I went on Saturday to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival & it was fantastic, but Sunday was the day that I will remember for all my days. My sister & I arrived early in the morning to make sure we had a good seat at the stage where the Avett Brothers would play later that evening. They were the ones we wished to see most of all, but we were eager to see everything that the festival had to offer.
When the Felice Brothers came on, expectations were low. I’d heard of the band from New York in passing, but was not sure of what they had to offer. What they had to offer was a brilliant collection of songs that came across as a hybrid of Bob Dylan, The Band & Tom Waits. We marveled at their presence & we enjoyed them without reservation.
Then came on Moon Alice & we were less enthusiastic about their performance. They were from a bygone generation of Dead Heads that didn’t appeal to my or her generation*. They spoke of doing hallucinogenic drugs & of playing with the Grateful Dead throughout the world. I must put this out there that I have a strong distaste towards the Grateful Dead & Jam bands in particular. It’s great if you’re on acid, but if stoned or drunk it does nothing but wear on one’s patience. Since I’ve never tried any psychedelic drugs (unless you consider pot as such) I couldn’t relate.
*My sister & I are 15 years apart, but oftentimes, if not at all times, she is the voice of reason.
Boodge (what my sister will be heretofore referred to as) & I decided to eat lunch. The sun came out for a spell & we basked in its glory, however short lived & we were asked by a young hippie what we were eating & where we could get it. Whole Foods, that corporate conglomerate that brilliantly markets itself to nonconformists was the answer & she brimmed with near luminescence at the suggestion that we didn’t propagate one of the other corporate establishments such as: Safeway, Raley’s or Lucky’s. As if this corporation was better than the others because it had a better global strategy to make more money by being the organic food headquarters, by being morally just to follow laws about fair trade & by not being afraid to hire those, nay encourage their employees (male or female) to have dreadlocks & beards. A brilliant corporate strategy & one not lost on those that have the power of literacy.
I, however, could care less about any of that. While being a concerned global citizen, my main objective is selfish to be true. I want the best price I can find for my buck. Sure I can get a cup of coffee for a buck & Winchell’s**, but Starbuck’s offers the facilities to sit & write this diatribe for $1.95 so I’m getting more for my money. That, my friends, is economics.
**That is assuming I’m not dating myself & Winchell’s is still around.
After we consumed our hummus & flatbread thing with Spinach we left our blanket & ice chest at our little spot & headed off to wander to the various booths of food & merch before going to see Randy Newman. Randy Newman was uproariously funny. Cracking jokes in-between songs & we laughed as if seated in a comedy club. It was half way through the set that I became distracted by a curious Groundhog, named Gunther by Boodge. He would come up eat a little grass, peer out over the crowd & scurry back into his hole. Shy, but not overly so it didn’t take him to long to become comfortable with me & eat leaves right from my hand.
After Randy Newman’s set, which included scattered boos for playing “I Love L.A.” we headed off to see Elvis Costello, one of the larger draws of the show. We got a spot on a hill about a mile away, which was great for about five minutes until the sheer masses of people began to crowd around us & the young Boodge’s claustrophobia got the better of her. Five songs & we headed off to the Avett Brothers stage. Declan MacMannus would have to wait for another day.
As we walked over, Boodge felt a desire to apologize for her ailments. How heartless must one be to want to subject someone they care about to such deplorable a condition as thousands of people pushing against you & making you terribly uncomfortable. Apologies weren’t necessary as I was none to happy to subject her or myself to something thoroughly unenjoyable.
We caught the Yonder Mountain String Band & they made us dance with a joy that is usually reserved for weddings, funerals & bar mitzvahs. Banjos, fiddles & an accordion ruled the hour as we lost all inhibition to what others may think. We had never heard their music before, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying them as if they were our hometown band making a trip through one last time.
After they finished we anxiously awaited the band we wanted to see most of all. Boodge wanted them to play “Colorshow” more than anything & wouldn’t you know they came out & led with it. The tempo was set & we lost ourselves in the music. They played songs from their newest album, their older albums & a cover of Doc Watson’s “Blue Ridge Mountains”. The throngs of people made it even better as we belted out the lyrics as though we’d written them ourselves. We sang with reckless abandon as well all peered out over the haze of fog & marijuana smoke that permeated the festival atmosphere.
As if on cue when “Salina” came on we danced like Native Americans dancing for rain & when the lyric “The rain it fell, the story went on. The rain it fell & we got gone” came we all screamed it as a steady drizzle fell in the valley of trees where the stage was situated. Epic is a word that I throw around, sometimes too often, but that is what the scene was in a word. The energy put into that set left us speechless. After an hour & a half of singing & playing their hearts out the boys from North Carolina left the stage to pure love & affection.
In that moment, where we all sang “I & Love & You” & the Avetts left the stage we genuinely felt it. It was nothing but admiration, thankfulness & love for giving us an experience. There are things that have stuck with me in my life, the births of my sisters, niece & nephew, my father’s passing, the first time I saw Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney & Bad Religion. This was one of those moments where time stood still & 100, 000 voices on the ground, in the trees, on hills sang in unison to the heavens. No violence, no strife as the free festival carried through three days of peace due to the benevolence & generosity of Warren Hellman.
As we left the excitement was palpable & life was good. We were throughly exhausted, but it was the good kind. The kind that makes you know that the thing you just witnessed was magical & will be a story that never grows old. We were there, like it was Monterey ’67 or Woodstock ’69. We watched these artists give us joy & in turn we gave them love & admiration. Our lives were forever changed by music & why shouldn’t it be music that changes lives. Why must life always be changed by negative things? Why can’t that those moments of joy stay locked in our cranial cavities like money in a safe only coming out when we feel the need to share. It was a glorious day!