uttermilk Hill in Belgrade has been abuzz with activity, with T-shirts being printed, cookies being baked and the big field next to the old Gawler barn being mowed – all in preparation for the rebirth of the Buttermilk Hill Old-Time Music Show. The event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to dusk Sunday, Aug. 15.

A colorful lineup of performers runs the gamut from a 3-year-old local harmonica wiz to a 20-voice folk chorus from Vermont, with a plethora of fiddles, banjos, guitars, accordions and more in between.

The grassroots festival was a fixture for 25 years each August on the Gawler family farm on Buttermilk Hill. But when its founders, siblings John and Sue Gawler, decided to “retire” five years ago to devote more time to their busy family lives, the event seemed in danger of extinction.

While John was a single man when he began the festival in 1974, his family grew to include his wife Ellen, a gifted folk fiddler, and three daughters who inherited their parents’ passion and acuity in traditional music. All three girls, Molly, Edith and Elsie, now ages 20, 16 and 14, respectively, are talented singers and instrumentalists who have delighted audiences in appearances with their folks as the Gawler Family Band.

When Molly left Maine for the State University of New York last fall, she took her fiddle and soon found herself reminiscing about the wonderful times she had on the farm each summer helping with the annual music show. Whether it was selling lemonade and cookies, watching the show or joining her parents on stage when she perfected her first fiddle tune, she had “so many awesome memories” that she realized it was time to bring the festival back.

Though she had no experience as an event organizer, Molly consulted with her father on which of the “old favorites” might be invited back to perform and chipped in with some new favorites of her own. She then corralled her sisters and five cousins who all grew up on Buttermilk Hill to pitch in on such things as refreshments, publicity and site maintenance.

“I am thrilled that the younger generation is reviving the music show,” said John, who helped rebuild the stage and looks forward to appearing on it with his banjo. It was always “a real treat for local folks to come out and hear some great music and have some good, old-fashioned fun in their own back yard,” he said, noting performers love the down-home family style of Buttermilk Hill.

The musical event will get under way at 11 a.m. with an hour of clowning and other circus tomfoolery geared especially to children, presented by Rick and Jackie Davis of New Hampshire. The music will begin at noon. Featured will be such Maine acts as ukulele player Joel Eckhaus, folk singer Michael Cooney, contra dance bands Frigate and Old Grey Goose, and the bluegrass/gospel group Northern Valley Boys, including Auburn fiddler Greg Boardman.

Also on the roster are Boardman’s former student, fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger, raised in Litchfield and now a professional musician based in Boston; and Village Harmony, a 20-member vocal group from Vermont which presents music from all over the world. From “just up the road” in Oakland comes the Mueller Family Band, featuring a mother, father and seven children from age 3 to mid-teens. The Gawler family will also be well represented on stage with John, Ellen, Molly, Edith and Elsie making appearances at various times during the show.

One of the program highlights, according to Molly, will be a light-hearted skit in which her father ceremoniously hands over his banjo to her, symbolically representing the “passing of the festival torch” to the next generation. Those who know Molly as a fiddler, singer and dancer may be surprised when she then proceeds to frail out a tune on it, a skill she taught herself while sitting out on the farm’s front porch one afternoon earlier this summer. “I figured that if Dad was going to be passing the banjo to me I’d better figure out how to play it,” she said.

Admission to the Buttermilk Hill Old Time Music Show, set to go on rain or shine, is $10, with a reduced price of $6 for those under 12 or over 65. Parking is free. Edith and Elsie have made a huge batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies they will sell in the barn along with lemonade, hot dogs, veggie wraps and Maine blueberry pie made by a Buttermilk Hill neighbor.

Attendees should bring blankets or lawn chairs for seating, but are requested to leave their dogs at home.

The Gawler farm is located on Guptill Road, off from Route 27 about half-way between Belgrade Lakes and Belgrade Depot. For more information, call 495-2928 or 323-2333 day of the show.


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