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Amy Tuttle

By Tara Mae 

In celebration of the 27th Annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson Village on Dec 2 and 3, the Long Island Museum (LIM) has collaborated with the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council (GPJAC) to present  Come In! — Come In! And, Know Me Better, Man! at the LIM’s Carriage Museum on Saturday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Dec. 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. Over a dozen costumed Dickensian characters will roam among antique carriages as they magically transform the galleries into a London of a bygone century. The event is included with museum admission.

“Some of the beloved longtime Dickens Festival characters are venturing further afield from Port Jefferson Village and heading toward the Long Island Museum to spread some joy in the holiday season, and to share with LIM visitors some of the aspects of their life during the middle of the 19th century,” said GPJAC Program Director Amy Tuttle. 

Portraying a number of the author’s archetypes such as those who populate A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, they carry the patrons back in time by immersing themselves in their roles. Being surrounded by transportation of yesteryear only enhances the effect. 

“The actors will be wandering around and doing performances as Dickensian characters-situational performances,” explained LIM’s Public Programs Coordinator Emma Backfish. “We have never had something like this, where we have these performers near the actual carriages. It will be interesting to see the actors play off of the different carriages, many of which are tied into that era. And, it will be an unique experience for them.”

“Because the actors are so immersed in their characters, they can not only bring scenes in the Dickens canon to life, they also interact spontaneously with the public. Several of the actors are also very much involved with historical re-enactments, and have appeared in period films,” added Tuttle.

Like the museum itself, the actors are committed to exploring the artistry of enlivening history. Through historical interpretation, a performance art rooted in realism, the actors invite the audience to participate in their play and appreciate history from a more interpersonal perspective. 

“I am excited to see people acting amongst our vehicles. They are bringing the era to life, putting vehicles in motion in people’s minds. Having people there, speaking and acting as they are part of that time, brings them to life in a lot of ways,” Backfish said.

Wardrobes are provided by either the actors or through the estate of Nan Guzzetta, the late proprietress of Antique Costumes and Props by Nan in Port Jefferson. 

These events are the latest act in an ongoing partnership between the GPJAC and LIM. Previously the organizations jointly focused on live musical performances, specifically the Sunday Street Concert Series which is held at the museum’s Gillespie Room. 

“It’s exciting being part of a collaboration which is so unique, enlightening and fun for everyone,” said Tuttle.

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND: Called everything from ‘hillbilly-Pink Floyd’ to ‘folk-pop’ to ‘surreal Americana,’ the Slambovian Circus of Dreams returns to this year's festival. Photo by Tom Moore

By Julianne Mosher

If you have a love for folk music, head over to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket on Sunday, Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the 11th annual Fiddle and Folk Festival. Just in time for fall, the event will have a little something for everyone.

Held on the grounds of the historic farm, that has been owned by Bob Benner and his family since 1977, festival-goers can always expect the best in traditional and contemporary folk music plus other fun-filled farm activities suitable for all ages. 

Singer-songwriter Cassandra House

“Bob Benner has been instrumental in the Fiddle and Folk Festival for years,” said Amy Tuttle, program director for the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council.

Tuttle added that the festival was held for many years at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Unfortunately, it stopped for a bit, until Benner “resurrected it.” 

“It’s always on the first Sunday after Labor Day,” said Tuttle, who said that the GPJAC has been involved every year at Benner’s since — except for one year which was during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have an eclectic variety of music, so there’s something for everybody.”

This year’s performers include The Slambovian Circus of Dreams (back by popular demand), Cassandra House, Barbecue  Bruce and the Brisket Brothers, and last year’s “Pick of the Crop,” Stephen Robinson and Hank Stone. Bob Westcott will emcee and entertain between sets with stories and song.

With the exception of The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, who are popular regulars on the folk festival scene, the rest of the performers are all Long Island locals; Cassandra House is from the South Shore and Barbecue  Bruce and the Brisket Brothers (Bruce MacDonald, Dan Skabeikis and John Brisotti) hail from the North Fork.

Tuttle also mentioned the “Pick of the Crop,” a new contest that was implemented last year. The idea is for performers to virtually audition online before the festival with finalists performing in-person the day of the festival in front of a group of judges. Those judges then decide which of the finalists will perform on the main stage at next year’s festival. 

Right now, there is an online submission page where musicians, singers and songwriters can submit their work. The first round of judges will then choose from those submissions who made it to the next round, performing on the Shady Grove Stage. 

“It’s a really nice festival,” Tuttle said. “Everyone always has a great time.”

