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Bluegrass and camping come together

BRANDON — The gentle sounds of recorded guitar and banjo music drifted over the field of pop-up campers and RVs at the top of Basin Road in Brandon this past Thursday afternoon. The annual Basin Bluegrass Festival was kicking off that night, and a steady influx of campers had been arriving at the gate all morning for the four-day event.
A thunderstorm warning was in effect as the sky got progressively darker, but no thunderstorm would dampen, let alone halt, the festivities of the popular music festival. The annual gathering has been taking place in the same 40-acre field in Brandon for 22 years.
Campers actually start to arrive Sunday morning after the annual Brandon Independence Day Parade.
“They’re lines up at 6 a.m. the day after the parade,” said organizer and landowner Harriet Wyman. “They can’t come in until 8, but they start lining up at 6 a.m.”
Wyman and her husband, logger and Brandon Selectman Tracy Wyman, own the land atop Basin Road, where they also live and run a logging business and small campground. The land was handed down from Tracy’s parents, Donna and Rhodes Wyman, and has been in the Wyman family for generations.
It was Donna and Rhodes Wyman, along with their good friends Linda and Dudley Berry, who used to travel together to bluegrass music festivals all over the country. After a while, Linda Berry thought the friends could put on their own festival right here in Brandon, and in 1995 the Basin Bluegrass Festival was born.
And it was successful from day one.
“People said they wouldn’t make money the first year, and they did,” Harriet Wyman said. “But even if they didn’t, Linda would do it anyway. She loves it.”
Bluegrass music lovers are a tightly knit, loyal group. For some, not even death would keep them away, or prevent organizers from putting on the festival.
Dudley Berry died about six years ago, and Donna Wyman passed away in 2014, but the festival goes on.
In a way, to keep putting on the festival is a way to honor those who have passed. It’s the same for attendees as well. 
On Thursday, Ann Lawrence was sitting comfortably outside her 36-foot RV with her sister, Pat Higgins, as thunder rumbled low in the valley. An overgrown cherry tomato plant sat squarely on a plant stand under an awning. A welcome mat was on the ground outside the screen door, through which a large Maine coon cat could be seen stretched out for a nap at the top of the steps. It was a home away from home.
Ann and her husband, Bob, had been coming to the festival from their home in Hope Valley, R.I., for 16 years. 
Bob passed away in January following complications from a blocked carotid artery. In fact, the couple had just arrived at the festival last July when Bob felt a tingling sensation around the top of his head and down his neck. They packed up and went to Rutland Regional Medical Center, where doctors told Bob the carotid artery in his neck was 90 percent blocked. He insisted on going home to Rhode Island, Ann said, against medical advice, had the surgery, but ultimately died six months later.
Ann said she didn’t hesitate to come back this year, especially since they’d had to leave last summer before the bands even started playing.
“I wanted to come back,” she said. “Bob would have wanted me to come back.”
As for her sister, Pat, she said she’d never been to a bluegrass festival, but always liked country music.
“So, I thought I would like bluegrass, and I do,” she said. “I love it.”
The Wymans have been saving this RV spot for the Lawrences for years, and this year was no exception.
“Tracy has been so wonderful to us,” Ann Lawrence said. “He always let’s us park here and use the electricity. And this is the best site in the house!”
And it is. The stage is just 30 feet away.
Over the course of the next four days, 10 bluegrass bands from all over the country would perform, rain or shine. Berry said she estimates roughly 300 campers and RVs park in the field each year, and including day visitors almost 1,000 people come to hear music over the four-day festival.
Back at the Lawrence RV, it’s clear that Ann misses her husband, but also that she is happy to be at the Basin Bluegrass Festival for her 16th year.
“My husband was a hell-raiser,” she said with a smile. “He was a lot of fun, and he loved the festival.”

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