|Falcon Ridge Folk Festival: A Journal|
This is the best portrait of Pete Seeger that I have ever seen. It's a minimalist icon that captures just about everything that's great about the man: the nature of his music, the spirit of his activism, his strength and dedication and endurance. Lacking a face, it is a testament to a lifetime of striving to be a true folksinger, connected to the people, singing them back their own songs. Seen from behind, he walks into the future. It's the work of photographer Robert Corwin, and you can see it - as well as many more traditional portraits of folk's legends and future legends - at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, halfway down the midway.
My wife and I could only spend a day at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this year. With a new baby and a profound lack of camping skills, it's all we can do to head out of the house after his morning nap and head home after stretching his bedtime as far as we dare without completely ruining his tomorrow. At his age, every day is a microcosm of a lifetime, too precious to compromise. Holding him and gazing at the portrait of Pete's elbow, I decide that for me, too, less will be more today. I will eschew the mainstage, the workshop stage, the children's stage and the huge dance tent. I will spend the day on the midway, the festival's main artery, where the food vendors and clothes sellers and doodad peddlers and record company executives and magazine publishers set out their wares and spend the day at their covered booths, fishing the neverending current of people that passes by.
Of course, the best part of a festival like this is how easily the performers move about. In fact, the first person we run into on this mild, sunny day is Katryna Nields carrying 2 month old Amelia. She seems as comfortable being a mother as she does being one of folk's finest lead singers and performers on stage. There is a kind of languor about her even when she is focused and working, a joy in just being where she is that makes everyone around her feel joyful being where they are. It's a gift that she seems completely unaware of, so if you're reading this, don't tell her. We admire Amelia, who seems unusually aware and agile for an infant of her tender age, and I get to see Katryna's mom, whom I haven't seen since I was a house guest after opening for the Nields on their home turf several years ago. Mrs. Nields stands by her taller daughter with her arms ever so slightly extended toward Amelia in an unconscious gesture of barely repressed need. Katryna turns to her and, as if she might be imposing, asks if she'd like to take the baby now. She hasn't learned yet that the only thing that can be an imposition to a grandparent - especially a first-time grandparent - is not holding the baby....
We all walk in together, showing our wristbands, having turned perfectly anonymous on the midway. It doesn't last long. Almost immediately, we meet up with the Kennedys. Smiling broadly, Pete and Maura are not on the festival roster this year, but they have come as merchants on the midway just to be here, setting up a truly groovy retro clothing shop. Anyone who has seen the Kennedys knows their love of 60s culture and Maura's unerring eye for fashion. So their booth is a big hit and a perfect way to stay at the center of things. We hang out for a minute, then wish everyone luck. Katryna takes off for the performer's area backstage and we continue on down the row of booths.
During the day, we casually run into Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Vance Gilbert and his partner Deborah, Richard Meyer (former editor of Fast Folk), Lucy Kaplansky, Jim Henry (hanging out with the folks at Granata Guitars), DJs from far and wide - John Platt (WFUV), Bob McWilliams (KANU) - and of course, Gary Martin, human repository of the entire folk tradition and house concert promoter. Falcon Ridge is also the kind of place where serious folk fans from across the Northeast make their annual pilgrimmage, and so we meet scores of old friends - musicians, fans, whole families - including several from our home town. Our son, Blake, seems to get dandled by everyone. A well-known phenomenon of the Midway is that the more people you know, the longer it takes to get from one end to the other as you stop to schmooze with people you haven't seen for awhile. And so, the Midway slows you down to a very human, unhurried pace.
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