If the main stage and contest stages weren’t enough, there’s more. This year, an open mic stage will be presented on the back of Bob Benner’s old ’24 Model T Truck.

Benner said that other than the music and food that will be available to enjoy, there will be other fun things to do — especially for the little ones. 

“We’ll have a kid’s corner and caricatures,” he said, adding Long Island’s largest swing will be available to play on. Visitors will also be available to visit with the farm’s many animals including sheep, goats and chickens.

“The Fiddle and Folk Festival is a perfect way to ease out of all the fun things we have been doing over the summer and head into the fall,” Tuttle said. “It’s relaxed and a great way to unwind before the start of the school year.”

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

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Advance sale tickets for the Fiddle & Folk Festival are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and $10 for children. Tickets on the day of the event are  $23 adults, $20 seniors and $10 for children.

Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating. A full schedule of performances and events along with applications for the “Pick of the Crop” contest are available at www.fiddleandfolk.com. For more information, call 631-689-8172.

AHOY MATEY! Visit with pirates at this year's festival. File photo by Aidan Johnson/TBR News Media

By Julianne Mosher 

Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson will turn into a pirate’s paradise this weekend and it’ll make visitors want to shake their “booty.”

On Saturday, Aug. 19, singers from around the world will head to the Village to share the gift of song, and some history, with tunes that came straight from the seas, as part of the 3rd annual Port Jefferson Sea Shanty & Maritime Music Festival.

Amy Tuttle, program director of the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council (GPJAC), said that the free event brings in local sea shanty singers and others from all over New England, Canada, and even the UK. From noon until dusk, visitors can sit and sing along in Harborfront Park, located at 101-A East Broadway, or they might catch glimpses of a few street singers walking around town. 

“Port Jefferson was a shipbuilding community,” Tuttle said. “A lot of the captains and ship builders lived in these very houses that are still standing.”

Tuttle added that over a century ago, Port Jefferson was one of the largest shipbuilding communities in the state. Not only were a large number of big boats created right on these docks, but a huge number of small, wooden boats, as well. 

“Sea shanties were work songs developed by people who worked on and who built the ships,” she said. “They could be considered one of the first genres of world music —wherever there was a port, there would be different influences. It’s really interesting.”

And to really bring the vibe of early century Port Jefferson, across the park at Bayles Boat Shop, which is part of the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center (LISEC) and a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of maritime history on Long Island, will be hosting its annual Sikaflex Quick and Dirty Boat Build. 

Now in its 12th year, the event allows would-be boat designers and builders to have a weekend of fun and showcase their creative skills and talents. Using only a provided supply of plywood, plastic cable ties, and Sikaflex/sealant, two member teams must build, paint and then paddle their design around the village dock in Port Jefferson Harbor located just offshore of Harborfront Park.

Several two-person teams will have five hours on Saturday and return on Sunday to decorate their boats and prepare to race them at 3 p.m. Trophies will be awarded after the races for design, decoration, first built and race winners. “People will be able to watch the boats being built, listen to music and sing along,” Tuttle said. 

Port Jefferson hosted the first Sea Shanty & Maritime Music Festival in 2021. Tuttle said that for many years, Mystic CT would host a Sea Shanty Festival, but unfortunately, it was discontinued. In the time passing, she heard from many of the artists looking for other places to sing their songs, so the GPJAC partnered with the Village of Port Jefferson and the Folk Music Society of New York to bring this whaling town back to its roots.

Featured performers will include John Roberts, David Jones, David Littlefield, Bonnie & Dan Milner, Heather Wood, Joseph Morneault, Geoff Kaufman, and Deirdre Murtha and Alan Short — plus a grand finale concert featuring all the musicians at around 6 p.m. Pirates at Large will be at the “pirate camp” outside the Village Center in character, singing along, too.

“Each year this gets a little bit bigger and we’re so excited to bring it back again,” Tuttle said. “There’s nothing else like it.” For more information, visit www.gpjac.org.

Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

Sea shanty singers from around the globe were called from the briny deep to perform at the 2nd annual Port Jefferson Sea Shanty & Maritime Music Festival on Saturday, Oct. 1. 

Performer Monti Babson of “Pirates at Large”

While the event was due to be held outside at Harborfront Park, it was moved to inside the Village Center due to inclement weather. Yet this was no issue for the singers, as they still gave delightful and entertaining performances.

Amy Tuttle, program director for the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and creator of the festival, wanted to give sea shanty singers a place to share their talent. 

