Benner’s Farm in East Setauket gears up for 9th annual Fiddle &...

Benner’s Farm in East Setauket gears up for 9th annual Fiddle & Folk Festival

Festival tickets are on sale now at www.fiddleandfolk.com

By Tara Mae

A celebration of music, community, and nature, the 9th annual Fiddle and Folk Festival at Benner’s Farm will be held on September 12, from noon to 8 p.m. 

Participating musicians will include headliner Chris Smither, Travis McKeveny & The Famous Dr. Scanlon Band, Quarter Horse, Mick Hargreaves with Pete Mancini and Brian Moritz, CB Jacobs & Russ Seeger: Songs from the Black Book, Maria Fairchild and Bill Ayasse, and Jonathan Preddice and Brian Chabza. 

Most of the musicians are locals and have played at previous Fiddle and Folk festivals, according to Benner’s Farm’s co-owner, Bob Benner. The event will also feature artist workshops, and activities for children in the Kids’ Corner, including music, crafts, and more. 

“This is a low-key day with high quality talent,” said Amy Tuttle, program director for the Greater Port Jefferson-Brookhaven Arts Council and a member of the festival committee.

Four festival stages

This year there will be four venues at which to hear the music with each stage offering its own audience experience and ambience. 

The event barn’s Back Porch will serve as the main stage of the festival, offering sets of 45 to 60 minutes long, and align with a traditional festival concert experience while Jam Hollow will be a designated space for musicians to bring their instruments and play together. The Shady Grove stage will offer a more intimate opportunity for artists and audiences to interact, with conversations as well as Q&A sessions. Performances at the Shady Grove stage will be hosted by a to-be-announced radio personality from radio station WUSB.  

This year, the fourth stage is making its Fiddle and Folk debut. The stake bed of a 1924 model-T truck owned by Benner’s Farm co-founder Bob Benner, it will serve as an informal stage for anyone interested in participating in an open-mic. Guests can sign up on site. 

Musical acts

Chris Smither

Making his Fiddle and Folk debut is Chris Smither, a folks/blues singer based out of Massachusetts. Smither is a favorite of both Benner and Claudia Jacobs, a musician and friend of the Benners who helped book the acts. “Bob and I are massive fans,” said Jacobs.

Smither is happy for the opportunity to play at the festival and reconnect with audiences in person, having missed that connection during online, live-stream performances. “You try to build an entity between you, that exists among you. It’s electric; it’s a life-affirming, ephemeral sort of substance,” he said.  

Blue Point resident Travis McKeveny, of Travis McKeveny and The Famous Dr. Scanlon Band, considers his favorite part of playing live to be the “chance to experience the interchange of energy between myself and the audience.” The singer/guitarist is excited to be “…sharing the bill with peers, but especially sharing it with Chris Smither, the headliner, who is one of my songwriting heroes.” 

One of the returning favorites is Quarter Horse, a group that blends elements of rock, folk rock, Americana, and jam band. Quarter Horse, which five years ago had its album release party on Benner’s Farm, feels a connection not only to the people but to the place. 

“We know Ben Benner [Bob’s son] heard us and liked us, and asked us to play at another concert series he did on the farm. We eventually decided to have our album release party there. We’ve all gone to Benner’s Farm, even as kids on school field trips,” drummer John Reizi, of Centereach, said. “There has always been a connection to Benner’s Farm, it’s a really pleasant place. I take my daughter there sometimes; you don’t feel like you’re in suburban Long Island — you’re in a sort of portal.”

Jonathan Preddice, of Port Jefferson Station, echoes the sentiment. “I love spending time at Benner’s Farm. It has a great “down home” feel and sets a great atmosphere for relaxing and listening to good music.” A member of the band Miles to Dayton, the singer/songwriter will be focusing on his solo folk/America work with fiddler Brian Chabza. 

The farm’s environment is part of what appeals to Hicksville resident Maria Fairchild too. A singer and banjo-player, she is drawn back to the farm by “the setting; it is one of the few places to see traditional and roots-based music on Long Island.”

Benner’s Farm

In addition to hosting the Fiddle & Folk Festival, the 15-acre organic farm hosts everything from school field trips to weddings and offers seasonal festivals, summer camp, workshops, and other programs. Bob Benner believes this versatility is part of its appeal. 

“This farm, partly planned, and partly because of the way it is set up, changes its personality depending on what you’re doing. There is a friendliness to this space and we tried to keep the aesthetic beauty,” he said. 

Bob and his wife Jean, purchased the farm in 1977 and over the years have transformed it into a prominent local educational non-profit and one of the last true working farms in the area.

“There are very few farms around here now; we are trying to keep the farm as an agricultural place,” Benner said. “Also because we have educational backgrounds, we opened it up so people can take courses and have festivals and do things on the farm. People can see what the farm is like.”

The Benners were drawn to the farm’s educational potential: first for themselves, and then for the public. “We have absolutely no background in farming, but we could read…we’re learners and teachers,” he added. 

Community outreach began with local pre-school children visiting the farm to learn where their vegetables came from and expanded into educational opportunities for people of all ages. 

Continuing a tradition

Part of Benner’s Farm’s ethos is to support the people of the area and preserve cultural customs for current and future generations. So when Bob Benner learned that the original Fiddle and Folk Festival at the Long Island Museum was being discontinued, he reached out to the people who ran it, volunteered to revive it at the farm, and then assembled his own team to help put it together. 

“I always thought the farm was the perfect place to have a big event, like the ones the Benners and I went to. The timing was right. We pretty much created it together,” said Jacobs. 

Following so many months of isolation, this year’s festival holds particular meaning for everyone involved in it, said Jacobs. “This one is really special. Bob’s great desire for this year was to keep it local. He felt that it should be a big community event. A ‘return to the farm’ in a gathering, communal way,” she added. 

For Bob Benner, hosting and supporting the musicians is a way to honor both his own musical interests and his dedication to the community. 

“I am not a musician, but I like a variety of music…I thought I would have local people because local musicians have been royally impacted by COVID. We’re having local bands and local people singing (open mic) and an incredible visiting headliner who will be playing with a whole bunch of locals…I have never been let down by the bands we have chosen, ” he said.

The 9th annual Fiddle and Folk is supported by Benner’s Farm, Homestead Arts, WUSB, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, and TBR News Media and sponsored by the Folk Music Society of Huntington, Long Island Blues Society, and Jack and Karen Finkenberg. 

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Advance ticket sales are now open: adults are $22 per person, seniors are $17 per person, and children are $10 per person. Tickets on the day of the event are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $12 for kids. To order, visit www.fiddleandfolk.com. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating. A full schedule of performances and events will be available online. For more information visit the website or call 631-689-8172. 

Photos courtesy of Bob Benner

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