Tom Feiner: Making a Music Festival
Deer Lake in Killingworth was once a Boy Scout camp. Deep River resident Tom Feiner knows because he was once a camper. But now the camp, which the Boy Scouts sold in 2022, will be the site of the first annual Deer Lake Music Festival on Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Tom is still involved.
He is a member of the board of Pathfinders, the group that bought the camp to preserve the 250-acre property and protect it from development and subdivision. The profits from the music festival will help pay off the debt that the group acquired by taking a loan for the purchase.
“We did a lot of fundraising; kids who had gone to the camp, kids who went there for decades, parents. We still have that debt that we are working on,” Tom says.
The purchase price of the property was $4.75 million.
Tom has for some time volunteered as the facilities manager of the property. In addition, he owns and operates his own business, an overhead garage door company.
Before a new ranger was in place to oversee general maintenance, Tom was spending as much as 20 hours a week on the upkeep.
“I just couldn’t see the place getting run down,” he says.
The upcoming Deer Lake Music Festival will feature 16 singer-songwriters, artists who write and play their own music. Performers, whose work highlights many different musical styles, come not only from Connecticut but Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland.
According to Chester resident Marian Bairstow, one of the organizers of the music festival as well as a performer in a ukulele-guitar duo, all the musicians who will appear are artists with existing musical resumes; some are professional, most have put out their own CDs.
There is limited seating indoors, but attendees can sit on the lawn and are encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy the Deer Lake grounds.
Tom started out as a Boy Scout in Troop 490 in Madison when he was 11 years old. Now, he admits, Boy Scouting groups attract fewer youngsters than they once did.
“The ranks have thinned out,” he says.
But Tom stayed a Scout, becoming a troop leader when his own days as a troop member were done. As leader, he grew the troop from the six members it had when he started to some 30.
“We did rigorous physical training, hiking the White Mountains. When we came back, the kids were all puffed up with achievement,” he recalls. “Between my job and Scouts, I think I was working 90 hours a week.”
These days, Tom likes to spend time playing instruments from his assortment of guitars.
“I have a large collection, but I haven’t counted how many,” he says. “No guitar sounds the same, whether it is acoustic or electric.”
He is a self-taught guitar player. He admits he tried formal lessons once. “I went to a lesson; the teacher said I had to do scales,” he says.
He didn’t take any more lessons.
Now, he goes online, particularly praising an online platform called Ultimate Guitar.
“A great app,” he says.
And as far as the ultimate guitarist, for Tom, that person is Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I play at the end of the day; I go up to the office and plug in,” he says. There are humidity controls he has installed to protect the guitars. “After all, a guitar is a piece of wood.”
Tom doesn’t play with a formal group but jams informally with friends, most of whom he graduated from high school with. “We get together; it’s the camaraderie,” he says.
He is also a fisherman, most often in New England waters, among the places Cedar Lake in Chester and the lake on the Deer Lake property. His catch is usually largemouth bass. The biggest fish he has ever caught was a 7-pound, 15-ounce largemouth, 26 inches long and 13 inches in girth. And he caught it in Deer Lake.
For him, fishing is a catch-and-release activity. “You want to be careful not to harm the fishery,” he says.
Tom’s definition of the good life remains a simple one.
“Fishing, guitars, and grandchildren, that’s what life is,” he says.
He and his wife Diane have two daughters and grandchildren who run the age gamut from 4 years old to 16.
At the upcoming Deer Lake Music Festival, Tom plans a project that doesn’t involve music but one that will make musicians more comfortable. He has created an area critical for performers, the area where they can relax before going onstage, traditionally known in the entertainment world as the green room.
On the day of the event, he will be doing whatever needs to be done to make sure the festival goes smoothly. “I’ll be there, trying to make sure everything goes all right,” he says.
Tom sees the music festival as something that will turn into an annual event. “Deer Lake is a great place for the artists,” he says, adding something that appeals far beyond musicians.
“There is plenty of parking.”
For tickets, visit bit.ly/deerlakemusicfestival23. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.