Monday, July 4, 2011


Eilen Jewell Band

We've been visiting Grafton, Vermont for many decades now, always as a side-trip passing through and never for the 4th of July fireworks and Vermont Symphony Orchestra extravaganza which we can't afford the tickets to anyway. I know there are other Vermonters like us.

The village of Grafton has a population of less than 700 — easily half the size of its Civil War era.

The town was named after Grafton, MA., supposedly during a bidding & drinking episode — so connect the dots. Lots of American history was made this way.
The town was first founded as "Thomlinson".

The Old Tavern inn was established when Thomas Jefferson was newly President and has stayed afloat continuously ever since, a feat with few rivals in this country. The folks we visited with on the hotel's broad front porch seemed extra comfy and happy with their stay.

In the 1960s the Windham Foundation restored the village, making it almost impossible for any hardscrabble Vermonter to own much of anything in the village, but it also spiffed up buildings and decorated the spot as an authentic New England town with much success. Greg Joly and I did a poetry reading to raise money for flood victims of Hurricane Katrina on the town library porch without ever being invited and no one chased us off. In fact few were there. Likewise, when Sweetheart and I visited recently and had a little impromptu picnic by a village brook, boots off, books with us, lunchpail, no one said "No". We arrived at 9AM and would stay for Eilen Jewell's Band who were to perform at 5 that afternoon right behind the Old Tavern.

Since we were there for the day we roamed all the village on-foot. To the school playground and the swings, then down to the working forge — a fire pit and blacksmith hammering away inside the darkness. After that it was a stroll over to the minerals museum with a fellow running the one room quite friendly and quite batty about all things rock: from Zaire to local Vermont-bred gems. We took a run through the Grafton Cheese station, neighboring deli, out to a well used baseball diamond and scrubby bleachers, small garden pockets, through backlots of barn and homes, taking photographs, the one country store not exactly decked out for tourists and more homespun (we like it always), finally back to the library, and with a mental note we would delve into the town historical museum after our little picnic and deep reading.

The tools are a hallmark in the historical museum, as is the back history of soapstone manufacturing and sheep raising from the region. There is a legacy of African-American families in the town, maybe the most notable is the native storyteller Daisy Turner, who died in 1988 in Grafton at age 104. In Ken Burns film The Civil War, one can watch Daisy Turner reciting Civil War poetry on her dying year. She was one of a kind.

By 4 in the afternoon we got ourselves to the Eilen Jewell Band. A free concert, which is absolutely giving of the town. A small short step-up stage with canopy was placed in the parking lot and folks just gathered round — under the huge maple trees, on the lawn, walking past; you'll even see a kid on a bicycle caught in my film pumping around the parking lot in his own time with the music. The little film was shot hand-held right on the spur. This is a performer and band working in the great tradition of the self-employed — they tune their own instruments and put up the whole show and take it all down, travel to the next town — which will be on Thursday in Burlington, Vermont as the opening act for Wanda Jackson.

film © bob arnold