’s a second stage at the festival — a meet-the-performers stage. That’s the one that I’ll be hosting, where the audience has a chance to ask questions of the musicians and hear them do some songs that they’re not doing on the main stage.”

A scene from last year’s Fiddle & Folk Festival. Photo from Bob Benner

Benner said the stage to meet the performers is the solar-powered Shady Grove Stage close to the woods. There will also be a Fiddle Workshop in Jam Hollow where attendees can bring their own instruments to join in on the musical fun.

Amy Tuttle, program director of Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, said the Stony Brook Roots Ensemble will be on hand for a special performance. The local music group is comprised of classically trained musicians who share a love of American roots music.

“They are terrific,” Tuttle said. “I’ve found that many outstanding young bluegrass musicians across the country are classically trained, and I’m delighted that we have such a talented homegrown group to present at the Fiddle & Folk Festival.”

For those who aren’t musically inclined, they can participate in contra dancing with a live band led by Rusty Ford, and children can enjoy stories and create artwork in the Kids Corner.

Children can get creative at the Kids Corner. Photo by Bob Benner

Backfish said for WUSB there is a personal connection to the festival. The station’s radio programmer Gerry Reimer, who died in 2012, was in talks with Benner to bring back the Fiddle & Folk Festival, which was formerly held on the property of The Long Island Museum. “I think she would very much like what has happened and how this festival continues,” Backfish said

Tuttle said the members of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council enjoy a variety of musical genres and have enjoyed the performers at past festivals at Benner’s. “They are also very supportive of independent artists,” she said. “The same audience that loves the artistry, lovely surroundings and feeling of community at the Sunset Concerts in Port Jeff also enjoys those same aspects at the Fiddle & Folk Festival.”

Benner said he is looking forward to the event and music lovers coming together as they have the last few years on the farm. “It’s a day to come out and leave the world’s problems behind for a few hours and enjoy some music and community,” he said.

Presented by Homestead Arts, Benner’s Farm, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, TBR News Media and WUSB Radio, the music festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine. Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Admission to the festival is $18 for adults, and $13 for children and seniors at the door. Please bring seating. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.fiddleandfolk.com.

From left, Pat Wictor, Joe Jencks and Greg Greenway make up the band Brother Sun. Photo by Neale Eckstein

BIDDING A FOND FAREWELL

Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, in partnership with the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will host Brother Sun’s final eastern Long Island concert on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 4 p.m. Join them in celebrating the six-year collaboration of Pat Wictor, Joe Jencks and Greg Greenway as they close this chapter in their careers and look forward to new horizons. Bring a lawn chair or blanket. No pets please. Tickets in advance are $20 at www.gpjac.org; $25 at the gate. Questions? Call 473-5220 before the event and 689-8172 on the day of the event.

Filming the Battle of Long Island scene at Benner's Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

By Jenna Lennon

History came to life on Long Island this summer with the production of TBR News Media’s first feature-length film, “One Life to Give,” which paints a picture of the events leading up to the formation of America’s first band of spies, the Culper Spy Ring.

The Culper Spy Ring was organized by Benjamin Tallmadge under orders from General George Washington in the summer of 1778. Tallmadge recruited a group of men and women he could trust in Setauket and, for the remaining years of the war, collected information regarding British troop formations, movements and plans.

The spy ring became the most successful intelligence group on either side of the war during the course of the Revolution. Its existence was unknown to the public until the 1930s when Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker analyzed handwritten letters to Washington and discovered that Robert Townsend and Samuel Culper Jr. were, in fact, the same person.

A battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Based on these true events, “One Life to Give” follows Tallmadge (Dave Morrissey Jr.) and Nathan Hale (Hans Paul Hendrickson) in the early stages of the war and plays off of the speculation that Hale’s famous last words, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country,” were inspired by Joseph Addison’s “Cato, a Tragedy.”

“Tallmadge and Hale are both very motivated individuals. They graduated from Yale at the same time in 1773, and they are good friends. They’re schoolmates and they spent a whole bunch of time at Yale together, but they are very different,” said director, Benji Dunaief, an incoming junior at Emerson College in Boston. “In a lot of ways, they are kind of yin and yang. They’re opposites and opposites that attract and opposites that ultimately prove to be the pieces that transpired into the Culper Spy Ring,” he said.

