Monday, July 26, 2004

On The Ridge 

There's a moment every year on the ridge that stretches out eternally into the heathaze and field living, one which cannot be captured in words. You become one with the crowds and the sun, sitting there under a shade canopy with a beer in one hand. There is perfection in your campmates and the music just over the next tent. Your shoes are lost somewhere in the camper after three days of barefootedness.

It is a moment interrupted only in its own time, not the realization of time passing relentlessly forward, as in every other moment. No, you could stay forever, and never be so happy again, and you don't even worry yet about going home.

I suppose most people have such a moment in their own lives, somewhere. I hope so, at least. For us, Falcon Ridge is that moment. Better still, it comes -- predictably, like Christmas -- every year without losing its magic.

The notes follow, and pictures will surely come in a week or so, but remember: this is but a compendium. The real deal is utopian. Utopias crumble when described by even the best of us.

So: On to the notes.

Camped with our best festival buddy Dave this year, as we have since we and he arrived simultaneous and looking for a campsite six years ago, all of us new and unsure of where to go. Dave brought Ryan, a great guy and wonderful addition to the group -- gentle, happy to be there, and already signed on to return next year.

When we arrived, Darcie set up everything again, as is her wont. The compound was across from our usual creek-side spot, a small tent-and-tarp having been saved long before our arrival by some other unknowns; we circled the wagons -- well, the tents and the popup -- around a huge hexagonal shade canopy across the way instead, and it worked quite nicely, to be honest.

Through the festival itself she pretty much stayed in the tent area with Willow, as she is a shade person and falcon Ridge has none, but she did work most of the day Tuesday and Wednesday, hunched over a table in the main site crew tent, painting informational signage and pathway indicators in bold summer hues for later installation across the grounds. On Tuesday, at least, this meant much Willow-watching, a tricky set of shifts given the tendency towards momma's girl-ism in a strange and impermanent setting. I finished the first day quite exhausted, as did the baby.

Happily, Ginny joined us Tuesday night after a last workshift. We pay for Ginny's ticket each year, nominally as a birthday present, though we all understand she's expected to help childwatch the day she arrives so Darcie and I can do our volunteer duties -- Darcie as Sign Painter, myself at the festival VIP Check-In tent, way out in the parking lot. Truthfully, though, she's also a good friend, and a great fest partner.

Willow acclimatized to the heat acceptably, and the wading pool we set up for her remained cool throughout the week, but it was pretty tough to keep her entertained in the campsite for long when there were so many interesting other kids walking past every moment. She tanned, though, and was the belle of the ball more often than not. And she perked up (as did we all) swimming offsite at the cold, deep quarry in the nearby state park Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

And it's hard not to love a child who, on her last day, toddles naked to the base of the stage proudly bearing a huge "Happy" sign (left over from last year's "Baby Zone" sign, and a need to toggle public awareness of baby's needs from sleep to play in order to preserve all our sanity) in plain and startled view of several thousand folk fans, their tarps spread across the lawn like a crazy ragtag quilt.

Later, having Mom and Dad show up willing to take Willow to the kids tent would, in turn, preserve Darcie's sanity while Ginny and I spent hours drowsing on those very hills. Thanks for that, Mom and Dad. While we're on the subject, thanks to my parents for taking us out to supper and for hot hotel showers Friday night, without which my hat hair would have been even worse than it is now.

Throughout this pre-fest period the ridge -- both lower camp, a monstrous many-acre flat slab dissected by a dried up creek, and upper camp, where the vast majority of festgoers could spread across the entire horizon from the edge of the hillslope back to the treeline -- grew like a mold. Day by day, first with a tent here and there, then little colonies, then a city of light and sound on and off the hill. All told, by Friday we expected 8 thousand people to be camped on this one farm, with a city to serve them, from the vendors to the shuttle busses running up and down the hill until the Dance stage closes down at 2 every night.

We would have had it, too, if it weren't for the rain from noon to just before 5 on Friday -- torrential downpour, hour after hour, turning impromptu roads into mudpits. Work out at the tent was fun in the rain, but other than a nifty Johnny and June tribute with folknames galore on the mainstage and, much later, the Friday Night song swap (Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilykson, Greg Brown and Richard Shindell), we didn't see much music -- the festival's usual time for 20 shortset showcase artists, each hoping to be voted back the next year as a mainstage performer, had their one big shot hopes dashed by the floods, which was a major shame.

Because of the mud, no one was allowed on site in a car until midday Saturday. Folks camped in the parking field overnight, but they weren't happy. We had to leave our car and walk in after the aforementioned trip offsite with the 'rents, which was less horrible than I thought but still certainly less convenient, given that we were carrying a baby and freshly showered, walking through the mud in the dark. The strewn hay helped eventually, but it took noonday heat to solidify the grounds again.