“Last year, there were some sea shanty singers from Mystic Seaport [Connecticut], and Mystic had discontinued their sea shanty [festival], so those shanty singers were distressed and sad that they had no place to play,” Tuttle shared. “And I said Port Jefferson has a very rich and interesting shipbuilding history — come here.”

Over a matter of a couple of months, GPJAC was able to put together the inaugural Port Jeff sea shanty festival. After seeing that the event was successful, the arts council decided to hold it annually.

Performers Bob Conroy and Bill Grau of “Stout”

Shanty singers came from afar to participate in the festival, including Connecticut, New Jersey and England. “They’ve come from all over to perform in this festival,” Tuttle said.

The performers aren’t the only ones excited about sea shanties. TikTok has thrown the genre into the spotlight amongst the youth, especially with the song “The Wellerman.” 

“I know during the pandemic it was a thing on TikTok, and a lot of the kids were experimenting with different things and writing their own music, which was fabulous,” Tuttle said. “We thought, how fun would it be to get some of the [original] singers to come and do sea shanties here.”

Many of the performers have had several decades of experience with sea shanties under their belt. Maria Fairchild started off playing the piano as a child before moving on to the guitar and eventually the banjo. She also has performed in multiple bands for more than 30 years. Adam Becherer, with whom Fairchild performed, grew up with the bluegrass scene in South Street Seaport in Manhattan thanks to his father being in a bluegrass band. 

Performers Adam Becherer and Maria Fairchild

Both Fairchild and Becherer feel an attraction toward folk music. “I like the history of it,” Fairchild said. “I also like that the melodies are … different from modern music, and there’s something really ancient that I’m attracted to.” Becherer added, “I love the collaborative nature of it. I love getting together with people who you don’t necessarily know, but there’s like a common language of tunes that people can get together and play.”

Despite the weather, the music festival went off without a hitch. Tuttle, along with GPJAC, is planning on having a tavern setting next year, in which people can learn how to sing and play the songs. 

Currently, the arts council is presenting its Port Jefferson Documentary Series, with screenings taking place throughout the fall. For more information, visit www.gpjac.org.

— Photos by Aidan Johnson

The New Students return to the festival this year.

By Heidi Sutton

Featuring the best in traditional and contemporary folk music, the annual Fiddle & Folk Festival returns to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket this Sunday, Sept. 11 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The musical event will feature local fan favorites from previous years along with some fresh new faces.

Ten years ago, the event was formed as a reincarnation of a previous festival in the area. “It was a revitalization of The Fiddle and Folk Fest that had been run for years through the Long Island Museum and the Long Island Traditional Music Association,” said Benner’s Farm’s co-owner Bob Benner. 

Returning acts include Buddy Merriam and Taylor Ackley, Fiddle & Folk Fest veterans who have teamed up to perform their signature mandolin duo pieces, featuring their museum-quality Monteleone mandolins; and Brooklyn-based The New Students will be bringing their three-part vocal harmonies and skilled acoustic instrumentation.

New acts this year include The Serpent and The Fiddle featuring Dee Harris on mandola and Lora Kendall on fiddle who will be kicking off the festivities on the Main Stage with their intriguing interpretations of historic and traditional instrumentals; the String Sisters — Annie Mark on guitar and Maria Fairchild on banjo, playing a mix of classic country blues, old time, and original song; CJ and the Say Hey Bluez Crew, a new feel-good group comprised of musicians who share a love of upbeat jazzy blues, fronted by Claudia Jacobs, whose brassy and bold presence gets the audience on their feet; and headliners The Haymakers, a high-energy trio of veterans of the Long Island roots music scene who bring a new punch to retro favorites with the classic rockabilly instrumentation of twangy guitar, upright slap bass, and drums.

Also new to the festival this year is the Pick of the Crop performer contest. According to Amy Tuttle, program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council who’s also on the festival committee, four Long Island singer-songwriters — Josie Bello, Steve Robinson, Hank Stone and Linda Sussman — “will be strutting their stuff in hopes of being selected for a spot on the Main Stage at next year’s F&FF. All four are talented in their own right, and have their own signature styles,” she said. There will be a panel of music professionals judging the contest, and the audience will be given ballots to vote for their choice. The lucky winner will be announced at the end of the festival.

Other activities include a fiddle workshop, an open mic on the back of a 1924 Model TT Ford, vendors and a Kids Korner with crafts, stories and music. Visitors are also encouraged to stroll around the 15-acre working organic farm, meet the resident farm animals, and feel like a kid again on the Big Swing. 

