I had the opportunity to chat with one of the organizers of Bradstock, Dennis O’Doherty. The festival celebrated its 30th anniversary of freewheeling fun and music over this Labor Day weekend out at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches.
The very first thing he said was, “I didn’t do this alone.”
The Bradstock Festival is totally managed and run by volunteers. It has attracted a unique group of like-minded people from all walks of life. It started out as a small group of friends who wanted to have a backyard party and give an opportunity for local musicians to show their talent, but soon blossomed into a vibrant circle of volunteers eager to do good for the community, support music and the arts, and have some fun.
One of the reasons Bradstock is so special and successful is that all the volunteers are passionately giving their time, talents, and energy for reasons other than money. So many times in our lives, it seems that people are motivated for personal gain, whether it is money, prestige, or some other self-serving reason. Then you look at all the Bradstock volunteers, or even the attendees who’ve left their egos at home and are just there for the love of it.
Brian Hassett, author of “The Hitchhikers Guide to Jack Kerouac,” drove 14 hours from his home outside of Toronto, Canada, to attend this year’s Bradstock. His essay, entitled “The Power of the Collective in Art” (he read from it at the Poet’s Stage), discusses the importance of musicians, artists, and all people getting together. Being together counts, whether it is a few thousand at Bradstock, or four-hundred thousand at Woodstock, or a group of Beat Generation writers and artists that hung out with David Amram in the 1950s, or even just a collective of two people. Supporting someone who is supporting you is the seed of a generation. That is what Bradstock is all about.
They don’t advertise either, or do media outreach to attract attendees; it’s more of a “iykyk” kind of event, which my friend Monique cryptically posted on FB days leading up to it.
The story of how it started is wonderful. It’s a local event that simply started with a late-night conversation in a bar between friends, Dennis O’Doherty and Fred Fryer, about going to the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. Their friend Brad Ringhouse, who had just bought his first house in Bayport, didn’t want to go, so they convinced him to have a party in his backyard and said jokingly, “We’ll call it Bradstock.” They invited musician friends to play; another friend built a 6-foot canvas backdrop to decorate a stage that carpenter friends built just for the party… and proverbially, the rest is history!
Three hundred people showed up, grills were fired up, a fish store donated food, and at the end of the night someone randomly passed around a spaghetti pot, and they’d amassed a fair amount of donations. Inspired by Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Festival, they decided to donate the money to environmental organizations and worthy causes in their respective communities (as they continue to do every year).
By Bradstock III, its popularity grew such that they had to move it to a larger venue and had it on the bucolic grounds of Meadow Croft, in Bayport. Artists came to display their work, more and more bands volunteered to perform, information booths about environmental causes were set up, along with a spot for canned food stuffs to be donated. It was “A Happening!”
By the fifth year, due to larger attendance, they moved to the Flowerfield Fairgrounds, in St. James, followed by a few years at the Long Island Maritime Museum.
That fifth year was a monumental entertainment year, though, as they were graced with the legendary musician David Amram, whose talent and presence took Bradstock to a whole other level.
O’Doherty shared a serendipitous tale of how Amram ended up at Bradstock.
“When I was around 8 years old, our family spent summers at Davis Park. David Amram lived in a house (with a piano where he’d composed the score for ‘Splendor in the Grass’) near us, and you could find him on any day of the week like the Pied Piper leading a musical parade of we kids about 10 of us all in a row, marching along the shore banging out tunes on a hodgepodge of instruments made up of pots, pans, and whatever else he could muster up,” he said.
Fast-forward to years later, where O’Doherty was invited backstage at Amram’s show, who proceeded to point straight at him with an “I know you!” welcome, though they hadn’t seen each other in about 20 years. At Bradstock that year, the day of Amram’s performance, he opened with a song he’d fully improvised all about how he was delayed and lost driving out to the Island from the Bronx… and it rhymed!
Multitalented Amram, who is now 93, improvised a number this year at Bradstock as well, while alternately playing several of his instruments including flutes, whistles, percussion, and the clapping of his hands as he conducted the audience along. Amram, who has performed at about 23 Bradstocks, said he “[…] would cancel any gig to play at Bradstock!” His son Adam, a music producer based in Brooklyn and an accomplished musician, played percussion in the band as well.
Other amazing bands at the current site of Bradstock, Camp Pa-Qua-tuck, performing on three stages included an eclectic mix of celebrity Long Island bands: Buddy Merriam and Backroads, Soundswell, Funkin’ A, Gathering Time, Miles to Dayton, Quarter Horse, The Famous Dr. Scanlon Band… there was a poets’ and kids’ stage… a 30 years of Bradstock wake-up parade of children, artists, food vendors, and an army of golf carts and a tractor-driven wagon to shuttle people from area to area. WUSB Stony Brook partnered with Bradstock to simulcast Sunday’s show, interviewing bands in real time. Island Harvest collected bags and bags of food items generously donated by festival revelers.
Gathering Times Jerry McKeveny and his wife brought the whole extended family this year and said, “Bradstock is the kind of festival you come to once and want to come back to every year.” This year, a special music scholarship was set up to honor their son Travis, a talented singer-songwriter who had been a part of the Bradstock family and died in 2021.
Honored to have attended Bradstock’s 30th anniversary this year, I definitely will be attending every year with friends, a comfy chair, and enjoying the spirit of community and caring for one another through kindred spirits, music and art. Peace out!
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