I think the numbers were back up by Saturday, though. And why not? There was some major talent at Falcon Ridge this year, and I think they probably did as well as they hoped financially despite the rain. I tend to fall in love with relative unknowns -- Jeffery Foucault, Jake Amerding, and a newgrass cello-wielding group called Crooked Still were the big had-to-buy for '04 by the time I'd heard them -- but we spent time at stages in spades, Ginny and I.

Cribbed from the schedule, then, here's my time spent merely from Thursday to Sunday (with commentary, and the assumption that when not at a stage or at work, I was either back at the tentsite checking in on Darcie and mellowing with an ever-floating crowd):

  • Work at check-in from 1-4. Mostly volunteer check-in at this point, though I did bracelet and chat-up a few performers, including a very congenial Steve Forbert.

  • Steve Forbert, w/ guest Mark Stuart. On main stage. Steve rocked.

  • Mark Erelli, w/ a country band from Boston called the Spurs. On main stage. Mark rocked, too.

  • Aoife O'Donovan & Crooked Still. On main stage, and worth every second of it. Cello is a great bluegrass instrument. New favorite song: Angelina the Baker.

  • Watched Contra dancing until 2 a.m. Also heard from campsite: David Bromberg Band, w/ Jay Ungar and Molly Mason sitting in.

  • Aoife O'D and CS, Jake Amerding, and the FRFF House Band at the workshop stage, trading family songs. New favorite line from a song ever: Jake Amerding singing "daddy was a highway, mama was a view."

  • Work, and much much rain. Braceleted Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky (and her new adopted duaghter, who was very cute), and the Nields, among others.

  • Johnny and June Tribute, moved to the mainstage after the rain made opening both stages too difficult. Cast included Erelli, Crooked Still, Kaplansky, Shindell, Forbert, and Lowen and Navarro, among others. Great loving set. I love cover songs.

  • Veal chops and tomato mozerella salad at a 4-star and a shower at my parent's hotel. Willow, Ginny, and Darcie showered and ate, too.

  • Half of the Nields' set, which was actually better than I expected, mostly because of Dave Chalfant on guitar.

  • Friday night song swap. Mellow and moonlit, and no rain. Niceinterplay between Kaplansky and Shindell as always. New favorite song: Shindell's "There Goes Mavis."

  • Work 9 to noon. Most fun: chatting up the parents of flamboyant Nate of Girlyman. Braceletted Foucault. Heard Brave Combo on radio broadcast live from mainstage.

  • Mainstage for an incredible series of acts lasting pretty much the entire afternoon:
    - Erin McKeown
    - Jeffery Foucault (w/ the other winners of last year's showcase, who were acceptable, I suppose, if a bit less refined).
    - Lucy Kaplansky
    - John Gorka
    - Girlyman
    - Richard Shindell
    - Eddie from Ohio (had to get up and dance in the aisles to this one)

  • Heard Debbie Davies band and the first half of Lowen and Navarro from the tent before heading out to see the rest. Left to dance instead of Richie Havens, and actually danced a little.

  • More dancing, after a back-and-forth from tent to tent with Ryan and David.

  • The annual Sunday morning Gospel Wake-up Call with Eddie from Ohio, Girlyman, Vance Gilbert, and Mark Erelli, which was quite possibly the best set all weekend, hands down.

  • Minor packing.

  • Mark Erelli, Aoife O and CS, Tracy Grammer and Lucy Kaplansky covering the songs that are their "roots" on the workshop stage. New favorite cover song: Mark Erelli doing Roy Orbison's "Cryin'".

  • Ginny and I moved to the THIRD ROW to see a workshop stage set called "Groovin' on Sunday Afternoon" with Gorka, Girlyman, and Eddie from Ohio. Quite possibly the best set all weekend, hands down (yes, both times).

There's more to say, I suppose -- how I made it up to the hilltop this year after the busses stopped on Saturday, saw We're About 9 do a full unplugged set in some tent, and stayed until 4; how old college best friend (and wedding contract witness) Dan and even older elementary school best friend Eric turned up; how the heat came and went, and melted us into sunburned puddles; the awful free vegetarian volunteer food and the yummy midway coffee; contra dancing with strangers; renewing old loves and friendships from the past few as if 51 weeks had passed in an eyeflicker. The way home, with Dan as a hitchiker, and the leavetaking itself, though I daren't dwell on the loss of my own personal utopia too much, or I'll cry just writing this.

Reducing it to the music seems as good a place to give up as any. Because Falcon Ridge wasn't and isn't about what happens so much as it is the seamless and comprehensiveness of the experience itself.

For a moment there, you see, I fell in love with the universe again, music and people and dancing.

And now I'm back. Summer's apex has passed.

Time returns.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:01 PM |

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