Something to ‘Plant and Sing’ About Next Year at Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor
Sylvester Manor. Photo credit: Kelly Laffey

One year ago, the East End was treated to a magical evening of food, music and family when Sylvester Manor held its Plant & Sing 2012 on Shelter Island.

The evening starred banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, accompanied by his wife, Abigail Washburn, also a gifted banjo player and musician of rare caliber. It was a magical evening, as “the first family of American Banjo playing” treated all in attendance to its unique sound.

Fleck, who comes across as a humble grand-master of music, dazzled and mesmerized us with string playing that boggles the mind yet soothes the soul, even as he directed much of his attention, and affection, toward Washburn.

For those who don’t know him, Fleck is the musical prodigy whose unique Banjo playing is celebrated from villages in Africa (see the documentary Bela Fleck, Throw Down Your Heart) to the Rocky Mountains (hear the Telluride Sessions) and most places in between. His bluegrass sound was a perfect fit for Plant & Sing as the sound of his banjo mixed in the air with the smell of locally grown food cooked by Shelter Islanders.

The audience, filled with Shelter Island, North Fork and East End families was grateful to come together for such a special night. Enough children to fill a school swirled and dashed and danced and darted about to make one wonder what their parents were doing. But as one of those parents I knew what we were doing, and besides the sense of family and community was so strong there was not a worry in the air—just the sound of banjos and the scent of homegrown, home cooked food.

There was so much to love about that night; Bela Fleck, the greatest banjo player in the world, on stage with his true love and new wife; The recently revitalized and revived Sylvester Manor sharing and showing off its new gardens and farm produce.

The late Mrs. Alice Fiske, who left the estate to Evan Ostby, a member of her late husband’s family, who in turn passed control of day-to-day operations to his nephew, Bennett Konesni, would be been pleased with the job her descendants had done bringing the place back to life and back to the center of the culture of Shelter Island.

Looking back on it I realized that along with food and music one theme ran through every aspect of the night—family.

The audience was filled with families. The host, Sylvester Manor, has been in one extended family’s hands for generations and was in the process of a new, young generation taking over.

Under the direction of Konesni and with the assistance of farmers like Steven Eaton and organizers like Shelter Island native Melissa Munby, the event was a huge success. Local restaurants, The Vine Street Café and The Wandering Palate food truck, whose chief chef is Martine Abitbol of Shelter Island, prepared food. The whole event was filled with family, food and music and it was all delicious.

In fact the only really sad and unfortunate thing about the Plant & Sing 2012 is that there’s not going to be a Plant & Sing 2013.

After such an amazing start, it was a great disappointment to learn Plant & Sing 2013 has been put on “hiatus” by organizers. Usually, I would consider this a major strike against an organization. But they did such a great job with Bela Fleck and the food last year, I’m willing to wait for a whole year to see what they come up with next year.

After all, Sylvester Manor is about family, and what is family if it’s not about acceptance and understanding.

So while Shelter Island will have to wait till next year for another Plant and Sing, there are many other great events still going on at Sylvester Manor worth taking your family to see—if you close your eyes you might even hear Bela Fleck’s banjo echoing in the night.

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