Rock the region at the Basin Bluegrass Festival
By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
The best and most affordable festival is the Basin Bluegrass Festival in Brandon, July 7-10. It’s been going on for 26 years, this is the 27th. Attended the last 2 and was blown away by all it had to offer. The music is exceptional. I didn’t know any of the bands but they were all great. It’s a family atmosphere with local bluegrass music. You can find more information at basinbluegrassfestival.com.
Sunday begins with a Gospel Sing at 9 a.m. under the marquee led by Mary and Michael Robinson. I had the pleasure of seeing them last year and it was unique and wonderful. I was able to speak to both of them recently to hear their story.
They travel the East Coast singing these gospels at various bluegrass festivals. Michael said, “We’re doing Maine in Mexico.” They started in 2000 and became full time in 2004. They perform on land and sea because they’ve done Danny Stewart’s Bluegrass Cruise in January for the past 10 years and another will run from January 9-13, 2023. They spend their winters in Florida and their summers in New England, but they still perform. Michael said: “We’re there until the end of April, then we’ll be seeing shows in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and moving up to New England where we started, then we’ll be busy all summer. .”
They are from central Massachusetts and their permanent church is Christ Community Church in Belchertown. They come whenever they are not on the road, usually in May and in the fall. Mary just attended a Ladies Retreat and is participating in a Wednesday morning Zoom Ladies Prayer with women from the bluegrass community. If they have a good signal in their RV, they can watch their church service online.
In 1999, they attended a festival in Moodus, Connecticut where there was to be a gospel song on Sunday mornings and they had never heard of it, so it intrigued them. The performers never showed up, so Michael and Mary grabbed their instruments and started playing gospel music. Michael said, “Pretty quickly we ran out of words because people didn’t know all the verses to sing. We got a big book from one of the vendors, laid it out on a picnic table, and we all huddled around it. We started playing some of the gospel section of this book. After a few minutes, I said that since it was Sunday morning, I would like to take the opportunity to pray, if that’s all right. Everyone agreed and after it was over people came up to us and said it was like a cult and it was a good thing.
It was August and they thought about it for the next few months and thought they could distribute their songbook with the lyrics and choruses and put a piece of gospel on the back, as a gift. They went to festivals for free and on Sunday mornings they gathered people, distributed these books and sang these songs. Michael said, “I would preach too. We haven’t told anyone about it. We were just contemplating it in our own hearts and praying about it. In the fall, a lady came up to us and said that if we had a songbook with the lyrics in Moodus, we could all sing along. It was kind of our response from above that we’re supposed to do this.
They sat down with their pastor to discuss the idea and wanted to be sent as missionaries. Michael said: “He thought it was a great idea. He spoke to our elders who laid hands on us and sent us out as missionaries into the bluegrass community.
Michael has been playing guitar since he was young and was in a band, “The Cow Tippers”. It helped him get in with some of the promoters. Mary learned the mandolin when they went full time. Mary said: “I have always loved leading gospel singing since 2000, but I had never done any special music. Now that we’re doing nursing homes, churches, prisons, I kind of got some on-the-job training to learn how to sing in front of people and how to play the mandolin.
When Michael was a teenager, he and Doyle Willis formed a duo called “The JC Messengers”. They went to various churches and played Christian music. Doyle was the guitarist and taught Michael how to play. They didn’t play bluegrass but Michael learned it on the Andy Griffith Show. He said, “I never knew what kind of music it was, but every time I started hearing bluegrass it reminded me how cool that music was. It was a little seed that was put in my head from this neat acoustic music. It came full circle when I was older and attending festivals. When Mary and John were teenagers, they both loved John Denver.
In 2012, Mary published a book, “My journey and its story”. It covers about 10 years of their life experiences on the road and much more about how they funded their ministry. You can download a PDF from their website. In 2020, when their shows were cancelled, Mary wrote another book, “With Love to my Grandchildren: Life’s Lessons from an Old Girl”, a sort of advice book. This was published last year. Michael has original music they play from songs he wrote.
During these festivals, Michael enjoys being able to proclaim the word of God through preaching. He said: “For me, the goal is above everything else. It opens the door and gives you the opportunity to meet someone and tell them about God’s love for them, which may never be heard elsewhere. This is why we are on the planet as believers. Mary does a lot of counseling. People will come to their booth and ask him deep and witty questions. Mary added: “Gospel music is such a big part of the bluegrass genre. People come to sing gospel at a bluegrass festival and may never darken the door of a church, but then hear the message for the first time. Many people have come to faith during our ministry. We don’t know the effect we have on people until we get to the other side, but just showing up and being Jesus to those people is fine with us.
They’ve been at the Basin Bluegrass Festival since 2000. They love working with Linda Berry, love the festival and you will too. They call it a gathering festival where people do a lot of jamming and play music around the campground. You can view them at www.bluegrassgospelsing.com. It is filled with all kinds of great content and from there you can access their Facebook channel, YouTube and subscribe to their newsletter.
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