Pati Crooker helped put Maine on the bluegrass map.
She started the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival in 1979 as a way to draw people to her park and campground in Brunswick. She wasn’t a big fan of the music at first, but grew into one and was soon booking the biggest bluegrass acts to play at her annual Labor Day weekend event. Bill Monroe, the acknowledged father of bluegrass, played the festival and considered Crooker a friend.
Crooker died in June 2016 at the age of 68, after a battle with cancer. Because of Crooker’s health, the 2016 festival had been called off in the fall of 2015. But now Cooker’s son and daughter-in-law are bringing the festival back to full strength this year. The festival, scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, will feature performances by The Del McCoury Band, The Gibson Brothers, The Steeldrivers, The Grascals, Dailey & Vincent, Mark O’Connor, Erica Brown and many other bluegrass stars.
Crooker’s son, Michael Mulligan, said he and his wife want to keep the festival going because of its importance to bluegrass musicians and fans, and to honor his mother.
He said that last year, after his mother’s death, bluegrass fans came to the beach and campground Labor Day weekend even though there was no festival. There were a few years since 1979 when no festival was held, for various reasons, and fans often showed up with their instruments anyway and jammed among themselves.
“Mom’s legacy is an important reason why we kept this going,” said Mulligan, 33, who grew up at the festival.
Even though the festival had a year off, it was relatively easy to book the biggest acts for this year’s festival, Mulligan said, because of Crooker’s reputation among the artists.
McCoury, 78, is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame who played guitar in Monroe’s band for a time. His band won the Grammy for best bluegrass album in 2014. Other winners of the best bluegrass album Grammy who will be at the festival include The Steeldrivers (2016) and fiddler Mark O’Connor (2017).
The duo of Dailey and Vincent includes Jamie Dailey, who had been a vocalist and guitarist for Doyle Lawson & Quick Silver, and Darrin Vincent, who played several instruments in Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder. Both Dailey and Vincent have played the Thomas Point Beach Festival before and have great respect for Crooker and what she made of the festival.
Dailey said when he first came to the festival he was impressed with the beautiful, waterfront site and the “down-home, family feel” of the event. Musicians and fans mixed easily, and people played music and hung out together long after the official performances ended. Many fans camp at the festival the whole weekend. Fans usually sit attentively in folding chairs or lawn chairs while the musicians perform.
Vincent, who is the brother of bluegrass musician Rhonda Vincent, first played the festival in 1986 and met his wife, Julie, while in Maine in 1991. He called the festival “very special” and said that everyone who attends seems to be focused on “music and friendship.”
The festival kicks off at 1 p.m. Thursday with the Bogus Family, followed by lesser-known “showcase” bands trying to win a festival prize. On Friday the shows start at noon and include The Grascals, The Steeldrivers and, at 8:30 p.m., the Del McCoury band. Performances Saturday and Sunday run from morning into night. See the full schedule at thomaspointbeachbluegrass.com.
THOMAS POINT BEACH BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday; performances are in the afternoon and evening Thursday and Friday, all day and into the evening Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: 29 Meadow Road, Brunswick
HOW MUCH: $30 to $55 for one-day tickets, multi-day passes available; free for children under 12, half-price for ages 13-16.