Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Scattershot Fest Notes

The music was incredible.

This was the best fest for music in years. Some fests are about the camping for me. But in this one, musician after musician wowed me, from bluesmen like Toby Walker (what an incredible afternoon set) and Pat Wictor to singer-songwriters like Diana Jones and Jack Williams. Bands ranged from modern acts like Son Volt to the incredible Texas swing of the Quebe Sisters Band. And the headliners – Doc Watson. Mavis Staples. You can’t go wrong with that kind of talent.

One of my favorite acts was Jonathan Edwards. No, not the presidential candidate, and not the guy who talks to dead folks, either. This is the Jonathan Edwards who wrote the song “Sunshine,” as in “Sunshine go away today/I don’t feel much like laughin’”—a song which, up until he sang it, seemed to me to have always existed, independent of its creator, whoever he was. It’s a good song, but I never expected to go nuts for it. But Edwards was firing on all cylinders, playing “Sunshine,” along with his funny “Shanty” and heartfelt “One Day Closer,” rounding out his set with John Prine’s “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” and the Beatles’ “She Loves You.”

What can I tell you about “She Loves You”? It’s not a song I’d ever paid much attention to, but Edwards made it sparkle. He sings it with anguish and heartbreak, not wearing his pain on his sleeve like a lesser singer, but still finding ways to make it apparent. You can tell that the singer loves the girl he’s singing about, and he’s telling his friend not to take that love for granted. It’s bad enough she doesn’t love him – to have his friend throw her love away would be too much to bear. It was a revelation.

After his concert, he was signing CDs for people. The guy in front of me told him he’d seen him in Newport in ’75; another guy remembered a concert from the ‘80s. When it was my turn in line, I asked him to sign my CD, and said, “I’ve been a really big fan for almost an hour now.” It was funny (the whole band cracked up, and said they’d put it on the website; we’ll see), but it was also true. I had no idea who he was an hour before. Now I’d happy plunk down dough to see him again.

At camp, the Dunces were in good form (after years of camping without a Krewe name, we settled on Confederacy of Dunces a few years ago. We painted a poorly spelled banner and everything). Camp had plenty of food, beer, and other alcoholic delights, and better yet, we were camped right in front of our old friends Nick, Brian and Joyce – and their patron saint, Don Julio, of whom we all partook via shot glasses.

Fellow Dunce Greg volunteered for the first time this year, setting up, running, and breaking down lights and electrics for the main stage and the festival at large. Sadly, his duties took him away from us for a significant chunk of Fest, but it seemed like he met a ton of folks. I think Fest is a sort of family reunion for volunteers more than anybody – you can’t help but meet tons of people – and as good a feeling Fest gives the rest of us, I bet that’s even better. Of course, it’s mitigated a bit by working your tail off – in Greg’s case, quite a bit.

As for the rest of us, Kathy, Jay and I had a grand old time in our camp and wandering around visiting others. One night we set out a chair in front of camp. We put a beer on the chair, and I stood in the lane offering the beer to whoever’d sit down and tell us a good story. One taker told us about the time he cut off the tip of his finger in shop class – but no one believed him because he pretended to do the same thing the year before. Another guy started a stampede by riding his bicycle out west. His imitation of the stampeding cattle was worth the beer alone.

At another point, I had some freshly cooked burgers to get rid of, since it was becoming obvious Greg wouldn’t be able to make it to dinner. I just asked out into the road, “What do you want on your cheeseburger?”

My first answer was one word: “Vegan.”

“Sooo…. Not even the cheese, then?”

No matter – soon the burgers were accepted by a couple of hungry guys, and we cleaned the grill and went back to the show.

Sunday’s concert was almost entirely wet. We caught an early showcase (when it was still dry) with John Flynn, Rick Palieri, Jack Williams and Liz Longley. Flynn got cheers with a Monkees parody about Bush: “Then I stole the race/now I’m the Decider.” It ain’t Shakespeare, but he knows his audience.

Soon, the rain was coming down, off and on at first, then constant. But covered up in ponchos and an umbrella, we caught great sets by Vance Gilbert, Baka Beyond, a gypsy band whose name escapes me (Les Yeux Noirs -- and I should add that Kathy enjoyed their hunkiness as much as I liked the hip-shaking ladies of Baka), and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Soon after that, we decided to chuck it all and head back to camp.

It rained all night, but somehow people were still out and about. Deep into the night, I could hear a heavy rain pounding on our tent, but outside, near where the campfire was, there were people banging on some sort of drum, shouting “Won’t sleep! Don’t Stop!” or something like that. I began to think of them as amphibians – evil frogmen with drums hell-bent on keeping me awake.

In the morning I saw they’d moved a canopy near the fire so they could keep me awake in relative comfort. Evil frogmen, my ass.

That’s all for now. It was a hell of a Fest. Always is.


*I don't have any photos of my own this year -- the hammock photo is by Lisa Schaffer from the 2004 Fest that I found at the festival website.

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