Thursday, July 30, 2009
For the past five years, my girlfriends (often referred to as the peeps) and I have headed up to the mountains of Floyd, Virginia for the Floyd Fest, a wonderful festival featuring music from around the world. It was a memorable Floyd Fest two year ago that first introduced me to Xaviar Rudd. Every year, they manage to introduce us to at least one fabulous new musician a year. This year's new band was The Belleville Outfit.
Anyway, we rent a cabin from the Wades, friends of my family. The cabin is just eight miles from the festival ground and right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I didn't realize how much that place means to me until I pulled into the drive this year and felt the stress just melt off my bones. I guess it's the quiet, or maybe I just enjoy the fresh, cool mountain air, a welcome change from the heat of July here in the Lynchburg valley. It's almost sacred, this ritual of ours to attend the festival every year. When any of the girls cannot make it, even for a day, there is no measure to the amount of grief one might get from the rest of the group unless they can produce a really good excuse. Work simply doesn't cut it.
No matter how tight the money is, how busy the life is, how much craziness is going on in our lives, we would not any of us dream of missing this annual event. Even if we can only squeeze in one day, we all look forward to Floyd Fest for the whole year, and on the last day of the festival each year, we sit at Chateau Morisette on the terrace sipping wine and trying to put off the inevitable drive back to our respective lives, because none of us wants the weekend end.
This year's Floyd Fest was a real treat for me, even more than usual. Having just lived through the busiest July pet sitting season on record, where I had literally worked from dawn until midnight almost everyday without a day off for weeks on end, I so needed a break. Driving up to Floyd on the parkway at night on Wednesday was not the brightest idea, since the darkness is all consuming when there are clouds in the sky, but I could not bring myself to stay home one second longer. I left right after the last pet sitting gig was finished and met my friend Nikki a day early so we could be at the festival bright in the morning to set up our day tent in prime real estate.
Last year, we had to plunk our tent down in the middle of a poison ivy patch on a fairly steep hill because we got to the festival late on Thursday and the good spots were already taken. This year, we made sure that didn't happen again and our tent was right where we like it, just behind the dance tent in the middle of all the best music stages and not too far from the beer garden. Some crazy person put a blow-up monkey in the tree near our camp, and we affectionately named him "Shock." He made finding the tent fairly easy.
After five years of attending the festival for fun, this year was also a little bit of a working vacation, although it didn't seem like work at all. If you've been following me or know me at all, you know that I write regularly for Got2BeGreen online journal. This year, they offered to send me to the festival as a representative of the press, asking if I had any musicians I wanted to interview for the journal. Did I ever have musicians I wanted to interview! This year's Floyd had quite a lineup, including Donna the Buffalo, my favorite band of all time, The Duhks who run a close second, and The Horse Flies who make my top ten list, not to mention Toubab Krew, and The Blues Traveler, and many, many more. So, of course I said yes to my editors and agreed to go as a representative for their company, even though this meant I had to behave myself. I wanted interviews with Donna the Buffalo and The Duhks in particular, but also with Blues Traveler. Although I figured I'd get to talk to a few people, I never dreamed I would get to meet almost everyone on my top list of performers and many, many more.
Having been friends for some time with David McCracken, keyboardist for Donna the Buffalo, and having cruised the Caribbean with the band, I was fairly sure they would agree to speak with me. But, they were even cooler than I expected. David took me right up onto their bus and the majority of the band was there. I enjoyed chatting with he and his son Riley, and Vic Stafford, the band's drummer. They made me feel right at home in their little traveling world and I was absolutely thrilled. I can tell David thinks it's kind of funny how star struck I am over his band. It's just that they are the first band I ever loved enough to follow around the country. I'd even follow them around the world. They are also the first band that has taken me in, the first band I've ever been able to mingle with comfortably. It's been a real treat.
Now, having David as an official band member makes it even more exciting to be a screaming girl in the front row at one of their shows. I scream regularly with David's girlfriend Kimmy and the peeps while he laughs at our silliness. I know I've said it before, but I'll just say again! You should never pass up any opportunity to hear this amazing band live and meet the wonderful "herd" of followers who travel with them. After eight years, I still look forward to every show and I am never let down.
This year, during their one and only set at the festival, the bottom literally fell out of the sky just as the band started to play "40 Days and 40 Nights." The rain fell as the band got to the line that said "it rained and rained just like cats and dogs." Even with the water soaking their instruments, they never missed a note and they played on through a great rendition of "Mystic Waters" while the storm had it's fast and furious rage with us. Rain was pouring right onto the stage at a slant, slapping the band in the face, dripping from Jeb's hat while the symbols sent sprays out each time Vic hit them. By the end of the second song, however, they seemed to bring back the sun, and they were even graced with a rainbow behind the stage for all their hard work. After taking only a few moments to swap the no longer working keyboards with some from back stage, towel off the guitars and drums, and change a couple of shirts, the show went on without blinking an eye. How many other bands have you seen pull that off? It was amazing. The crowd went wild, and the show went into my memory banks as one of the best I've ever experienced. I really hope David's keyboards lived beyond the soaking. I have yet to hear from him on that.