For Bob Benner, it is an event he looks forward to every fall.

“Every year I look out on the great lawn and see hundreds of people settled in and entranced with the musicians, the ambiance of the farm and the slower pace that seems to envelope the crowd. I’m glad our groups can bring that experience to our Long Island community,” he said.

Presented by Homestead Arts, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, Benner’s Farm, 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. Advance tickets are $18 for adults, $15 seniors, and $10 for children at www.fiddleandfolk.com; $20 adults, $18 seniors and $10 for children at the door. Please bring seating. For more information, call 631-689-8172.

File photo by Kyle Barr

A silent night Dec. 6 opened up the weekend with Port Jefferson Village’s annual lantern dedications, but as night turned to day, Port Jeff was suddenly filled with characters straight out of a classic 19th century Dickens Classic. For the 24th year in a row, the village was suffused with the sights and sounds of Christmas spirit during the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Volunteers acted scenes from A Christmas Carole and other Dickens books, such as a live, local musical version of Oliver Twist. Visitors could visit the Village Center for ice skating, the festival of trees or a live reading of A Christmas Carol. A constant supply of marshmallows were up for grabs to roast over a fire, and businesses all shared Christmas and Dickens themed dinners and specials. Over at Theatre Three, A Christmas Carol was acted out Friday through Sunday, and is going on all the way until Dec. 28.

The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Photo by Tom Moore

By Melissa Arnold

At Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, there’s a sense of going back in time. The 15 acres that make up the private family farm have been cared for by local families since the 1700s, and current owners Bob and Jean Benner have worked hard to maintain that historic atmosphere. Along with growing organic produce and hosting a variety of educational events, the farm is also well-known for its seasonal festivals held throughout the year.

Quarter Horse

This weekend, Benner’s Farm will tune up for the 8th annual Fiddle & Folk Festival, offering guests a chance to experience traditional folk and bluegrass tunes along with modern spins on the genre. Emceed by Bob Westcott, the program includes performances by the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, Quarter Horse, Eastbound Freight Bluegrass Band, Taylor Ackley and the Deep Roots Ensemble.

The festival is a revival of a similar event held for many years at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, said farm owner Bob Benner.

“I used to play violin when I was a kid, and my wife and I were involved with the Long Island Traditional Music Association for a long time,” said Benner. “The farm has been around since 1751, and back then, people made their own music and danced in barns for socialization and entertainment. We try to keep that same ambiance today by offering opportunities to come out and hear live music of all kinds.”

Taylor Ackley and the Deep Roots Ensemble

The event barn’s Backporch Stage will serve as the main stage for the festival, while the Shady Grove Stage will offer workshops and Q&A opportunities with headlining musicians, allowing audiences to get to know them on a deeper level. In addition, the Jam Junction Stage will play host to musicians of any skill level who want to take a turn on the platform alone or with friends.

“The Fiddle & Folk Festival is one of the nicest ways you can spend a Sunday on Long Island, and you get to hear an entire day of music you might not otherwise experience,” said Amy Tuttle, program director of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, which sponsors the event along with Homestead Arts, WUSB and Times Beacon Record News Media. “We have a broad reach, and use our contacts to bring in nationally-known performers and people in the community to entertain,” she added.

Taylor Ackley and the Deep Roots Ensemble from Stony Brook bring together classical musicians from the area to play old-time mountain music with unique instrumentation, Tuttle said. Ever heard bluegrass played on a French horn? Now’s your chance.

Eastbound Freight Bluegrass Band

The Eastbound Freight Bluegrass Band is the longest-running bluegrass ensemble on Long Island with all of its founding members still performing. The close-knit group has played together for more than 20 years, and it’s evident in their sound, Tuttle said. “They have a tightness in their music that can only come from being together for such a long time.”

Eastbound Freight will offer a fiddle workshop during the afternoon for anyone interested in learning more about the instrument and playing in the folk genre.

Quarter Horse, a local six-man ensemble, blends traditional folk sounds with elements of rock, alternative, blues, jazz and country music. The band, which formed five years ago, offers a younger take on folk music, Benner said.

The Slambovian Circus of Dreams

Known as pioneers of Americana, the Slambovian Circus of Dreams has been recognized in publications around the globe for its unique sound and showmanship. The whimsical group from Sleepy Hollow is known for its classic rock influences and varied instrumentation, from mandolin to cello and theremin. Benner said that they’ll be working Eastern European music and yodeling into their set this year. “They’re a fantastic group and so much fun to watch,” he said.