Colonel John Chester (Jonathan Rabeno), a fellow Yale graduate along with Hale and Tallmadge, tasks Tallmadge with the duty of convincing Hale, who has enlisted in his local militia, to actively join the cause.

“I play Colonel John Chester. He’s from Connecticut. He went to Yale, and he’s friends with Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale,” Rabeno said. “He kind of acts as a recruiter for getting them involved more in the cause. … so this is really right in the beginning stages of it.”

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Hale not only enlists, but eventually is Washington’s (David Gianopoulos) first volunteer to go behind enemy lines and gather British intelligence. Soon after, Hale is captured by Robert Rogers (George Overin), and General William Howe (Jeffrey Sanzel) sentences him to death for committing acts of espionage.

With the motivation of the loss of one of his dearest friends and his brother, William (Aaron Johnson), Tallmadge and Washington form the Culper Spy Ring. “This is a guy who experienced something very traumatic when his brother William died, and it changed the course of history. He took that energy, and he inspirationally manifested it into something so incredibly positive for all of us that we are all benefitting from today,” Morrissey said.

He continues, “As someone who’s brother has died who is also named Will, this was an inspiration for me to be able to hopefully manifest it into something that other people will benefit from in the future. That’s why this is so important for me. I loved working on this film, and I am never going to forget this ever. This one’s for you, Will.”

The producer of “One Life to Give,” TBR’s director of media productions Michael Tessler, grew up “with Setauket in my backyard” and has always had a fascination with Revolutionary War history. “I’m grateful that historians, authors, and film producers have finally brought the narrative of the Culper Spy Ring to life. This history remained elusive for so many years and has evolved from local lore into a spectacular chapter of our founding story,” said Tessler.

Above,the Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

“As a lover of history, the question that kept me up at night and acted as the muse for this piece is simply what tragedies had to occur that would cause the heroes of the Culper Spy Ring to risk everything? Digging into textbooks, letters and the memoir of Benjamin Tallmadge, it became apparent to me that there was an important story to tell, one too often forgotten in the annals of history,” he said, adding “When all is said and done, this is the story of two best friends who saved the Revolution and changed the course of human events.”

While working to write and produce their first feature film beginning in March, Dunaief and Tessler were also tasked with finding a talented cast, a passionate crew and period-appropriate locations where they could tell this story.

“Everyone on the crew I’ve either worked with, somebody on the crew had worked with, or we had just heard really good things about,” Dunaief said.

“I think I wouldn’t do it any other way. We had 12 people on our crew to make a feature film in 16 days. That’s like bare bones. That’s like barer than bare bones. But the fact that everybody was doing two or three jobs at the same time, everyone was pulling their weight and more by a lot really speaks volumes about the kind of people that we had on the crew and had it been a different group of people, I really don’t think we would have been able to finish,” said Dunaief.

Benji Dunaief, left, directs a scene at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven with actor Dave Morrissey Jr. Photo by Jenna Lennon

“We had the most phenomenal cast, crew and community behind us. All of our locations are genuine historic properties beautifully preserved by local organizations — places these heroes actually lived, worked and played. That’s a benefit not afforded to those using sound stages in Hollywood,” Tessler said.

Filming took place over the course of 16 days at many local historic locations including the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, the Sherwood-Jayne House and the Thompson House in Setauket along with the William Miller House in Miller Place.

Scenes were also shot on location at Port Jefferson’s East Beach and Benner’s Farm in Setauket, where a trench with palisades, a fort and nearly 100 reenactors, acting as both Continental and British troops, staged the Battle at Bedford Pass.

“Though exhausting, this was the most rewarding experience of my professional career. Waking up after sleeping in Washington’s marquee tent and seeing a trench, palisades, cannon and an actual Continental Army was just an indescribable experience,” Tessler said.

“This happens to be a local story, but it’s a great story, and it’s a story worth telling,” Dunaief said. “You don’t come across a story like this every day that’s as powerful, as meaningful, as patriotic. There have been so many movies that have been made that have glorified the Revolution, that have taken insane liberties and basically just use it as a backdrop for their own narratives,” he said. “But this is a film that truly pays homage and respect to real people who lived and died for our country, and I think it’s an incredibly important story.”

“One Life to Give” is scheduled to premiere on Sept. 22, the 241st anniversary of Nathan Hale’s execution.

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