|Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2001: A Journal|
The midway expresses the cultural milieu within which today's folksingers have placed themselves. The food, for instance. There are no burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings or ribs, no fried potatoes, dough, clams or anything else you'd find at your typical concert or fairgrounds. There might be beer, I'm not sure, but it certainly doesn't dominate the scene. Instead, there is Thai food, felafel, salads, real lemonade... it's healthy and international. Even the pizza is... ok, forget it - there's good old pizza. Thank God.
For clothing, there's Pete and Maura's boutique, the perennial tie dye store, and various collections of ethnic wear. There is also this year's new invention, a chair consisting only of a backstrap with loops at the ends for the wearer's knees. Your body supplies the passive tension, the strap supplies the support. Ingenious. It also comes sewn into a pocketed vest with versions running $90-$100. This booth is full of curious folks all day long.
There is also a phalanx of crafts - mostly hand-made items that reflect nature: clay pots, windchimes, coarsely-fashioned silver and raw-gemstone jewelry. For aspiring musicians, there are plenty of inexpensive drums and wooden flutes as well as more exotic items like the digeridoo. For pros, there are fine handcrafted acoustic instruments, like Pete Granada's acclaimed guitars, to look at. Also, the inventor of the newest stringed instrument tuner has rented a booth. The Intelli-touch tuner clamps onto any graspable part of your instrument (preferably on the headstock near the tuning pegs) and senses the vibrations. It lets you look directly at your pegs while you turn them, requires no electronic input and turns itself off. Mark Dann, the most skeptical musician and engineer I know, bought one immediately for his studio (I already have one).
If these vendors know what they're doing, then the attitude of the crowd veers from naive nostalgia to idealistic futurism, from scientific pragmatism to postmodern irony. Donnelly Colt's rack of bumper stickers provides the best mirror for this. Some like "Imagine" and "You May Say I'm a Dreamer/But I'm Not the Only One" are clearly throwbacks. Others like "Be Green" and "Peace Through Music" are almost painful to the cynical and disillusioned who, from the looks of things, make up most of the crowd. But most of the bumper stickers allude satirically to other bumper stickers or popular phrases, deconstructing them while substituting their own subversive messages. "Oh, grow up!" becomes "Oh, Evolve!" as phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny. The popular Christian fish icon sports the name Darwin instead of Jesus and has sprouted feet, while "Born Again Pagan" boasts a more enlightened conversion. Wiccans can also needle their fellow consumers with one that says "My other car is a broom." Even the mild dreams of the peaceniks are not safe, with "Kill Your Television," "Mean People Suck" and "Visualize Whirled Peas."
There is a whole stretch of midway that's reserved for representatives of the music industry. Indy record labels like Signature Sounds, Folk Legacy and Prime CD are there with folks from Sing Out! Magazine and the Acoustic Live newsletter, which documents the New York City folk scene. Of all the places on the midway, this area has the feel of a small town, a community. Traffic is lighter this far down the aisle and most of those who browse here either know each other or are "in the know."
For instance, I meet Arthur Carey, a fan from Guilford, CT who sat through the entire New Songwriter Showcase on Friday and annotated each performance in his program. Out of the 20 acts, there were about eight that found favor with him. "A pretty mixed bag," he says, commenting on both the quality and diversity of styles. He appreciated the frequent guest accompanists, which livened things up. He's starred two that he'd see again - a Seattle duo called Hand to Mouth and California songwriter Suzanne Buirgy. She performed his favorite song of the day - a lullabye to a baby who was aborted a decade earlier. Arthur appreciated the emotional and political complexity of the song - how it registered sorrow without regret (listen to 2 min sample and see if you agree. The Flash website is very cool). He also thought Zoe Lewis' "I Need a Lullabye" stood out. Another artist notable for her seriousness, Rose Gerber, he planned to follow up on the internet (good luck, Art - I couldn't find a site for her). This is the kind of diehard folk fan that hangs out at this end of the Midway. While others are buying their favorite CDs in the record tent, these fans are discovering new artists, talking to the record execs to let them know what they think, and getting steep discounts by buying direct from the labels.
On the whole, however, not much commerce goes on here - and it's pretty much accepted without too much resignation. This is a place mainly for schmoozing. Radio DJs from as far away as Alaska stop by to find out what's happening, get promo CDs and catch some of the performers who regularly stop by to hang with the people who work so hard to get their music out into the world.Very often, someone will break out a guitar to pass the time or to preview a new song for an old friend. And the shade of the tarps and tents is welcome relief for those of us who have no idea how people manage to spend six hours sitting out in the blazing sun.
President Jim Olsen, Keith Uth, and engineer Mark Thayer
In an attempt to take advantage of the traffic and the democratic space of the Midway, some of these booths have started to feature guerrilla showcases - mini-performances by artists who are not on this year's festival bill. With no microphones, no stages, no appreciable distance and no pressure, these performances can be some of the best of the festival and are still its best kept secret.
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