Children will enjoy the event as well as the festival offers a Kids Corner with storytelling and music, a chance to feed the farm animals and a ride on the Big Swing.

As the day draws to a close, stick around for a traditional barn dance with live music and a caller and bring home some organic produce.

“People don’t want to leave because it’s such a peaceful and fun atmosphere. You can forget about the rest of the world for a day, get out in nature and let your stress go,” said Tuttle.

The 8th annual Fiddle & Folk Festival will be held at Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, E. Setauket on Sept. 15 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets in advance are $15 adults, $13 seniors and children; tickets at the door are $18 adults, $15 seniors and children. There is no rain date. Bring seating. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.fiddleandfolk.com.

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s an opportunity for a reunion, a celebration of a major employer on Long Island, and a chance to recognize the role residents played in a landmark achievement from the 1960s all rolled into one exhibition.

Kicking off tonight with a discussion and reception, the Port Jefferson Village Center will present an exhibit titled Grumman on Long Island, A Photographic Tribute featuring photographs and memorabilia from Grumman. The company, which became part of Northrop Grumman in 1994, started in 1929 and was involved in everything from the design of F-14 fighter jets to the lunar excursion module that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon 50 years ago this July.

Sponsored by Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy, the exhibition will run through February. Port Jefferson Village Historian Chris Ryon will kick off the evening and John Hiz, who is the Belle Terre village historian, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

Special guests include former Grumman employees Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

The exhibition boasts approximately 100 photos, which former Grumman employees provided to celebrate the company’s legacy. “People are coming in every day with boxes,” said Ryon in a recent interview.

In addition to the photos, the exhibition includes a test pilot helmet and several models that are 1/10th the scale of planes, including the X29, an F-14 and the Hawkeye.

“We are anticipating a huge turnout for this exhibit,” said Margot Garant, the mayor of Port Jefferson. “Grumman was an important economic engine for Long Island.” The aerospace company attracted many people to Long Island, Garant said, and she expects that many of them will visit the exhibit to share their experiences with former co-workers. The mayor said Ryon and Hiz have received a “massive response from people” who are proud of their role at the company.

Grumman designed and produced the lunar module that helped Capt. Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert return safely from the troubled Apollo 13 mission. “We have [pictures of] Apollo 13 astronauts speaking to Grumman employees,” Ryon said.

When he was bobbing up and down after returning to Earth, Lovell recognized that Grumman helped save their lives, Hiz said. “That was a defining moment in what it meant to fly a Grumman aircraft, which was reliable, rugged and dependable,” he added.

Grumman alumni also shared their appreciation for the way the company treated them, including the yearly picnic complete with carnival rides and providing turkeys to their families during Christmas and Thanksgiving. “What’s really hit me is the emotional response people have when they talk about Grumman,” said Ryon.

Reynolds, who worked at Grumman for 40 years and retired in 2005, said the exhibit highlights all the vehicles that were tested and the ones that landed on the moon, adding he appreciated how management cared for the people who worked at the company. 

He recalled how he put his youngest son John Thomas Reynolds into the cockpit of an F-14 and told him not to touch anything. Reynolds asked his technicians to run the gear and fold the wings in and out. His son was so excited that his “eyes were tremendous,” Reynolds recalls. “For a young boy, it was really quite an experience.” 

A resident of Selden for 52 years, Reynolds said he recently ran into Vinny DeStefano, a former Grumman manager and the two former co-workers “shook hands for about an hour.”

The exhibit will also feature a test pilot section, which contains stories from Amy Tuttle, the program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, whose father Bruce was a test pilot. Tuttle had to ditch his plane in 1951 outside of Port Jefferson Harbor (see sidebar).

Through several decades when Grumman employed over 20,000 people on Long Island, the company and the area were inextricably intertwined. “There was probably not a day that went by during the period prior to 1994 that you weren’t faced with” a Grumman connection, said Hiz, whether on WALK radio advertisements or seeing trucks on the Long Island Expressway.

Hiz described Grumman as being at the apex of the nation’s defense for so many years. At its heyday, Grumman built 70 percent of all the aircraft that flew from aircraft carriers, Hiz said. Part of what made Grumman so effective was the way the company designed each vehicle like a Swiss watch. 

“They created these fantastic flying machines with their hands. Most of the machinery, they had to build from day one,” said Hiz, adding that the work ethic of the employees and the ability to promote from within added to its resourcefulness.

