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A ‘little Grand Ole Opry’ in St. Albans

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
Members of the bluegrass group "American Roots," which hails from Brooks, perform Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 at the St. Albans Town Hall as part of the Old Time Jamboree concert series. The musicians, who are all siblings in the Violette family, are from left, Seth, 22; Renee, 17; Sam, 16; and Ruth, 20. (Bangor Daily News/Chris Cousins)
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

ST. ALBANS, Maine — Good bluegrass music, a near-capacity crowd and a hall reminiscent of country music’s premier venue combined in the town of St. Albans on Saturday night for what one audience member called central Maine’s best-kept secret.

But Jane Brooks, who with her husband, Ken, was one of the performers Saturday at the historic St. Albans Town Hall, had another take on it.

“We’re just honored to be here on this stage,” she said. “This is like the little Grand Ole Opry of Maine.”

To that, the roughly 150 people in attendance offered a rousing round of applause — one of many that reverberated through the hall in the course of a two-hour show. The Ole Tyme Jamboree, as the concert series is known, has been staging music during the colder months for more than three years, said Deb Burdin of Cambridge, the series organizer.

“The people absolutely love it,” said Burdin, who is also president of the Bluegrass Association of Maine. “Central Maine is what you’d call a hotbed of great bluegrass music.”

With its hardwood and golden-trimmed balcony, the gleaming symmetry of its old-fashioned tin ceiling and looming brass chandelier, the St. Albans Town Hall has become one of the premier venues.

“Just look at this place,” Burdin said. “There are lot of bands who’d jump at the opportunity to play here.”

For a donation of whatever they could afford, audience members on Saturday were treated first to a lively performance by the band American Roots, which is made up of four siblings from the Violette family in Brooks. Blistering mandolin and banjo solos traded off with soaring harmonies as the young band glided through sev-eral songs. After raucous calls for an encore, they returned to perform an original song called “Carry It On,” about the death of a grandfather. Many eyes went moist, and American Roots left the stage with the audience bellowing their appreciation.

Then came the husband-and-wife duo of Ken and Jane Brooks of Athens, one of four house bands that rotate through the monthly jamboree shows. The Brooks duo, with their mix of folk, bluegrass and classic country, crooned through several songs, speckling their show with stage banter they’ve polished during six years of playing together.

Burdin said most of the audience members are from central Maine, though it’s not uncommon for people to travel much farther. One couple has been known to come all the way from Nova Scotia. In addition to Ken and Jane Brooks, the series features the Katahdin Valley Boys, Wilf Clark’s and Burdin’s band, Back Porch Blue-grass.

Part of what has made the Ole Tyme Jamboree such a success, according to Burdin, is a good relationship with the town of St. Albans. The musicians have reciprocated by donating funds toward the gradual restoration of the town hall. Last year they donated $1,000 to help rehabilitate the front stairs and on Saturday, the concert sponsored the renovation of a door. St. Albans is soliciting donors to pay for the renovation of individual doors and windows.

Jenny and Jim Lightbody of Embden said they attend every Ole Tyme Jamboree show they can, usually having dinner at a local restaurant beforehand.

“This building is just such a wonderful place,” Jenny Lightbody said. “And the music is just fantastic.”

The next shows in the series are scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 23 with Back Porch Bluegrass and the Windy Ridge Band and at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 with the Katahdin Valley Boys and Jewel Clark. The fourth annual Bluegrass Band Scramble is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 4, with musicians from several groups combining forces for the show, which will benefit local charities.

For information on any of the shows, call Burdin at 277-4331 or e-mail tinear@kynd.net.

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