By Rita J. Egan
The sounds of bluegrass, blues and folk music will fill the air at Benner’s Farm once again when the homestead hosts the fifth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival on Sept. 11. Presented by Homestead Arts, Benner’s Farm, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and WUSB Radio, the festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine.
“It’s kind of a laid back, easy going, good sounding old-time festival,” Bob Benner, owner of the farm, said. The Benners began hosting the festival a few years ago after the owner and the late Gerry Riemer, a board member of Homestead Arts, were discussing the possibility of a September event on the property. The two remembered how much fun the Fiddle & Folk Fest, formerly held on the property of the Long Island Museum, was and began to ask people what they thought of the event being held at Benner’s. They received positive feedback, and Benner said that the first two years the Long Island Traditional Music Association (LITMA) worked with them on the event.
The combination of music and a farm setting has turned out to be a successful one, and Benner estimates the number of attendees last year to be around 500. “It’s completely different than any other concert I’ve ever been to, because it’s a farm and people can wander around,” the owner said.
Benner said attendees are welcome to explore the organic, solar-powered working farm while listening to the music, and with people so connected to their cell phones and other gadgets nowadays, he enjoys seeing people interacting with each other and connecting with nature. “Every time that people come here it is just so enjoyable to see them wandering around, looking at animals, looking at the garden,” he said. The farm owner enjoys the music at the festival, too. “I’m not a musician’s musician, so I enjoy very much listening to some of the groups that come that I don’t normally hear,” he said.
Amy Tuttle, program director of the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, said one of the things she loves about the festival is seeing family members and friends coming together and enjoying the music. “It’s easy to enjoy the festival. It’s not overcrowded, and it’s a chance to see not only some very talented local performers but internationally known performers in a very relaxed setting,” she said.
Sponsored by The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company and emceed by Bob Westcott, the festival will feature headliners Steve Forbert, the Feinberg Brothers Band, the Claudia Jacobs Band and Jeff Davis and Maria Fairchild playing on the Backporch Stage. Tuttle said Forbert is internationally known for his hits in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The singer of “Romeo’s Tune” recently released the album “Compromised,” which the program director said sounds terrific. “We’re reaching out to a bigger music community by bringing Steve Forbert in,” she said.
Reaching out to a bigger music community helps with the main goal of the festival. “The mission is to connect the artists with an audience that appreciates what they do — it’s pretty similar to what the arts council’s mission is and what WUSB’s mission is,” Tuttle said. According to the program director, Jeff Davis is also well known in the world of traditional folk music. On Sept. 11, he will be playing fiddle, and Maria Fairchild will be joining the musician on banjo. Tuttle says the duo has a big following of fans of old-time music. “I love it all. Most people who come to this festival like the folk songwriter music, but all the performers are very good in their own style,” Tuttle said.
The festival also offers a Contra Dance with a live band led by Rusty Ford as well as a Kids Corner where children can enjoy stories and music.
Benner said the featured artists will meet and hold workshops at the Shady Grove Stage close to the woods, and Charlie Backfish of WUSB radio will be on hand to host the activities. Attendees can participate in the Fiddle Workshop at Jam Hollow, too, and bring their own instruments to join in on the musical fun.
“It gives people a chance to either sit back and be entertained or participate wherever they feel comfortable,” added Tuttle.
Benners 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. Bring seating. For more information, please call 631-689-8172 or visit www.fiddleandfolk.com.