Reynolds took “great pride in what I did on the program,” he said. He started as a technician in 1965 and received numerous awards, including a 10-day trip to Hawaii that he took with his wife.

“Don’t underestimate how important Grumman was to these guys who worked there and women that worked there,” Tuttle added. “They were incredibly devoted to the company. It was a corporation which was pretty unusual even then.”

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson will present Grumman on Long Island, A Photographic Tribute on its second- and third-floor galleries through Feb. 28. An opening reception will be held tonight, Jan. 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. with entertainment by Jazzopedia, a Grumman video tribute and light fare. For more information, call 631-802-2160. 


Test pilot Bruce Tuttle brought ‘The Right Stuff’ to Long Island

By Daniel Dunaief

Bruce Tuttle

“The Right Stuff,” a phrase made famous by the late Tom Wolfe book about fighter pilots and astronauts, also thrived on Long Island.

On Dec. 10, 1951, Navy test pilot Bruce Tuttle took an F9S to varying altitudes, where he was asked to turn off the engine and then turn it back on. At 5,000 feet, everything worked as it should. Doubling that to 10,000 caused no problems. It wasn’t until 30,000 feet that the plane refused to reignite, causing a flame out.

Needing to ditch the plane, Tuttle directed it toward the Long Island Sound, ejecting into the thin air at over 5.5 miles in the sky.

Tuttle reached the frigid water, where he waited for eight minutes for help to arrive. When it did, the initial report indicated that he looked slightly better than expected. Tuttle told the Navy the only physical consequence of his fall was a scratch to his nose but he had fractured several vertebrae. Rather than take himself out of the running for future flights, Tuttle dealt with the pain and slept on a board for a year.

“All of these pilots looked at that as not only their calling, but they felt very strongly that this was important as Americans,” said Amy Tuttle, Bruce Tuttle’s youngest child and the program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council. “They were all patriotic guys.”

The plane Bruce Tuttle flew is still at the bottom of the Long Island Sound. 

The new Grumman exhibit at the Port Jefferson Village Center features several details from the test pilot’s work at the company and on behalf of the country, including a sonar image of the plane, which over the years has moved with the current under the Sound and is about two miles out from Old Field Point and the mouth of Port Jefferson Harbor. “If you take the Port Jefferson/ Bridgeport Ferry, you’re going right past the spot where dad’s plane crashed,” said Amy, whose father died in 2014.

Like other test pilots, Bruce Tuttle received a request to gauge his interest in joining the space program. He turned down the opportunity to be an astronaut because he didn’t want to be “in anything he couldn’t control,” explained Amy.

A Saks-34th Street advertisement from Oct. 11, 1953, reads, ‘Now you can own a jacket just like Bruce Tuttle’s … Chief Test Pilot for Grumman Aircraft Corp.’ Image courtesy of Amy Tuttle

Her father did, however, contribute to the space effort. When a crippled Apollo 13 was hobbling back from its ill-fated mission to the moon, he worked feverishly with other executives at NASA, Grumman and elsewhere to help guide the astronauts home.

“He’d come home from Bethpage to Stony Brook at 11 p.m., get up at 4 a.m. and go back out to Bethpage,” Amy said. “I remember asking him, ‘Dad, are you going to be able to get them back?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re working on it.’” She appreciated how her father couldn’t, and wouldn’t, guarantee a positive outcome.

Her father “worked on the lunar excursion module. They were using everybody’s knowledge that had ever worked on it to try to find a solution,” she said.

Amy thinks Apollo 13 was especially nerve wracking for test pilots like her father, who had been in combat, because it was “so important for them to get these guys on this mission back in one piece. The mindset was: no guy left behind.”

Bruce Tuttle’s interest in flying started on May 20, 1927, when his mother took him to a hillside in Port Jefferson to see Charles Lindbergh’s plane as it attempted to cross the Atlantic. Tuttle saw Lindbergh fly along the North Shore, head back as he reached Port Jefferson because of fog, and then head east again when he reached a clearing in Setauket.

“That made a big impression on him,” Amy said of her father, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross medal and who worked for Grumman from 1946 until the mid-1980s.

While Tuttle isn’t sure whether her father inspired anyone to fly jets, she said he was in an advertisement for a flight jacket from Saks-34th, which cost $15.95 in 1953.

Amy said her father was skeptical of the overuse of the word “hero.”

“He would say, ‘I’m not a hero,’ and I’m thinking to myself, you crashed a jet so that it wouldn’t land on anybody else and kill them. That’s pretty heroic.”

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

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.