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The bands are back: Brookstock begins Thursday

The lyrics of a song flow freely together, words upon words that compliment one another and form a rhythm that seems effortless and is certainly memorable. Friends can be like that, too, and when it comes to Brookstock both music and friends collide. Their efforts recreate an annual music festival to be a place where friends flock to be together, dance, sing and reunite with their love of music … and one another.

This year the event — Brookstock XVII — begins Thursday, July 13, and rolls through Saturday, July 15, with music abundant throughout. The once-isolated event of just one concert playing for a high school reunion has blossomed into a three-night full-fledged festival for anyone and everyone wanting to attend. Organizers want to showcase existing bands that have played with them for years, but also ignite interest in new, younger musicians.

Thursday night the festival begins with the Singer/Songwriter Night at Recess 101 downtown near the Lincoln County Government Complex. Doors open at 6 p.m. and admission is free. Then, Friday night is called Brookstock Too, and helps open the doors of the Haven Theatre to hopefully a younger audience and growing musicians. Doors open at 6 p.m with music beginning at 7 p.m. and admission is $10. Saturday morning offers a Brookstock Breakfast Club at Chism’s Diner on Union Street Extension (Dutch treat breakfast). Later in the evening Brookstock XVII kicks off at the Brookhaven Building on Industrial Park Road. Doors open at 5 p.m. with music starting at 7 p.m. and admission is $10. That night of music will feature Mike J. Case & Friends, Tony Norton, Andy Tanas (formerly of Black Oak Arkansas and Krokus), Virgil Brawley & Friends, Ricky Brown & Friends, The Bridge Band and The Brutes.

Don Jacobs is one of the original founders of the event, which was born in 1998 during a planning session for his Brookhaven High School 30th class reunion. As the committee was brainstorming what kind of entertainment to have at the reunion party, Jacobs suggested that his old high school band — The Brutes — get back together and play.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm, so I pitched the idea to former band members Virgil Brawley and Ricky Brown, who were still actively playing music. I really didn’t think they’d go for it, but again I was surprised by their apparent enthusiasm, as well. So that was the beginning,” Jacobs said.

The session began at the home of classmates. As it continued each year, Jacobs reached out to Ed Safley Tree, who was in California making a living playing guitar with significant success. He was going to be visiting Brookhaven during the time of Brookstock so Jacobs invited him to sit in with The Brutes. Then, Jacobs had a new idea.

“As I thought about it, it occurred to me that it’d be much more fun if he could pull his old band, the Laughter of Ruin, together for a reunion, and we could do a Battle of the Bands as we’d done in high school,” Jacobs said. “The two bands live on stage for the first time in 30 years created a nice buzz around town and it promised to be a fun event.”

Jacobs said the first couple of Brookstocks drew a crowd of 100 to 150 people. With most of the attendees as original classmates from BHS, they treasure their time together.

“It occurred to me early on that outside of class reunions and funerals, there was very limited contact with most of the people I’d grown up with, and that seemed a shame. So in my mind, this gradually evolved from just a party, to a fun and even meaningful event,” Jacobs said. “It’s heartwarming to see familiar faces year after year.”

Faith Strauss is one of those faces. A graduate of the Class of 1972, she remains friends with Brookstock organizers and supporters, and remains a self-proclaimed groupie of Brookstock. In 2015, organizers honored Strauss with the distinction of “Queen of Brookstock” and she proudly professes that it was one of the most memorable days of her life.

“Brookstock brings us all together for a few days to enjoy our beautiful Ole Brook. We can fellowship with each other and enjoy the talent of the many musicians who grew up here. I am humbled to be a part of it,” she said.

As Brookstock continues to ride a rising surge in interest, Brookhaven continues to provide musicians with venues and opportunities for them to play their music. Brookstock participant and owner of the local music store, Tyler Bridge, said as time progresses within the city, musicians have become more able to showcase their art.

“When you look at how Brookstock started, and what it was become, it’s exciting,” Bridge said. “Brookstock started out as a small class reunion jam session. Now it has evolved into a three-night event. Just the fact that there are three different events, and most completely different artists playing at all three says a lot.”

One of the musicians who helped define it all, Virgil Brawley, returns every year to willingly and enthusiastically meet an “obligation” to be with his fellow musicians from days past. Brawley is a guitarist with The Brutes.

“This is my musical family from home and there is nothing like that,” Brawley said. “It is my way of giving back to my people and the community where I was raised even if I have been gone from there a long time.”

Shaw Furlow is another musician who performs at Brookstock each year. He agrees with the other participants that while the event is a good time to meet old friends and make new ones, the festival also serves a financial benefit to Brookhaven.

“There is definitely a positive economic impact. Hotel rooms and restaurants begin to fill up,” he said. “Meanwhile, friends are getting together all over town with mini reunions and that works to help the economy.”

But Furlow said the event also helps recall and review the music of their generation as played through their fingers and sung with their voices.

“It really does help preserve the music history of a generation,” Furlow said. “But, now, we are working with younger musicians to give them the same chance to perform and be heard.”

Bridge stressed the importance of supporting and attending local events such as Brookstock in order for traditions that give artists an audience to continue. If the public enjoys the idea of having an arts community, then they should attend the events such as the upcoming festival, he said.

“There was a time years ago when out-of-town visitors might have said there is not much to do there, but now there are more events and sometimes you even have to choose what to attend,” Bridge said.

“For example, one weekend this past June, there was live music at two local restaurants, an awesome theater play, and a free downtown concert. How could we not be excited about the positive things going on in our community? It is a great time to be here.”

Story by JoAnna Sproles

Photos submitted by Bill Perkins and Don Jacobs

Post has been corrected to credit Bill Perkins for several photos.