One of the problems arising from having my truck break down was that I had to park very far away from my campsite. All of my bare necessities were at the site, but all of the extra camping gear, like the kerosene lamp and the bottled water, were still in the truck. This meant that every morning for the rest of the festival I made a supply run to my truck which I estimate was about a quarter-of-a-mile away. Here I would gather water, some snacks, and other semi-necessary items and hike back to the campsite. I really didn’t mind this; it got me moving, and allowed me to see all of the weirdness around me.
I always am amazed when I hear fans of this sort of music get into arguments. I remember going to a Dead show in Albany and seeing the crowd clear away as two very road-hardened looking deadheads started screaming at each other. Apparently one of the deadheads wasn’t pulling his weight around the microbus and the other had had enough. I think there was some accusation about the lazy deadhead’s dog not being bus-broken or something. It is strange to see this at an event where you might see people trying to exert “good vibes” around the crowd with skipping and flowers or whatever. I always think its interesting that these people have a breaking point as well, and that traveling with people is often tense, no matter how “mellow” or “chilled out” you might regard yourself.
So one morning when I was making my run to the truck I passed a tent under the shade of some large trees. In it were three relatively shaky characters who were having a row to end all rows over someone’s responsibility, or lack of responsibility, toward the whole of the group. It was a back and forth debate, from what I could make of it, and as I passed by it took on the elements of Greek drama. Both participants (the third guy looked too out of it to speak) were fully engaged and making gestures worthy of the litigators in the Scopes trial. I walked on by, trying not to look like I was hanging on every word. When I passed by on my return, the two arguers were silent, either stewing, or over it by then. I tend to want to believe the later.
I knew it was very possible that I would meet up with the long lost friends Pete and Paris at the Yonder Mountain String Band performance. We had talked about which band we wanted to see, and I thought I remembered him saying that this was one of them. I grabbed some supplies to take with me to the main stage area and started walking. On the way I met the guy who had helped me look for my transmission fluid cap and thanked him. He seemed relieved that everything had worked out.
I made my way down a line of venders selling crystals, trinkets, T-shirts, CDs, falafel, lemon-ices (which I got talked into buying—it was good on this hot day) and kabobs. The main stage was a hill, amphitheater-shaped, looking down on one large stage, with a smaller stage on the right. I don’t remember the name of the band that was playing (it was good Louisiana style stuff—like the Neville Brothers or the Meters)) when I arrived, all I know is I trekked across the hill and found a good spot on the left side. A couple was sitting on a blanket just above me and they noticed I had on a shirt of a band called Carbon Leaf. They let me know that they were big fans of Carbon Leaf and as we talked I found out they were from Nelson County Virginia, where my sister lives. So we had a good time talking about that area of Virginia while we waited for Yonder Mountain.
On my third trip to the entrance area of the stage Pete appeared and I gave him an overly-enthusiastic hug. He and Paris were up the hill on the right side, and I got them caught up on the truck debacle while Yonder Mountain jammed out their set. This is a great band, one who performs in earnest, mixing bluegrass with the improvisation of jazz. Strong songwriting serves their act well, helped in turn by close harmonies. The music played on as I talked to Pete and Paris, and the full joy of the experience started to hit me. I had three days of this ahead, my truck was okay, I had found the people I had come with, and I could see my little Coleman tent way off on the hill, waiting for me with its view of the festival. Delusions of grandeur started setting in, and I accepted them whole-heartedly.
We decided to get closer to the stage, and as we did rain clouds started forming. Soon a shower of rain came to cool us off, and for a moment the power on both stages shut down. This was humorous, if not a little dangerous, because the band playing on the little stage was this bizarre mix of Joan Jett and Eurhythmics with back-up dancers clad in pink cheerleading outfits swigging beer. A very strange act. I kind of liked them, admittedly because of the beer-swigging cheerleaders, but Pete didn’t exactly take a cotton to them. They were a very strange group to be at this type of festival, but I was impressed at how the drummer kept playing, even with the power out, and through the darkness I could see the cheerleaders still writhing around suggestively. After the lights were back on and the cheerleader’s set had ended, a young-woman came up to me and asked me if I’d seen a rainbow. I tried to put on my best lounge lizard face and replied “yes, I see a rainbow, it’s you.” She didn’t slap me, in fact she laughed and we looked for rainbows together. She asked me where one might appear, and I pointed to behind the stage, a little toward my tent. I was way off, and soon behind us appeared the biggest complete rainbow I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing rainbows in Africa and Costa Rica folks. Most of the crowd turned around to view it and true to the theme of the festival a collective roar went up in the crowd.
Later on we watched the intense performance of the reggae band Steel Pulse. These guys are political and forceful, more Peter Tosh than Bob Marley. They held us spoiled Americans to task, exposing hypocrisy while whipping us into a frenzy of dancing wet pagans. I was a believer by the end, and floored by the raw power here. This was a complete contrast to the string-tones of Yonder Mountain, and the reggae bass slapped us all around like step-children.
After Steele Pulse I followed Pete and Paris back to their campsite. We made arrangements to meet up that night and I returned to my campsite to see if the rain had done any damage. Everything was dry so I sat on the hill next to my Bronx cooler. My friend Kevin told me about this. When he and his girlfriend were in New York he bought a six-pack and he wanted to ice it down. He asked the desk attendant at the hotel if they had anything he could do it with and the desk attendant obliged by saying, “yea buddy, I’ll make ya a Bronx cooler.” He returned with a wastebasket with a garbage bag stuck in it and filled with ice. Kevin said that it looked like it would work great and said he would have to remember the Brooklyn cooler. The attendent became stern and said, “That’s Bronx cooler.”
So I had my version of the Bronx cooler on the hill. It was a milk-crate double bagged with garbage bags and filled with ice from a vender down the trail. It worked really well, and I had ice cold beverages throughout the festival. As the music continued into night, I listened to the scarily prolific and talented Keller Williams from this spot.
I somehow missed Pete and Paris that night, I left the tent before they were able to find it, but I had a great time never-the-less at the Ratdog concert. Bob Weir, formally of the Grateful Dead, is the front man for this group. They primarily do Grateful Dead songs. I like hearing this stuff purely for nostalgia reasons and I must annoy the people in front of me by singing all the words to the songs, although I think they were doing it too. I like Bob Weir immensely and he seems to have taken on the grandfatherly role of this type of fan, one that Jerry Garcia seemed to have perfected. He has grown a large white beard and looks like pioneers of old. Others I’ve talked to say he looks like a child molester.
I returned to my tent after Ratdog. As I was walking back, a woman in the crowd just behind me decided she would run screaming into the little pond by the gate. The crowd, always waiting for their chance, gave a great cheer as the woman splashed around. I watched for a moment and noticed some of the people were yelling at her to get out. A few of us became concerned for her safety and I waited to see if she was alright because at this point the celebratory mood of her action seemed to be wearing off. She waded to shore and kind of stood there shivering, looking small and pathetic. I moved on, and after I had walked away I turned to see that she had returned to the pond and was doing the back-stroke.
This report of the festival has taken on the characteristics of an endless chronicle. I will end part three here, with a part four inevitable. But that’s it; the festival was four days so it stands to reason that the account should equal the festival in parts. The final chapter is next.