Not only did Donna the Buffalo welcome me into their midst after the show, but so too did the Duhks. I met Leonard, singer/songwriter and banjo player extraordinaire, some years ago at Shakori Hills before they were grammy nominees, and I've made every Duhks show I could manage since that day. Even though several members of the band have changed, the music just keeps getting better and better. This year, Leonard hooked me up with Tania Elizabeth, the band's superbly talented fiddler and singer, to talk about their GreenDuhks project. Having just met me minutes before, Tania invited me to join her in the dinner tent, where I had the pleasure of also meeting Sarah Dugas, the band's lead singer, as well. They were both so nice about allowing me to intrude on their down time, and Tania agreed to find a quiet spot and give me a formal interview about all of the wonderful things she has been doing to promote healthy living on the road for the band and other musicians, and all the ways they are trying to engage their fans about living green during their shows. She truly is leading by example, giving me yet another reason to love this talented group of musicians.
And if that weren't enough, The Horse Flies came down from New York to join the Floyd Fest this year. They had not been touring outside New York much until a few months ago when they joined us at Shakori Hills, and I got my first chance to experience their music live. Many members of the herd have shared their music with me over the years. They kept telling me I needed to hear this band and their hard to define mix of sounds, but since the band lost their bass player six years ago (he passed away), the band had not been traveling outside of New York, or even performing together that I know of, and I had resigned myself to making do with the few songs I already owned on mixed cds. But, apparently they have found new life and have added a few new band members, and they are back out on the road spreading their sound around again.
Riding on my previous success with the bands my friends play in, I got the courage to ask Judy, the Horse Flies fiddler, if she would be willing to talk with me. Not only did I get to speak with her, but the whole band joined in and they even signed my new CD while they were at it. The only one missing was Taka, their djembe drummer. All in all, it really was a dream come true to be able to walk right up and chat with some of the most talented musicians of my time. I'm not sure why I felt I couldn't before, since I keep finding them all to be normal people with the good fortune to have found and cultivated their exceptional gifts. There really is no reason they can't be spoken to like any other human, but somehow they have all seemed unapproachable until I had the good fortune to make friends with several of them along the way. The official press badge didn't hurt either, adding that extra confidence booster I needed. Although the festival never really offered me any assistance besides the badge and a last minute email about parking. It seems I may have fallen between the cracks this year, so I cannot thank both my cool editors at Got2BeGreen and Svetlana at Floyd Fest, who scrambled to find me my (presumably) lost press pass at the last minute. Thanks to all of you for helping to make a real dream come true for me this weekend. Make sure to check out Got2BeGreen over the next couple of weeks for interviews with the bands.
The only band I could not even get within spitting distance of was Blues Traveler. They pulled the big star routine, having bouncers who would not even let me walk past their bus to get into the VIP tent, where I was actually headed to meet David and Kimmy after the show. These big burly guys in black t-shirts made me walk around the long way, as if I was going to pull the whole groupie routine and throw myself on the band screaming. As much as I would have loved to chat with any of them, the stupid groupie routine really isn't my style any more. Prehaps twenty years ago...Okay, I'll admit it, I did throw myself at David Lee Roth back when I was a teenager. He was really tolerant and kissed my cheek, and I was never going to wash it again. Now, I'm more than a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. What was I thinking being in love with him anyway? Oh, how I loved the hair bands back then. What can I say, I was young. I'm well over those days, well beyond acting too completely retarded in front of the rich and famous, no matter who they are. I could probably even restrain my baser impulses around Bruce Springsteen if I needed to. Well, at least I think I could.
Now, after meeting many musicians from all over the world, playing in so many different genres, people like Xaviar Rudd, Nawal, The Uppity Blues Women, Railroad Earth, Allison Krauss, and Kathy Mattea, not to mention Sarah Dugas and Vic Stafford pictured here, and so far finding most of them down to earth and completely approachable, I was not at all impressed with the Blues Traveler's big shot routine. There really is no need to pull out the "look how big my star is."
My girlfriend Serena, the master of the scam (and I mean that in the most affectionate and positive way, since I've always wished I had even one tenth of her nerves of steel when it comes to dealing with the world), offered to scam our way onto the Blues Traveler bus, and I have no doubt if she put her mind to it, she would have gotten us there, but in the end I really didn't want to go. After all the fabulous fun I had talking to almost every other musician at the festival, I decided I'd rather not have to scam my way into some star's presence when so many are perfectly willing to be approached just like every other human being. I think I'd rather just view it as their loss. They missed a wonderful opportunity to meet me. Too bad for them.
All photos were provided by Amanda C. Sandos or Kimmy Tiedemann.